Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir

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Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir
By Fyodor Vasilevich Mochulsky
Oxford University Press, USA, 2010
272 pp. $29.95
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Mochulsky was 22 years old and had just graduated from engineering school when he was selected by the NKVD (the KGB's dreaded predecessor) to command prison laborers in Stalin's gulag in the frozen Arctic north. Much later, in his 70s, with his successful 40-year career in the Soviet diplomatic corps and the KGB behind him, Mochulsky told his story. It is both revealing and chilling precisely because he is neither a sadist nor a cynic, nor is he unmindful of the awful enterprise of which he was a part from 1940 to 1946. But for him, the central issue was getting on with the task, building a railroad in inhumanly harsh conditions. What the memoir teaches is how cogs in the gulag machine, even when troubled by the cruelty and injustice around them, accepted the rationalizations given by the state. They went about their work and, without many questions, moved on to comfortable, prosaic careers. That is, unless the horror of the Gulag had driven them to suicide or out of their minds.