Page 3 of 5   <       >

Nobel Winner Chronicled Tyranny of Soviet Union

Writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn was persecuted and imprisoned.
Writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn was persecuted and imprisoned.
  Enlarge Photo    

When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, he enlisted in the army.

On Feb. 9, 1945, while commanding an artillery reconnaissance battery, he was arrested. He was found guilty of "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda."

In "The Gulag," which he called an "experiment in literary investigation," Solzhenitsyn not only exposed the camp system in horrifying detail but also explored what he considered his own complicity -- and that of the Russian people -- in the disasters that befell them. "We didn't love freedom enough," he declared.

"We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward."

While a prisoner, Solzhenitsyn gradually abandoned Marxism-Leninism and turned to Orthodox Christianity.

Released from prison on Feb. 9, 1953, he spent the next three years as an exile in the village of Kok-Terek in Kazakhstan. In February 1956, Nikita S. Khrushchev made the famous "secret speech" to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party in which he denounced Stalin and his "personality cult."

The policy change meant release for Solzhenitsyn and thousands of others. He settled in Ryazan, 120 miles southeast of Moscow, taught high school physics and wrote.

In 1961, he decided that the time had come to "tell the truth to the party and our people" about the past. Encouraged by friends, Solzhenitsyn submitted "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch" to Novy Mir, the country's leading literary journal. It was the story of how an ordinary "zek," or prisoner, survived a winter day in a hard-labor camp under Stalin.

The book received Khrushchev's personal blessing and appeared in November 1962. Solzhenitsyn gained instant fame and was nominated for a Lenin Prize, the Soviet Union's highest cultural honor.

But in October 1964, Khrushchev was deposed. His successor, Leonid I. Brezhnev, began an effort to reverse reform: In 1965, the police seized an archive of Solzhenitsyn's work. In 1969, he was expelled from the Writers Union.

"The Gulag" was written between 1963 and 1967, in seven parts organized into three volumes. Much of it was based on material supplied by 227 former prisoners. When it was finished, Solzhenitsyn had a copy smuggled out of the country. To protect his sources, he forbade publication.

In November 1970, the Nobel committee announced that Solzhenitsyn had been awarded the prize for literature. But negotiations with the Kremlin on acceptance were unsuccessful, and he did not receive it formally until after his exile.


<          3           >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company