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Words, words, words

from The Gulag Archipelago, Volume II by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956 - Edward E. Ericson Jr., Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

He took an ax with him. It was summer. He made his way through the taiga in wind and woods. The walking was very difficult, but on the other hand, he didn't run into anyone for a whole month. Tying up the sleeves and collar of his shirt, he caught fish in it and ate them raw. He collected cedar nuts, mushrooms, and berries. Half dead, he nonetheless managed to get to the Trans-Siberian trunk line and happily went to sleep in a haystack.

 

He was roused by voices: they were picking up the hay with pitchforks and had already found him. He was fagged out and prepared neither to run away nor to put up a fight. And he said: "Well, all right, take me. Turn me in; I am a fugitive."

There stood a railroad track walker and his wife. And the track walker said to him: "Oh, come on now, we are Russians. Just sit there and don't give yourself away." They went off. But the fugitive didn't believe them; they were, after all, Soviet people, they had to denounce him. And he crawled off into the woods. From the edge of the forest he watched and saw the track walker return, bringing clothing and food. That evening the fugitive walked along the track and at a forest whistle stop boarded a freight train, jumping off before morning and going into the forest for the day. Night after night he moved on in this way, and when he grew stronger, he even got off at every stop, hiding in the foliage or walking on ahead, getting in front of the train, and then jumping on it again while it was moving. That way he risked dozens of times losing an arm, a leg, his head. (That was how he paid for the few easy glides of the pen of the stoolie who had turned him in.) But on one occasion, just before reaching the Urals, he changed his rule and went to sleep on a flatcar carrying logs. He was wakened by a kick and a lantern shining in his eyes and a demand for "Documents!" "Just a minute!" He rose and with one blow knocked the guard off the car and jumped off the other side — and onto the head of another guard! He knocked that one off his feet and managed to make his getaway under the nearby trains. Outside the station he boarded a train while it was moving.

 

He decided to bypass Sverdlovsk by walking around it, and in the suburbs plundered a trade stall, got clothes for himself, put three suits on, and collected some food. At one station he sold one of the suits and bought a ticket from Chelyabinsk to Orsk and Central Asia. No, he knew where he was going — to Vienna! But he had to cover his tracks and let the pursuit die down. A Turkmen, chairman of a collective farm, met him at the bazaar, took him to work on the farm even though he had no documents. And his hands justified his calling as a mechanical engineer. He repaired all the farm machinery. After several months he took his pay and went to Krasnovcik, near the border.

 

After the train left Mary, a patrol came along, checking documents. At this point, our mechanical engineer went out on the car platform, opened the door, hung onto the toilet window, where they could not see him from inside because of the frosted glass, and only the toe of one shoe remained to support him and enable him to get back on the step. The patrol failed to notice the toe of a shoe in the comer of the door frame and went on into the next car. And so the awful moment passed.

 

Having crossed the Caspian Sea without incident, the fugitive got on a train going from Baku to Shepetovka, and from there he made for the Carpathians. With great caution he started to make his way across the mountainous border at a remote, steep, forested place — but still the border guards caught him! How much had he had to sacrifice, to suffer, to invent, and to endure since his Siberian camp, since that first felled pine tree — and right at the very end everything was wrecked in one instant! ... And his strength left him, just as it had back there in the haystack at Taishet, and he couldn't resist any longer, nor lie, and in a final fury he merely shouted: "All right, take me, you executioners! Take me, you are stronger!" "Who are you?" "A fugitive! From the camps! Take me!" But the border guards acted rather strangely: They blindfolded him, took him into a dug out, and there unbound his eyes — and questioned him again — and suddenly it emerged that they were friends: Banderists, Ukrainian nationalist partisans! (Fie, fie! educated readers will frown and wave their hands at me: "Well, you certainly picked some character — he regarded the Banderists as friends! A real rotten fruit, that one!" Well, all I can do is spread my hands myself: That's how he was. That's how he was when he escaped.That's what the camps had made of him. These camp people, as I can tell you, live on the basis of the swinish principle "Existence determines consciousness." Not by what the newspapers say. To camp inmates, friends are those with whom they were tormented in camp. And enemies are those who put the dogs on their trail. Lack of conscientiousness!) And so they embraced! The Banderists still had their own border cross at that time, and they gently led him across. And so there he was in Vienna again! But this time in the American zone. And submissive still to that enticing materialist principle, and not forgetting for one moment his bloody death camp, he no longer sought work as a mechanical engineer but, instead, went to the American authorities to unburden his soul. And he began to work for them in some capacity. But! It is a human trait to relax one’s vigilance as soon as the danger is past. He planned to send some money to his parents in Odessa, and to do that fie had to exchange dollars for Soviet money. Some Jewish businessman invited him to his apartment in the Soviet zone of Vienna to make the deal. People used to shuttle back and forth all the time, paying no attention to the zones, but he should never have gone into the Soviet zone! He went, however — and was captured at the apartment of the money-changer. Now this is a very Russian story of how superhuman feats are strung on and on and then thrown away for a glass of vodka.