VORKUTA by Joseph Scholmer


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An amazing inside document on Russian prison life is given to us by a German Communist who lost faith in the Party and spent May Day, 1949 in the Lubianka. Earlier working against the Gestapo, he nevertheless faced charges of triple-espionage for the Americans, British and the Gestapo. He wove a fantastic tale to suit his captors, retracted it to their dismay, then compromised after torture in the detention cells on a satisfactory story -- one to send him to Siberia for twenty- five years, a standard sentence. Dr. Scholmer's description of the brutal camp life is revealing in many ways. He notes the many national groups from the 1800 Ukrainians (out of a total 3500) to the lone Tibetan; he tells the stories of many individuals and the reasons for seizure -- from the innocent to the involved. The relations of the prisoners and their guards, the prevalence of heart disease and tuberculosis, the feigning or manufacturing of illness to escape the intolerably heavy work -- these he mentions as a participant. He tells about the underground resistance movement in the camps and the strike in the mines -- the first in the Soviet Union -- that shocked some unthinking believers and made its weight felt in Leningrad, recipient of coal... and comments on the West's failure to take advantage of such uprisings -- to realize their significance. (East Berlin included). What comes out of this book is a personal story of how men endure and adjust to the most terrible environments, and a political story of a system distorted in values and reason, which in the case of the prison camps uses political means to supply needed manpower and then uneconomically uses up the men by overworking- underfeeding, a practice politically accepted. A special kind of terror emerges in a system where the individual equals his energy and nothing else. Dr. Scholmer's releases followed Stalin's death, when Germans were returned to their country. Important for fact above opinion, for the overall tone of delivery, revealing in itself of the writer's adaptability... Above all, fine reporting and a must for the Russian scene.

Publisher: Henry Holt