Donald Rayfield

Hell and After

The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag after Stalin


In 1968 the city of Tübingen rather fatuously invited its Jews to return. There were very few able or willing to accept that invitation. However, once the million or more survivors of the Gulag were released (or ‘unloaded’, to use the Russian term), they were usually not invited anywhere. They received a railway ticket, a few roubles for food and, in most cases, access to basic medical care, employment and housing. Only one-third of those falsely convicted of crimes against the state ever got a certificate of rehabilitation (though some victims loathed their oppressors too much to want to petition them for this valuable scrap of paper). Those who once had fine flats and dachas generally lost them to their torturers and betrayers; only the most valued specialists could get their prestigious jobs back. No Soviet returnee had anything like the compensation paid by the German government to the victims of Nazism. Understandably, Russian and foreign writers, from Solzhenitsyn to Anne Applebaum, have focused on the millions of lives and deaths in the Gulag, not on the millions of afterlives.

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