Quotes from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ·  660 pages

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“The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“The root destruction of religion in the country, which throughout the twenties and thirties was one of the most important goals of the GPU-NKVD, could be realized only by mass arrests of Orthodox believers. Monks and nuns, whose black habits had been a distinctive feature of Old Russian life, were intensively rounded up on every hand, placed under arrest, and sent into exile. They arrested and sentenced active laymen. The circles kept getting bigger, as they raked in ordinary believers as well, old people and particularly women, who were the most stubborn believers of all and who, for many long years to come, would be called 'nuns' in transit prisons and in camps.

True, they were supposedly being arrested and tried not for their actual faith but for openly declaring their convictions and for bringing up their children in the same spirit. As Tanya Khodkevich wrote:

You can pray freely
But just so God alone can hear.

(She received a ten-year sentence for these verses.) A person convinced that he possessed spiritual truth was required to conceal it from his own children! In the twenties the religious education of children was classified as a political crime under Article 58-10 of the Code--in other words, counterrevolutionary propaganda! True, one was permitted to renounce one's religion at one's trial: it didn't often happen but it nonetheless did happen that the father would renounce his religion and remain at home to raise the children while the mother went to the Solovetsky Islands. (Throughout all those years women manifested great firmness in their faith.) All persons convicted of religious activity received 'tenners,' the longest term then given.

(In those years, particularly in 1927, in purging the big cities for the pure society that was coming into being, they sent prostitutes to the Solovetsky Islands along with the 'nuns.' Those lovers of a sinful earthly life were given three-year sentences under a more lenient article of the Code. The conditions in prisoner transports, in transit prisons, and on the Solovetsky Islands were not of a sort to hinder them from plying their merry trade among the administrators and the convoy guards. And three years later they would return with laden suitcases to the places they had come from. Religious prisoners, however, were prohibited from ever returning to their children and their home areas.)”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“Arrest is an instantaneous, shattering thrust, expulsion, somersault from one state into another.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“If you in fact had no gold, then your situation was hopeless. You would be beaten, burned, tortured, and steamed to the point of death or until they finally came to believe you. But if you had gold, you could determine the extent of your torture, the limits of your endurance, and your own fate. Psychologically, this situation was, incidentally, not easier but more difficult, because if you made an error

you would always be ridden by a guilty conscience. Of course, anyone who had already mastered the rules of the institution would yield and give up his gold—that was easier. But it was a mistake to give it up too readily. They would refuse to believe you had coughed it all up, and they would continue to hold you. But you'd be wrong, too, to wait too long before yielding: you'd end up kicking the bucket or they'd paste a term on you out of meanness. One of the Tatar draymen endured all the tortures: he had no gold! They imprisoned his wife, too, and tortured her, but the Tatar stuck to his story: no gold! Then they arrested his daughter: the Tatar couldn't take it any more. He coughed up 100,000 rubles. At this point they let his family go, but slapped a prison term on him.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“So let the reader who expects this book to be a political exposé 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. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn't change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.

Socrates taught us: Know thyself!

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.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II



“And so in Moscow they began a systematic search, block by block. Someone had to be arrested everywhere. The slogan was: "We are going to bang our fist on the table so hard that the world will shake with terror!" It was to the Lubyanka, to the Butyrki, that the Black Marias, the passenger cars, the enclosed trucks, the open hansom cabs kept moving, even by day. There was a jam at the gates, a jam in the courtyard. They didn't have time to unload and register those they'd arrested. (And the same situation existed”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“My life is over, a little early to be sure; but there's nothing to be done about it. I shall never return to freedom. I am condemned to die - now or a little later. But later on, in truth, it will be even harder, an so the sooner the better. I no longer have any property whatsoever. For me those I love have died, and for them I have died. From today on, my body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and my conscience remain precious and important to me.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“But I had begun to sense a truth inside myself: if in order to live it is necessary not to live, then what's it all for?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“It even reached a point of such confusion that men and women were imprisoned in the same cells and used the latrine bucket in each other's presence—who cared about those niceties? Give up your gold, vipers! The interrogators did not write up charge sheets because no one needed their papers. And whether or not a sentence would be pasted on was of very little interest. Only one thing was important: Give up your gold, viper! The state needs gold and you don't. The interrogators had neither voice nor strength left to threaten and torture; they had one universal method: feed the prisoners nothing but salty food and give them no water. Whoever coughed up gold got water! One gold piece for a cup of fresh water!
People perish for cold metal.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“...if you live in a graveyard, you can't weep for everyone.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II



“But in every case, out of all the cells you've been in, your first cell is a very special one, the place where you first encountered others like yourself, doomed to the same fate. All your life you will remember it with an emotion that you otherwise experience only in remembering your first love. And those people, who shared with you the floor and air of that stone cubicle during those days when you rethought your entire life, will from time to time be recollected by you as members of your own family.
Yes, in those days they were your only family.
What you experience in your first interrogation cell parallels nothing in your entire previous life or your whole subsequent life”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“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. And you have the right to arrange your own life under the blue sky and the hot sun, to get a drink of water, to stretch, to travel wherever you like without a convoy [escort]. So what's this about unwiped feet? And what's this about a mother-in-law? What about the main thing in life, all its riddles? If you want, I'll spell it out for you right now. Do not pursue what is illusory—property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life—don't be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn't last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don't freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don't claw at your insides. If your back isn't broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes see, if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart—and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it may be your last act before your arrest, and that will be how you are imprinted in their memory!”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“There were once again believers, who this time were unwilling to work on Sundays. (They had introduced the five-and the six-day week.) And there were collective farmers sent up for sabotage because they refused to work on religious feast days, as had been their custom in the era of individual farms.
And, always, there were those who refused to become NKVD informers. (Among them were priests who refused to violate the secrecy of the confessional, for the Organs had very quickly discovered how useful had very quickly discovered how useful it was to learn the content of confessions—the only use they found for religion.)
And members of non-Orthodox sects were arrested on an ever-wider scale.
And the Big Solitaire game with the socialists went on and on.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“In general, "we draw no distinction between intention and the crime itself, and this is an instance of the superiority of Soviet legislation to bourgeois legislation”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“Together with an elderly artist (I regret that I don't remember his name) he occupied a separate room in the barracks. And there Yuri painted for nothing schmaltzy pictures such as Nero's Feast and the Chorus of Elves and the like for the German officers on the commandant's staff. In return, he was given food. The slops for which the POW officers stood in line with their mess tins from 6 a.m. on, while the Ordners beat them with sticks and the cooks with ladles, were not enough to sustain life. At evening, Yuri could see from the windows of their room the one and only picture for which his artistic talent had been given him: the evening mist hovering above a swampy meadow encircled by barbed wire; a multitude of bonfires; and, around the bonfires, beings who had once been Russian officers but had now become beastlike creatures who gnawed the bones of dead horses, who baked patties from potato rinds, who smoked manure and were all swarming with lice. Not all those two-legged creatures had died as yet. Not all of them had yet lost the capacity for intelligible speech, and one could see in the crimson reflections of the bonfires how a belated understanding was dawning on those faces which were descending to the Neanderthal.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II



“At no time have governments been moralists. They never imprisoned people and executed them for having done something. They imprisoned and executed them to keep them from doing something. They imprisoned all those POW's, of course, not for treason to the motherland, because it was absolutely clear even to a fool that only the Vlasov men could be accused of treason. They imprisoned all of them to keep them from telling their fellow villagers about Europe. What the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve for.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“But this became the first plan of his life to fail. God told him - apparently with the help of human hands - to depart from his ribcage.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“When our life crackles and sparks like a torch, we curse the necessity of spending eight hours uselessly in sleep. When we have been deprived of everything, when we have been deprived of hope, then bless you, fourteen hours of sleep!”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“As early as 1921 interrogations usually took place at night. At that time, too, they shone automobile lights in the prisoner's face (the Ryazan Cheka—Stelmakh). And at the Lubyanka in 1926 (according to the testimony of Berta Gandal) they made use of the hot-air heating system to fill the cell first with icy-cold and then with stinking hot air. And there was an airtight cork-lined cell in which there was no ventilation and they cooked the prisoners. The poet Klyuyev was apparently confined in such a cell and Berta Gandal also. A participant in the Yaroslavl uprising of 1918, Vasily Aleksandrovich Kasyanov, described how the heat in such a cell was turned up until your blood began to ooze through your pores. When they saw this happening through the peephole, they would put the prisoner on a stretcher and take him off to sign his confession. The "hot" and "salty" methods of the "gold" period are well known. And in Georgia in 1926 they used lighted cigarettes to burn the hands of prisoners under interrogation. In Metekhi Prison they pushed prisoners into a cesspool in the dark.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“Then all of a sudden, one lovely night, Stalin reconsidered. Why? Maybe we will never know. Did he perhaps wish to save his soul? Too soon for that, it would seem. Did his sense of humor come to the fore—was it all so deadly, monotonous, so bitter-tasting? But no one would ever dare accuse Stalin of having a sense of humor! Likeliest of all, Stalin simply figured out that the whole countryside, not just 200,000 people, would soon die of famine anyway, so why go to the trouble? And instantly the whole TKP trial was called off. All those who had "confessed" were told they could repudiate their confessions (one can picture their happiness!). And instead of the whole big catch, only the small group of Kondratyev and Chayanov was hauled in and tried. 24 (In 1941, the charge against the tortured Vavilov was that the TKP had existed and he had been its head.)”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II



“No one, no one at all, ever set out to torture us on purpose! ... After all, was it because Pontius Pilate wanted to humiliate him that Christ was crucified between two thieves? It just happened to be crucifixion day that day - and there was only one Golgotha, and time was short.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“Human nature, if it changes at all, changes not much faster than the geological face of the earth.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“Even a strong man had no way left him to fight the prison machine, except perhaps suicide. But is suicide really resistance? Isn't it actually submission?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“(Please forgive us, reader. We have once more gone astray with this rightist opportunism—this concept of "guilt," and of the guilty or innocent. It has, after all, been explained to us that the heart of the matter is not personal guilt, but social danger. One can imprison an innocent person if he is socially hostile. And one can release a guilty man if he is socially friendly. But lacking legal training, we can be forgiven, for the 1926 [Soviet Criminal] Code, according to which, my good fellow, we lived for twenty-five years and more, was itself criticized for an "impermissible bourgeois approach," for an "insufficiently class-conscious approach," and for some kind of "bourgeois weighting of punishment in relation to the gravity of what had been committed.")”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“In addition, of course, they would be taken to a bath and in the bath vestibule they would be ordered to leave their leather coats, their Romanov sheepskin coats, their woolen sweaters, their suits of fine wool, their felt cloaks, their leather boots, their felt boots (for, after all, these were no illiterate peasants this time, but the Party elite—editors of newspapers, directors of trusts and factories, responsible officials in the provincial Party committees, professors of political economy, and, by the beginning of the thirties, all of them understood what good merchandise was). "And who is going to guard them?" the newcomers asked skeptically. "Oh, come on now, who needs your things?" The bath personnel acted offended. "Go on in and don't worry." And they did go in. And the exit was through a different door, and after passing through it, they received back cotton breeches, field shirts, camp quilted jackets without pockets, and pigskin shoes. (Oh, this was no small thing! This was farewell to your former life—to your titles, your positions, and your arrogance!) "Where are our things?" they cried. "Your things you left at home!" some chief or other bellowed at them. "In camp nothing belongs to you. Here in camp, we have communism! Forward march, leader!"
And if it was "communism," then what was there for them to object to? That is what they had dedicated their lives to.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II



“So what is the answer? How can you stand your ground when you are weak and sensitive to pain, when people you love are still alive, when you are unprepared?
What do you need to make you stronger than the Interrogator and the whole trap?
From the moment you go to prison you must put your cozy past firmly behind you. At the very threshold, you must say to yourself: "My life is over, a little early to be sure, but there's nothing to be done about it. I shall never return to freedom. I am condemned to die—now or a little later. But later on, in truth, it will be even harder, and so the sooner the better. I no longer have any property whatsoever. For me those I love have died, and for them I have died. From today on, my body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and my conscience remain precious and important to me."
Confronted by such a prisoner, the Interrogation will tremble.
Only the man who has renounced everything can win that victory.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“Do not rejoice when you have found, do not weep when you have lost.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“But just take the jurists' side for a moment: why, in fact, should a trial be supposed to have two possible outcomes when our general elections are conducted on the basis of one candidate? An acquittal is, in fact, unthinkable from the economic point of view! It would mean that the informers, the Security officers, the Interrogators, the prosecutor's staff, the internal guard in the prison, and the convoy had all worked to no purpose.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


“L. Kopelev came back to Moscow in 1955 and made a discovery: 'I am I'll-at-ease with successful people! I keep up acquaintance only with those of my friends who are in some way unlucky.' But, then, only those who decline to scramble up the career ladder are interesting as human beings. Nothing is more boring than a man with a career.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II


About the author

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Born place: in Kislovodsk, Russian Federation
Born date December 11, 1918
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