February 8, 2020

Seventy-five years after the end of World War II, we remain fixated on some of its worst crimes. But only some. The incessant use of Holocaust remembrance has been cynically used by some on the hard right to justify Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people and the expansion of the Jewish state.

For example, Israel’s rightist government waited until the 75th anniversary celebrations of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp by the Red Army to announce it planned to annex 30% more of the Palestinian West Bank. Few outside the Mideast took notice.

We rightfully remember the horrors of the Nazi system. But what about a far larger, more murderous system that has faded from our memory, the Soviet Gulag? Who remembers Kolyma, Magadan, the White Sea Canal, the frigid winter steppes of Kazakhstan, the BAM railroad, and Vorkuta? Or the Soviet arctic mines where prisoners had to dig lethal uranium with their bare hands.

An estimated 10 million political prisoners were murdered in the Soviet Gulag during Trotsky and Stalin’s regimes. Some leading Russians historians say up to 20 million died in the Gulag. That’s well double the number claimed to have died or been killed in Nazi camps.

This campaign of mass murder and deportation began in the 1920’s and peaked in the 1930’s, though it continued until Stalin’s death in 1953. Entire peoples like Chechen and Ingush were massacred. An estimated four million Soviet Muslim citizens died. The Baltic States were decimated. Prisoners in the Gulag were worked to death and starved. An estimated 6 million Ukrainian farmers were starved to death by Stalin’s NKVD secret police and gangs of Red thugs.

The arch criminal who directed genocide in Ukraine, Lazar Kaganovich, was presented a Soviet medal for heroism. Stalin, speaking to Roosevelt, even called him ‘my Eichmann’ after the notorious Nazi killer of Jews. At that time, according to the late KGB general Pavel Sudoplatov, whose wife was Jewish and related to Kaganovich, Soviet Jews made up a large percentage of the Secret police and the officials who ran the Gulag.

None of the major Russian criminals who ran the security services ever faced legal charges for their role in the Cheka’s terrible crimes. Some, like Yagoda, Yezhov, Abakumov and Beria, were executed, but for reasons of murderous internal politics. Kaganovich, the murderer of six million Ukrainian farmers, lived into ripe old age in Moscow.

The Gulag camps were gradually shut down after Stalin’s death. But the draconian Soviet prison system remains down to our day. An important Russian organization, Memorial, still tries to keep alive the frightful history of the Gulag, as have many Russian writers, notably the great Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

But few in today’s Russia look back. Unlike westerners who see nightly programs about Nazi atrocities, Russians don’t see much of their past except for heroic programs on World War II. At least Russians know that their nation defeated Nazi Germany. Westerners still are falsely told that the Allies won the war at Normandy.

Equally important, the war propaganda keeps on flowing. At war’s end, British propagandists began a major campaign to emphasize the horrors of the German camps in order to divert attention from the horrors of the Gulag. Now, 75 years later, very few remember the Gulag, but everyone knows what Hitler had for breakfast.

The Allies were ashamed of having been allied to a regime far more murderous and cruel than the Third Reich. So Stalin’s crimes were played down while Hitler’s were accentuated and endlessly repeated.

In fact, we still have much to learn about the 1930’s and 1940’s as they are still obscured by veils of propaganda and half-truths. Franklin Roosevelt was fond of calling Stalin ‘Uncle Joe. What a fool.

Unlike Roosevelt, Stalin was no fool but a sharp-eyed realist. He rightly noted that the death of a single person is called a tragedy while that of millions is merely a statistic. This is precisely what the Gulag and Stalinism remain: statistics.

How about a moment of silence to remember the victims of Vorkuta and Magadan or Chechnya?

An inmate, or ‘zek’ sentenced to the Gulag for ten years, was asked what his crime was. ‘Nothing,’ he replied. ‘That’s a lie’ replied another zek. ‘The sentence for nothing is twenty years.’

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2020

This post is in: Russia


  1. peter mcloughlin says:

    We use the past to justify the present – whatever that might be – and have not learned the lesson: the pattern of history and how it brings humanity back to holocaustic and catastrophic conflict. Drowned out are the cries: “Never again!”

  2. When will the powers that be heed the old saying ” he(she) who does not study history is doomed to repeat it”
    Please keep reminding and educating the masses Mr.Margolis.
    Your doing and great job.

  3. Now that Trump has won his impeachment trial, we’ll see how he progresses with this… for Donald, the sky’s now the limit.


  4. It’s like the perp excusing his actions because of his poor family life. He uses his poor upbringing to mask his atrocities. In this case the perp has some of the finest PR going for him.

  5. history buff says:

    Hello Eric

    With your comments in the article above, I think you are moving dangerously close to being labeled a nazi sympatizer and or even a full blown “Antisemite”, because these days nobody is allowed to lessen Hiltler’s alleged crimes by comparing them to other crimes with more victims, committed by someone else. A lot of people a carefully watching this very thing these days and because of that quite a few people are currently in jail in Germany for simply stating their opinion.
    If you would live in Germany now, you could be investigated by their department of “Bundesverfassungsschutz” and most likely end up on a special list of people that can end up in jail given the right circumstances. All because of massive brainwashing of the German speaking people for decades now. Freedom of expression is only allowed when it fits the narrative.
    Quote: It was the British Black Propaganda Minister Sefton Delmer who infamously said in 1945 to the German Professor Grimm, that
    Atrocity propaganda is how we won the war. And we’re only really beginning with it now! We will continue this atrocity propaganda, we will escalate it until nobody will accept even a good word from the Germans, until all the sympathy they may still have abroad will have been destroyed and they themselves will be so confused that they will no longer know what they are doing. Once that has been achieved, once they begin to run down their own country and their own people, not reluctantly but with eagerness to please the victors, only then will our victory be complete. It will never be final.
    Re-education needs careful tending, like an English lawn. Even one moment of negligence, and the weeds crop up again – those indestructible weeds of historical truth. End of quote.

    So please be careful because I want to keep reading your comments for many years to come.

    All the best to you and keep up the good work !!

  6. Just how likely is it for Israel to allow the publication of any suggestion that many Jewish men were part of the Soviet Union’s Secret Police and served as prison guards in the Gulags? Probably none. However, it should be emphasized that although the number of people murdered in the Soviet Gulags far exceeded the number of Jewish people, gay men, gypsies and many other political prisoners killed by the Nazis, the overall intent of those two regimes was about the same, even though they targeted mostly different classes of people. The press in the US, Britain, and Canada seem not so concerned now or in the past about what Stalin’s regime did and some journalists are only too happy to whitewash that terrible period in the USSR’s history. And don’t expect Trump to publicly raise the issue of the former USSR’s Gulags, because he wouldn’t want to offend Putin and risk pushing the Russian president to drop the figurative Damocles sword on his neck.

  7. I always said isn’t it interesting how we always notice the genocides of our enemies but not those of our friends? What is also of note is how America chooses to recognize only half of the victims of the Holocaust completely erasing the existence of all non Jews.

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