Saturday, June 20, 2009


I started out to write a movie review of an impressive German movie my wife and I recently watched. As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me, based upon the book of the same name written by Josef Bauer, details a German POW's escape from the gulags of Siberia in the years after WWII. Clemens Forrell, a former mountain troops soldier, escaped from a Russian slave labor camp north of the Arctic Circle and spent an incredible three years walking thousands of miles, battling everything man and nature could throw at him, to escape from the Soviet Union and return home to Bavaria and his wife and children.

Then, thinking of the high state of ignorance deliberately induced by our own state-run publik skools, I realized there are many younger folks who never heard of Uncle Joe Stalin and his bloodthirsty Communist regime. Having once patrolled the old Iron Curtain, an endless line of fences, landmines, attack dogs, and guard towers with interlocking fields of fire, where men, women, or children would be mercilessly shot down in cold blood if they attempted to escape from the Communist "Workers' Paradise" to the free West, I think this is something that should be remembered just like the Holocaust.

Although Russia was no stranger to bloodshed or camps even before the Communist Revolution of 1917, when Joseph Stalin, a paranoid genocidal maniac every bit as vicious as Adolph Hitler came to power he took state-sponsored murder to an unparalleled level. What with lefty control of the education system and the entertainment and news industries, and their swooning love of all things Communist or Socialist, it should not be too big of a surprise that our more recent graduates don't even know about this. The media and academia are still to busy re-hashing the "purges" of Joseph McCarthy and the "American Gulag" at Guantanamo to mention any real purges or gulags.

At any rate, Joseph Stalin was a mad dictator with complete and total power over every aspect of the largest nation on the earth. With his pogroms, purges, gulags, re-settlements, and state-induced famines, his regime killed more Russian citizens in peacetime than did the Nazis during the entire course of WWII. Despite his bloodthirsty excesses, Stalin still enjoyed a huge cult of personality, endlessly inflated by a state-run media (much like what we have today in the American MSM). Stalin was given titles such as Brilliant Genius of Humanity, Gardener of Human Happiness, and Coryphaeus of Science.

It should be noted, however, that not even Uncle Joe tried for the title of Messiah, and the only time he gave anyone tingles down their leg was when they were being electrocuted in Beria's torture chambers.

Mostly under Stalin, the systems of Soviet state killed somewhere in the neighborhood of 60,000,000 living, breathing, loving, dreaming human beings with families and souls. While the terror and atrocities (called "excesses" when committed by Communist regimes) of the Nazis should never be forgotten, as many Muslims would like, Stalin and the Communists should at least receive honorable mention when it comes to genocide.

Some would argue that the Soviet gulags were somehow "better" than the Nazi concentration camps, since they were not extermination camps per se. At one point, 3.3 Soviet citizens were forcibly deported to "re-settlement" work camps in the middle of nowhere. There, 43% of them died of starvation, malnutrition, exposure, and disease. To the hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children who perished, it did not much matter that they were not in an actual extermination camp.

Genocide can also go by many names when warped by governmental definition. Former Soviet Spy-Chief Vladimir Petrov recalled how the "non-genocidal" system worked under Stalin.

"I handled hundreds of signals to all parts of the Soviet Union which were couched in the following form: " To NKVD., Frunze. You are charged with the task of exterminating 10,000 enemies of the people. Report results by signal. -Yezhov."

And in due course the reply would come back: "In reply to yours of such-and-such date, the following enemies of the Soviet people have been shot."

As bad as it was to be a Soviet citizen in the hands of their own government, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn estimated some 40,000,000 passed through the hands of the state to one form of punishment or another, it was even worse to be fed into the maw of the voracious Soviet system if you were an Axis "Prisoner of War", held long after the end of World War Two.

Of the 91,000 German troops who surrendered at Stalingrad, only about 5,000 ever returned alive from Soviet captivity. Italian POW's, used to the sunny Mediterranean, fared even worse, with a total death rate of 85% while in Communist captivity. Poles, Finns, Hungarians, Romanians...basically everyone Stalin could get his hands on, suffered similar fates. The last Soviet "Prisoners of War" were not released until ten years after the war was over.

Even 20,000 American and 30,000 British soldiers "liberated" from German POW cages by the advancing Red Army went right back into captivity in Soviet hands, to be used as "bargaining chips" by Stalin.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a survivor of the gulags himself, wrote the ultimate study on the brutal and corrupt Communist system. His The Gulag Archipelago is a must-read for anyone even remotely interested in the subject of gulags in particular and governmental abuse of power in general.

Solzhenitsyn's most telling quote is a "what if?" footnote that serves as a chilling warning of the need to defend freedom.

"And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door, and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand? After all, you knew ahead of time that those bluecaps were out at night for no good purpose. And you could be sure ahead of time that you'd be cracking the skull of a cutthroat. Or what about the Black Maria sitting out there on the street with one lonely chauffeur--what if it had been driven off or its tires spiked? The Organs (of state) would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin's thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt!"

Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, Poland's "ethnic cleansing", Rhodesia, South Africa, Sarajevo and Yugoslavia, etc. In every case the common man thought of the coming nightmare, "We are a modern, progressive, civilized industrial nation. That could never happen here." And in every case, the common man was first disarmed.

Not to worry, though. We are a modern, progressive, civilized industrial nation. That could never happen here. So kick back, switch on Dancing With the Stars, have another Big Mac, turn in your guns, and enjoy the bread and circuses.


Ben said...

Solzhenitsyn's "what if?" quote reminds me of an essay I read one time titled "The Forgotten Lesson of Anne Frank." Written by a Nazi Holocaust survivor, he made basically the same point. Millions of Jews (and others) shuffled away compliantly to their deaths, with the same "you can't fight city hall" type of attitude. If even, say, 10% of these victims would have done something as simple as swinging a chair at the Nazi goons pulling them out of their homes, they could have changed history.

Anonymous said...

The movie Defiance is a good story of a few partisan fighters who actually did fight back against the Nazis, and ended up keeping hundreds of Belorussian Jews alive through World War II. A pretty incredible story of what a few people can do and is based on a true story.

As an aside, I have not seen many defenders of Stalin in contemporary academia (there were more, especially in the UK, in the 30s or 40s). Sadly, I think Russia has now lost interest in taking an honest look at Stalin's regime, although many of his actions have led directly to contemporary problems, such as mass deportations of Chechens to Siberia and Central Asia.

Anonymous said...

I just read an interesting statistic: In September 1941, Russians were dying in several Nazi prison camps at the pace of 1 percent every twenty-four hours, a rate three times worse than the American Civil War POW camp of Andersonville. (History Buff's Guide to World War II). I have also seen statistics that Belorussia lost a quarter of its population during the war. Considering how brutally both civilian and military populations were treated by the Nazis, and considering how devastated the country was after the war, I don't find it surprising that German POWs received such horrible treatment. My understanding was that many POWS were used after the war as slave labor, perhaps not surprising in a country that had lost so much of its workforce in the war. That's still no excuse for killing off POWs after the war ended, of course. It's hard to fathom how much the Soviets suffered during the war. As you say, some of this suffering was due to Stalin's plots against his own people, and also to his criminal ineptitude, but the average soldier or citizen would not know this and would blame everything on the Nazis.