Tuesday, June 14, 2011

And The People Were Silent

Inhumane.  Barbaric.  Entirely incomprehensible.


We should give thanks for Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who risked his life and broke the silence to record and publish The Gulag Archipelago, an account of his and other's experiences of 20th century life in the USSR.

It absolutely blows my mind that torture and murder occurred on such an incredibly massive scale, with very little attention or opposition, in my lifetime.  (I suspect my children may feel the same horror 40 years from now when reading personal chronicles from the early 21st century.  Perhaps not...but it seems we never know the full scale of human barbarity until decades later.  Are we just that good at closing our eyes and turning our heads away from hard truths?  After all we know of history, can we still not bring ourselves to believe such atrocities are happening now?  Or are the evil ones just that good at masking their evil deeds?)

I mean no disrespect to men such as Frederick Douglass or Olaudah Equiano when I say that the abuses of the African slave trade, which rightly appall us, pale in comparison to the grave and excessive abuses of power in The Soviet Union.  The unnatural death toll estimates range from 20,000,000 to upwards of 100,000,000 during this time...but remember, these numbers don't include all those SURVIVING victims.


Millions and millions and millions of men and women  were subjected, without evidence or cause, to some of the most grotesque living conditions the human mind can imagine or endure.  Torture and executions were standard fare, but sometimes offered welcome relief from the rot of daily life. 

Some of the hardest accounts for me to read were of daily life for these prisoners: just enough "food" to keep the body alive...the misery and pain of dehydration...the confusion and disorientation of continually interrupted sleep...the stench, disease and bugs from no bathing for months...50+ bodies (most of whom had soiled themselves repeatedly) crammed into a space that holds 18.  And these details only touch the basic physical conditions they endured.  They experienced continual mental and psychological abuses as well.  Most of these prisoners were very ordinary people...not powerful, not brilliant, not wealthy or successful, not posing any obvious threat to those in power...just ordinary folk living simple lives with their families and neighbors.  Until they were "chosen."


I am profoundly amazed at the ability of the human spirit to undergo such inhumanity while maintaining hope!  Hope that they will live.  Hope that they will eventually be free and return to a normal life.  Hope that one day justice will be done.  

I urge you to read The Gulag if you haven't.  I confess I found it tedious at times...especially the first 3-400 pages.  So, pick it up and start with Chapter 10, if you want: The Law Matures.  You'll miss something of Solzhenitsyn's wisdom and the big picture, but trust me, you'll get a pretty good idea of the heinous crimes committed against millions of our brothers and sisters, you may be less inclined to turn your head away from reports of current atrocities, and more inclined to speak up.  And I can guarantee that your view of your own "sufferings" will be significantly altered!


Oriana said...

Sounds like a book I read recently (Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys) about a girl deported from Lithuania in 1941. It's a teen book so I'm sure it's not as brutally descriptive as The Gulag but it's told well and the author did a very good job of conveying emotion.

Lori Shaffer said...

Hi, Oriana. :-) It is so good for us in our cushy, luxurious little worlds, to read stuff like this. Hopefully it moves us to gratitude...AND to some kind of action too. XO