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February 13, 2011
...the redistribution of wealth:
See also the fate of Toma, who "got my Father's cutaway" for another example.
Euphrosinia (or Eufrosinia) Kersnovskaya didn't know it at that time, but she herself had embarked on a journey that would take her to exile and the Gulag. Over two decades would pass before she could tell her tale in words and pictures - and even then (1964) she would do so only in secret and at tremendous personal risk.
I discovered her work only after I'd completed (at least thought I'd completed) this little tale of the birth of the cold war, which I'd referred to from the beginning as a graphic novel, filled with elements from comic books, science fiction and movies, and concluded with a reference to fairy tales. When I found the web site devoted to her work I knew I wanted to weave a few of these stunning examples of the reality of life in the Soviet Union into the tale. When I read that she "envisioned the text and illustrations as an indivisible whole, a genre that perhaps lies somewhere between traditional Russian lubok engravings and the modern graphic novel" I had no doubt. One cannot consider the impact of the efforts of the many useful idiots of the West (in the Trinity example, atomic spies) without having a true picture of the world they supported and facilitated. Compared to the documentation of the evils of Nazi Germany, very few such first-hand accounts of the Soviet hell exist. (And once he had the atomic bomb at his disposal, no one was going to loosen Stalin's iron grip.)
And this rare example is both comprehensive and readable. Kersnovskaya's drawings aren't rendered in any of the usual bleak styles artists choose to depict the world wherein jackboots smash the human face forever, for that reason (along with the fact that they're from memory rather than the imagination) they are all the more effective. A more "realistic" depiction would be hard to take; to view more than a few images without turning away would be difficult for most. As they are, and accompanied by the few words of text needed to complete each vignette, the full path is more easily traveled by anyone with the time to venture along it.
Excerpts from her work were first published in 1990 by the Soviet magazine Ogonek, and in translation by The Observer (Great Britain). Portions of her work have also appeared in German and in French. A complete version of the Russian text appeared in 2001. A complete version of the Russian text and illustrations appeared in 2006.
And there's another notable point - as far as I can tell, there's little knowledge of the existence of this treasure in the West. The image at the top of this post should be iconic, but it is not. Little interest? Ancient history, perhaps. No threat now, a point furthered by the eternal mantra of (to use the once again in-vogue term) the "Progressive": "of course, we all know now that (insert once-widely supported, now demonstrably failed cornerstone of leftist wisdom here) was wrong - but today (insert new widely accepted version of 'truth')." But the shallow falsehood of that claim is the best reason to make time to visit the site, an illustrated travelogue along the path to the Gulag. To argue that "since we know where that path leads we can walk it without getting there" is an absurdity - exactly the sort of absurdity to which Euphrosinia Kersnovskaya responded with surely this can't be happening in the twentieth century? - even as she experienced it herself. But that absurd argument is made to this day; indeed, as this thought-provoking comment on "socialism in gestation" explains, even in the twenty-first century we haven't progressed (and here I mean that word in non-Orwellian context) far enough beyond that deadly type of absurdity as many would like to believe. We can indeed trot swiftly and merrily onward down that trail now for the same reason so many Russians (or Germans, or others) did in the previous modern century - because fewer people every day would recognize it, or even believe that it could exist. (Or that they, of all people, would be foolish enough to travel it.)
There are a number of points of comparison and contrast throughout the Trinity series, left for the reader to notice, but one which I'll point out here. In 1954, globally celebrated artist/Stalin fan/Gulag supporter Pablo Picasso was doodling sketches of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to commemorate the one-year anniversary of their execution (martyrdom, as he and his fellow travelers would have it) for their part - meager as it might have been - in delivering that atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. Building that nuclear capability in the USSR made the Gulag even worse (if that's possible) by creating a demand for massive amounts of slave labor to achieve and sustain it - including those whose fate was death in the Uranium mines, pick and shovel in hand. Achieving that nuclear capability ensured not just perpetuation but expansion and spread of the Gulag, as the bulk of any influence the West might have had in reform or containment of the Soviet Union vanished in the mushroom cloud that signaled Stalin's success. Nevertheless (or because of that, even) a significant number of western scientists and artists - all aware to some degree of what the Soviet Union really was - welcomed that event.
But even as Picasso & company were admiring his courageous doodles, artist Nikolai Getman was experiencing "freedom" (as they would have it for us all)...
From the very day I was released, I began to implement my plan to paint a series of pictures on the theme of the Gulag, but because this was a forbidden topic, I had to do my civic duty in secret. And so, in complete secrecy, beginning in 1953, I painted pictures about camp life that I recreated from memory. I told no one about this work--not even my wife--because this sort of activity was punishable by imprisonment or even death.And in another remarkable coincidence, his fellow artist Euphrosinia Kersnovskaya completed her sentence that same year:
After her release she settled in Yessentuki, a town in the Northern Caucasus, and penned her memoirs, which eventually comprised 12 notebooks and 680 illustrations. She made several copies (including the illustrations) by hand and entrusted them to others for safekeeping.
Remarkably they survive to this day, and while perhaps not as sought after as a Picasso, you can view them (in much larger format than the thumbnails I've presented, along with an English translation of her writing) here.
And (added postscript) - here's another bit of contrast to bring this story up to date. Euphrosinia Kersnovskaya passed away in 1994, having lived long enough to witness the collapse of the Soviet Union and at least portions of her work published.
In contrast, the happy ending of US (and Soviet) Army veteran/Soviet atomic spy George Koval:
Posted by Greyhawk / February 13, 2011 2:38 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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