One’s own order to oneself, “Survive!”, is the natural splash of a living person. Who does not wish to survive? Who does not have the right to survive? Straining all the strength of our body! An order to all our cells: Survive! …
They lead thirty emaciated but wiry zeks [=prisoners] three miles across the Arctic ice to a bathhouse. The bath is not worth even a warm word. Six men at a time wash themselves in five shifts, and the door opens straight into the subzero temperature, and four shifts are obliged to stand there before or after bathing — because they cannot be left without convoy. And not only does none of them get pneumonia. They don’t even catch cold. (And for ten years one old man had his bath just like that, serving out his term from age fifty to sixty. But then he was released, he was at home. Warm and cared for, he burned up in one month’s time. That order — “Survive!” — was not there. …)
But simply “to survive” does not yet mean “at any price.” “At any price” means : at the price of someone else.The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, p. 302
… Even though it really stank to be one during WWII.
The first time [Russia] betrayed [her soldiers] was on the battlefield, through ineptitude — when the government, so beloved by the Motherland, did everything it could to lose the war: destroyed the lines of fortifications, set up the whole air force for annihilation; dismantled the tanks and artillery; removed the effective generals; and forbade the armies to resist. And the war prisoners were the men whose bodies took the blow and stopped the Wehrmacht.
The second time they were heartlessly betrayed by the Motherland was when she abandoned them to die in captivity [as prisoners of war of the Germans].
And the third time they were unscrupulously betrayed was when, with motherly love, she coaxed them to return home, with such phrases as “The Motherland has forgiven you! The Motherland calls you!” and snared them the moment they reached the frontiers.
Very few of the [Russian] war prisoners returned across the Soviet border as free men, and if one happened to get through by accident because of the prevailing chaos, he was seized later on, even as late as 1946 or 1947. Some were arrested at assembly points in Germany. Others weren’t arrested openly right away but were transported from the border in freight cars, under convoy, to one of the numerous Identification and Screening Camps scattered throughout the country. … As always, the interrogation [at these camps] began with the hypothesis that you were obviously guilty. And you, without going outside the barbed wire, had to prove that you were not guilty. Your only available means to this end was to rely on witnesses who were exactly the same kind of POWs as you. Obviously they might not have turned up in your screening camp; they might, in fact, be at the other end of the country; in that case, the Security Officers would send off inquiries, and you yourself would be questioned as a witness in some other case. True, it might take a year or two before your fate was resolved, but after all, the Motherland was losing nothing in the process. You were out mining coal every day.
“Oh, if only I had known!” That was the refrain in the prison cells that spring. If I had only known that this was how I would be greeted! That they would deceive me so! That this would be my fate! Would I have really returned to my Motherland? Not for anything!Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, abridged, from pp. 98 – 100
Contrast this to the famous photograph of an American sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day.
Where did this wolf-tribe [of KGB torturers] appear from among our people? Does it really stem from our own roots? Our own blood?
It is our own.
And just so we don’t go around flaunting too proudly the white mantle of the just, let everyone ask himself: “If my life had turned out differently, might I myself not have become just such an executioner?”
It is a dreadful question if one really answers it honestly.
So let the reader who expects this book to be a political expose slam its covers shut right now.
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish.
Confronted by the pit into which we are about to toss those who have done us harm, we halt, stricken dumb: it is after all only because of the way things worked out that they were the executioners and we weren’t.
From good to evil is one quaver, says the proverb.
And correspondingly, from evil to good.Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, abridged version, from pp. 73, 74, 75