MAN IS WOLF TO MAN by Janusz Bardach


Surviving the Gulag
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No matter how often one reads of life in the Gulag—and this is one of the best accounts—one is still chilled by the extent of man’s capacity for evil. This account by Bardach, now a surgeon at the University of Iowa, is, however, more nuanced, though there is no lack of brutality in this story of how he survived. A Polish Jew who admired the Soviet Union and wanted to fight for social justice, he was conscripted into the Red Army when it overran his area of Poland after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact carved up the country. He appeared before a drumhead court-martial for losing his tank after the Germans attacked Russia in 1941 and was sentenced to ten years in the camps. For several weeks he crossed the Soviet Union in a closed cattle-truck, from which he escaped, and upon recapture he was almost beaten to death, being saved only by an officer who did not want the bureaucratic hassle of dealing with a death certificate. Among his worst experiences were his time in the mines, with the bitter cold, the pitiful rations, and the relentless work; and the long trip by sea to the Kolyma Peninsula, during which the male prisoners broke into the women’s hold and literally raped many of them to death. And yet through it all, he says, it was his —fate to meet people who not only saved my life but also showed me how to remain sensitive,— people like Dr. Piasetsky, who pretended to believe that he had been a medical student, and let him stay as a hospital assistant, which saved him from the gold mines. To survive the Gulag you needed strength and luck, and Bardach had a good measure of both, but it is our good fortune that in doing so he has contributed to our knowledge of the human condition.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-520-21352-1
Page count: 397pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998


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