Journey into the Whirlwind

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryThis year marks the 70th anniversary when the little Dutch Jewish girl, Ann Frank, started writing her famous diary in hiding in the Netherlands while it was under German occupation. Anne Frank was given her diary in 1942 when she was 13 years old. The diary chronicles the life of herself and her family from June 12, 1942 to August 1, 1944 while they were in hiding. Eventually they were betrayed and Anne was sent to the infamous Nazi Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she died. Otto Frank, the father of the family, was the only survivor. He found Anne’s diary and had it published in 1947. It remains one of the classics on the Nazi genocide of the Jews and other peoples.

This year also marks the 45th anniversary of a not-as-well-known memoir published outside of the then former Soviet Union. This memoir, Journey into the Whirlwind, by Yevgenia Ginzburg, follows the horrors and survival of one brave women who survived the Communist labor camps under Stalin. No one is sure when Ginzburg was born. Some say in 1896, while others say in 1904. We know that she was the wife of the mayor of Kazan, Pavel Aksyonov, and she herself was an associate professor at Kazan State University and a member of the Central State Committee of the Communist Party in Kazan. In 1937, Ginzburg was accused of being part of a counter-revolutionary group, expelled from the party, and tried for her “crimes” against the state. The trial lasted only seven minutes. Despite brutal interrogations by the infamous Soviet secret police, the NKVD, Ginzburg repeatedly proclaimed her innocence.

This did not change the verdict of the court—Ginzburg was sentenced to 18 years in the Soviet Union’s slave labor camps. She almost did not survive her captivity. Like so many prisoners, she was forced to work in the brutal cold sawing trees (some prisoners were so weak they could not get out of the way when the trees fell), mining gold, and had to stay in unheated huts when the temperature dived to 0 Fahrenheit. Like so many prisoners, she was given hardly any food at all, and she might have starved to death had not a doctor of Crimean German descent not taken her as a nurse where the food ration was much better. Miraculously, the lady survived. She was not released until 1955—two years after the death of Joseph Stalin, the man who put her and millions of other people into the slave labor camps.

Eventually Ginzburg’s party membership was restored and all privileges as well as job were given back to her. However, she could not accept silence in exchange for being restored to her place with the Communist Party. During her time in the labor camps, she had kept a memoir of what was happening to her. She eventually updated it and wanted to have it published in the Soviet Union. The Soviet government refused. So her book was eventually smuggled out and was published first in Italy and then in the United States where it received critical acclaim. Journey into the Whirlwind is one of the first books to reveal the horrors of Stalin’s rule of terror and the Communist labor camps. This book stands as a testimony to one woman whose spirit and will could not be broken and who warns us about the evils of the Communist system.

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