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February 13, 2010

The Forsaken

An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia
Tim Tzouliadis - ISBN - 978-0143115427

This riveting tome is in the vein of Dancing Under the Red Star, reviewed here about a year ago. It is a well documented, heavily referenced book, whereas "Dancing" was a memoir in the third person, written by the son of the woman who endured the gulag and lived. "Forsaken" is about the revolution and early days of Stalin, presented in considerable detail. Both emphasize the hundreds of Americans (perhaps thousands--there is no documentation) who went to Russia during the depression. They were promised a future in a new and bright land with full employment, freedom and more, only to be disenchanted and disenfranchised before being imprisoned and destroyed. All of this was done without our government lifting a finger to rescue them; not even an acknowledgement. These unfortunates didn't emigrate to become "Reds," they moved for the promise of high paying jobs. Their passports were seized and sold by the Russian government, their meager funds were taken, and their pay was in rubles insufficient for sustenance.

Washington did know! The documentation herein is much more damning, and is backed up by references and quotations from original commentators, notably the disingenuous Walter Duranty and Paul Robeson, and the renowned Russian scholar and diplomat, George Kennan. Duranty (the Moscow bureau chief for the N.Y. Times) won a Pulitzer for reportage on, and denial of, the "alleged" Ukrainian holocaust, amongst other Stalinist horrors. Robeson (a very talented black entertainer and later recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize) was virulently anti-fascist and anti-racist, yet embraced communism even after exposure to its duplicity and its murderous degradations. So Duranty lied, and Robeson caved. The soviets figured (correctly) that these folks would soon be forgotten; they couldn't allow the Americans to leave and tell the world how vile and bestial was the revolution. Kennan* and Ambassador Bullitt, the wealthy friend of the president, were unable to influence FDR to do anything; another event to tarnish his legacy. It was neither America's nor Roosevelt's "finest hour."

Few of the handful of survivors were available to Tzouliadis for interviews, hence there is great emphasis on specific gulags, most notably Kolyma. This was the gold mine which singularly financed Stalin's malevolent machine; a remote Siberian hell from which very few emerged. Thomas Sgovio, the only American survivor of this camp returned to the U.S. some 30 years later. He credited his survival to his promise to dead compatriots, and to his determination to live to tell the west what it did not know, thanks to our government, Duranty and his ilk. I should mention here that Hitler did get his nationals out, proving it could be done (though he executed them for treason.)

What makes it all worse was the fact that the U.S. government was supplying Stalin with machinery, tools--even shovels--all made in America, and ships on the "lend-lease" program (neither returned nor paid for) which made it possible for Russia to continue its operation of Kolyma. "We" knew it was a prison gulag, and that there were Americans there! Worse, after WW II hundreds (or more) of the American soldiers imprisoned by the Germans were simply transferred to the gulags. When it became known, Eisenhower eschewed the opportunity to comment, fearing that confrontation of the Soviets "could be disastrous." Even in the '50s, reports of Americans in gulags were ignored by our government, and undisclosed by the press.

Recorded for posterity, for anyone willing to expend the time to read it, is this astonishing exposition of Russian atrocities. The Gulag Archipelago was, and will remain the definitive text, but this book deals more fully with the American experience. This is up close and personal.

"In a totally fictitious world, failures need not be recorded, admitted or remembered. Factuality itself depends for its continued existence upon the existence of the non-totalitarian world." A quote from The Origins of Totalitarianism, by Hannah Arendt-c.1951

From Russia there emerged neither newsreels, nor photos; nothing but a few witness statements accompanied by drawings from memory by survivors. Few memoirs have ever been published. After the war, the audience had already grown weary of narratives of violence and human suffering. The existing horrors were more than enough--the clear confirmation that the Allied nations had been fighting a justified war against a manifest evil as represented by the verities of the black-and-white newsreels from the Nazi camps. "To add a concurrent notion of a Soviet genocide, and one from within the wartime alliance, was perhaps too much to bear. . . . Few had believed the scale of the reports from Poland or, in the early stages of the Holocaust, had dismissed them as 'atrocity tales.' How much more incomprehensible, then, that a society [ostensibly] predicated on the equality and fraternity of mankind could commit a crime even remotely equivalent?"

It is important to be apprised and to remember. The horror of Communism has been, and continues to be forgotten by the world. Evil is associated primarily with the Nazis. That is unfortunate. This book goes some distance to correcting that fact, but only if it is read; an undertaking which I strongly recommend.

*In fairness it must be observed that Kennan was the architect and fierce advocate of the containment strategy during the Truman administration--opposed vigorously by many on the left. It continued for virtually all of the "cold war." Thus he redeemed himself credibly, if belatedly.

Posted by Curmudgeon at February 13, 2010 12:20 PM