“It’s a universal law — intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education,” stated Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russian historian, philosopher, political prisoner, awardee of The Nobel Prize in Literature, and influential critic of the Soviet Union, communism, and the oppression by Russia of its own citizens, raising global awareness of its Gulag system of forced labor camps.
An estimated 13 million deaths of Soviet citizens were directly caused by Stalin’s purges, labor camps and other oppressive measures to secure and expand his autocratic power.
Nearly doubling Stalin’s death toll is the body count of as many as 25 million deaths in the former Soviet bloc, based on research of hitherto inaccessible Soviet archives, an ideological massacre through class oppression, criminalization of political adversaries, purposeful famines, mass deportations, terrorism, slave labor camps, partisan executions, collectivized starvations, political assassinations, government lawlessness, and ideological exterminations, as documented in sheer detail in The Black Book of Communism, an 800-page compendium by an eminent team of scholars on the worldwide atrocities of communist regimes, Harvard University Press, 1999.
Millions of Russians were arrested on trumped-up charges, tried and convicted in rigged trials and subsequently executed or sentenced to lethal labor camps.
Solzhenitsyn, an artillery officer with the Russian Army in World War II, was arrested in February 1945 and sentenced to eight years in Gulag camps, to be followed by permanent internal exile, for writing uncomplimentary comments about Stalin’s handling of the war in private letters to a former school friend, Nikolai Vitkevich, a Soviet Army Captain.
Under Article 58 of the Soviet Criminal Code, Solzhenitsyn was charged with “founding a hostile organization,” of two.
Vitkevich was similarly apprehended in 1945, with Soviet operatives presenting him with his correspondence with Solzhenitsyn, citing behavior inappropriate for a combat officer and justifying his arrest for violating of Article 58 of the Criminal Code forbidding “anti-Soviet propaganda.”
In 1969, Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Writers’ Union, an indispensable membership to get work published in Russia, and charged with “anti-social behavior” for the publication of August 1941 and Gulag Archipelago, exposing Soviet horrors to his fellow citizens and “enemies” abroad.
In response to his banishment, Solzhenitsyn circulated an Open Letter to the Secretariat of the Writers’ Union — an excerpt:
“It is high time to remember that we belong first and foremost to humanity. And that man has distinguished himself from the animal world by THOUGHT and SPEECH. And these, naturally should be FREE. Honest and complete OPENNESS – that is the first condition of health in all societies. He who does not wish this openness for his fatherland does not want to purify it of its diseases, but only to drive them inwards, to fester.
“At this time of crisis you are incapable of suggesting anything constructive, anything good for society, which is gravely sick, only your hatred.”
“ ‘The enemy will overhear’ – that is your excuse. Hatred, a hatred no better than racial hatred, has become your sterile atmosphere.”
The condemnation Solzhenitsyn received wasn’t due to the color of his skin, religion, or his national origin. His wrongdoing was his bravery, intelligence, and independence. His strength and value, and supposed threat, came from his honesty, skill and voice. He wasn’t controlled and refused to be deferential to doctrine, cruelty or duplicity.
“The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie,” he said. “One word of truth outweighs the world.”