Saturday, October 12, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Where ‘No One Thinks of Greenland’ Really Happened

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 12 – A decade ago, John Griesemer published a dystopian novel entitled “No One Thinks of Greenland’ which had as its premise that the US military set up a special hospital facility to house those who had been too terribly wounded in Vietnam and elsewhere to be allowed back into American society.  

            That was a work of fiction, but there was a place where such institutions really existed: the Soviet Union between 1950 and 1984, a place where those seriously injured in combat were sent so that people on the streets of Russian cities would not see the true costs of World War II for the peoples of the USSR.

            While the existence of such institutions has long been known, only recently have they begun to attract the attention they deserve as an indictment of a horrific political system that outlasted Stalin and that some Russian leaders and ordinary citizens to this day say is one many aspects of which they would like to see restored.

            Yesterday, published an article richly illustrated with drawings of the inmates in one such facility on the island of Valaam in the Russian Far North which for more than three decades as “the place of one of the most inhuman experiments in the formation of a most enormous human ‘factory’” (  from

Believing that the horribly injured “damaged” the image of Soviet citizens, officials in the USSR rounded up and sent those who had lost their arms or legs in the fighting or were suffering from tuberculosis or other combat-related diseases to Valaam and “tens of other places of exile.”  

“It is regrettable,” the editors of say, that “certain ‘little patriots’” today avert their eyes from this horror, an attitude that is reflected in the fact that “Afghanistan and Chechnya show that nothing has changed in the Land of the Soviets concerning those who honorably served their Motherland and gave their live and health to that struggle.”

The Valaam facility for those horribly injured in World War II was established in 1950, but its largest influx of residents came in 1952 when on one night, the Soviet security agencies rounded up those with such injuries, put them in boxcars, and sent them north where in all too many cases they were left to die.  

A small group of non-conformist artists drew portraits of these victims of war and the Soviet system, and the article reproduces 23 of them.  They are harrowing, but they also reflect a nobility among those who served their country but were then so terribly disserved by it.

It is certainly true that a nation should always remember its heroes; but it should also remember how the leaders of their nation treated them after they gave their all. Unfortunately, in the Russian Federation of Vladimir Putin, the hero-inmates of these horrific institutions are all too often forgotten and those who put them there are all too often praised.

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