Демография России (сайт посвящён проф. Д. И. Валентею)
personalia статистика факты мнения консультации новости

Man and his century


By Yevsey Zeldin
In 1947, when Julius Margolin finished his book about the GULAG, Alexander Solzhenitsyn had just begun serving his prison term
Thirty years have passed now since the death of Julius Margolin (1900-1971), a thinker, writer,  and prominent citizen. He was a man with an unusual fate. Unfortunately, he is almost unknown  in Russia. Nevertheless, as a man of great character who relentlessly exposed the lawless deeds  of the Soviet regime and made a notable contribution to the human rights movement, he  undoubtedly ranks up there with Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov. Moreover,  Margolin began fighting the Soviet system long before them. Simply it was prohibited to  mention his name in the USSR. 

As fate willed it in that turbulent epoch, a modest and quiet man, an armchair scholar by nature  fully passed the strength test in the northern "corrective labour" camps of the GULAG. There  was a second miracle — Margolin was freed and obliged to live in a remote area. Then came  the third miracle — in Stalin's time he managed to escape from the grip of the regime and go  abroad. He did not break down and shrink into himself but, having been set free, decided to tell  the truth about the Soviet camps, so thoroughly concealed from the world: what he saw,  experienced and thought in them, and what people he met there.

Julius Margolin was the first to bring up the subject of camps in Russian literature by writing an  extensive book entitled In the Land of the Zeks (zek is the Russian slang for a prisoner—Tr.).  He finished it in 1947, when Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the author of the famous Gulag  Archipelago, had just begun serving his prison term. He had a brilliant style and clearly  expressed his thoughts. Many phrases of the book sound like aphorisms. Some of his forecasts,  for instance, about the inevitable collapse of the dictatorship and the breakup of the USSR, have  been fully borne out.

Julius Margolin was born on October 14, 1900 in Pinsk (Western Byelorussia, Polish territory  since 1921 and now the Brest Region). His father was a doctor well known in that city. The  family, affluent and educated, observed Jewish traditions but was not confined by their religion.  By the time Julius had finished secondary school he knew Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish,  German, French, and English. He wrote later: "I am happy that the circumstances of my life  allowed me to read in the original not only the Bible but also the works of Pushkin and Tolstoy  and recently The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov and the books of Solzhenitsyn." 

Margolin went to Berlin University, finally receiving a Ph.D. from there in 1925. Then he  married and a year later moved to Lodz with his young wife. To earn money, Julius worked in a  stock company, but in his free time he engaged in writing. 

In 1939, Margolin and his family moved to Palestine to live. At the end of that summer, he  visited his parents, who had remained in Pinsk, and this led to a tragedy. In less than a month,  units of the Soviet "liberation army" entered the city. After them came the party officials and  NKVD men, who began to establish order. Margolin was arrested together with other "socially  dangerous elements", both Poles and Jews, and, without a trial, sent to the concentration camp  "48th Kvadrat" on the northern bank of Lake Onega.

He experienced in full measure the wilful actions of camp superiors, the outrages of criminals,  and life in congested barracks in an atmosphere of general thieving and mugging, Russian frosts,  deportation points, hard labour at timber cutting sites in the age-old taiga, sleeping in his work  clothes on a plank-bed among hungry rats, lice and bugs, chronic hunger and despair.

On the verge of death

The prisoners were not kept long in one place. They were not to get accustomed to one another  and to one place and were let know they were merely ants working for the state. Margolin  worked in different camps, all in the north. Sometimes he did not even have a shirt and shoes and  had to wrap up his legs in rags. He grew thin and weighed just 45 kg instead of the 80 in the past.  Several times Margolin nearly died of alimentary dystrophia, pellagra and furunculosis. He could  not walk, and, due to scurvy, lost his teeth and his gold crown was stolen right away.

Margolin survived thanks to rare parcels from his mother, who was killed by Nazis without  learning in what conditions her son lived, and to good luck. Owing to a higher education and  knowledge of several languages, he was made the camp head's secretary. After being dismissed  from this post because of his mild treatment of prisoners, he helped do office work now and then,  earning a plate of gruel, or in warehouses where he managed to get food no one would eat in  other conditions. But he survived thanks mainly to the doctor who put him into a hospital.

"The doctor was our judge. There was only one thing he could not give a man dying of  exhaustion — enough food," Margolin wrote in his book. "Here", said the doctor, "are two equal  cases, you and your neighbour. Both of you will die in three months. However, you can be saved  if you are fed properly. But food is a problem. In our hospital special conditions can be provided  for just one man by giving all crumbs and leftovers gathered to him. It is also possible to give a  part of my own ration to that man. Thus some food can be scraped together for one man in some  way or another, but not for two. What's to be done? I have to choose one of you. Your neighbour  is a fellow without kith or kin, and no one will cry over his death, whereas you have a family  overseas, someone is waiting for you. God knows who of you deserves more to remain alive. I  choose you."

Margolin did not stop exercising his brain. "One of the symptoms of alimentary dystrophia is  deterioration of memory and mental abilities to the extent of imbecility," he writes in his book.  "While my furuncles were being treated with a lancet and ointments, I countered the process of  sinking into depression by turning my surroundings into an object of quiet and passionless  research. What surrounded me, rose above my head, encircled me and my whole generation with  a stifling ring was a lie. The logical and psychological nature of this lie, and its cultural and  historical manifestations were my subject to think about at the end of the winter of 1942." 

The science of hatred and the revival of truth

As a true philosopher, Margolin also reflected on the essence of the Soviet system and the roots  of its political and economic stability, the dictatorship and the role of camps in the state system,  the propaganda machine, the total deception and compulsion propping up the system, human  nature, and many other subjects. He secretly tried to write down his thoughts, though it was  immensely difficult to get paper, ink and other materials. In his book, In the Land of the Zeks,  Margolin recalls how he managed to avoid becoming degraded.

In the camp, Margolin wrote three philosophical works entitled The Theory of Lies, The  Teaching of Hatred and Concerning Freedom. He kept his manuscripts hidden. But during an  inspection at the Vologda deportation prison, a callous guard discovered the papers and, showing  no interest in their content, took them away together with letters from his mother. He threw the  papers and letters into the mud and trampled on them.

"It took three years of thinking and work to write this book, always looking around in fear of  being caught and hiding it well, and now it was lost," Margolin wrote. "It is clear that books  should not be written in camps. But is it the only book lost in the world? Is it right to recall this  book on the graves of millions, the smouldering ruins, the ocean of human blood and crimes, at  present and in the future?"

Falling into despair, Margolin wrote a letter to Ilya Ehrenburg, citing from memory a few of his  verses. He hinted at his present state of mind and asked for help. Margolin was summoned to a  high chief to give an explanation. The letter had evidently landed somewhere else, but the  attitude to him in the camp improved a little.

Julius Margolin spent nearly six years in Soviet camps, from 1939 to 1945. After the war he, as a  former citizen of Poland, was granted amnesty and released under an agreement between the  USSR and the new Poland. Margolin settled in the town of Slavgorod in the Altai Region.  Luckily, kindred people helped him to find work and lodging. Allowed to return to Poland in  1946, he immediately left it to rejoin his family in Palestine. "I am writing these lines on board  the ship taking me to the shores of my homeland. My return to life is a miracle, an actual  revival." 

"Some things must be told the world immediately, without delay. I will not allow myself to put  them off. I have no right to do so because it would be a crime against those who speak through  me shouting a mortal cry of despair," Julius Margolin wrote. 

"But fate has put a pen into my hand and I will not put it down until I have said everything I can.  I have no literary ambitions. My task is to tell the truth that many people do not dare, do not  want, are unable or simply fear to tell, and I am writing as a man who has only one day to live,  and on this day he has to say what is most urgent, most important, and as soon as possible, for it  may be too late tomorrow."

"Until the autumn of 1939 I was 'favourably neutral' towards the USSR. It was the characteristic  stand of progressive and radical intellectuals in Europe. In the last seven years I have become an  inveterate and vehement enemy of the Soviet system. I hate this system with all my heart and  mind. Everything I saw filled me with fear and disgust for the rest of my life. Everyone who was  in camps and saw what I did will understand me. I think the struggle against the slave-owning,  terrorist and inhuman regime of the Soviet Union is the prime duty of every honest citizen in the  world. Tolerance or support of this world disgrace by people on the other side of the Soviet  border is inadmissible in normal European conditions."

A test for ompatibility 

Julius Margolin began writing the book about the Soviet camps in 1946 and finished it in 1947.  But he could not publish it right away — the time was not right. The Soviet Union had crushed  the Nazi monster in an unprecedented and bloody war and was at the height of its glory. The  truth about forced labour and camps in the USSR would remind the public of what it knew about  the Nazi death camps. Such a book would create a scandal. Stalin was respected and feared, and  no one wanted to get into a conflict with the Soviet Union. The author obviously understood this.

In the preface to his book Margolin writes: "I did not fight near Stalingrad and did not take  Berlin by storm. Perhaps I would write in a different way if I had fought there. Perhaps. But I did  not choose my route. It was decided by the Soviet regime. The world knows everything about  Stalingrad and nothing about the camps. Where does the truth about Russia lie — at the victory  parade on Red Square or in the land of the zeks not indicated on the map? These things should  apparently be regarded together — as an integral whole and in their mutual connection. I have no  illusions, because I saw Russia from within. I saw it from inside. Those who set their hopes on  the Land of Soviets should take this 'material' into account and reconcile it with their conscience  as best they can."

The author cites Leo Tolstoy's words, "he who was not sent to prison does not know what the  state really means." In Margolin's book we can find everything that Solzhenitsyn wrote later  about the camps. As a European, he could discern what was Soviet and what was Russian in the  camp realities and draw conclusions from what he saw and experienced.

"I met Soviet people callous to the needs of others. They only fended for themselves and hated  the weak who burdened the collective.... I did not take their friendship or enmity seriously. I did  not feel insulted by their swearing any longer because it was completely forgotten the next day,  and was not deceived by intimacy which could turn into betrayal at any moment."

Since Margolin knew how many people were held in the camps where he had served his term  and heard from others how many camps of this kind had been organized, he estimated the  approximate number of prisoners in the Soviet Union. It turned out that several million people  were being kept in prisons simultaneously. One to two thousand prisoners died every day. Tens  of millions of innocent people served their terms in Soviet camps.

In 1950, Margolin wrote an article entitled "Can Nazi camps be compared to Soviet ones?"  Unfortunately, it is impossible to give a summary of this article here or, even better, cite it  because the original text loses its zest when it is retold. Here are short excerpts from this article.

"Nothing infuriates the leaders of international communism so much as the term 'red fascism'.  There is no greater insult than comparing Soviet methods to Nazi ones. History has proved that  fascism and communism are unable to exist together. Communism dies where fascism triumphs.  Fascism is crushed where communism has won out. But we reply from our point of view, not  fascist or communist, but democratic and liberal: mutual hatred does not yet prove absolute  incompatibility. Fascism and communism are two variants of a totalitarian regime which denies  the freedom and dignity of the individual. The hatred between them is the hatred of rivals. The  attitude of the Jewish people to Nazism was the attitude of a victim to the hangman. We have  been infected by it. Our hatred is justified by the need to defend ourselves against evil. But who  is the hangman and who is a victim in the mututal hatred between Nazism and communism?  Both are of an equally aggressive, predatory and brutal nature."

"The insistence on revealing the truth about the Soviet camps is instantly dismissed by the  advocates of the Soviet system as anti-Soviet propaganda. It is an example of confusion of  notions. Opinions or political programmes can be propagandized. The truth is not  'propagandized', it is spread."

"Nazi camps can and should be compared with Soviet ones. They were places of  imprisonment. Millions of people died there. However, the camps were not the same, both  common and distinctive features should be established. It can be said on the whole that the Nazi  camps served the purpose of annihilation, whereas the Soviet camps are used as pools of  manpower."    "In the Nazi camps, the people were tortured to death by sadists and cannibals, whereas the  Soviet camps were and remain vast reserves of the forced labour of state-owned slaves. It is  believed that in the Soviet camps the people are not supposed to die because the state needs their  manpower. Their health and life are protected as long as they do not refuse to work."

A witness for the prosecution

In the Land of the Zeks was brought out in the United States in 1952 by the Chekhov publishing  house. It brought world fame to the author except in the Soviet Union. The Kremlin rulers  hushed up the name of Julius Margolin and his works. The NKVD could not reach the author,  and what he wrote could not be disproved.

Together with his literary work, Julius Margolin was actively engaged in public activities. He  spoke at meetings, formed the Union of Former Prisoners of Soviet Concentration Camps, and  was well informed about events in the USSR.

Margolin became widely known owing to his part as a witnesss for the prosecution in a trial  which stirred up the French public — David Rousset against the communist weekly Les Lettres  franIaises. The trial drew the attention of the public in many countries.

In October 1949, Le Figaro carried a series of excerpts from Margolin's unpublished book. It  ended with an appeal urging the world public to take notice of the situation in the Soviet labour  camps.

During the German occupation of France David Rousset, a writer, took part in the underground  movement, but later was arrested and sent, together with other French patriots, to a concentration  camp in Germany. After the war he returned home seriously ill and actively fought against the  system of concentration camps. Rousset argued that there is no future for a man in a country  where such camps exist, regardless of the economic and political situation there.

In 1946, he wrote a book entitled Concentration Universum and in 1947 a novel entitled The  Days of Our Death. Both books expose the Nazi camp system. In 1948, Rousset published a  collection of official Nazi texts entitled The Clown Does Not Laugh. 

In November 1949, having learned that the "concentration camp world" destroyed in Germany  still existed in the USSR, Rousset, through   the weekly Le Figaro Litteraire, appealed to former  inmates of Nazi concentration camps to form a commission to inspect camps in the USSR. Of  course, first they have to get the permission of the Soviet government. By July 1950, Germany,  Belgium, republican Spain, Holland and Norway had responded, in addition to France, to  Rousset's call.

"But in our time it is dangerous to be a man," Margolin wrote. "Rousset mentioned the Soviet  Union."

The communist Les Lettres franIaises published a fiery article entitled "Why Did Rousset Invent  Concentration Camps in the USSR?" Rousset was accused of forging the texts of Soviet law and  using false information supplied by some unknown persons who had invented slander about the  Soviet Union or copied it from books about the Nazi camps. The author of this article described  Rousset as "a dishonourable liar" and zealously defended the Soviet camps, alleging that "no one  is sent to them without a trial" and that "people are re-educated there and taught to be free".  Moreover, it was reported that Rousset did not reply to the charges. It was suggested that he  take Les Lettres franIaises to court.

Rousset brought charges against the weekly, accusing it of slander. The court met from  November 20, 1950 to January 6, 1951. Margolin recalled later: "I took part in the trial against  inhumanity because in my eyes it was a legal action taken by militant liberalism in the struggle  against the Stalin regime".

Aware of their shaky position, the lawyers of the weekly tried to sidetrack the trial, and they  partly managed to do so, but the evidence given by witnesses from various countries, Margolin  first of all, revealed the true picture to the court. Under the sentence passed by the court (the  defendants did not even come to hear it) Les Lettres was obliged to pay a fine and publish the  sentence on its pages and in ten other periodicals to be chosen by Rousset.

In his long articles about the trial entitled "The Paris Account" and "Concerning Villains",  Margolin also notes the Jewish aspect of the trial. "Why did so many Jewish witnesses and  experts take part in this case? Was it accidental? Was it the deliberate intention of the organizers  of the trial? No. Rousset easily found many Jewish witnesses because most of the victims of  camps were Jews and it is impossible to talk about Soviet terror in general and camps in  particular without mentioning the terrible suffering they caused the Jewish people."

Margolin estimated that there were 200,000 to 250,000 Jews in the camps at that time.  (According to the official Moscow data of the 1990s, the share of Jews in Stalin's camps was as  high as 16 percent — second after Russians. — Y.Z.)

All of us know about the anti-Jewish campaign launched in the postwar years. It was linked with  Stalin's personal insrtructions, though the Jews had not been officially discriminated against at  the front and in the rear during the war. Perhaps it was a retaliatory measure against the activity  of foreign, including Jewish, human rights activists. The Kremlin certainly knew about it. But the  Soviet system was not to be reformed.


Julius Margolin has left a big literary legacy. In addition to his book In the Land of the Zeks, he  wrote Israel, a Jewish State in 1958 (under the pseudonym Alexander Galin). The Jewish Story  was published in 1960. Dozens of articles, essays, travel notes and reminiscences were written by him between 1946 and  1970 and printed in Israel, France and the United States.

Julius Margolin died on January 21, 1971. Friends and admirers have formed a society to  perpetuate the memory of Dr. Margolin. It has done much to popularize his literary legacy. In  1973 it brought out The Story of the Millennia — essays on the history of the Jewish people, and  in 1975 it republished In the Land of the Zeks, which had become a bibliographic rarity by that  time.

Many Margolin's articles published in various magazines and collections, including his speeches  and statements, were gathered by members of the society and published as a separate book  entitled The Uncollected in 1975. It is a very interesting volume. Here are the names of the  chapters into which the articles were grouped: "The Tel-Aviv Note-Book", "Israel", "The Jews  of Russia", "The Land of the Zeks and Its Champions", "Zionism", "Essays" (on lies, the works  of Pasternak, Mandelstam and Solzhenitsyn, and an analysis of Vladimir Zhabotinsky's best  novel, The Five). 


обсудить на ReForum+ ответить письмом посетите сайт нашего спонсора демография россии