Posts tagged Gulag Archipelago

One Day at a Time – Dr. Boris Kornfeld

Day 22 of 36 – May 25, 1976

“We had a three hour trip on the train to Vladimir from Moscow before that in the morning we had gone to a small village of Zagorsk to tour a monastery.  Father Paul gave us an exclusive tour of the museum of icons that they had collected from a ways back.  They had a few pieces of western art such as a piece by a student of Caravaggio and also a Rembrandt.  We had an opportunity to ask him questions and I wondered still what really ticked in his head.  Was he really called to this monastic life because of a deep conviction to serve God even though it’s frowned upon or was he politically involved in the state’s structure?  He seemed by his talk to have a love and belief in God but yet I wondered how much he really was influenced by the state.  It could only be an experience that they would only experience and never adequately tell what its like.  He felt that many younger people were getting involved and that there is a general upsurge toward getting back to the church.  All that can be seen here in Russia is baby buggies, miniskirts and hairy legs.”

Compare Father Paul who I described in my travel diary from 32 years ago with what I came across today about a Dr. Boris Kornfeld from the following link.

Boris Nicholayevich Kornfeld was a surgeon who worked in a hospital in a prison in the former Soviet Union. He was not on the staff of the prison; he was one of the prisoners, but his skill was so great that the Soviet authorities decided to put him to work in the prison hospital. We do not know what crime Dr. Kornfeld committed, but he became a political prisoner in the Russian gulag at Ekibastuz deep in Siberia in the early 1950s.

While in the gulag, Dr. Kornfeld met a Christian whose quiet faith and frequent reciting of the Lord’s Prayer attracted the doctor’s attention and interest. One day, while repairing a guard’s artery which had been cut in a knifing incident, Dr. Kornfeld seriously considered suturing the artery in such a way that the guard would slowly bleed to death a little while later. Then, appalled by the hatred and violence he saw in his own heart, he found himself repeating the words of the Christian prisoner, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Previously, Dr. Kornfeld had been a self-righteous Jew, like Saul, but gradually he came to see the sin in his own life, and his life was transformed by the grace of God. The Christian inmate who had witnessed to Dr. Kornfeld was transferred to another gulag shortly thereafter, and Dr. Kornfeld didn’t tell anyone about his new found faith for some time, but his life would never be the same. 

Shortly after he prayed that prayer asking God for His forgiveness, Dr. Kornfeld began to refuse to go along with some of the standard practices of the prison camp, and one day he even turned in an orderly who had stolen food from a dying patient. From that day on, he knew that his life was in danger.

One day, as the doctor was examining a patient who had been operated on for cancer of the intestines, Kornfeld began to describe to the patient what had happened to him. Once the tale began to spill out, Kornfeld could not stop. Well into the night, he told his whole story of coming to faith in Jesus Christ and the difference God made in his life. The young patient awoke early the next morning to the sound of running feet. For, you see, during the night, while the Dr. Kornfeld had slept, someone had crept up beside him and dealt eight blows to his head with a plasterer’s mallet, and Boris Kornfeld was dead. The orderlies carried the still, broken body of the doctor out of the hospital ward.

Dr. Kornfeld’s testimony did not die. The patient pondered the doctor’s last, impassioned words, and as a result, he, too, became a Christian. He survived that concentration camp, and he went on to tell the world what he learned there. The patient’s name was Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Solzhenitsyn went on to write many books that were smuggled out of the gulag and printed in the West, the first being published in 1973. Many scholars believe his writings were some of the first stirrings that marked the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union. Horror upon horror was revealed to a world that was shocked by the inhumanity of the Soviet system, which had murdered sixty-five million of its own people in the gulags. The great Russian author was quick to acknowledge that the problem lay not only in Communism. The problem lay in every human heart. Solzhenitsyn once wrote, “It was only there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between parties either – but right through every human heart – through all human hearts.”

The following is how Alexander Solzhenitsyn actually recorded this same incident in his The Gulag Archipelago (1973) book:

Following an operation, I am lying in the surgical ward of a camp hospital. I cannot move. I am hot and feverish, but nonetheless my thoughts do not dissolve into delirium, and I am grateful to Dr. Boris Nikolayevich Kornfeld, who is sitting beside my cot and talking to me all evening. The light has been turned out, so it will not hurt my eyes. There is no one else in the ward.

Fervently he tells me the long story of his conversion from Judaism to Christianity. I am astonished at the conviction of the new convert, at the ardor of his words.

We know each other very slightly, and he was not the one responsible for my treatment, but there was simply no one here with whom he could share his feelings. He was a gentle and well-mannered person. I could see nothing bad in him, nor did I know anything bad about him. However, I was on guard because Kornfeld had now been living for two months inside the hospital barracks, without going outside. He had shut himself up in here, at his place of work, and avoided moving around camp at all.

This meant that he was afraid of having his throat cut. In our camp it had recently become fashionable to cut the throats of stool pigeons. This has an effect. But who could guarantee that only stoolies were getting their throats cut? One prisoner had had his throat cut in a clear case of settling a sordid grudge. Therefore the self-imprisonment of Kornfeld in the hospital did not necessarily prove that he was a stool pigeon.

It is already late. The whole hospital is asleep. Kornfeld is finishing his story:

“And on the whole, do you know, I have become convinced that there is no punishment that comes to us in this life on earth which is undeserved. Superficially it can have nothing to do with what we are guilty of in actual fact, but if you go over your life with a fine-tooth comb and ponder it deeply, you will always be able to hunt down that transgression of yours for which you have now received this blow.”

I cannot see his face. Through the window come only the scattered reflections of the lights of the perimeter outside. The door from the corridor gleams in a yellow electrical glow. But there is such mystical knowledge in his voice that I shudder.

Those were the last words of Boris Kornfeld. Noiselessly he went into one of the nearby wards and there lay down to sleep. Everyone slept. There was no one with whom he could speak. I went off to sleep myself.

I was wakened in the morning by running about and tramping in the corridor; the orderlies were carrying Kornfeld’s body to the operating room. He had been dealt eight blows on the skull with a plasterer’s mallet while he slept. He died on the operating table, without regaining consciousness.



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One Day at a Time – Of Good and Evil

I don’t think it possible to belabor Alexander Solzhenitsyn, there is so much that has not been covered of this great man.  The Olympics opening in China today could possibly mute any more of his voice reaching out to the masses, the media will be so taken in with the extravaganza.  After all, 08-08-08 will not come around again and besides it is my birthday.  My mind will be on other matters of celebrating as well.  But for now, I wanted to quote from the Op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal titled “Of Good and Evil” of what the editor wrote on Solzhenitsyn.  Then I will post what I wrote on May 22, 1976 when I was in Moscow Russia, Day 19 of my 36 day tour as a college senior.

“Russians found in Solzhenitsyn, who died Sunday in Moscow at age 89, their own story told with clarity, courage and humanity.  Ivan Shukhov’s prison camp was, in reality, all of the Soviet Union.  When “Gulag Archipelago,” his monumental history of the Soviet penal system, was published in Paris in 1973, Solzhenitsyn made it impossible for serious people anywhere to excuse Stalin’s crimes or the inhumanity of communist totalitarianism.  His documentation showed that the commissars had the blood of 60 million victims on their hands.  Communism’s essence was exposed in relentless detail as slavery, terror and imperialism.”

Zoom back 32 years and this is what I first observed as I had left the airport on a tour bus entering the city of Moscow, the Russia that Solzhenitsyn had left behind:

“…we saw a lot of billboards and statues of pro-Lenin and pro-people.  It shows the striving forward and looking in the distance to the ideal in the future.  The statues show power and strength in their very material and build, they are the only expression of art to speak of that can be seen.  Nothing else of real beauty can be described to be seen that might have existed before 1917.  The only thing of beauty wherever you turn is the onion-domed spires of the once 700 churches in Moscow.  Now, our guide noted with a tinge of pride, there are only 43 churches operating.  I thought that interesting since the first time she gave us a tour of Red Square, she quickly dismissed the subject of the huge icon that used to face out to the square and also said rather quickly that St. Basil’s was a museum now after it had been a den for robbers in the 16th century…”

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Solzhenitsyn’s Writings (Part III)

The following is the third of a four part series of notes I took on Solzhenitsyn while at Hoover Institute June of 2005.  I looked through the archived files of Alvin Kapusta to find that he had followed this famous Russian Solzhenitsyn very closely.  Even though Kapusta was a Ukrainian diaspora from North Dakota originally, he must have seen how Solzhenitsyn’s cause he championed would help that of the forgotten Ukrainians during the 1930s.  As I recall, Kapusta had a State Department position in Washington, D.C. so I’m sure he may have had an opportunity to meet with Solzhenitsyn at some point during his career.  The following are mostly titles and/or quotes taken from different articles from newspapers covering Solzhenitsyn’s recent arrival to the U.S. in the 1970s. 

1) The Listener April 29, 1976 “Lenin’s false promises—Solzhenitsyn on his new book” interview with Robert Robinson with A.I. Solzhenitsyn


2) Los Angeles Times Sun. April 25, 1976 “Lenin in Zurich”-Demythifying Supermarx” by Robert Kirsch – Lenin in Zurich


Book reviews Times Literary supplement London, April 1976 “A single-minded man” by Michael Scammell

Last paragraph – Nevertheless Lenin in Zurich is not, in the last analysis, history, nor is it biography.  For not the least of Solzhenitsyn’s audacities is the proud claim he is making for the art of fiction. History, he seems to be saying, is not up to this job, has made a hash of the past.  Biography likewise.  Now it is time for the artist to take a hand.  Impertinence? Certainly. And again one is reminded of Tolstoy, particularly, the Tolstoy of War and Peace.


3) The Japan Times Monday, April 19, 1976 “Solzhenitsyn on the Attack” by Max Lerner


Alexandr Solzhenitsyn is again waging a one-man campaign, as he did inside the Soviet Union.  This time it is a campaign to awaken the West—the western European peoples and America as well—to the dangers of its own weakness in the face of Soviet expansionism


“Solzhenitsyn Working in California” by John Berthelsen, May 6, 1976

The Hoover center’s most prized collection on the revolution is the Okhrana archives, the files of the czarist secret police. “Not even the Soviets themselves have these documents” they were received during the 1920s from the last czarist ambassador to France, who moved to Switzerland after the fall of the imperial Russia.  Their existence was concealed from the world until the death of the ambassador, who feared that the Bolsheviks would kill him when they learned of them.  Contained in the files, are czarist secret police dossiers on the full range of Russian revolutionaries, including Lenin and Stalin.

Solzhenitsyn was working on a volume of his book on the year 1917


4) April 4, 1976 Washington Post “Solzhenitsyn Warning”

Last summer Alexandr I. Solzhenitsyn’s speech to an AFL-CIO banquet became Washington’s political event of the year.  In a fiery, largely extemporaneous address, the exiled Russian writer sounded a passionate warning: “freedom, he said, was in retreat all over the world; détente was turning out to be a policy of surrender.; the West must make a firm stand against communist totalitarianism.


Another review of A.I.Solzhenitsyn’s book Lenin in Zurich by Bertram D. Wolfe, professor of Russian History emeritus in University of California Davis and presently senior researcher at Hoover Institution.  Author of  An Ideology in Power also writing a book “A Life in Two Centuries


5) The following are titles of various newspaper articles and t.v. interviews with Solzhenitsyn:

Book reviews Modern age, Chicago, Summer 1976 “The Anatomy of Perdition” by J.M. Lalley

The Gulag Archipelago: an experiment in literary investigation vol. 2


Solzhenitsyn In Zurich, an interview “Encounter” April 1976

Lenin in Zurich is a sequel to August 1914


Here is not the Vladimir Ilyich of the “little Lenin library” and the Soviet hagiographers, or even the two dimensional portraits of western historical biographies.


Radio tv Reports In. 4435 Wis. Ave. NW, Wash. D.C. 20016

Program Firing Line

March 27, 1976

Full text transcribed of interview with Malcolm Muggeridge and Mr. Levine and Solzhenitsyn was interviewed by Buckley, Conducted by Michael Charlton of the BBC staff


The Washington Post, Sat. March 27, 1976 “The ‘Imminent’ Fall of the West” by Richard M. Weintraub

Muggeridge went so far as to call Solzhenitsyn, the “greatest man alive today”


La Quinzaine Litteraraire, Paris, March 16, 1976

The Solzhenitsyn Line by Roger Dadoun translated from French into English


Medvedev vs. Solzhenitsyn. March 13, 1976


Historian’s criticism points up differences among dissidents by Peter Osnos, Washington Post Foreign service

Medvedev denounces Solzhenitsyn and is lighter on Andreis Sakharov, the Nobel prize winning dissident physicist

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Solzhenitsyn’s Writings Live On and On

The following are texts from Kapusta Boxes 9 and 10 labeled “Solzhenitsyn Clippings 1977-1980” folder at Hoover Institution archives at Stanford University which I accessed June 15-19, 2005 regarding Alexandr I. Solzhenitsyn.  God rest his soul, he saw much heartache in his 89 years of living.  His written words will live on and on.

Kapusta, (means cabbage in Russian) was a Ukrainian diaspora who had a high profile job with the State Department in Washington, D.C. and he followed Solzhenitsyn’s career very closely by clipping many newspaper and magazaine articles concerning Solzhenitsyn.  Many Ukrainians would object to Solzhenitsyn’s dismissive comments on Ukraine being similar to a state of Russia like Pennsylvania is to the U.S. (paraphrase of what A.I.S. purportedly stated, he was a Russophile to the nth degree).  However, no other writer documented so literally against the communist government as did A.I.S.  These atrocities were visited upon all nationalities besides the Russians, which would include Ukrainians, Kazakhs, et al.  My concern is for others to know what great sadness these nationalities went through, especially under Stalin in the 1930s and 1940s.


1) Sept. 1977 article by Raymond H. Anderson “Solzhenitsyn seeking chronicles of Russian émigrés experiences.”  Solzhenitsyn hoped to deposit stories in a special archive in Vermont. “For the library he has expressed particular interest in memoirs of the first 25 years after the communist seizure of power in 1917, the period of harsh collectivization of agriculture, the fear and suffering in the 1920s and 1930s caused by purses, arrests and other repressions, the ordeals that accompanied the German invasion…”


2) Asia Edition – TIME magazine front cover with four pictures of Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn on Sept. 27, 1968 Titled: “Russia’s dissident Intellectuals”


Book reviews London times June 27, 1974 by Nicholas Bethell

“A work of genius that is more political than literary…The Gulag Archipelago. Is far more important, not only because it is better written, but also because it assails the foundations of communism, which is still a powerful force in many countries today, and threatens the credibility of the leaders of one of today’s superpowers…many on the Left in Britain too will find the book hard to stomach.  Not many decades have passed since “The New Statesman” defended the purge trials and Sidney and Beatrice Webb wrote:  “The administration (of soviet prisons) is well spoken of and is now apparently as free from physical cruelty as any prisons in any country are ever likely to be.” 


3) Sunday April 13, 1980 Washington Post

Solzhenitsyn wrote “Why America Fails to understand Russia

“Anyone not hopelessly blinded by his own illusions must recognize that the West today finds itself in a crisis, perhaps even in mortal danger.  One could point to numerous particular causes or trace the specific stages over the last 60 years which have led to the present state of affairs.  But the ultimate cause clearly lies in 60 years of obstinate blindness to the true nature of communism…

Two mistakes are especially common: One is the failure to understand the radical hostility of communism to mankind as a whole—the failure to realize that communism is irredeemable, that there exist no ‘better’ variants of communism; that it is incapable of growing ‘kinder’ that it cannot survive as an ideology without using terror, that consequently, to coexist with communism on the same planet is impossible…”

“link between communism and Russia where it first started.”


4) Folder 9-7 Literary Gazette, No. 46 Moscow, Nov. 12, 1969

Chronicle in the Writer’s Union of the RSFSR


“…A meeting of the Ryazan writers organization devoted to the tasks of strengthening ideological and educational work has been held.  In their speeches the meeting participants emphasized that under the conditions of exacerbated ideological struggle in the modern world every Soviet writer had increased responsibility for his creativity and public behavior.


In this connection the meeting participants raised the question of Ryazan writers organization member A. I. Solshenitzen. The meeting unanimously noted that A.I. Solshenitzen’s behavior was of an antisocial nature and fundamentally contradicted the principles and tasks formulated in the USSR writers Union statute.


As is known, in recent years the name and works of A. Solzhenitsyn have been actively employed by inimical bourgeois propaganda for slanderous campaigns against our country.  However,  A. I. Solzhenitzen not only did not express his attitude toward this campaign publicly but, in spite of the criticism of the Soviet public and the repeated recommendations of the USSR Writers Union, by certain of his actions and statements he essential helped to inflate the anti-Soviet racket around his name.


Proceeding from this, the meeting of the Ryazan writers organization resolved to exclude A. Solzhenitzen from the USSR Writers Union.


The RSFSR Writers Union board secretariat confirmed the decision of the Ryazan Writers organisation.”

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