Read now Anne Applebaum’s review of Cathy A. Frierson’s and Semyon S. Vilensky’s Children of the Gulag.
We all know the horrors of Nazi Germany. We have been allowed to forget the horrors of Soviet Russia and Communist China. (Allowed to forget, let me add, largely by Helen Thomas and her filthy colleagues of the socialist-democratic propaganda organ known as the main stream media and the liberal education establishment.)
Frierson and Vilensky here memorialize one aspect of unexamined Soviet life: the official state children’s homes.
Several years ago, a friend who helped me to find my way around the Russian State Archives in Moscow asked if I would like to meet another woman who was also working there. She was not doing research for a book, and she was not a scholar. Instead, she was indulging her curiosity and her nostalgia. Forty years earlier, she had worked as a baby nurse in a children’s home inside one of Stalin’s labor camps. Now she wanted to find out what had happened to some of the people she had known there, to jog her memory of names and dates.
A meeting was arranged, and we talked for perhaps an hour—without a tape recorder, because she wanted to remain anonymous. In the course of the conversation it became clear that she had in fact sought me out. Our mutual acquaintance had told her that I was an American writing about the Gulag, and she wanted to make a few things clear. Most of all, she wanted to impress upon me how clean and orderly had been the children’s home, and to tell me how happy the children had been within its walls. She also wanted me to know that these children’s mothers were criminals who were all too happy to abandon them, that the nurses and caretakers had saved them from a terrible fate. She had even brought a photograph, which she gave to me.
The picture showed a group of children standing around a holiday tree, with neatly dressed caretakers in the background. I looked at the picture, and agreed that yes, the children were not starving, and yes, the caretakers did look professional in their white uniforms. But there was a problem with the photograph: all of the children in it were dressed alike. All of them had shaved heads. They were not smiling. And thus the effect of the photograph on me was precisely the opposite of what the former nurse had intended. The children looked exactly like little prisoners—which, in fact, is what they were. Their nursery lay within the perimeter of the zona, the prison zone, and would have been surrounded by mud and barbed wire.
Yet the former Gulag nurse was unwilling, or unable, to see the horror of this. I looked at the picture and saw sad children, growing up in a terrible place. She looked at the picture and saw the greatness of the Soviet state, which took care even of the children of criminals.
Do I have to say it? Really? Go. Read.
And above all, remember. The most horrible thing here is not the grim lives of the children, or even the agony of mothers after their children have been taken from them.
No, the most horrible thing is how Soviet propaganda warped and blinded the minds of the people, denying them the ability to see and understand what was happening to them.