The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 An Experiment In Literary Investigation, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, copyright 1976
For an introduction to this series, click here:
Excerpted from Volume III, Part V – Katorga – Chapter 12. The Forty Days of Kengir
“Curious officers could now inspect the secrets of the service yard – see where the electric power had come from, and what ‘secret weapons’ there were.
“The victorious generals descended from the towers and went off to breakfast. Without knowing any of them, I feel confident that their appetite that June morning left nothing to be desired and that they drank deeply. An alcoholic hum would not in the least disturb the ideological harmony in their heads. And what they had for hearts was something installed with a screwdriver.
“The number of those killed or wounded was about six hundred, according to the stories, but according to figures given by the Kengir Division’s Production Planning Section, which became known some months later, it was more than seven hundred. When they had crammed the camp hospital with wounded, they began taking them into town. (The free workers were informed that the troops had fired only blanks, and that prisoners had been killing each other.)
“It was tempting to make the survivors dig the graves, but to prevent the story from spreading too far, this was done by troops. They buried three hundred in a corner of the camp, and the rest somewhere out on the steppe.
“All day on June 25, the prisoners lay face down on the steppe in the sun (for days on end the heat had been unmerciful), while in the camp there was endless searching and breaking open and shaking out. Later bread and water were brought out onto the steppe. The officers had lists ready. They called the roll, put a tick by those who were still alive, gave them their bread ration, and consulting their lists, at once divided the prisoners into groups.
“The members of the Commission and other suspects were locked up in the camp jail, which no longer needed for sightseers. More than a thousand people were selected for dispatch either to closed prisons or to Kolyma (as always, these lists were drawn up partly by guesswork, so that many who had not been involved at all found their way into them).
“May this picture of the pacification bring peace to the souls of those on whom the last chapters have grated. Hands off, keep away! No one will have to take refuge in the ‘safe deposit,’ and the punitive squads will never face retribution!
“On June 26, the prisoners were made to spend the whole day taking down the barricades and bricking in the gaps.
“On June 27, they were marched out to work. Those trains in the sidings would wait no longer for working hands!
“The tanks which had crushed Kengir traveled under their own power to Rudnik and crawled around for the zeks to see. And draw their conclusions…
“The trial of the rebel leaders took place in autumn, 1955, in camera, of course, and indeed we know nothing much about it. …Kuznetsov, they say, was very sure of himself, and tried to prove that he had behaved impeccably and could have done no better. We do not know what sentences were passed. Sluchenkov, Mikhail Keller, and Knopkus were probably shot. I say probably because they certainly would have been shot earlier – but perhaps 1955 softened their fate?
“Back in Kengir all was made ready for a life of honest toil. The bosses did not fail to create teams of shock workers from among yesterday’s rebels. The ‘self-financing’ system flourished. Food stalls were busy, rubbishy films were shown. Warders and officers again sneaked into the service yard to have things made privately – a fishing reel, a money box – or to get the clasp mended on a lady’s handbag. The rebel shoemakers and tailors (Lithuanians and Western Ukrainians) made light, elegant boots for the bosses, and dresses for their wives. As of old, the zeks at the separating plant were ordered to strip lead from the cables and bring it back to the camp to be melted down for shot, so that the comrade officers could go hunting antelopes.
“By now disarray had spread throughout the Archipelago and reached Kengir. Bars were not put back at the windows, huts were no longer locked. The two-thirds’ parole system was introduced, and there was even a quite unprecedented re-registration of 58’s – the half-dead were released.
“The grass on graves is usually very thick and green.
“In 1956 the camp area itself was liquidated. Local residents, exiles who had stayed on in Kengir, discovered where they were buried – and brought steppe tulips to put on their graves.
“Whenever you pass the Dolgoruky monument, remember that it was unveiled during the Kengir revolt – and so has come to be in some sense a memorial to Kengir.”
This will be the last installment of this series. I want to thank everyone who stuck with it: as you know, the rewards were great. I’m simply burned out on this project. I’ve hand-typed 149 pages in 11-point font with narrow margins. I did want to bring the entire story of the Kengir revolt to you.
The final, seventh book is relatively short, and deals with exile. Seems it sucked even harder than hard labor camp. At least there, they were guaranteed a food ration. In exile, no one will hire you, no money is given from the State, and one cannot leave the area. It was not unusual for exiles to commit a crime in order to get themselves back into camp.