BY SUSANNE KLINGENSTEIN
When 55-year-old Stephen Pasceri walked into a Boston hospital last January and fatally shot Michael Davidson, a 44-year-old heart surgeon who had taken care of Pasceri’s late mother, his futile rage deprived others of a superb physician and changed in an instant the lives of Dr. Davidson’s three young children. They are fortunate to be growing up with their mother in upper-middle-class America, where their trauma will gradually heal.
Eighty years ago, during the Great Purge from 1935 to 1940, millions of fathers were arrested in Joseph Stalin’s empire as “enemies of the people” or “traitors of the motherland.” They were interrogated, tried, and executed, or sent to Siberian gulags. Shortly afterwards their wives would be taken, sentenced to exile or internment in a special camp for wives of traitors to the motherland (known by its acronym AlZhIR) in Akmolinsk in present-day Kazakhstan.
Some 10 million children, from just past the nursing stage to the age of 16, became collateral victims of Stalin’s regime of deliberate terror. When not claimed by relatives, these children entered the horrendous world of state orphanages for warehousing and reeducation. Until Stalin’s death in 1953 they were saddled with the stigma of descent from “enemies of the people.”
We first learned about their fate in Semyon S. Vilensky’s blood-curdling documentary compilation Deti GULAGA, 1918-1956 (2002) and its English-language equivalent, Children of the Gulag, published (together with Cathy A. Frierson) by Yale University Press in its Annals of Communism series. Under the title Silence Was Salvation, Frierson has now published 10 detailed interviews she conducted with children who had managed to survive and build families and careers for themselves in the Soviet Union.