Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Glimpses of Humanity in the Torturer

“N. P-----va recalls the time when she was being taken to interrogation by an impassive, silent woman guard with unseeing eyes—when suddenly the bombs began to explode right next to the Big House and it sounded as if at the next moment they would fall directly on them. The terrified guard threw her arms around her prisoner and embraced her, desperate for human companionship and sympathy. Then the bombings stopped. And her eyes became unseeing again. “Hands behind your back! Move along.”

Well…of course, there was no great merit in that—to become a human being at the moment of death. Similarly, loving one’s own children is no proof of virtue. (People often try to excuse scoundrels by saying: “He’s a good family man!”) The Chairman of the Supreme Court, I.T. Golyakov, is praised: he enjoyed digging in his garden, he loved books, he used to browse around used- and rare-book stores, he knew the work of Tolstoy, Korolenko, and Chekhov. Well, what did he learn from them? How many thousands did he destroy? Or, for example, that colonel, Konkordiya Iosse’s friend, who had roared with laughter in the Vladimir Detention Prison at the memory of locking up a group of old Jews in an ice-filled root cellar, had been afraid of one thing only during all his debaucheries: that his wife might find out about them. She believe in him, regarded him as noble, and this faith of hers was precious to him. But do we dare accept that feeling as a bridgehead to virtue in his heart?” (Aleksandr Solzhenistyn The Gulag Archipelago, Volume I page 172)

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