During the spring of 1933, Stalin's police rounded up nearly one hundred thousand people as part of the Soviet regime's "cleansing" of Moscow and Leningrad and deported them to Siberia. Many of the victims were sent to labor camps, but ten thousand of them were dumped in a remote wasteland and left to fend for themselves. Cannibal Island reveals the shocking, grisly truth about their fate.
These people were abandoned on the island of Nazino without food or shelter. Left there to starve and to die, they eventually began to eat each other. Nicolas Werth, a French historian of the Soviet era, reconstructs their gruesome final days using rare archival material from deep inside the Stalinist vaults. Werth skillfully weaves this episode into a broader story about the Soviet frenzy in the 1930s to purge society of all those deemed to be unfit. For Stalin, these undesirables included criminals, opponents of forced collectivization, vagabonds, gypsies, even entire groups in Soviet society such as the "kulaks" and their families. Werth sets his story within the broader social and political context of the period, giving us for the first time a full picture of how Stalin's system of "special villages" worked, how hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens were moved about the country in wholesale mass transportations, and how this savage bureaucratic machinery functioned on the local, regional, and state levels.
Cannibal Island challenges us to confront unpleasant facts not only about Stalin's punitive social controls and his failed Soviet utopia, but about every generation's capacity for brutality--including our own.
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"Perhaps it is not surprising that Nicolas Werth, the French historian who cowrote The Black Book of Communism, has decided in Cannibal Island to return to an incident he merely mentioned in that vast book. He was right to do so: in its way, this small, brilliant work, the description of a single incident, is every bit as powerful a condemnation of Communist ideology as the Black Book itself."--Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gulag: A History
"In this gripping new work, Nicolas Werth documents the horrifying story of the forced deportation of 'socially-dangerous elements' from Moscow and Leningrad to the forbidding island of Nazino. With the use of dramatic new documents from previously classified Soviet archives, he chronicles for the first time in English the atrocities that unfolded on 'cannibal island.' This is an absorbing, indeed chilling tale of savagery, highlighting in microcosm the brutal realities of Stalinist socialism in action."--Lynne Viola, author of The Unknown Gulag: The Lost World of Stalin's Special Settlements
"Werth has as solid a command of the Soviet-era archival documentation as anyone. But while he lays out a synthetic, institutional panorama of a segment of Soviet bureaucracy, he can write at the same time a story full of suspense, in a crisp and lucid style. He certainly does both with shattering effect in his Cannibal Island."--Jan T. Gross, author of Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, PolandAbout the Author:
Nicolas Werth is a research director at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France. He is the coauthor of The Black Book of Communism.
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