European Memories

of the Gulag

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The Gulag as a school

“Believe me, it was such a school for me that the articles about my experience published later in Hungary had headlines saying that I didn’t regret my nine years in the Gulag! Because for nine years, I met so many interesting people, heard so many interesting things… I’d never have been able to come across them otherwise.

Just imagine, there were still among us prisoners from the time of the war between Russia and Japan, the 1917 Revolution, the Ukrainian famine… and the 1936-1938 purges, when the Army was decapitated… everything that was revealed at the 20-21-22nd Congress of the CPSU.

I was living alongside surviving witnesses of these events, who had the courage to speak of them to people they could trust.

So it was a good school for me… I quickly learnt Russian and I could understand their conversations. And since I seemed harmless to them, they would talk about these things in front of me.

I accumulated so much information that when I read Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago later, I recognised many of the things described in it.

I gained a lot by surviving those nine years… by living through them. In fact, I tried to create a little world around me, thanks to literature among other things.

Mihály Vörösmarty (Hungarian poet) says that “dreaming destroys life because it looks towards troubled skies…” Vörösmarty hadn’t been in the Gulag!

If you didn’t dream, if you didn’t daydream, if you didn’t think about somewhere else, if you didn’t have hopes, you’d die. We couldn’t complain, say ‘Oh God, I’m hungry! Oh God, what misfortunes!’ Out there you had to rise above yourself, surpass yourself;

And books helped you do that?

Books… and faith.”