Thursday, August 26, 2010

Almost lost to history

The Nazi death camps of Europe are, for the most part, preserved and visited. The same cannot be said for the gulag. The Aug. 30 New Yorker includes the haunting "On the prison highway: the gulag's silent remains" by Ian Frazier. It's stunningly eerie because the author had to work hard and hire a guide to discover and stumble over remote and snowed in prisoner-built roads to discover the out-of-the-way remains of just one of the gulag's slave labor camps. One can only wonder, and in no way really fathom, all of the misery undergone in that place -- one of so many that are also lost to obscurity. The piece is actually the conclusion of a series abstracted here.

The author notes, "What struck me and then still strikes me now was the place's overwhelming aura of absence. The deserted prison camp just sat there -- unexcused, untorn-down, unexplained ... The world more or less knows what it thinks of Hitler. Stalin, though, is still beyond us. As time passes, he seems to be sidling into history as one of those old-timey, soft-focus monsters -- like Ivan the Terrible, like Peter the Great ... Hitler killed millions, and we have a rough idea how many, but the millions of victims of Stalin are still difficult to count ..."

There is much more. Buy, find the magazine. Read and share the article.