Chapter 20. In the camps of GULag

If I haven’t been there, it wouldn’t be possible for me to compose this chapter.

Before the camps I thought that “one should not notice nationalities”, that there are no nationalities, there is only humankind.

But when you are sent into the camp, you find it out: if you are of a lucky nationality then you are a fortunate man. You are provided for. You have survived! But if you are of a common nationality – well then, no offence…

Because nationality is perhaps the most important trait that gives a prisoner a chance to be picked into the life-saving corps of “Idiots” [translator note: from Russian “придурок” – a fool or idiot. This is an inmate slang term to denote other inmates who didn’t do common labor but managed to obtain positions with easy duties, usually pretending to be incapable of doing hard work because of poor health]. Every experienced camp inmate can confirm that ethnic proportions among Idiots were very different from those in the general camp population. Indeed, there were virtually no Pribalts among Idiots, regardless of their actual number in the camp (and there were many of them); there were always Russians, of course, but in incomparably smaller proportion than in the camp on average (and those were often selected from orthodox members of the Party); on the other hand, some others were noticeably concentrated – Jews, Georgians, Armenians; and Azeris also ended there in higher proportions, and, to some extent, Caucasian mountaineers also.

Certainly, none of them can be blamed for that. Every nation in the Gulag did its best crawling to survival, and the smaller and nimbler it was, the easier it was to accomplish. And again, Russians were the very last nation in “their own Russian camps”, like they were in the German Kriegsgefan-genenlagers.

Yet it is not us who could have blamed them, but it is they – Armenians, Georgians, highlanders, who would have been in their right to ask us: “Why did you establish these camps? Why do you force us to live in your state? Do not hold us and we will not land here and occupy these such attractive Idiotic positions! But while we are your prisoners – a la guerre comme a la guerre.”

But what about Jews? For Fate interwove Russian and Jews, perhaps forever, which is why this book is being written.

Before that, before this very line, there will be readers who have been in the camps and who haven’t been, who will be quick to contest the truth of what I say here. They will claim that many Jews were forced to take part in common labor activities. They will deny that there were camps where Jews were the majority among Idiots. They will indignantly reject that nations in the camps were helping each other selectively, and, therefore, at the expense of others.

Some others will not consider themselves as distinct “Jews” at all, perceiving themselves as Russians in everything. Besides, even if there was overrepresentation of Jews on key camp positions, it was absolutely unpremeditated, wasn’t it? The selection was exclusively based on merit and personal talents and abilities to do business. Well, who is to blame if Russians lack business talents?

There will be also those who will passionately assert directly opposite: that it was Jews who suffered worst in the camps. This is exactly how it is understood in the West: in Soviet camps nobody suffered as badly as Jews. Among the letters from readers of Ivan Denisovich there was one from an anonymous Jew: “You have met innocent Jews who languished in camps with you, and you obviously not at once witnessed their suffering and persecution. They endured double oppression: imprisonment and enmity from the rest of inmates. Tell us about these people!”

And if I wished to generalize and state that the life of Jews in camps was especially difficult, then I would be allowed to do so and wouldn’t be peppered with admonitions for unjust ethnic generalizations. But in the camps, where I was imprisoned, it was the other way around – the life of Jews, to the extent of possible generalization, was easier.

Semen Badash, my campmate from Ekibastuz, recounts in his memoirs how he had managed to settle – later, in a camp at Norilsk  – in the medical unit: Max Minz asked a radiologist Laslo Newsbaum to solicit for Badash before a free head of the unit. He was accepted (1). But Badash at least finished three years of medical school before imprisonment. Compare that with other nurses – Genkin, Gorelik, Gurevich (like one of my pals, L. Kopelev from Unzlag) – who never before in their lives had anything to do with medicine.

Some people absolutely seriously write like this: A. Belinkov “was thrown into the most despicable category of Idiots…” (and I am tempted to inappropriately add “and languishers” here, though the “Languishers” were the social antipodes of Idiots and Belinkov never was among the Languishers). – “To be thrown into the group ofIdiots”! – what’s an expression! “To be diminished by being accepted into the ranks of gentlemen”? And here goes the justification: “To dig soil? But at the age of 23 he not only never did it – he never saw a shovel in his life”. Well then he had no other choice but to become an Idiot.

Or read what Levitin-Krasnov wrote about one Pinsky, a literature expert, that he was a nurse in the camp. Which means that he, on the camp scale, has adhered well. However, Levitin presents this as an example of the greatest humiliation possible for a professor of the humanities.

Or take prisoner who survived, Lev Razgon, a journalist and not a medic at all, who was heavily published afterwards. But from his story in “Ogonek” (1988) we find that he used to be a medic in the camp’s medical unit, and, moreover, an unescorted medic. (From other his stories we can figure out that he also worked as a senior controller at a horrible timber logging station. But there is not a single story from which we can conclude that he ever participated in common labor.)

Or a story of Frank Dikler, a Jew from faraway Brazil: he was imprisoned and couldn’t speak Russian, of course, and guess what? He had pull in the camp, and he has became a chief of the medical unit’s kitchen – a truly magnificent treasure!

Or Alexandr Voronel, who was a ”political youngster” when he landed in the camps, says that immediately after getting in the camp, he was “readily assisted… by other Jewish inmates, who had not a slightest idea about my political views”. A Jewish inmate, responsible for running the bathhouse (a very important Idiot as well), has spotted him instantly and “ordered him to come if he needs any help”; a Jew from prisoner security (also an Idiot) told another Jew, a brigadier: “There are two Jewish guys, Hakim, don’t allow them to get in trouble”. And the brigadier gave them strong protection. “Other thieves, especially “elders”, approved him: You are so right, Hakim! You support your own kin! Yet we, Russians, are like wolves to each other”” (3).

And let’s not forget that even during camp imprisonment, by virtue of a common stereotype regarding all Jews as businessmen, many of them were getting commercial offers, sometimes even when they didn’t actively look for such enterprises. Take, for instance, M. Hafez. He emphatically notes: “What a pity that I can’t describe you those camp situations. There are so many rich, beautiful stories! However, the ethical code of a “reliable Jew” seals my mouth. You know even the smallest commercial secret should be kept forever. That’s the law of the Tribe” (4).

A Lett Ane Bernstein, one of my witnesses from Archipelago, thinks that he managed to survive in the camps only because in times of hardship he asked the Jews for help and that the Jews, judging by his last name and nimble manners, mistook him for their tribesman – and always provided assistance. He says that in all his camps Jews always constituted the upper crust, and that the most important free employees were also Jews (Shulman – head of special department, Greenberg – head of camp station, Kegels – chief mechanic of the factory), and, according to his recollections, they also preferred to select Jewish inmates to staff their units.

This particular Jewish national contract between free bosses and inmates is impossible to overlook. A free Jew was not so stupid to actually see an “Enemy of the People” or an evil character preying on “the people’s property” in an imprisoned Jew (unlike what a dumb-headed Russian saw in another Russian). He in the first place saw a suffering tribesman – and I praise them for this sobriety! Those who know about terrific Jewish mutual supportiveness (especially exacerbated by mass deaths of Jews under Hitler) would understand that a free Jewish boss simply could not indifferently watch Jewish prisoners flounder in starvation and die, and not help. But I am unable to imagine a free Russian employee who would save and promote his fellow Russian prisoners to the privileged positions only because of their nationality. Though we have lost 15 millions during collectivization, we are still numerous. You can’t care about everyone, and nobody would even think about it.

Sometimes, when such a team of Jewish inmates smoothly bands together and, being no longer impeded by the ferocious struggle for survival, they can engage in extraordinary activities. An engineer named Abram Zisman tells us: “In Novo-Archangelsk camp, in our spare time, [we] decided to count how many Jewish pogroms occurred over the course of Russian history. We managed to excite the curiosity of our camp command on this question (they had a peaceful attitude toward us). TheNachlag [camp commander] was captain Gremin (N. Gershel, a Jew, son of a tailor from Zhlobin). He sent an inquiry to the archives of the former Interior Department requesting the necessary information, and after eight months we received an official reply that … 76 Jewish pogroms occurred from 1811 to 1917 on the territory of Russia with the number of victims estimated at approximately 3,000” (That is, the total number of those who suffered in any way.) The author reminds us that during one six-month period in medieval Spain more than twenty thousand Jews were killed (5).

A plot-like atmosphere emanates from the recollections of Josef Berger, a communist, about a highly-placed snitch Lev Ilyich Inzhir. A former Menshevik, arrested in 1930, he immediately began collaborating with the GPU, fearing reprisals against his family and the loss of his apartment in the center of Moscow. He “helped to prepare the Menshevik trial” of 1931, falsely testified against his best friends, was absolved and immediately appointed as a chief accountant of Belomorstroi. During the Yezhovschina he was a chief accountant of the GULag “enjoying the complete trust of his superiors and with connections to the very top NKVD officials”. (Inzhir recalled one “Jewish NKVD veteran who interlarded his words with aphorisms from Talmud”.) He was arrested later again, this time on the wave of anti-Yezhov purges. However, Inzhir’s former colleagues from the GULag favorably arranged his imprisonment. However, at this point he turned into an explicit ”snitch and provocateur”, and other inmates suspected that the plentiful parcels he was receiving were not from his relatives but directly from the Third Department. Nevertheless, later in 1953 in the Tayshet camp, he was sentenced to an additional jail term, this time being accused of Trotskyism and of concealing his “sympathies for the State of Israel” from the Third Department (6).

Of worldwide infamy, BelBallag absorbed hundreds of thousands of Russian, Ukrainian and Middle Asian peasants between 1931 and 1932. Opening a newspaper issue from August, 1933, dedicated to the completion of the canal [between White and Baltic seas], we find a list of awardees. Lower ranking orders and medals were awarded to concreters, steelfixers, etc, but the highest degree of decoration, the Order of Lenin, was awarded to eight men only, and we can see large photographs of each. Only two of them were actual engineers, the rest were the chief commanders of the canal (according to Stalin’s understanding of personal contribution). And whom do we see here? Genrikh Yagoda, head of NKVD. Matvei Berman, head of GULag. Semen Firin, commander of BelBaltlag (by that time he was already the commander of Dmitlag, where the story will later repeat itself). Lazar Kogan, head of construction (later he will serve the same function at Volgocanal). Jacob Rapoport, deputy head of construction. Naftaly Frenkel, chief manager of the labor force of Belomorstroi (and the evil demon of the whole Archipelago) (7).

And all their portraits were enlarged and reprinted again in the solemnly shameful book Belomorcanal (8) – a book of huge Scriptural size, like some revelation anticipating advent of the Millenarian Kingdom.

And then I reproduced these six portraits of villains in Archipelago, borrowing them from their own exhibition and without any prior editing, showing everybody who was originally displayed. Oh my God, what a worldwide rage has surged! How dared I?! This is anti-Semitism! I am a branded and screwed anti-Semite. At best, to reproduce these portraits was “national egotism” – i.e. Russian egotism! And they dared to say it despite what follows immediately on the next pages of Archipelago: how docilely “Kulak” lads were freezing to death under their barrows.

One wonders, where were their eyes in 1933 when it was printed for the very first time? Why weren’t they so indignant then?

Let me repeat what I professed once to the Bolsheviks: one should be ashamed of hideosity not when it is disclosed to public but when it is done.

A particular conundrum exists with respect to the personality of Naftaly Frenkel, that tireless demon of Archipelago: how to explain his strange return from Turkey in 1920’s? He successfully got away from Russia with all his capitals after the first harbingers of revolution. In Turkey, he attained a secure, rich and unconstrained social standing, and he never harbored any Communist ideas. And yet he returned? To come back and become a toy for the GPU and for Stalin, to spend several years in imprisonment himself, but in return to accomplish the most ruthless oppression of imprisoned engineers and the extermination of hundreds of thousands of the “de-Kulakized”? What could have motivated his insatiable evil heart? I am unable to imagine any possible reason except vengeance toward Russia. If anyone can provide an alternative explanation, please do so (9).

What else could be revealed by someone with a thorough understanding of the structure of the camp command? The head of 1st Department of Belomorstroi was one Wolf; the head of the Dmitrov section of Volgocanal was Bovshover. The finance division of Belomorstroi was headed by L. Berenzon, his deputies were A. Dorfman, the already mentioned Inzhir, Loevetsky, Kagner, Angert. And how many of the other humbler posts remain unmentioned? Is it really reasonable to suppose that Jews were digging soil with shovels and racing their hand-barrows and dying under those barrows from exhaustion and emaciation? Well, view it as you wish. A. P. Skripnikova and D. P. Vitkovsky, who were there, told me that Jews were overrepresented among Idiots during construction of Belomorcanal, and they did not roll barrows and did not die under them.

And you could find highly-placed Jewish commanders not only at BelBaltlag. Construction of the Kotlas-Vorkuta railroad was headed by Moroz (his son married Svetlana Stalina); the special officer-in-charge of GULag in the Far East was Grach. These are only a few of the names, which resurfaced accidentally. If a former inmate Thomas Sgovio, an American national, didn’t write to me, I wouldn’t be aware about the head of the Chai-Uryinsk Mining Administration on Kolyma between 1943-44 (at the depths of the Patriotic War): “Half-colonel Arm was a tall black-haired Jew with a terrible reputation… His orderly man was selling ethanol to everybody, 50 grams for 50 rubles. Arm had his own personal tutor of English – a young American, arrested in Karelia. His wife was paid a salary for an accountant’s position, but she didn’t work – her job was actually performed by an inmate in the office” (a common practice revealing how families of GULag commanders used to have additional incomes).

Or take another case: during the age of glasnost, one Soviet newspaper published a story about the dreadful GULag administration that built a tunnel between Sakhalin and the mainland. It was called the “Trust of Arais” (10). Who was that comrade Arais? I have no idea. But how many perished in his mines and in the unfinished tunnel?

Sure, I knew a number of Jews (they were my friends) who carried all the hardships of common labor. In Archipelago, I described a young man, Boris Gammerov, who quickly found his death in the camp. (While his friend, the writer Ingal, was made an accountant from the very first day in the camp, although his knowledge of arithmetic was very poor.) I knew Volodya Gershuni, an irreconcilable and incorruptible man. I knew Jog Masamed, who did common labor in the hard labor camp at Ekibastuz on principle, though he was called upon to join the Idiots. Besides, I would like to list here a teacher Tatyana Moiseevna Falike, who spent 10 years drudging, she said, like a beast of burden. And I also would like to name here a geneticist Vladimir Efroimson, who spent 13 out of his 36 months of imprisonment (one out of his two terms) doing common labor. He also did it on principle, though he also had better options. Relying on parcels from home (one cannot blame him for that), he picked the hand-barrow precisely because there were many Jews from Moscow in that Jezkazgan camp, and they were used to settling well, while Efroimson wanted to dispel any grudge toward Jews, which was naturally emerging among inmates. And what did his brigade think about his behavior? – “He is a black sheep among Jews; would a real Jew roll a barrow?” He was similarly ridiculed by Jewish Idiots who felt annoyed that he “flaunted himself” to reproach them. In the same vein, another Jew, Jacov Davydovich Grodzensky, who also beavered in the common category, was judged by others: “Is he really a Jew?”

It is so symbolic! Both Efroimson and Grodzenskiy did those right and best things, which could be only motivated by the noblest of Jewish appeals, to honestly share the common lot, and they were not understood by either side! They are always difficult and derided – the paths of austerity and dedication, the only ones that can save humanity.

I try not to overlook such examples, because all my hopes depend on them.

Let’s add here a valiant Gersh Keller, one of the leaders of Kengir uprising in 1954 (he was 30 years old when executed). I also read about Yitzhak Kaganov, commander of an artillery squadron during the Soviet-German war. In 1948, he was sentenced to 25 years for Zionism. During 7 years of imprisonment he wrote 480 pieces of poetry in Hebrew, which he memorized without writing them down (11).

During his third trial (July 10, 1978), after already serving two terms, Alexander Ginsburg, was asked a question “What is your nationality?” and replied: “Inmate!” That was a worthy and serious response, and it angered the tribunal. But he deserved it for his work for the Russian Public Relief Fund, which provided assistance to families of political prisoners of all nationalities, and by his manly vocation. This is what we are – a genuine breed of prisoners, regardless of nationality.

However, my camps were different, – spanning from the “great” Belomor to the tiny 121st camp district of the 15th OLP of Moscow’s UITLK (which left behind a not inconspicuous semi-circular building at Kaluga’s gate in Moscow). Out there, our entire life was directed and trampled by three leading Idiots: Solomon Solomonov, a chief accountant; David Burstein, first an “educator” and later a work-assigning clerk; and Isaac Bershader. (Earlier, in exactly the same way, Solomonov and Bershader ruled over the camp at the Moscow Highway Institute, MHI.) Note that all this happened under auspices of a Russian camp commander, one ensign Mironov.

All three of them came up before my eyes, and to get positions for them, in each case their Russian predecessors were instantly removed from the posts. Solomonov was sent in first; he confidently seized a proper position and quickly got on the right side of the ensign. (I think, using food and money from outside.) Soon after that the wretched Bershader was sent in from MHI with an accompanying note “to use him only in the common labor category” (a quite unusual situation for a domestic criminal, which probably meant substantial delinquency). He was about fifty years old, short, fat, with a baleful glare. He walked around condescendingly inspecting our living quarters, with the look of a general from the head department.

The senior proctor asked him: “What is your specialty?” – “Storekeeper”. – “There is no such specialty” – “Well, I am a storekeeper”. – “Anyway, you are going to work in the common labor brigade”. For two days he was sent there. Shrugging his shoulders, he went out, and, upon entering the work zone, he used to seat himself on a stone and rest respectably. The brigadier would have hit him, but he quailed – the newcomer was so self-confident, that anyone could sense power behind him. The camp’s storekeeper, Sevastyanov, was depressed as well. For two years he was in charge of the combined provision and sundry store. He was firmly established and lived on good terms with the brass, but now he was chilled: everything is already settled! Bershader is a “storekeeper by specialty”!

Then the medical unit discharged Bershader from the labor duties on grounds of “poor health” and after that he rested in the living quarters. Meanwhile, he probably got something from outside. And within less than a week Sevastyanov was removed from his post, and Bershader was made a storekeeper (with the assistance of Solomonov). However, at this point it was found that the physical labor of pouring grain and rearranging boots, which was done by Sevastyanov single-handedly, was also contraindicated for Bershader. So he was given a henchman, and Solomonov’s bookkeeping office enlisted the latter as service personnel. But it was still not a sufficiently abundant life. The best looking proudest woman of the camp, the swan-like lieutenant-sniper M. was bent to his will and forced to visit him in his store-room in the evenings. After Burstein showed himself in the camp, he arranged to have another camp beauty, A. S., to come to his cubicle.

Is it difficult to read this? But they were by no means troubled how it looked from outside. It even seemed as if they thickened the impression on purpose. And how many such little camps with similar establishments were there all across the Archipelago?

And did Russian Idiots behave in the same way, unrestrained and insanely!? Yes. But within every other nation it was perceived socially, like an eternal strain between rich and poor, lord and servant. However, when an alien emerges as a “master over life and death” it further adds to the heavy resentment. It might appear strange – isn’t it all the same for a worthless negligible, crushed, and doomed camp dweller surviving at one of his dying stages? isn’t it all the same who exactly seizes the power inside the camp and celebrates crow’s picnics over his trench-grave? As it turns out, it is not. These things have been etched into my memory inerasably.

In my play Republic of Labor, I presented some of the events that happened in that camp on Bolshaya Kaluzhskaya 30. Understanding the impossibility of depicting everything like it was in reality, because it would be inevitably considered as incitement of anti-Jewish sentiment (as if that trio of Jews was not inflaming it in real life, caring little about consequences) I withheld the abominably greedy Bershader. I concealed Burstein. I recomposed the profiteer Rosa Kalikman into an amorphous Bella of eastern origin, and retained the only Jew, accountant Solomonov, exactly like he was in life.

So, what about my loyal Jewish friends after they perused the play? The play aroused extraordinarily passionate protests from V. L. Teush. He read it not immediately but when Sovremennik had already decided to stage it in 1962, so the question was far from scholarly. The Teushes were deeply injured by the figure of Solomonov. They thought it was dishonest and unjust to show such a Jew (despite that in the real life, in the camp, he was exactly as I showed him) in the age of oppression of Jews. (But then, it appears to me that such age is everlasting? When have our Jews not been oppressed?) Teush was alarmed and extremely agitated, and put forward an ultimatum that if I did not remove or at least soften up the image of Solomonov, then all our friendship will be ruined and he and his wife will no longer be able to keep my manuscripts. Moreover, they prophesized that my very name will be irretrievably lost and blemished if I leave Solomonov in the play. Why not to make him a Russian? They were astonished. Is it so important that he be a Jew? (But if it doesn’t matter, why did Solomonov select Jews to be Idiots?)

I took a chill pill: a sudden censorial ban, no less weighty than the official Soviet prohibition, had emerged from an unanticipated direction. However, the situation was soon resolved by the official prohibition forbidding Sovremennik to stage the piece.

And there was another objection from Teush: “Your Solomonov has anything but Jewish personality. A Jew always behaves discreetly, cautiously, suppliantly, and even cunningly, but from where comes this pushy impudence of jubilant force? This is not true, it cannot happen like this!”

However, I remember not this Solomonov alone, and it was exactly like that! I saw many things in the 1920’s and 1930’s in Rostov-on-Don. And Frenkel acted similarly, according to the recollections of surviving engineers. Such a slip of a triumphant power into insolence and arrogance is the most repelling thing for those around. Sure, it is usually behavior of the worst and rudest – but this is what becomes imprinted in memory. (Likewise the Russian image is soiled by the obscenities of our villains.)

All these blandishments and appeals to avoid writing about the things like they were – are undistinguishable from what we heard from the highest Soviet tribunes: about anti-defamation, about socialist realism – to write like it should be, not like it was.

As if a creator is capable of forgetting or creating his past anew! As if the full truth can be written in parts, including only what is pleasing, secure and popular.

And how meticulously all the Jewish characters in my books were analyzed with every personal feature weighted on apothecary scales. But the astonishing story of Grigory M., who did not deliver the order to retreat to a dying regiment because he was frightened (Archipelago GULag, v. 6, Ch. 6) – was not noticed. It was passed over without a single word! And Ivan Denisovich added insult to injury: there were such sophisticated sufferers but I put forward a boor!

For instance, during Gorbachev’s glasnost, emboldened Asir Sandler published his camp memoirs. “After first perusal, I emphatically rejected One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich… the main personage was Ivan Denisovich, a man with minimal spiritual needs, focused only on his mundane troubles” – and Solzhenitsyn turned him into the national image… (Exactly like all well-meaning communists were grumbling at that time!) While “[Solzhenitsyn] preferred not to notice the true intelligentsia, the determinant of domestic culture and science”. Sandler was discussing this with Miron Markovich Etlis (both used to be Idiots in medical unit). And Etlis added: “The story is significantly distorted, placed upside down”. “Solzhenitsyn failed to emphasize …the intelligent part of our contingent”… Self-centered reflections [of Ivan Denisovich] about himself… that patience… that pseudo-Christian attitude toward others”. And in 1964 Sandler was lucky to relieve his feelings in conversation with Ehrenburg himself. And the latter affirmatively nodded when Sandler mentioned his “extremely negative” feeling toward my novelette (12).

However, not a single Jew reproached me that Ivan Denisovich, in essence, attends to Cesar Markovich as a servant, albeit with good feelings.


1 Семён Бадаш. Колыма ты моя, Колыма… New York: Effect Publishing Inc.. 1986, с. 65-66.

2 В. Лемпорт. Эллипсы судьбы // Время и мы: Международный журнал литературы и общественных проблем. Нью-Йорк, 1991, № 113. с. 168.

3 Л. Воронель. Трепет иудейских забот. 2-е изд. Рамат-Ган: Москва-Иерусалим, 1981, с. 28-29.

4 Михаил Хейфец. Место и время (еврейские заметки). Париж: Третья волна, 1978, с. 93.

5 А. Зисман. «Книга о русском еврействе» // Новая Заря, Сан-Франциско, 1960, 7 мая, с. 3.

6 Иосиф Бергер. Крушение поколения: Воспоминания / Пер. с англ. Firenze: Edizioni Aurora. 1973, с. 148-164.

7 Известия, 1933. 5 августа, с. 1-2.

8 Беломорско-Балтийский Канал имени Сталина: История строительства / Под ред. М. Горького, Л.Л. Авербаха. С.Г. Фирина. [М.]: История Фабрик и Заводов, 1934.

9 Подробнее о Френкеле — в «Архипелаге ГУЛаге».

10 Г. Миронова. Туннель в прошлое // Комсомольская правда, 1989, 18 апреля, с. 1.

11 Российская Еврейская Энциклопедия. 2-е изд., испр. и доп. М.. 1994. Т. 1, с. 526-527; 1995. Т. 2. с. 27.

12 Асир Сандлер. Узелки на память: Записки реабилитированного. Магаданское книжн. изд-во. 1988, с. 22. 62-64.

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3 Responses to Chapter 20. In the camps of GULag

  1. hoff2 says:

    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Two Hundred Years Together: Russo-Jewish History, Vol. 1: 1795-1916. Chapter One
    First Word
    How can you have the last word if you haven’t heard the first?
    Solzhenitsyn, 200 years
    Two Hundred Years Together: From the Beginnings in Khazaria
    Posted by T on November 24, 2007
    History, Judaica, Medieval

    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Two Hundred Years Together: Russo-Jewish History, Vol. 1: 1795-1916.

    Chapter 1, To End of 18th Century, first installment (see contents).

    [G13] In this book the presence of the Jews in Russia prior to 1772 will not be discussed in detail. However, for a few pages we want to remember the older epochs.

    One could begin, that the paths of Russians and Jews first crossed in the wars between the Kiev Rus and the Khazars– but that isn’t completely right, since only the upper class of the Khazars were of Hebraic descent, the tribe itself being a branch of the Turks that had accepted the Jewish faith.

    If one follows the presentation of J. D. Bruzkus, respected Jewish author of the mid 20th century, a certain part of the Jews from Persia moved across the Derbent Pass to the lower Volga where Atil [west coast of Caspian on Volga delta], the capital city of the Khazarian Khanate rose up starting 724 AD. The tribal princes of the Turkish Khazars, at the time still idol-worshippers, did not want to accept either the Muslim faith – lest they should be subordinated to the caliph of Baghdad – nor to Christianity – lest they come under vassalage to the Byzantine emperor; and so the clan went over to the Jewish faith in 732. But there was also a Jewish colony in the Bosporan Kingdom [on the Taman Peninsula at east end of the Crimea, separating the Black Sea from the Sea of Azov] to which Hadrian had Jewish captives brought in 137, after the victory over Bar-Kokhba. Later a Jewish settlement sustained itself without break under the Goths and Huns in the Crimea; especially Kaffa (Feodosia) remained Jewish. In 933 Prince Igor [912-945, Grand Prince of Kiev, successor of Oleg, regent after death of Riurik founder of the Kiev Kingdom in 862] temporarily possessed Kerch, and his son Sviatoslav [Grand Prince 960-972] [G14] wrested the Don region from the Khazars. The Kiev Rus already ruled the entire Volga region including Atil in 909, and Russian ships appeared at Samander [south of Atil on the west coast of the Caspian]. Descendents of the Khazars were the Kumyks in the Caucasus. In the Crimea, on the other hand, they combined with the Polovtsy [nomadic Turkish branch from central Asia, in the northern Black Sea area and the Caucasus since the 10th century; called Cuman by western historians; see second map, below] to form the Crimean Tatars. (But the Karaim [a jewish sect that does not follow the Talmud] and Jewish residents of the Crimean did not go over to the Muslim Faith.) The Khazars were finally conquered [much later] by Tamerlane [or Timur, the 14th century conqueror].

    A few researchers however hypothesize (exact proof is absent) that the Hebrews had wandered to some extent through the south Russian region in west and northwest direction. Thus the Orientalist and Semitist Abraham Harkavy for example writes that the Jewish congregation in the future Russia “emerged from Jews that came from the Black Sea coast and from the Caucasus, where their ancestors had lived since the Assyrian and Babylonian captivity.” J. D. Bruzkus also leans to this perspective. (Another opinion suggests it is the remnant of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.) This migration presumably ended after the conquest of Tmutarakans [eastern shore of the Kerch straits, overlooking the eastern end of the Crimean Peninsula; the eastern flank of the old Bosporan Kingdom] (1097) by the Polovtsy. According to Harkavy’s opinion the vernacular of these Jews at least since the ninth century was Slavic, and only in the 17th century, when the Ukrainian Jews fled from the pogroms of Chmelnitzki [Bogdan Chmelnitzki, Ukrainian Cossack, 1593-1657, led the successful Cossack rebellion against Poland with help from the Crimean Tatars], did Yiddish become the language of Jews in Poland.

    [G15] In various manners the Jews also came to Kiev and settled there. Already under Igor, the lower part of the city was called “Kosary”; in 933 Igor brought Jews that had been taken captive in Kerch. Then in 965 Jews taken captive in the Crimea were brought there; in 969 Kosaren from Atil and Samander, in 989 from Cherson and in 1017 from Tmutarakan. In Kiev western Jews also emerged.: in connection with the caravan traffic from west to east, and starting at the end of the eleventh century, maybe on account of the persecution in Europe during the first Crusade.

    Later researchers confirm likewise that in the 11th century, the “Jewish element” in Kiev is to be derived from the Khazars. Still earlier, at the turn of the 10th century the presence of a “khazar force and a khazar garrison,” was chronicled in Kiev. And already “in the first half of the 11th century the jewish-khazar element in Kiev played “a significant roll.” In the 9th and 10th century, Kiev was multinational and tolerant.

    At the end of the 10th century, in the time when Prince Vladimir [Vladimir I. Svyatoslavich 980-1015, the Saint, Grand Prince of Kiev] was choosing a new faith for the Russians, there were not a few Jews in Kiev, and among them were found educated men that suggested taking on the Jewish faith. The choice fell out otherwise than it had 250 hears earlier in the Khazar Kingdom. Karamsin [1766-1826, Russian historian] relates it like this: “After he (Vladimir) had listened to the Jews, he asked where their homeland was. ‘In Jerusalem,’ answered the delegates, ‘but God has chased us in his anger and sent us into a foreign land.’ ‘And you, whom God has punished, dare to teach others?’ said Vladimir. ‘We do not want to lose our fatherland like you have.’” After the Christianization of the Rus, according to Bruzkus, a portion of the Khazar Jews in Kiev also went over to Christianity and afterwards in Novgorod perhaps one of them – Luka Zhidyata – was even one of the first bishops and spiritual writers.

    Christianity and Judaism being side-by-side in Kiev inevitably led to the learned zealously contrasting them. From that emerged the work significant to Russian literature, “Sermon on Law and Grace” ([by Hilarion, first Russian Metropolitan] middle 11th century), which contributed to the settling of a Christian consciousness for the Russians that lasted for centuries. [G16] “The polemic here is as fresh and lively as in the letters of the apostles.” In any case, it was the first century of Christianity in Russia. For the Russian neophytes of that time, the Jews were interesting, especially in connection to their religious presentation, and even in Kiev there were opportunities for contact with them. The interest was greater than later in the 18th century, when they again were physically close.

    Then, for more than a century, the Jews took part in the expanded commerce of Kiev. “In the new city wall (completed in 1037) there was the Jews’ Gate, which closed in the Jewish quarter.” The Kiev Jews were not subjected to any limitations, and the princes did not handle themselves hostilely, but rather indeed vouchsafed to them protection, especially Sviatopolk Iziaslavich [Prince of Novgorod 1078-1087, Grand Prince of Kiev 1093-1113], since the trade and enterprising spirit of the Jews brought the princes financial advantage.

    In 1113, Vladimir (later called “Monomakh”), out of qualms of conscience, even after the death of Sviatopolk, hesitated to ascend the Kiev Throne prior to one of the Svyatoslavich’s, and “exploiting the anarchy, rioters plundered the house of the regimental commander Putiata and all Jews that had stood under the special protection of the greedy Sviatopolk in the capital city. … One reason for the Kiev revolt was apparently the usury of the Jews: probably, exploiting the shortage of money of the time, they enslaved the debtors with exorbitant interest.” (For example there are indications in the “Statute” of Vladimir Monomakh that Kiev money-lenders received interest up to 50% per annum.) Karamsin therein appeals to the Chronicles and an extrapolation by Basil Tatistcheff [1686-1750; student of Peter the Great, first Russian historian]. In Tatistcheff we find moreover: “Afterwards they clubbed down many Jews and plundered their houses, because they had brought about many sicknesses to Christians and commerce with them had brought about great damage. Many of them, who had gathered in their synagogue seeking protection, defended themselves, as well as they could, and redeemed time until Vladimir would arrive.” But when he had come, “the Kievites pleaded with him for retribution toward the [G17] Jews, because they had taken all the trades from Christians and under Sviatopolk had had much freedom and power…. They had also brought many over to their faith.”

    According to M. N. Pokrovski, the Kiev Pogrom of 1113 had social and not national character. (However the leaning of this “class-conscious” historian toward social interpretations is well-known.)

    After he ascended to the Kiev throne, Vladimir answered the complainants, “Since many [Jews] everywhere have received access to the various princely courts and have migrated there, it is not appropriate for me, without the advice of the princes, and moreover contrary to right, to permit killing and plundering them. Hence I will without delay call the princes to assemble, to give counsel.” In the Council a law limiting the interest was established, which Vladimir attached to Yaroslav’s “Statute.” Karamsin reports, appealing to Tatistcheff, that Vladimir “banned all Jews” upon the conclusion of the Council, “and from that time forth there were none left in our fatherland.” But at the same time he qualifies: “in the Chronicles in contrast it says that in 1124 the Jews in Kiev died [in a great fire]; consequently, they had not been banned.” (Bruzkus explains, that it “was a whole Quarter in the best part of the city… at the Jew’s Gate next to the Golden Gate.”)

    At least one Jew enjoyed the trust of Andrei Bogoliubskii [or Andrey Bogolyubsky] in Vladimir. “Among the confidants of Andrei was a certain Ephraim Moisich, whose patronymic Moisich or Moisievich indicates his jewish derivation,” and who according to the words of the Chronicle was among the instigators of the treason by which Andrei was murdered. However there is also a notation that says that under Andrei Bogoliubskii “many Bulgarians and Jews from the Volga territory came and had themselves baptized” and that after the murder of Andrei his son Georgi fled to a jewish Prince in Dagestan.

    In any case the information on the Jews in the time of the Suzdal Rus is scanty, as their numbers were obviously small.

    [G18] The “Jewish Encyclopedia” notes that in the Russian heroic songs (Bylinen) the “Jewish Czar” – e.g. the warrior Shidowin in the old Bylina about Ilya and Dobrin’a – is “a favorite general moniker for an enemy of the Christian faith.” At the same time it could also be a trace of memories of the struggle against the Khazars. Here, the religious basis of this hostility and exclusion is made clear. On this basis, the Jews were not permitted to settle in the Muscovy Rus.

    The invasion of the Tatars portended the end of the lively commerce of the Kiev Rus, and many Jews apparently went to Poland. (Also the jewish colonization into Volhynia and Galicia continued, where they had scarcely suffered from the Tatar invasion.) The Encyclopedia explains: “During the invasion of the Tatars (1239) which destroyed Kiev, the Jews also suffered, but in the second half of the 13th century they were invited by the Grand Princes to resettle in Kiev, which found itself under the domination of the Tatars. On account of the special rights, which were also granted the Jews in other possessions of the Tatars, envy was stirred up in the town residents against the Kiev Jews.” Similar happened not only in Kiev, but also in the cities of North Russia, which “under the Tatar rule, were accessible for many [Moslem? see note 1] merchants from Khoresm or Khiva, who were long since experienced in trade and the tricks of profit-seeking. These people bought from the Tatars the principality’s right to levy Tribute, they demanded excessive interest from poor people and, in case of their failure to pay, declared the debtors to be their slaves, and took away their freedom. The residents of Vladimir, Suzdal, and Rostov finally lost their patience and rose up together at the pealing of the Bells against these usurers; a few were killed and the rest chased off.” A punitive expedition of the Khan against the mutineers was threatened, which however was hindered via the mediation of Alexander Nevsky. “In the documents of the 15th century, Kievite [G19] jewish tax-leasers are mentioned, who possessed a significant fortune.”

    Note 1. The word “Moslem” is in the German but not French translation. I am researching the Russian original.


    5 Comments to Two Hundred Years Together: From the Beginnings in Khazaria
    We have all heard of the Khazars, and how the majority of Ashkenazi jews probably descend from them, but it is fascinating to see that history given a time and place, and fleshed out.
    Harkavy’s thesis that the caspian jews were from the ten lost tribes or the remnant of the not-lost two tribes seems either implausible or self-defeating to me. (1) Why would those people have lost their collective memory of who they were? If it is claimed that they did remember, then why did they not write it down (genealogies, etc.)? (2) On the other hand, if they were descended from exiled Israel, but lost all continuity with the same, in what sense should they be regarded as jews? That is racism in the only form that the term makes any sense, but which still celebrates an absurdity: namely, thinking that mere blood, without any inherited culture, character, or accomplishment, grants one solidarity.

    It is also interesting to see how in relatively recent history (yes I know, I must be weird to think of 1000 AD as “recent”) we can observe the formation of brand-new ethnic groups from a combination of migration and marriage, the turkish Cuman tribe for example becoming the partially european yet distinct tribe of Crimean Tatars.

    In this regard, it is also fascinating to see that the majority of modern-day jews are essentially a branch of the Turks.

    Comment by Tim H — December 12, 2007 @ 7:03 pm

    Wrong, Tim. The majority of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry comes from the Israelites. See the evidence for yourself at and in Chapter 10 of “The Jews of Khazaria”, Second Edition, published by Rowman and Littlefield in 2006.
    Comment by Kevin Brook — December 20, 2007 @ 11:59 pm

    Kevin — I’m certainly no expert in genetics and so will quickly get out of my depth here. However, as with any layman in connection with any science, we can certainly challenge the logic.
    At your link, he concludes that “the main ethnic element of … most modern Jewish populations of the world is Israelite,” but supports this with “the Israelite haplotypes fall into Y-DNA haplogroups J and E.” However, earlier he stated that “the Y-DNA haplogroups J and E … are typical of the Middle East” but not limited to Israel. So the logic seems to be:

    All jews are (haplogroups J and E)
    All (haplogroups J and E) are middle eastern

    the latter including “Kurdish, Armenian, Palestinian Arab, Lebanese, Syrian, and Anatolian Turkish peoples”

    From this we could conclude the family heritage with middle eastern peoples, not Israel simply.

    And if Turks are lumped in with that group, as he does, there is no contradiction to my assertion. Indeed, coming full circle in that way shows the absurdity of the “rebuttal.”

    The “middle east” is taken to include Armenians, Arabs, and Turks, and this itself shows the difficulty of these studies using samples after the mixing has occurred. Unless they can get enough DNA from the ancients, there is a great deal of assumption that must be mixed in, it seems to me. This is similar to the claim a while ago that some Negroes were descended from Thomas Jefferson. You can go up the chain, with 1/2 admixing at every step, then you have to go back down the chain, with 1/2 mixing at every step. And the DNA at each of the “1/2 admixing” steps, if it were avaialable at all, is also the result of such a series of 1/2 admixtures. I’m skeptical.

    Later, your author identifies Khazars as Europeans, which is absurd.

    Comment by TJH — December 21, 2007 @ 9:20 am

    A correspondent has pointed out that in the passage near the end of this section,
    “under the Tatar rule, were accessible for many Moslem merchants from Khoresm or Khiva, who were long since experienced in trade and the tricks of profit-seeking.”

    the word “Moslem” is not in the French version. It does not appear to be in the Russian either, though I am struggling to get every word in the Russian. When I succeed, I will make a final correction. Until then, I have added a footnote.

    Comment by TJH — March 31, 2008 @ 8:00 pm

    I can confirm that the explicit word “Moslem” does not appear in the original. However, I think a Russian reader would infer that the merchants were in fact Moslem. The groups mentioned still exist today, though there are very few Besermyan left. They were either part of, or paid tribute to, the Khanate of Kazan. The Khoresm live in an area that was once in the Islamic Khanate of Khiva. Solzhenitsyn was quoting an official Russian history by N.M. Karamzin.
    Comment by

  2. Howdy just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same results.

  3. Pingback: Six Soviet Jews In Your Face | Hofflandia

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