Saturday, December 13, 2008

Preserving Alexandr Solshenitsyn's Works

"[T]he retired Leningrad librarian Elizaveta [Denisovna] Voronyanskaya...typed [Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's] "The Gulag Archipelago" (parts of it twice or even thrice), "The First Circle" and "August 1914," as well as many shorter works. In 1973 the K.G.B. tracked her down, interrogated her for five days and learned where a copy of "The Gulag Archipelago" was hidden, thus triggering its publication in the West and Mr. Solzhenitsyn's subsequent expulsion to West Germany. Voronyanskaya was found hanged in her tiny communal apartment and was secretly buried before the body could be inspected (to this day it is not clear whether her death was suicide or murder)."--Michael Scammell in the NYT (1-7-96) [Solzhenitsyn writes that he would play Mozart's Requiem [Listen] on the anniversary of her death. Read Chapter 5, beginning on page 65 of Invisible Allies, to learn what Solzhenitzyn says about Elizaveta Denisovna Voronyanskaya, whose code-name was Q.

Above is the 1945 prison photograph of the late Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (December 11, 1918–August 3, 2008). See his BBC (8-4-08) obituary and Richard Pipe's 8-8-08 critique of Solzhenitsyn's rejection of the West.

Solzhenitsyn's Wikipedia notes:

U.S. military attache William Odom managed to smuggle out a large portion of Solzhenitsyn's archive, including the author's membership card for the Writers' Union and Second World War military citations; Solzhenitsyn subsequently paid tribute to Odom's role in his memoir "Invisible Allies" (1995).

In his memoir Invisible Allies, Solshenitsyn tells the story of how his books were hidden from the KGB. Invisible Allies has been reviewed by Michael Scammell for the New York Times ( 1-7-96), and Chapter 1 appears in the Washington Post.

Dr. Scammell writes:

Typing and microfilming had to be done in deepest secrecy. Typescripts (or microfilms) were glued into false book bindings; hidden in trick boxes; buried in bottles, backyards or the forest; concealed in a phonograph lid; stored in closets; stashed in basements, attics and barns; carried about in shopping bags; and on at least four occasions burned.

It was an amazing undertaking for an informal network operating in one of the most closely controlled societies in the world. Mr. Solzhenitsyn's unofficial helpers inevitably included many former labor camp prisoners, or the relatives of prisoners, but there were also loyal citizens appalled by Mr. Solzhenitsyn's revelations about the labor camps. His sole novel published in the Soviet Union, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," was a revelation to them, and had brought shoals of fan mail with offers to help him. The people around him included young and old, men and women. More than a hundred are named in "Invisible Allies," and there were many more who get mentioned in passing.

A series of selfless, one might almost say saintly, women helpers arrests the reader's attention the most. Of these, the most tragic was the retired Leningrad librarian Elizaveta [Denisovna] Voronyanskaya, who typed "The Gulag Archipelago" (parts of it twice or even thrice), "The First Circle" and "August 1914," as well as many shorter works. In 1973 the K.G.B. tracked her down, interrogated her for five days and learned where a copy of "The Gulag Archipelago" was hidden, thus triggering its publication in the West and Mr. Solzhenitsyn's subsequent expulsion to West Germany. Voronyanskaya was found hanged in her tiny communal apartment and was secretly buried before the body could be inspected (to this day it is not clear whether her death was suicide or murder).

Of a different order of importance was Elena Chukovskaya, daughter of the redoubtable novelist Lydia Chukovskaya and granddaughter of the children's poet Kornei Chukovsky. A person of immeasurable integrity, nobility and courage, she acted as Mr. Solzhenitsyn's unofficial secretary from 1965 to 1974. "She was in effect my chief of staff -- or, rather, my whole staff rolled into one," he writes. Beaten up in the vestibule of her apartment building, and then almost killed in what looked like a faked car accident, she never abandoned her devotion to Mr. Solzhenitsyn; without her strenuous assistance he could not have accomplished much of what he finally did.

Another key figure was the vivacious and worldly Natalya Stolyarova, Ilya Ehrenburg's private secretary. As different as chalk from cheese from the serious Chukovskaya, yet equally dedicated to Mr. Solzhenitsyn, she became his chief conduit for smuggling microfilms to the West. Then there was Mirra Petrova, the literary critic who informally evaluated his fictional works and provided him with "the specifically feminine point of view that I knew I lacked" -- as well as luxurious meals so that he could savor what pre-revolutionary food was like. And Nadya Levitskaya, who did research and translated from German for him -- and a host of others who typed and fetched and carried.

These women and their activities provide "Invisible Allies" with much of its narrative interest...

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (12-11-08) recently interviewed Leonid Krysin, who also helped Solzhenitsyn protect his manuscripts:

Solzhenitsyn's 'Gulag Archipelago' Struck The Kremlin 'Like An Atom Bomb'

December 11, 2008

Today would have been Nobel Prize-laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's 90th birthday. Even before the end of Nikita Khrushchev's thaw, Solzhenitsyn had become a banned writer and his works began a long period of secret, underground existence. Only a few people were involved in this secret work.

RFE/RL's Russian Service spoke to one of them -- linguist Leonid Krysin, who is now deputy director of the Vinogradov Russian Language Insititute in Moscow.

RFE/RL: Please tell us something about your involvement in preserving Solzhenitsyn's works.

Leonid Krysin: We kept part of his archive at our home. Different parts at different times. Of course, back then it was impossible to even whisper to anyone about this, but somehow it was done. Things were periodically moved from one location to another -- they were carried, transported. This went on for quite a while.

RFE/RL: What do you mean "archives" exactly?

Krysin: For example, "The Gulag Archipelago" at one time existed in the form of several rolls of film. After all, we didn't have today's technology. Now we could use the Internet and store everything there. Back then, everything existed on tape or on paper, in mimeographed form. I remember that at one time I was keeping a box with a large roll of these tapes, which contained "The Gulag Archipelago" before it had been published.

RFE/RL: So you first became acquainted with "The Gulag Archipelago" through sound rather than text

Krysin: No, I read it. I read a typescript in the summer of 1969. I still remember my state of mind while I was reading it and after I'd read it. It was as if I was physically ill, the burden of the pain was so great. Maybe contemporary readers have a different reaction, but then it was simply a devastating thing.

RFE/RL: Do you mean to say that, like many of your generation, you didn't know anything about the things that were in "The Gulag Archipelago"?

Krysin: Of course, many facts of history, the atmosphere itself, laid out in "The Gulag Archipelago" were unknown to us. Although my father, for example, had been in internal exile and my grandfather had been murdered. My father's brothers were executed, accused of being enemies of the people, and so on. So, I had a vague idea that there had been repressions, of course, but about the scale, the sadism, the sheer numbers of people who suffered -- I learned this from "The Gulag Archipelago."It is, of course, a great work -- it struck the Soviet authorities like an atom bomb.

RFE/RL: You say the archives were moved constantly. What became of them in the end?

Krysin: I don't know. At some point I handed them off to someone else and I never asked about them afterward. If I had asked, people would have been suspicious.

RFE/RL: You were saying that at a time when he was in deep disgrace, after he had returned from the camp and had his brief period of official recognition, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was invited to the Russian Language Institute of the Academy of Sciences...

Krysin: Yes, it was in November 1967, the year and the month of the 50th anniversary of the Soviet takeover. And I decided to invite Solzhenitsyn to our institute, although he was considered an enemy by the authorities. It all happened quite openly and transparently. Our academic secretary, Lamara Kapanadze signed the invitation, since I was just a staff member, inviting Solzhenitsyn to come and read from his works.

The letter was sent by ordinary post to Ryazan, where he was living. He responded and a date was set. He arrived and read to us for about four hours. By the way, our glorious security agents missed the whole thing.

RFE/RL: You mean there were no dark suits there

Krysin: There were only employees of the institute. Although I noticed that Solzhenitsyn kept looking back at me -- I was sitting behind him -- as he read, obviously thinking that I might be an informer. The event was openly recorded. Of course, we didn't have the equipment there is today.

Afterward, I kept the recording at my house -- I made a special niche in a bookshelf and kept a jar of water in there to keep the tape from drying out. There was always a danger the tape would just disintegrate over the course of 40 years. But recently we were able to transfer the entire recording into digital format.

Our phonetics department now keeps this recording of Solzhenitsyn reading from "Cancer Ward" and "In The First Circle," and telling some things about his life, how he was persecuted. The whole thing lasted a pretty long time.

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