Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir

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9780199934867: Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir

The searing accounts of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Evgeniia Ginsberg and Varlam Shalamov opened the world's eyes to the terrors of the Soviet Gulag. But not until now has there been a memoir of life inside the camps written from the perspective of an actual employee of the Secret police.

In this riveting memoir, superbly translated by Deborah Kaple, Fyodor Mochulsky describes being sent to work as a boss at the forced labor camp of Pechorlag in the frozen tundra north of the Arctic Circle. Only twenty-two years old, he had but a vague idea of the true nature of the Gulag. What he discovered was a world of unimaginable suffering and death, a world where men were starved, beaten, worked to death, or simply executed. Mochulsky details the horrific conditions in the camps and the challenges facing all those involved, from prisoners to guards. He depicts the power struggles within the camps between the secret police and the communist party, between the political prisoners (most of whom had been arrested for the generic crime of "counter-revolutionary activities") and the criminal convicts. And because Mochulsky writes of what he witnessed with the detachment of the engineer that he was, readers can easily understand how a system that destroyed millions of lives could be run by ordinary Soviet citizens who believed they were advancing the cause of socialism.

Mochulsky remained a communist party member his entire life--he would later become a diplomat--but was deeply troubled by the gap between socialist theory and the Soviet reality of slave labor and mass murder. This unprecedented memoir takes readers into that reality and sheds new light on one of the most harrowing tragedies of the 20th century.

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About the Author:

Fyodor Vasilevich Mochulsky (1918-1999) was a foreman and boss at Pechorlag GULAG NKVD from 1940-1946.

Deborah Kaple is Associate Research Scholar and Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Princeton University. She is the author of Dream of a Red Factory: The Legacy of High Stalinism in China (OUP, 1994).


"Gulag scholars should mine Mochulsky's memoir for insights into the decision-making process of a local camp boss facing often contradictory directives, knowing that failure could easily turn a boss into a prisoner." --The Journal of World History

"This is a fascinating memoir, presenting for the first time the voice of a "gulag boss." It offers a devastating counterpoint to the existing picture of Stalin's gulag that we have from victims' memoirs. The discovery and superb translation of this memoir by Deborah Kaple represents a major contribution to Gulag studies." --Lynne Viola, author of The Unknown Gulag: The Secret World of Stalin's Special Settlements

"Many memoirs by people who lived under the Stalinist regime in the USSR have appeared, but few give any real sense of how the repressive apparatus functioned. Fyodor Mochulsky's memoir offers the perspective of a Gulag prison camp official who, despite being a committed Communist, was able to sense a disjuncture between his expectations and the terrible reality he confronted. Although Mochulsky's memoir is necessarily selective and was written with the benefit of hindsight, it gives a valuable sense of some of the things he felt and the dilemmas he faced while overseeing Gulag operations. The memoir undoubtedly leaves out the worst aspects of Mochulsky's job, but he does not pretend to have been a hero or a closet dissident. If only inadvertently, his account lays bare the evils of the system he loyally served." --Mark Kramer, director of Cold War Studies, Harvard University

"Gulag Boss provides a unique and fascinating insight into the mind and morality of the men who ran the Soviet concentration camps."--Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gulag: A History

"A fascinating memoir" --American Thinker

"This unique viewpoint on the harsh Stalinist prison system is an important historical document" --New York Post

"Essential reading ... I could hardly put it down." - Simon Sebag Montefiore, Literary Review

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