Putin Makes Solzhenitsyn Required Reading

Those who dismiss the idea that Stalin might be worse than Hitler almost certainly have not read The Gulag.

Those who have read it understand that, while Stalin’s genocide was not as focused or efficient as Hitler’s, and while it transpired in places never liberated by the U.S. Army and its photographers, it lasted far longer. And while Stalin didn’t focus his cult of death on particular groups, such as Jews and Gypsies, he cast a much wider net. He wanted to “liquidate” not only anyone who opposed him, but anyone who might think of opposing him.

When a decorated Red Army officer named Solzhenitsyn made the fatal mistake of putting some trenchant thoughts about Stalin into a letter to a friend, he found himself plucked from the front lines of the war against Hitler and thrown into the Gulag’s maw.

After eight years of circulating within the camps, he found himself, much to his astonishment, still alive.

As a writer, he also felt bound to witness the reality of the Soviet system. His account brings readers face to face with truths so harrowing that they might induce despair. Yet if we can ask students to watch movies like Shoah and Schindler’s List, why can’t we require them to dig up this almost-forgotten book like the frozen remains of a long-ago age, break out its truths from beneath the ice of indifference and bias, and devour them?