Days and Lives :: Solidarity

Prisoner: Aleksandr Borin

“The other was boring, foul-mouthed Syroedov. On the eve of his death he had an excruciating cough and gasped for air. When, at his request, I gave him a glass of boiling water, he caught my hand and exhaled with difficulty: “When I die, take my coat… Cover me with a pea-jacket right now…” I understood everything and didn’t waste words on denials and reassurance. I took his coat, still in good condition, though permeated with camp dirt… I remember that I unwittingly thought: who else among the sick inmates, including my friend Sanin, in his last moments would help out a fellow prisoner?”

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."