Thursday, August 26, 2010

16 years of survival in extreme conditions - in 43 sentences

Below is my (partial) translation of a short story written by Varlam Tihonovich Shalamov who was prisoner of Gulag camps from 1937 till 1953.
It’s called “What I have seen and understood in jail”.
16 years of survival in extreme conditions in 43 sentences…

What I have seen and understood in jail:
1. Extreme fragility of human culture, civilization. Man turns into beast after three weeks of hard work, coldness, hunger and beating.
2. The main way of spirit defilement is coldness – people enjailed in camps of Asia hold for longer – it was warmer there.
3. I understood that friendship and fellowship never starts in difficult, really difficult conditions – when your life is a stake. Friendship may start in conditions that are difficult but feasible.
4. I understood that emotion that man keeps for last is the emotion of hate. It’s enough flesh on a hunger man to keep only his hate. A hunger man is indifferent to the else.

7. I understood that humans raised the humankind because human is more strong and tenacious than any animal – horse can’t sustain hard work in conditions of Far North, human – does.
8. The only group of people that were behaving a bit like humans were religious, mostly sectarian and camisters.
9. Former militaries and politicians are broken first.
10. I’ve seen what a sound argument an ordinary slap can be.
11. Mob differentiates leaders by their ardor and strength of beating.
12. Beating is an irresistible argument.

16. I understood that you may live only by hate.
17. I understood that you may live by apathy.
18. In extreme conditions – man not motivated by his hopes (there is no hopes), not by his will but rather by animal instinct, instinct of survival similar to one that exist in tree, animal or a stone.

23. I’ve seen that women more fair and selfless than man. There was not a single case when man followed his wife to the North, but the opposite was common.

31. You should differentiate people not as ‘good’ and ‘bad’, but as coward and brave. 95% are coward and ready to do any villainy in case of even minor danger.
32. I’m convinced that every single hour you’ve spent in camp adds to your defilement.

36. I learned to plan one day ahead only
37. I understood that thieves are not humans.


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