It was bold, as well as ambitious, for Anne Applebaum to take on the gigantic task of writing a history of the late Soviet Union’s Gulag, and it pleases me to say that she has proved herself right. Her book, Gulag: A History, is an outstanding achievement.
George Bush is off to Europe this week, and a very strange trip it may well turn out to be.
Chances are you’ve seen Auschwitz-Birkenau. Perhaps you’ve also toured one or more of the museums at Majdanek, Sobibor, Treblinka, Belzec, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and Terezin, hauntingly familiar names. But what about Ukhta, Iskitim, Karaganda, and Kolyma?
Running down the stairs the other day, my 5-year-old son leaped, as he often does, onto the banister — and fell, as he previously never had, onto the floor eight feet below.
The word Gulag (an acronym from the Russian for the more cumbersome “Main Administration of Labour Camps”) has become synonymous with the accumulated evils of 70 years of Soviet dictatorship. Yet the West knows little about the Soviet concentration camp system. Even to call them “concentration camps”, equivalent to the much better-known Nazi system, will …
The first account of the concentration camps that I can remember reading was an essay by Hannah Arendt in the July 1948 number of Partisan Review when I was a sophomore in college. What I now mainly recall about my first reading of this essay, “The Concentration Camps,” is that I was greatly put off …
Some years ago Anne Applebaum was walking through the newly democratic city of Prague when she saw tourists, mostly Americans and West Europeans, buying up Soviet military paraphernalia: caps, badges, belt buckles, decorated with the hammer and sickle, or pictures of Soviet leaders.
When a man was arrested in Soviet Russia and disappeared into the benighted Gulag concentration-camp system, he stepped off a precipice into a detached, parallel netherworld with its own laws and language and its own terrible destiny.
Anyone who writes a history of the Gulag after Solzhenitsyn must have a special reason — beyond a simple interest in historical detail — before taking on such a monumental task. It is true, of course, that at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, when Solzhenitsyn was writing his famous …
In truth, the genocidal events of the 20th century are often too cataclysmic to wrap our minds around. It’s not due to a lack of compassion; it’s simply that the revolting efficiency and sheer figures involved often dehumanize genocide into abstraction.