I did not want to stir the pot again. I long for something funny and entertaining, and here I am, stuck with dark memories, trying to make sense of senseless things. Without understanding how they, prisoners of the glorious regime, felt, the stories do not make much sense. We can understand the harshness of nature and can understand what people endure being lost. You are against the odds, and it is amazing what people are capable of. But millions and millions of people vanishing in the country without a war, or famine... nothing. And it is not a nationalistic genocide. Those vanishing were Russians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians and 130 more nationalities. Repressions against Jews, Crimea Tatars, Chechen, Greek were just special affects, just line items in this huge parade of terror and oppression. This is very difficult to make any sense of.
At one timeI thought that whatever happened was considered normal by the rulers (and I know that for the nation it was normal), but I was wrong. As in this story, when the workers moved ahead 4-5 kilometers, the bulldozers were sent to make sure there was no trace of those dead. So, they were thinking of "cleaning" behind them. There was an order. This means that they at the very top knew they were cold blooded killers and they were hiding the evidence. They knew there was nobody to oppose them in the country. Did they do it to fool the West and the US? Or their own population, who were fed the propaganda and never really knew what was going on in the Extreme North and in Siberia?
Nobody still knows much about the camps. There is no reliable data on number of prisoners and there are no indirect indicators: food supplies, medical supplies, clothes supplies, cleaning supplies, even the number of guards, nothing that you can use to figure the number or prisoners.
I did not even touch on the other issue, which is mind boggling.
Imagine the black car comes in the early morning hours (that's how they liked it). They knock on the door, arrest the man and take him away. The family then rushes to the authorities, trying to find the beloved, and it is all in vain. "Your husband was indicted as charged and is imprisoned without the right of communication". That meant that he disappeared in the vast Russian northern or Siberian wasteland and the family will never find out where he was taken, and what happened to him. They would never know whether he died, how he died, and there would be no grave, no letter, nothing. They were taken from homes and they vanished without a trace... Often times, after they took men, they would come and arrest women and children as "Family Members of Enemies of People". Same Chapter 58 of Penal Code, just different paragraph. Carried automatic 10 years of hard labor, and children were taken away. Forever.
We do not know what they were thinking, what they hoped for. They were facing a huge and terrible world of hard labor, and conditions that Roman slaves did not have. They were not people, they were numbers. Meaningless replaceable numbers. And on the wooden stick that they post instead of a cross on the grave they marked not the name (was not allowed) but something like A22, which only meant that this was somebody with the last name starting with A, and that was the 22nd time they started the alphabet. No chance to ever know who that was. Just bones.
So, how could you do that to so many people? Remember, it is on bones? The answer is: Fear. We do not understand the true meaning of this word. It is not just the fear of the moment, or situation. It is a total fear. 365/24/7. It is the fear of your neighbor, who will report you, if you said something which could even remotely be considered as not being happy with any authorities. (what if you were testing him, and he did not report?). The fear of tomorrow to the point that you do not want tomorrow to happen. The fear of the car in the middle of the night, when you sweat profusely if it slows down or stops at your door...
So, there are rulers, and there are other people. The rulers enjoy life and the people live in fear? No. The rulers live in the same fear. they just know that better. Do you know that practically every member of the Stalin's ruling circle had some family member in prison? That the Speaker of the Parliament (or whatever served as such) Mikhail Kalinin had his Jewish wife in the GULAG camp and was begging Stalin to let her out?
Stalin's surrounding was involved in this oppressive machine the same way as everyone else, they feared for their lives and for the lives of their family members. They were executioners because saying (or even thinking) "no" would put a bullet in their brain. But not so fast. First they would be destroyed morally, mentally, and physically.
So many of them were war heroes, strong men. They looked death in the face, the did not bow to shrapnel. How come they became cowards? Is it because the killing machine started from taking away dignity? They will bring you into the interrogation room and in an hour they would haul out a piece of bloody meat covered with its own excrement and urine. That was terrifying, not the death. That and humiliation. They could not take their own lives because of their families. That would signal that they were guilty. Do you know that the last thing they screamed before being shot was "Viva Stalin!"?
People in the 20th Century lived like ... I can't even find a word. The terrible part is that those who lived through that, were those who kept ... believing in Stalin. They were trying to reach Stalin, as they were convinced that the Great Leader did not know about that, he did not know that his most devoted servants were thrown into that machine called GULAG, which stands simply for Main Administration of the Prison Camps, and became a symbol of oppression. So, people were trying to sent Stalin letters hoping that if they only can get HIM the message, it will all change.
It is easy to think that prisoners were not smart, that they did not understand that this was exactly what HE envisioned for them. In reality there were only two groups who could survive. Those, who kept considering themselves the communists (even though they were all stripped of their Communist party membership), and this was a large group. The tiny group were people who knew exactly that this was the devil's regime, and they had the inner strength to help them get through this. The brightest representative was Solzhenitsyn. You could survive only if you strongly believed.
Very many intelligent people did not believe, and they did not survive. There were very many intelligent people in the GULAG.
The atmosphere, created by fear was surrealistic. When Stalin died on the 5th of March, my mom, as well as the rest of the country, was crying . She was absolutely sure that it will only be worse after HISdeath. You know, how the beaten dog licks the owners hand?
By the way, at the time of HIS death, we were "sitting" on suitcases, my mom, my 9-y.o. brother and me, a 2 year toddler, waiting for the order to board the train to Siberian exile because we were Jews. She did not know that there was an order to Siberian garrisons to stop the trains in the empty vastness of Siberia and shoot every one in the marked trains. Only 20% of Jews were supposed to reach the destination. We were meant to die, and not in the hands of Nazis in Buchenwald, but in 1953. And people destined to die were crying that this bastard suddenly died and did not complete his biggest purge ever...
Russia has never fully condemned the communist ideology. As some current Great Leaders of the world (Iran), there are plenty of people in Russia, who think that Stalin was good for Russia, and he is in the top 10 most popular political leaders of the 20th Century according to Russian media. If I understand it correctly, not far from another strong leader - Adolf Hitler.
Talking about the lessons of history