Kolyma: The Land of Gold and Death
July 24, 2003 11:32 PM   Subscribe

Kolyma: The Land of Gold and Death. 'Stalin's prisoners, or "lagerniks" as they were commonly called, referred to the frozen land of Kolyma as a planet, although it physically remained part of Mother Earth. This vast piece of Arctic and sub-Arctic territory, with its undefined political and geographical borders, was located in the furthest North-East corner of Siberia ... ' An online book by a survivor of the gulag.
posted by plep (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
[This is good]
posted by spazzm at 7:21 AM on July 25, 2003

Second that. Powerful and scary. Three million people died in death camps and even well informed people have only the vaguest idea of what happened...

I wouldn't really call it a book though, since I read all of it in about 45 minutes. Don't be intimidated, give it a look.
posted by datadawg at 7:57 AM on July 25, 2003

Good link Plep-I've read a lot of Robert Conquest's work, including Kolyma -grim tomes all-and I remember in a foreword he said that combing the archives of misery and documenting these horrors was "necessary."
datadawg's right-everyone should read some of the chapters.
One anecdote, from I think The Great Terror, was a survivor recounting that after a particularly vicious beating he was crying in his cell, trying to cleanse off the blood with a bucket of water, when a guard told him "Don't cry-you can always wash the blood from the face, but we can never wash the blackness from our hearts."
posted by quercus at 9:19 AM on July 25, 2003

The section which describes gullible Bertrand "better red than dead" Russell's reaction to a guided visit to Kolyma is disgusting; like Edmund Wilson, Walter Benjamin and others, Russell not only took the lies told him by soviet authorities at face value but actually went so far as writing a book to spread those immoral fabrications.

plep, as far as I remember all your posts are consistently good, but this one is particularly great and timely. Thank you.

Some Kolyma facts taken from Kowalski's account:

"While on one of her late fall journeys to the port of Ambartchik in the Arctic Ocean, the Dhzurma got stuck in ice, due to the early arrival of cold weather. Unable to break the ice, she remained in the frozen sea throughout the entire winter with the human cargo of twelve thousand men inside. The Soviets had no means to rescue them and they would not accept offer of the outside help, which came from an American weather station in the Arctic. In this they must have been guided by fear of exposing their slave system to the world. The entire load of men died of cold and starvation while still in her holds. Eventually the Dhzurma was freed from the ice in the spring and so was able to continue in the business for which she was designed."

"In total, between 1937 and 1953, as estimated by Robert Conquest, Kolyma consumed almost 3 million lives"

"To many Russians, Poles, Lithuanians and Latvians the word "Kolyma" may be synonymous with the horrors of Auchwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Tremblinka and others, yet it remains almost unknown in the West. "

"The secrecy of Kolyma is still being continued."

"Kolyma, still one of the main centers of mineral resources in the world, has changed its face since Stalin's era. Maybe the slave labor still exists there, but likely on a smaller scale and limited to common criminals. "
posted by 111 at 10:05 AM on July 25, 2003

111 you have Bertrand Russell confused with Henry Wallace-it was Wallace who took the Potemkin tour-although Russell was a socialist he quickly recognized the totalatarianism inherent in the Bolsheviks-see The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism (London, 1920).
Better red than dead is a slogan from his switch to extreme pacifism to avoid nuclear war-before Stalin got the bomb he actually advocated commencing hostilities to prevent it.
posted by quercus at 3:08 PM on July 25, 2003

quercus , thanks, you're right. It was Wallace who wrote "Soviet Asia Mission". The excerpt:

"One dose of Stalin's "truth" was presented to the American Vice-President, Henry Wallace, when in 1944 he visited Kolyma. After the visit he left the country with the absolute conviction that "no such camps existed," in total agreement with the British philosopher, Bertrand Russell"

Perhaps the article actually meant Owen Lattimore (who was part of Wallace's entourage at the time), not Russell.

According to this 2001 article by Robert Conquest, Wallace later reviewed his original, misguided impression.To his credit, Russell did criticize the USSR several times, although his political commitment to democracy was unstable and ambivalent throughout his life.
posted by 111 at 4:21 PM on July 25, 2003

Anyone interested in Kolyma or the Gulag in general (or, in fact, in the general subject of man's inhumanity to man) should read Varlam Shalamov's Kolyma Tales. Shalamov did time in Kolyma and wrote about it so brilliantly and unforgettably that Solzhenitsyn basically recused himself from writing about the place, saying "Go read Shalamov instead."

Oh, and great post, plep.
posted by languagehat at 9:18 AM on July 26, 2003

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