Dead Souls: Tallying the Victims of Communism

  • The Black Book of Communism,
    Edited by Stephane Courtois et al, trans. Mark Kramer and Jonathan Murphy,
    Harvard University Press, 1120pp.

Its pages were yellowed, its cheap binding broken, its typeface uneven: there was nothing imposing about the copy of Un Bagne en Russie Rouge – `A Prison in Red Russia’ – which someone once handed me as a curiosity. Nevetheless, the book, published in Paris in 1927, was one of the first to describe the Soviet Union’s earliest political prisons, located on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea. Continue reading “Dead Souls: Tallying the Victims of Communism”

Playing at Survival in Warsaw

An interview with Wladyslaw Szpilman, musician, writer, and survivor.

He lives in a neat, narrow house with a small, well-kept garden. Inside his sitting room there are shelves of old books, a Biedermeier secretaire, a polished parquet floor. Black and white photographs of old friends stand in rows on the piano; prints and framed mementoes hang from the white walls. At first glance, everything about Wladyslaw Szpilman speaks of a certain kind of Central European comfort, of a pleasantly uneventful, bourgeois life. Continue reading “Playing at Survival in Warsaw”

I Was Booked on Flight 103

A meditation on Lockerbie, accidents, and fear of flying.

I cannot remember a time when I did not fly on airplanes, and for years and years, I flew without anxiety. Later, after the Lockerbie crash, when I developed serious fear of flying not the odd tremor during turbulence, but the real thing – this previous experience with airplanes helped me to keep it concealed. Continue reading “I Was Booked on Flight 103”

The Three Lives of Helena Brus

A Polish Communist, resident in Britain, was accused of Stalinist-era war crimes. Her extradition became a matter for British justice.

To the citizens of safe, happy countries which have never known war and occupation, the lives of ordinary people in less safe, less happy countries can seem extraordinary indeed. Here, for example, are three scenes, three moments in the life of a Polish woman, born in 1919. Continue reading “The Three Lives of Helena Brus”

State of Tolerance

To the purist, the Christmases of my childhood would no doubt seem anathema. We didn’t go to midnight Mass, and we didn’t pray. We didn’t have a creche, we didn’t have an Advent calendar, and we didn’t think much about the birth of Christ either. Continue reading “State of Tolerance”