Monday, August 04, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn: Rostov's Favorite Son Dies at 89

Alexander Solzhenitsyn passed away Sunday evening in Moscow. He was 89 years old, remarkable in a land where the life expectancy for males is 59 years. An age that's even more significant considering his years in Stalin's prison camps.

Solzhenitsyn was reared and educated right here in Rostov-on-Don. Once I asked why there's no acknowledgment of him in the city - no statue, for instance. Someone answered, Well, he's still alive and we put up statues only for people who have died. Seems logical enough. . .
I wanted more information about Solzhenitsyn and somebody knew which elementary school he attended. So that very afternoon our sister Vernonika went with me to find the spot. We hit several dead ends, but eventually on a side street in the center of the city we found Solzhenitsyn's elementary school, now a government office building, but it does have a plaque in his honor.

Here's the plaque affixed to the school. This is exactly what I was hoping to find. Hold on, I can translate it for you.

Here, in School No. 15, (Malevicha) from the year 1927 until the year 1936 studied Alexander Solzhenitsyn. (The school was named in honor of the artist Malevich.)
He later studied math and physics at Rostov State University..

Well, after studies at Rostov State University, things went south quickly for our hero Alexander Solzhenitsyn and, if I'm not mistaken, on the very day that Berlin fell to the Russian army, he was arrested for being disrespectful of Stalin. And, off he went to a labor camp.

Photo from the gulag. A happy camper he was not. But he most definitely was a surviver. It was here he wrote about life in Stalin's labor camps, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.


Anonymous said...

Outstanding presentation, Eileen. Simply outstanding Can't thank you enough for sharing your work:

For those seeking an extraordinarily personal account of Solzhenitsyn's life from childhood to his 1974 West European exile, look to American author Harrison Salisbury's 1975 book, "The Gates of Hell" (Random House, New York). Salisbury, one of the world's leading specialists on Russia to his death in 1992, used his intimate knowledge of the land and its people to create what Random House publishers called, "...a wonderful panoramic novel of the Soviet Union."

The book vividly chronicles Solzhenitsyn's heart-tuggingly close relationships with both his beloved mother and his wisened old aunt, his entry in mathematics at the Rostov school you've so kindly seen fit to visit and photograph, his initial acquaintance with his first wife, his heroic role in the war, his arrest and imprisonment in February 1945, and the eight soul-destroying years he would spend at hard labor until the thaw induced by Stalin's death in 1953.

Last year, I took it upon myself to write Solzhenitsyn at his home in Troitse-Lykovo, near Moscow's western outskirts, bearing questions regarding his military service along the Oryol (Orel) Front in 1941-42, where he had served first as an enlisted man, and later, an officer of artillery. In order to reach the man, I was first directed to the German magazine "Der Spiegel," then to famed Georgian-born historian and physicist, Zhores Medvedev--who very kindly took time to mail me very personal anecdotes and details of Solzhenitsyn's life--then ultimately, to Mrs. Alla Gladkova, Solzhenitsyn's Vremya publisher.

With Solzhenitsyn now gone, I've reconciled myself to the fact that my questions will likely remain unanswered, for they were of a very personal nature, a query into the life and death of one of his closest wartime colleagues, a sturdy, Simbirsk-born peasant-soldier whom for three arduous years of combat-duty had acted as his life-saving field orderly and political confidante.

In view of the myriad tributes accorded Solzhenitsyn through his long and illustrious life, it's difficult to add anything new that hasn't already been offered. But I think it absolutely necessary to remember the very basis of what Solzhenitsyn stood for, the bedrock ethic of a man who to his death had painfully witnessed the increasing decay of our international society through its unceasing pursuit of material comforts and the spiritual vapidity of the dominant pop culture of the modern West.

Said the man in 2005, just three years before his death:

"Faith [in God] is the foundation and support of one's life. The only salvation [for all of us] is to return to the virtues of religion and moral values...."

Eileen said...

Simply fascinating your interest in Solzhenitsyn and research into his life. Makes me want to read lots more. You would have been interested in the TV coverage of his life, the coverage shown the week of his death. Footage taken before / after interviews with him - a nice house, major library, in a quiet, wooded area.

Interesting to learn a bit about Solzhenitsyn and his family and their life in Vermont a few years back. I looked the place up on my RandMcNally Map - and well, it's not even on there, it's so small, way down in southern Vermont. His wife said somewhere that they really felt isolated and imprisioned (something like that, as I recall) living in the US. I'd imagine a language-related thing... and amazing, simply amazing that they returned to Russia. Seems as though I read somewhere that the 3 sons live in the US nowadays...