Category gulag

Memoirs of Eugenia Ginzburg 0


by Eugenia Ginzburg

Anyone with the least interest in 20th century history shouldn’t miss Eugenia Ginzburg’s two memoirs, Journey Into the Whirlwind and its sequel, Within the Whirlwind. I first read them about a quarter of a century ago.  I still remember how reading them knocked the breath out of me, as though I’d been run over by an out-of-control truck. I first learned, from reading them, of the true horrors of Stalin’s reign of terror.  As I turned the pages, I was forced to consider how one can never predict how a friend or a foe, or oneself, for that matter, will behave under the most extreme circumstances. In Ginzburg’s accounts, she presents both the highs and lows of human behavior, and by extension, humanity itself.  Ginzburg spent 18 years caught up in the nightmare that gripped the Soviet Union during the height of Stalin’s powers, when he turned on loyal Communist Party members, religious minorities, and anyone else who displeased him.  The picture I have in my mind is that of a paranoid Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, screaming almost randomly, “off with his head,” in a world in which nothing makes sense.  Only Stalin’s era was no fantasy, and the consequences of his paranoia were terribly real.  The great, staying power of these accounts arises partly from the stark facts of history, but mostly from Ginzburg’s unadorned and unaffected writing about her situation. From her arrest (for not speaking up against a colleague who was later accused of being a Trotskyist) to her incarceration in prisons and jails and huts (unheated) in Siberia’s Gulag, we are with Ginzburg every step of the way.  And I was struck by how often she finds consolation in the poetry she remembers.