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The Victims Return: Gulag Survivors under Khrushchev

  • Stephen F. Cohen

Abstract

Most writers, if they live long enough, accumulate a personal archive of unfinished projects and unpublished works. The original version of this article, written twenty-five years ago, is from my archive. A study of survivors of Stalin’s Gulag who returned to Soviet society during the period of Nikita Khrushchev’s reforms from 1953 to 1964, it was researched under forbidding circumstances—in pre-glasnost Moscow in the still-repressive late 1970s and early 1980s, when the entire subject was officially banned.

Keywords

Communist Party Mass Grave Central Committee Holocaust Survivor Party Membership 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    See Anna Larina, This I Cannot Forget: The Memoirs of Nikolai Bukharin’s Widow (New York, 1993).Google Scholar
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    For a discussion, see Stephen F. Cohen, Rethinking the Soviet Experience (New York, 1985), esp. chaps. 1, 3–5.Google Scholar
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    For my first attempt, “The Friends and Foes of Change,” see Stephen F. Cohen, Alexander Rabinowitch, and Robert Sharlet, eds., The Soviet Union Since Stalin (Bloomington, IN, 1980); and for subsequent ones, Cohen, Rethinking.Google Scholar
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    There was, however, a narrow but useful PhD dissertation, Jane P. Shapiro, “Rehabilitation Policy and Political Conflict in the Soviet Union” (Columbia University, 1967); and, on a related subject,Google Scholar
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    See Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, vol. 3 (New York, 1976), pp. 445–68.Google Scholar
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    See Libushe Zorin, Soviet Prisons and Concentration Camps: An Annotated Bibliography (Newtonville, 1980). There were two important exceptions:Google Scholar
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    Dariusz Tolczyk, See No Evil (New Haven, 1999) makes the same point but in an ideological way (pp. xix–xx, chaps. 4–5) that dismisses survivor-authors other than Solzhenitsyn. Similarly, seeGoogle Scholar
  11. Leona Toker, Return From the Archipelago (Bloomington, IN, 2000), pp. 49–52, 73. Varlam Shalamov, perhaps the greatest Gulag writer, refused to be so dismissive of those lesser authors. See his letter to Solzhenitsyn in Nezavisimaia gazeta, April 9, 1998.Google Scholar
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    See Roy Medvedev and Giulietto Chiesa, Time of Change (New York, 1989), pp. 99–100; andGoogle Scholar
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    Baev felt free to tell his story only many years later. See A. D. Mirzabekov, ed., Akademik Aleksandr Baev (Moscow, 1997), chap. 1. In August 1968 the twenty-one-year-old Tanya Baeva participated in the famous “Demonstration of Seven on Red Square.” There were actually eight; the others were arrested and severely punished, but Tanya was released because of her father’s position.Google Scholar
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    See, respectively, Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago; Roy Medvedev, Let History Judge (New York, 1972); andGoogle Scholar
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    Andrei Timofeev in Literaturnaia gazeta (hereafter LG), Aug. 23, 1995.Google Scholar
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    Several questionnaires were prepared after 1985. See Gorizont, No. 7, 1989, pp. 63–64; Nanci Adler, The Gulag Survivor (New Brunswick, 2002), p. 121; Moskvichi v GULAGe (Moscow, 1996), pp. 51–52; andGoogle Scholar
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    A point made when the Russian edition appeared in 2005. Adler continues her research, focusing on returnee attitudes toward the Soviet Communist Party, and a conference on the Gulag held at Harvard University in 2006 may result in publications on returnees. There are still few pages on the subject in Russian literature, as in Elena Zubkova, Russia After the War (Armonk, 1998), chap. 16; and Mir posle Gulaga (St. Petersburg, 2004). The two main repositories, in Moscow, are the Memorial Society and Vozvrashchenie (Return). For archive volumes, see Reabilitatsiia, 3 vols. (Moscow, 2000–2004) and Deti GULAGa (Moscow, 2002), under the general editorship of A. N. Iakovlev. Bukharin’s relatives are among the best documented returnee cases. SeeGoogle Scholar
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  38. Nikolai Bukharin, How It All Began (New York, 1998).Google Scholar
  39. 24.
    Aleksandr Proshkin in Sovetskaia kultura, June 30, 1988.Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Varlam Shalamov, Kolymskie rasskazy (London, 1978); Ginzburg, Within;Google Scholar
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  43. 27.
    On the eve of Stalin’s death, according to archive sources, there were 2.7 million people in Gulag camps and colonies and 2.8 million in the “special settlements.” A. B. Suslov in Voprosy istorii, No. 3, 2004, p. 125; Istoriia stalinskogo GULAGa, 7 vols. (Moscow, 2004–2005), vol. 5, p. 90. There are at least two uncertainties about this total figure of 5.5 million. The usual assumption that half of those in camps and colonies were criminals may be too high. And the number given for special settlements, which were mainly for specific deported groups and nationalities, may not include the many individuals released into exile after serving their camp sentences or those sentenced to exile, some of whom I knew. See, for example, the discussion in Istoriia stalinskogo GULAGa, pp. 23–24, 90.Google Scholar
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    As the zek Lev Gumilyov characterized his mother, the proscribed poet Anna Akhmatova. Emma Gerstein, Moscow Memoirs (New York, 2004), p. 456.Google Scholar
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    My files include scores of such cases. In addition to those in Deti GULAGa, four must suffice here: Larina, This I Cannot Forget; Pyotr Yakir, A Childhood in Prison (New York, 1973);Google Scholar
  46. Kamil Ikramov, Delo moego ottsa (Moscow, 1991); andGoogle Scholar
  47. Inna Shikheeva-Gaister, Semeinaia khronika vremen kulta lichnost (Moscow, 1998). For the record, Bukharin’s son and others report that their orphanages were not the cruel, uncaring institutions usually depicted, as, for example, byGoogle Scholar
  48. Vladislav Serikov and Irina Ovchinnikova in Izvestiia, May 1, 1988, and June 22, 1992.Google Scholar
  49. 30.
    “Spoilt biographies”—people “whose fates were ruined by political repression” (Aleksei Karpychev in Rossiiskie vesti, March 28, 1995)—run through Figes, Whisperers. Among the exceptions who had officially honored careers were the president of the Academy of Sciences Sergei Vavilov; the famous caricaturist Boris Efimov; the actress Vera Maretskaya (all had brothers who were arrested and killed); the actress Olga Aroseva, whose father was shot; and the ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, whose father was executed and mother sent to a camp. See, respectively,Google Scholar
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    For Molotov’s wife, see Viacheslav Nikonov in Knizhnoe obozrenie, No. 27–28, 2005, p. 3, andGoogle Scholar
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  61. 34.
    Reabilitatsiia, vol. 1, p. 213. For the slow process, see the case of Vsevolod Meierkhold in B. Riazhskii, “Kak shla reabilitatsiia,” Teatralnaia zhizn, No. 5, 1989, pp. 8–11. For the period, see Adler, Gulag Survivor, ch. 3.Google Scholar
  62. 37.
    Reabilitatsiia, vol. 2, pp. 6, 9, and the documents in Part I. For examples of appeals, see Mikhail Rosliakov, Ubiistvo Kirova (Leningrad, 1991), pp. 15–17; and Gerstein, Moscow Memoirs, p. 467. For the decision to read the speech publicly and reactions, see Izvestiia TsK KPSS, No. 3, 1989, p. 166, n. 1; and Medvedev and Medvedev, Unknown Stalin, pp. 103–05Google Scholar
  63. 38.
    My account of the commissions is based on two varying but generally compatible sources: Reabilitatsiia, vol. 2, pp. 193, 792–93; and Shatunovskaia, Ob ushedshem, pp. 274–77, 286–89. See also Adler, Gulag Survivor, pp. 169–71; and Anastas Mikoian, Tak bylo (Moscow, 1999), p. 595. For “unloading parties,” see Solzhenitsyn, Gulag, vol. 3, p. 489. Many of my returnees confirmed this account. Some estimates of people released by the commissions are considerably higher. See Medvedev and Medvedev, Unknown Stalin, p. 115.Google Scholar
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    V. N. Zemskov in Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniia, No. 7, 1991, p. 14.Google Scholar
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    Vladimir Lakshin in LG, Aug. 17, 1994; Grossman, Forever Flowing, chap. 1; Solzhenitsyn, Gulag, vol. 3, p. 506; E. Nosov inGoogle Scholar
  66. Iu. V. Aksiutin, ed., Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev (Moscow, 1989), p. 98.Google Scholar
  67. 43.
    For examples, see Negretov, Vse dorogi; Ginzburg, Within; Mikhail Vygon, Lichnoe delo (Moscow, 2005); Mir posle Gulaga, pp. 36–40; and on Kazakhstan, Leonid Kapeliushnyi in Izvestiia, Dec. 17, 1992. Poetic expressions of such attachments appeared in the journals Baikal and Prostor. See also Adler, Gulag Survivor, pp. 231–33.Google Scholar
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    Hochschild, Unquiet Ghost; Colin Thubron, In Siberia (New York, 1999), pp. 38–48; and for skulls, Evgenii Evtushenko in LG, Nov. 2, 1988.Google Scholar
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  72. Oleg Volkov in Sobesednik, No. 2, 1990; andGoogle Scholar
  73. Anna Nosova in Ogonek, No. 12, 1989, p. 5. A few—for example, Olga Tarasova and Nikolai Glazov—lived to be 100 or more. See Nedelia, No. 33, 1990; and Eko, No. 4, 1991, p. 197. All those I knew personally lived into their seventies or beyond. Bukharin’s brother Vladimir died at eighty-eight, while Antonov-Ovseyenko, almost ninety, is still active in Moscow.Google Scholar
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    Oleg Khlebnikov on Shalamov in Novaia gazeta, June 18–20, 2007; Gerstein, Moscow Memoirs, p. 423; and similarlyGoogle Scholar
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  78. Valentin Zeka (Sokolov) in Russkaia mysl, Dec. 20, 1984. Regarding friendships, my Moscow acquaintances were good examples. Similarly, see Zhigulin, Chernye kamni, pp. 265–71. For those who lived fearfully, see Adler, Gulag Survivor and Figes, Whisperers; and for “prisoner’s skin,” Bardack and Gleeson, After the Gulag, p. 26.Google Scholar
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  85. Efim Shifrin in Argumenty i fakty, No. 1, 1991. For unhappy ends, see Cohen, ed., An End, pp. 101–02; more generally Adler, Gulag Survivor and Figes, Whisperers; and the example of the homelessGoogle Scholar
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    See, for example, Aleksei Savelev in Molodoi kommunist, No. 3, 1988, p. 57; and Natalya Rykova, on behalf of her mother, in Reabilitatsiia, vol. 2, p. 351. For a discussion, see Adler, Gulag Survivor, pp. 29, 205–23; and forGoogle Scholar
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    The wife and daughter of my friend Yevgeny Gnedin, for example, remained utterly devoted to him. Similarly, see Milchakov, Molodost, pp. 91–92; and Baitalsky, Notebooks, pp. 389–91. For a contrary example, see Lakshin in LG, Aug. 17, 1994. More generally see Adler, Gulag Survivor, pp. 139–45.Google Scholar
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© Paul Hollander 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen F. Cohen

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