Enkomputiligis Don HARLOW
DIKSZTEJN, Petro: Inter sovetaj sopoloj 1939-1946. Cercle esperantiste de l' Agenais. 2 vol, 173 + 176 p. Paper, mimeo.
In August, 1939, Diksztejn, a Polish trade unionist in prison in Warsaw for anti-government activities, heard through the prison grapevine that German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop had just signed a treaty of eternal peace and friendship with his Soviet counterpart, Vyacheslav Molotov. Diksztejn, like many of his countrymen, wondered what the outcome would be. He was not kept in the dark for long.
The beginning of World War II, the partition of Poland, and the flight of Diksztejn and his wife east to the Soviet Union -- the "Workers' Paradise" -- make up only the first eight pages of this odyssey. The rest of the book is devoted to Diksztejn's experiences in that huge, strange, enigmatic nation which Diksztejn himself characterizes as -- at least under Stalin -- a "hell on earth."
Diksztejn had a unique chance -- and one he probably would have passed up, given the choice -- to see a number of different sides of Soviet life. Starting work as a refugee bed-frame painter on a commune in White Russia, he passed on -- through the hands of the NKVD -- to the best cell in Borisovo Prison and then to a forced-labor camp on the Pechura River east of Archangel. Freed after the Polish government was reconstituted and the Germans attacked the U.S.S.R., he went south and spent time on a kolkhoz -- collective farm -- in Uzbekhistan, and later in a railway camp -- whose labor was provided in ways that the Pharaohs would have recognized -- in southern Siberia. Finally repatriated to a Poland now firmly allied to the U.S.S.R., almost his last comment -- quoted from a traveling companion -- is: "Comrades, I have the impression that we are traveling from Russia to Russia!"
Diksztejn is not in competition here with Solzhenitsyn. He does not explore the Soviet prison and labor camp system anywhere near as thoroughly as the expatriate Russian does in Gulag Archipelago; Diksztejn's work is an autobiography, not a treatise. On the other hand, he treats us to a sweeping look at the life of "free" people under the Stalinist regime -- a life frighteningly similar to that of those in the labor camps (though we must remember that we are here looking at wartime conditions).
Diksztejn's Esperanto is good, easily readable, with a definitely Eastern-European style to it. Reading this book, you may learn a few things you didn't know before. You might learn how to make a deck of cards out of the pages of a library book while in prison (forbidden). You might learn why it is unsafe for an NKVD prisoner to take a step either to right or to left (forbidden). And you might learn something about the state of mind of an ordinary human being living in a society in which his chief free-time occupation is picking the lice out of the ruins of his clothing.
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