Staunton, June 20 – In the West, the last living inmates of Hitler’s concentration camps are passing from the scene. Even those who were confined there as children are now elderly – anyone who was 18 in 1940 is today 97 – and many historians are rushing to record their memories before they pass from the scene.
In the Russian Federation and other countries which were once under Moscow’s thumb, the passage of time is taking from us those who were confined to the GULAG, deported or victimized in other ways. Even those who were confined to the successors of Stalin’s camps are now mostly pensioners: Someone who was 30 in 1975, for example, is now 74.
Those somewhat bitter reflections are prompted both by personal experience -- I’m 70 and remember, as a child, meeting men who fought in the Spanish-American war and getting to know many more who fought in World War I. Now all of those people are gone, and I regret not learning more from them – and by an article in today’s NG-Exlibris.
In that article, Elizveta Kazanskaya reviews two books of GULAG memoirs, both written some years ago and constituting among the last reminiscences by those confined in the Soviet camps, and points to efforts by the Museum of the History of the GULAG to collect and publish such memoirs in Russia (ng.ru/ng_exlibris/2019-06-20/14_985_gulag.html).
That is far from the only such effort in Russia, and there are many others in the former union republics and occupied Baltic states. These deserve at a minimum an annotated bibliography and active efforts to add to their number while those with direct memories are with us. As Russians say in another connection, “no one must forget; and nothing must be forgotten.”