Citations: Alexandre Solzhenitsyn
The Gulag Archipelago. 1918-1956
Collins/Harvill Press and Fontana,1974.
Translated by Thomas P. Whitney
“I dedicate this to all those who did not live to tell it. And may they please forgive me for not seen it all nor remembered it all, for not divined all of it.”
“Arrests rolled through the streets and apartment houses like an epidemic. Just as people transmit an epidemic infection from one another without knowing it, by such innocent means as a handshake, a breath, handing someone something, so, too, they passed the infection of inevitable arrest by a handshake, by a breath, by a chance meeting on the street. For if you were destined to confess tomorrow that you organised an underground group to poison the city’s water supply, and if today I shake hands with you on the street, that means I, too, am doomed.” (Page 75)
“Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag. Use your memory! It is those bitter seeds alone which might sprout and grow someday.” (Page 516)
“Thin stretches of human lives stretch from island to island of the Archipelago. They intertwine, touch one another for one night only in just such a clickety-clacking half-dark car as this and then separate once and for all. Put your ear to their quiet humming and the steady clickety-clacking beneath the car. After all, it is the spinning wheel of life that is clicking and clacking away there.” (Page 517)
“Human nature, if it changes at all, changes not much faster than the geological face of the earth. And the very same sensation of curiosity, relish and sizing up which slave-traders felt at the slave-girl markets twenty five centuries ago of course possessed the Gulag bigwigs in the Usman Prison in 1947, when they, a couple of dozen men in MVD uniform, sat at several desks covered with sheets (this was their self-importance, since it would have seemed awkward otherwise), and all the women prisoners were made to undress in the box next door and to walk in front of them bare-footed and bare-skinned, turn around, stop, and answer questions. ‘Drop your hands,’ they ordered those who adopted the defensive pose of classic sculpture. (After all, these officers were very seriously selecting bed mates for themselves and their colleagues).” (Page 562)
“And how can you bring it home to them? By an inspiration? By a vision? A dream? Brothers! People! Why has life been given to you? In the deep, deaf stillness of midnight, the doors of the death cells are being swung open – and the great-souled people are being dragged out to be shot. On all the railroads of the country this very minute, right now, people who have just been fed salt herring are licking their dry lips with bitter tongues. They dream of the happiness of stretching out one’s legs and of the relief one feels after going to the toilet. In Orotukan the earth thaws only in the summer and only to the depth of three feet – and only then can they bury the bones of those who died during the winter.” (Page 591)
“One of the truths you learn in prison is that the world is small, very small indeed. True, the Gulag Archipelago, although it extended across the entire Soviet Union, had many fewer inhabitants than the Soviet Union as a whole. How many there actually were in the Archipelago one cannot know for certain. We can assume that at any one time there not more than twelve million in the camps (as some departed beneath the sod, the Machine kept bringing replacements). And not more than half of them were political. Six million? Well, that’s a small country, Sweden or Greece, and in such countries many people know one another. And quite naturally when you landed in any cell of any transit prison and listened and chatted, you’d be certain to discover you had acquaintances in common with some of your cellmates.” (Pages 595-596)
“…because I was a Marxist… But my first year as a prisoner had left its marks inside me – and just when had that happened? I hadn’t noticed: There had been so many new events, sights, meanings, that I could no longer say: ‘They don’t exist! That’s a bourgeois lie!’ And now I had to admit: ‘Yes they do exist’. And right at that point my whole line of reasoning began to weaken, and so they could beat me in our arguments without half-trying.” (Page 602)
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