The Gulag--the vast array of Soviet concentration camps--was a system of repression and punishment whose rationalized evil and institutionalized inhumanity were rivaled only by the Holocaust. The Gulag entered the world's historical consciousness in 1972, with the publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's epic oral history of the Soviet camps, The Gulag Archipelago . Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, dozens of memoirs and new studies covering aspects of that system have been published in Russia and the West. Using these new resources as well as her own original historical research, Anne Applebaum has now undertaken, for the first time, a fully documented history of the Soviet camp system, from its origins in the Russian Revolution to its collapse in the era of glasnost. It is an epic feat of investigation and moral reckoning that places the Gulag where it belongs: at the center of our understanding of the troubled history of the twentieth century. Anne Applebaum first lays out the chronological history of the camps and the logic behind their creation, enlargement, and maintenance. The Gulag was first put in place in 1918 after the Russian Revolution. In 1929, Stalin personally decided to expand the camp system, both to use forced labor to accelerate Soviet industrialization and to exploit the natural resources of the country's barely habitable far northern regions. By the end of the 1930s, labor camps could be found in all twelve of the Soviet Union's time zones. The system continued to expand throughout the war years, reaching its height only in the early 1950s. From 1929 until the death of Stalin in 1953, some 18 million people passed through this massive system. Of these 18 million, it is estimated that 4.5 million never returned. But the Gulag was not just an economic institution. It also became, over time, a country within a country, almost a separate civilization, with its own laws, customs, literature, folklore, slang, and morality. Topic by topic, Anne Applebaum also examines how life was lived within this shadow country: how prisoners worked, how they ate, where they lived, how they died, how they survived. She examines their guards and their jailers, the horrors of transportation in empty cattle cars, the strange nature of Soviet arrests and trials, the impact of World War II, the relations between different national and religious groups, and the escapes, as well as the extraordinary rebellions that took place in the 1950s. She concludes by examining the disturbing question why the Gulag has remained relatively obscure, in the historical memory of both the former Soviet Union and the West. Gulag: A History will immediately be recognized as a landmark work of historical scholarship and an indelible contribution to the complex, ongoing, necessary quest for truth.
We have massive amounts of data about the Nazi concentration and death camps, ranging from memoirs of survivors to incredibly detailed records kept by Nazi officials. The Nazi camps lasted just over a decade. On the other hand, the vast system of confinement, forced labor, and executions dubbed the "Gulag Archipelago" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn lasted almost 70 years, and we are just beginning to get a comprehensive picture of this affront to the human spirit. Applebaum is a former Marshall scholar and is now a journalist who covered the collapse of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the gradual opening of KGB archives, the full horror of the Gulag is gradually emerging, and Applebaum has done a masterful job of chronicling the origin, growth, and eventual end of this monstrous system. Contrary to the beliefs of many, the Gulag was not a product of the Stalin era. Both Lenin and Trotsky staunchly backed the creation of these camps as a useful tool in their promotion of "Red Terror." Under Stalin, of course, the camps were greatly expanded, both as a repository for the victims of his various purges and as a vital component, via slave labor, in industrialization. Like the Nazi camps, the Gulag became a virtual industrial complex. Now, we are left with the evidence, the memory of survivors, and the moral obligation to uncover the full story. This brilliant and often heartbreaking work is a giant step in the fulfillment of that obligation. --Jay Freeman
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review
Nearly 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet Union's labor camps in their more than 60 years of operation. This remarkable volume, the first fully documented history of the gulag, describes how, largely under Stalin's watch, a regulated, centralized system of prison labor-unprecedented in scope-gradually arose out of the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Fueled by waves of capricious arrests, this prison labor came to underpin the Soviet economy. Applebaum, a former Warsaw correspondent for the Economist and a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, draws on newly accessible Soviet archives as well as scores of camp memoirs and interviews with survivors to trace the gulag's origins and expansion. By the gulag's peak years in the early 1950s, there were camps in every part of the country, and slave labor was used not only for mining and heavy industries but for producing every kind of consumer product (chairs, lamps, toys, those ubiquitous fur hats) and some of the country's most important science and engineering (Sergei Korolev, the architect of the Soviet space program, began his work in a special prison laboratory). Applebaum details camp life, including strategies for survival; the experiences of women and children in the camps; sexual relationships and marriages between prisoners; and rebellions, strikes and escapes. There is almost too much dark irony to bear in this tragic, gripping account. Applebaum's lucid prose and painstaking consideration of the competing theories about aspects of camp life and policy are always compelling. She includes an appendix in which she discusses the various ways of calculating how many died in the camps, and throughout the book she thoughtfully reflects on why the gulag does not loom as large in the Western imagination as, for instance, the Holocaust. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Library Journal Review
More than a full-scale history of the Soviet Gulag, this work by the Spectator's deputy editor asks why it is so little remembered in both Russia and the West. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
ANNE APPLEBAUM was born in Washington, D.C., received a bachelor's degree from Yale, and studied at Saint Antony's College, Oxford, and the London School of Economics on a Marshall scholarship. In 1988, she moved to Poland to work for the Economist , and a few years later became foreign editor, then deputy editor, of the Spectator . Her work has also appeared in the New York Review of Books , the Wall Street Journal , Slate and other British and American publications. She is the author of one previous book, Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe . After living for more than fifteen years in Europe, she joined the editorial board of the Washington Post in 2002 and now lives in Washington, D.C.