Quote: Self-reflection in the Gulag

… Following an operation, I am lying in the surgical ward of a camp hospital. I cannot move. I am hot and feverish, but nonetheless my thoughts do not dissolve into delirium — and I am grateful to Dr. Boris Nikolayevich Kornfeld, who is sitting beside my cot and talking to me all evening. The light has been turned out — so it will not hurt my eyes. He and I — and there is no one else in the ward.

Fervently he tells me the long story of his conversion from Judiasm to Christianity. This conversion was accomplished by an educated, cultivated person, one of his cellmates … We know each other very slightly, and [Dr. Kornfeld] was not the one responsible for my treatment, but there was simply no one here with whom he could share his feelings. He was a gentle and well-mannered person.

It is already late. All the hospital is asleep. Kornfeld is ending up his story thus:

“And on the whole, do you know, I have become convinced that there is no punishment that comes to us in this life on earth which is undeserved. Superficially it can have nothing to do with what we are guilty of in actual fact, but if you go over your life with a fine-toothed comb and ponder it deeply, you will always be able to hunt down that transgression of yours for which you have now received this blow.”

I cannot see his face. Through the window come only the scattered reflections of the lights of the perimeter outside. But there is such mystical knowledge in his voice that I shudder. …

And it so happened that Kornfeld’s prophetic words were his last words on earth. And, directed to me, they lay upon me as an inheritance. You cannot brush off that kind of inheritance by shrugging your shoulders.

But by that time I myself had matured to similar thoughts.

I would have been inclined to endow his words with the significance of a universal law of human life. However, one can get all tangled up that way. One would have to admit that on that basis those who had been punished even more cruelly than with prison — those shot, burned at the stake — were some sort of super evil-doers. (And yet … the innocent are those who get punished most zealously of all.) And what would one then have to say about our so evident torturers: Why does not fate punish them? Why do they prosper?

But there was something in Kornfeld’s words that touched a sensitive chord, and that I accept quite completely for myself. And many will accept the same for themselves.

In the seventh year of my imprisonment I had gone over and re-examined my life quite enough and had come to understand why everything had happened to me: both prison and, as an additional piece of ballast, my malignant tumor.

The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, pp. 309 – 311

6 thoughts on “Quote: Self-reflection in the Gulag

  1. While I agree, in a way, I don’t agree in how he words it. Bad things happening aren’t because of something specific “you” did. It’s because we live in a broken world.
    The miracle is that we get as much good as we do in life.

    Liked by 1 person

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