Days and Lives :: Solidarity

Prisoner: Vladimir Tchernavin

“This was the beginning of a real friendship with the bandits whose attitude towards me was deeply touching. One of the prisoners brought me some cold soup and some cereal hardened into a gluey mass. I could not eat it. I drew out of my pocket the forgotten apple – to the surprise of my neighbors. ‘An apple? Raw? How did you manage to get it through? It is strictly forbidden.’ ‘I don’t know; they let it pass. I have some more, do you want one?’ ‘Why of course we do,’ Pavel replied, with excitement and eagerness in his voice. ‘We’re terribly in need of something green. Here we are given nothing raw. That’s to produce scurvy. Vania is getting it already.’ Pavel nodded at his companion. ‘We get no fats either and that’s why we have ulcers; sometimes they’re simply terrible, especially on the stomach and back.’”

Individual Relationships

Living in the Gulag fostered intense hatreds, but also intense friendship and even love. A prisoner’s network of friends became like a new family.

Along with all its horrific stories of brutality and inhumanity, the Gulag was filled with moving tales of compassion. Dmitri Panin recalled one such moment: "I encountered a prisoner named Zaitsev. Before my arrest we had lived in the same engineers’ barracks, although I do not recall that we had ever engaged in conversation. But now he joined me as I was walking about the camp one day. No doubt I presented such a pitiful sight that he was quite overcome. He asked me to come inside. I replied that the five steps up were too much for me and suggested that if he had something to show me, I would be better off waiting for him on the bench outside. A minute later he came back out, holding a small package that turned out to contain bread. The compassion of this virtual stranger so impressed me that, in my weakened condition, my eyes filled with tears. I whispered, ‘What marvelous people there are in this world.’ With perfect clarity I saw how the power of goodness was uniting the two of us in that single moment of time, how it ignited the spark of love. This is what holds the world together."