Finally I have read through the whole of Anne Appelbaum’s Gulag. I have commented on it during my way. And it should definitely be a Must read, for everyone. Especially as we apparently have not learned, for example thinking of the camps in North Korea and don’t even want to think any further with the risk to having other similar camps visualizing in my head.
So, what is my most remaining impression? That of the human behaviour! I am also very impressed how Anne has succeeded in writing about such awful things, but still make it readable. She truly got my interest anyway! And, with a connection back to the human behaviour, how ”The History of Gulag” has been handled in the countries with Gulag-camps, as well as among us outside these countries and some generations later. A lot like a ghost. Like, if we do not talk about it, it might not have happen …
Every now and then she makes some small references to the camps in Germany, and truly it has a major impact on history that ”the saviour” came and closed the German camps, while the Gulag-camps went on so much longer and more faded out.
The history of the German camps are most often more black and white, which naturally makes it much easier to agree on victim vs bully. In Gulag you could go from prisoner to guard and back to being prisoner again.
And even if I have not read any such full report on the German camps, I get the impression that the prisoners were far more evil to each other in Gulag than in the German camps. But that might have more to do with: The winner writes the history? And the fact that Gulag lasted so much longer, so that destructive actions truly got their time to refine.
For one thing, the criminal ruled in Gulag. Not that Moscow minded that much, but it truly took the most in-human proportions. As criminals doesn’t work, they for example ensure that they get the ”no-hard-work” as for example taking care of the children. As they then did not do. Or just did not bother to provide water, or let prisoners go and get water. It is also amazing and scary what a 100% focus on productivity can do to humans!
Anne also take a big effort in giving us the insight that it differed a lot among the camps, as well as during the years.
Some more reflections from my side is:
- Yes, way too many died, but still: How could so many survived on nearly nothing? Under those conditions! Impressive how the human body works!
- And coming back to my favorite ”the Maslow pyramids”. Here one rally get a proof that individuals value things differently. Some value ”nice-things”, even though they are close to starvation, while others value safety more, or honor or ”just” want a little something more in there stomach. And still others keep themself sane by risking their life just to get their history out. So yes, we have these values, but the borders differ so much, even when you are all truly on the very edge of surviving.
All these children growing up in the camps with the most limited amount of affection or language, light or food one can imagine. All these women and men, continuously being raped and humiliated by other prisoners as well as guards. All these families, splitter with no chance of neither justice, clarification or even the slightest possibility to communicate with each other.
And one more tragical aspect: From one time to another there were not even a huge difference in being outside of the camps anyway, as it was so miserable even there.
Read it! Preferably a little now and then, to be able to take it in.