An encounter with Solzhenitsyn

I was planning to no longer post from Do Not Avenge Us! (the book with testimonies of people deported in Siberia by the communists), but this story is too interesting :). Ion Moraru encounters Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag. The meeting took place a few days after Stalin died.

One of the days that followed, the electricity was interrupted on the yard where we worked. The blackouts were our joy! We ran immediately to the foundry, where people worked with metals at high temperature, and we could warm our frozen bodies a little.

At the foundry there was someone who had come recently, transferred from a brigade in construction. He was a tall, thin man, having a long face, a pointy beard, and a pair of piercing, black eyes. He seemed to be around forty years old. He was a history teacher, had been in the military service and became a captain in the army, and then arrived in the soviet camps as an “enemy of the people.” He did not talk much; when he spoke, he pondered on the word before pronouncing it.

The moment we came in, revived by heat, we began speaking, saying that now, that “the father” had died, we would be liberated and would go home. He stayed at his place and listened to us carefully. Then, he said calmly:

“We will not get out from here so fast! For the Bolsheviks, we are a great problem. The world’s public opinion is in turmoil as far as we are concerned, it supports us, and it protests against the regime. In these conditions, they are forced to liberate us, but they do not know how. Once liberated, we would speak at home and tell what we did, how they treated us, or what we ate, and the relatives will say this to others. We are a thinking biological bomb that they fear more than the atomic bomb. Why? Because the erosion that we will produce in society speaking the truth about the “red happiness” will be the decisive erosion that will lead to the collapse of the regime!”

We did not really try to see what he wanted to say. Why would we bother with so much philosophy? They will liberate us and that’s it! But he was right.

He was an extraordinary man, having great warmth. I liked him from the first moment; I felt him close. However, to be fully honest, I was almost on the point of grabbing a brick—I did not have much intelligence then—to prove to him that I was Romanian. He told me:

“You are no longer Romanian, you are Moldavian!”

He had been a history professor in the Soviet Union, and he was a Slavophil in his core, considering that the Slavs would be the race that would dominate the entire earth. He told me that I was not a Romanian, and that Bessarabia was something different than Romania. I could not make peace with this…

I valued him much even then, in the camp, but only after the fall of the soviets, when he sent each one of us, survivors, his book, The Gulag Archipelago, I realized who he was. I knew from the camp how he wrote the book. The people from his brigade told us that after the guards took from him his written pages several times and then punished him with solitary confinement, the professor stored the entire material in his memory, dividing it and organizing it on the beats of a prayer rope that he kept always in his hand. Then, he repeated the book daily until the day of liberation, just like a prayer, like praise dedicated to the millions of martyrs from the Gulag.

He had within him the soul of a writer… This is a gift from above; it does not happen by chance. You must know the language very well, you must know how to write, how to use the words and contain within sentences the entire idea… This gift is a talent offered from above, only from God. Solzhenitsyn had this gift.



About Tavi's Corner

Blogging on ancient philosophy, communist persecution in Romania (including deportation to Siberia), and Orthodox Christianity. I've translated books from Romanian to English, and I also write about them from time to time.
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