"Joyful sounds mean nought to the traitor"

From Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, in a chapter entitled "That Spring" comes the authors retelling of the fate of Red Army soldiers returning home.

Back when the Red Army had cut through East Prussia, I had seen downcast columns of returning war prisoners—the only people around who were grieving instead of celebrating. Even then their gloom had shocked me, though I didn't yet grasp the reason for it. I jumped down and went over to those voluntarily formed-up columns. (Why were they marching in columns? Why had they lined themselves up in ranks? After all, no one had compelled them to, and the war prisoners of all other nations went home as scattered individuals. But ours wanted to return as submissively as possible.) I was wearing a captain's shoulder boards, and they, plus the fact that I was moving forward, helped prevent my finding out why our POW's were so sad. But then fate turned me around and sent me in the wake of those prisoners along the same path they had taken. I had already marched with them from army counterintelligence headquarters to the headquarters at the front, and when we got there I had heard their first stories, which I didn't yet understand; and then Yuri Y. told me the whole thing. And here beneath the domes of the brick-red Butyrki castle, I felt that the story of these several million Russian prisoners had got me in its grip once and for all, like a pin through a specimen beetle. My own story of landing in prison seemed insignificant. I stopped regretting my torn-off shoulder boards. It was mere chance that had kept me from ending up exactly where these contemporaries of mine had ended. I came to understand that it was my duty to take upon my shoulders a share of their common burden—and to bear it to the last man, until it crushed us. I now felt as if I, too, had fallen prisoner at the Solovyev crossing, in the Kharkov encirclement, in the quarries of Kerch, and, hands behind my back, had carried my Soviet pride behind the barbed wire of the concentration camps; that I, too, had stood for hours in the freezing cold for a ladle of cold Kawa (an ersatz coffee) and had been left on the ground for dead, without even reaching the kettle; that in Oflag 68 (Suwalki) I had used my hands and the lid of a mess tin to dig a bell-shaped (upturned, that is) foxhole, so as not to have to spend the winter on the open field; and that a maddened prisoner had crawled up to me as I lay dying to gnaw on the still warm flesh beneath my arm; and with every new day of exacerbated, famished consciousness, lying in a barracks riddled with typhus, or at the barbed wire of the neighboring camp for English POW's, the clear thought had penetrated my dying brain: Soviet Russia has renounced her dying children. She had needed them, "proud sons of Russia," as long as they let the tanks roll over them and it was still possible to rouse them to attack. But to feed them once they were war prisoners? Extra mouths. And extra witnesses to humiliating defeats.

Sometimes we try to lie but our tongue will not allow us to. These people were labeled traitors, but a remarkable slip of the tongue occurred—on the part of the judges, prosecutors, and interrogators. And the convicted prisoners, the entire nation, and the newspapers repeated and reinforced this mistake, involuntarily letting the truth out of the bag. They intended to declare them "traitors to the Motherland." But they were universally referred to, in speech and in writing, even in the court documents, as "traitors of the Motherland."

You said it! They were not traitors to her. They were her traitors. It was not they, the unfortunates, who had betrayed the Motherland, but their calculating Motherland who had betrayed them, and not just once but thrice.

The first time she betrayed them was on the battlefield, through ineptitude—when the government, so beloved by the Mother- land, did everything it could to lose the war: destroyed the lines of fortifications; set up the whole air force for annihilation; dis- mantled the tanks and artillery; removed the effective generals; and forbade the armies to resist.

[Now, after twenty-seven years, the first honest work on this subject has appeared—P. G. Grigorenko, "A Letter to the Magazine Problems of the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union," samizdat, 1968—and such works are going to multiply from here on out. Not all the witnesses died. And soon no one will call Stalin's government anything but a government of insanity and treason.]

And the war prisoners were the men whose bodies took the blow and stopped the Wehrmacht.

The second time they were heartlessly betrayed by the Motherland was when she abandoned them to die in captivity.

And the third time they were unscrupulously betrayed was when, with motherly love, she coaxed them to return home, with such phrases as "The Motherland has forgiven you! The Motherland calls you!" and snared them the moment they reached the frontiers.

[One of the biggest war criminals, Colonel General Golikov, former chief of the Red Army's intelligence administration, was put in charge of coaxing the repatriates home and swallowing them up.]

It would appear that during the one thousand one hundred years of Russia's existence as a state there have been, ah, how many foul and terrible deeds! But among them was there ever so multimillioned foul a deed as this: to betray one's own soldiers and proclaim them traitors?

How easily we left them out of our own accounting! He was a traitor? For shame! Write him off! And our Father wrote them off, even before we did: he threw the flower of Moscow's in- telligentsia into the Vyazma meat grinder with Berdan single- loading rifles, vintage 1866, and only one for every five men at that. What Lev Tolstoi is going to describe that Borodino for us? And with one stupid slither of his greasy, stubby finger, the Great Strategist sent 120,000 of our young men, almost as many as all the Russian forces at Borodino, across the Strait of Kerch in December, 1941—senselessly, and exclusively for the sake of a sensational New Year's communiqué—and he turned them all over to the Germans without a fight.

And yet, for some reason, it was not he who was the traitor, but they.


How many wars Russia has been involved in! (It would have been better if there had been fewer.) And were there many traitors in all those wars? Had anyone observed that treason had become deeply rooted in the hearts of Russian soldiers? Then, under the most just social system in the world, came the most just war of all—and out of nowhere millions of traitors appeared, from among the simplest, lowliest elements of the population. How is this to be understood and explained?

Capitalist England fought at our side against Hitler; Marx had eloquently described the poverty and suffering of the work- ing class in that same England. Why was it that in this war only one traitor could be found among them, the businessman "Lord Haw Haw"—but in our country millions?

It is frightening to open one's trap about this, but might the heart of the matter not be in the political system?

One of our most ancient proverbs justifies the war prisoner: "The captive will cry out, but the dead man never." During the reign of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich, nobility was granted for durance in captivity! And in all subsequent wars it was considered society's duty to exchange prisoners, to comfort one's own and to give them sustenance and aid. Every escape from captivity was glorified as the height of heroism. Throughout World War I, money was collected in Russia to aid our prisoners of war, and our nurses were permitted to go to Germany to help our prisoners, and our newspapers reminded their readers daily that our pris- oners of war, our compatriots, were languishing in evil captivity.

All the Western peoples behaved the same in our war: parcels, letters, all kinds of assistance flowed freely through the neutral countries. The Western POW's did not have to lower themselves to accept ladlefuls from German soup kettles. They talked back to the German guards. Western governments gave their captured soldiers their seniority rights, their regular promotions, even their pay.

The only soldier in the world who cannot surrender is the soldier of the world's one and only Red Army. That's what it says in our military statutes. (The Germans would shout at us from their trenches: "Ivan plen nicht!"—"Ivan no prisoner!") Who can picture all that means? There is war; there is death—but there is no surrender! What a discovery! What it means is: Go and die; we will go on living. And if you lose your legs, yet manage to return from captivity on crutches, we will convict you. (The Leningrader Ivanov, commander of a machine-gun platoon in the Finnish War, was subsequently thus imprisoned in Ustvymlag, for example. )

Our soldiers alone, renounced by their Motherland and degraded to nothing in the eyes of enemies and allies, had to push their way to the swine swill being doled out in the backyards of the Third Reich. Our soldiers alone had the doors shut tight to keep them from returning to their homes, although their young souls tried hard not to believe this. There was something called Article 58-lb—and, in wartime, it provided only for execution by shooting! For not wanting to die from a German bullet, the prisoner had to die from a Soviet bullet for having been a prisoner of war! Some get theirs from the enemy; we get it from our own!

Is there any greater indictment of a slave state than its placing its soldiers on the battlefield, and after they manage to find a way home tattered and torn, charging them with treason, and executing them?

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Much as I admire Solzhenitsyn, he was incorrect in stating "The only soldier in the world who cannot surrender is the soldier of the world's one and only Red Army." Japanese soldiers and sailors were under similar constraints, with the crucial difference that because of the victory of the Allies, surrendered Japanese personnel could go home without being punished by their government.