Monday, April 28, 2008

One of the Fifteen Million

One of the Fifteen Million is Nicholas Prychodko’s memoir of his imprisonment in Stalinist Russia, exile to Siberia, and eventual escape to Canada. Prychodko’s storytelling is straightforward. He writes, almost dispassionately, about the 22 months he spends in prison, about being interrogated and beaten with a plank full of nails for not signing a false confession.

I found myself unable to even imagine these scenes of torture. For most of us, such descriptions are beyond our levels of comprehension. The reality that such things actually took place—actually take place—is beyond my ability to understand.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago is a more elegant account of a similar experience, but one thing in particular stands out in Prychodko’s memoir. He mentions several times his sincere belief that the USSR is the most enlightened and advanced country in the world—until he is arrested. The first time he is tortured, he is shocked, having believed only capitalist countries tortured prisoners. Clearly, he is a victim of the Soviet propaganda machine.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this book, published in 1952, is the foreword. Watson Kirkconnell, President of Acadia University, writes:

“This is a terrible book, but it is the truth that is terrible and it must be faced, for the martyrdom of human freedom in the USSR is a martyrdom that the geopolitical planners in the Kremlin intend for us as well. Russian slave-camps for Canadians in Canada, manned by Russian police, are the objective of Stalin and his power-hungry agents among us. Every horror described in this book will be duplicated on Canadian soil if Communist plans prevail.”

I was flabbergasted by this foreword. Clearly, the Soviets weren’t the only ones “brainwashed” during the Cold War.

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