12 November 2007

When God Looked the Other Way

During World War II, Russia attempted to finish what the Bolsheviks had started, the occupation of Poland, and the turning of Polish capitalists into communists. To do this, the Russian Army kidnapped and transported many Polish families to Russia, relocating the Polish in much the same way as the Germans were relocating the Jewish. While prison camps such as Auschwitz were not as prominent, the relocated Polish were still forced to work and could be sent to prison or Siberia with almost no provocation.

Wesley Adamczyk was eight years old when Russian military kidnapped his family from their home in Poland and forced them to travel on cattle cars to Russia. I am not even half way through the book, and I am already astounded by the conditions under which not only the relocated Polish, but also the citizens of Russia, lived. Adamczyk writes of the extreme lack of sanitation: handkerchiefs and toilet paper were considered a luxury of the bourgeoisie capitalists. People defecated openly on the streets, blew their noses into their hands, were covered in lice, plagued by bed bugs. Food was scarce, and people were forced to wait in lines for days for one pound of moldy bread. A brown coarse flour mixed with boiled water was the common fare, and starvation a very real possibility. And apparently these conditions were the norm for those in Russia.

Under the communist regime, the citizens of Russia had no freedom. Adamczyk writes that "the most common outlet for expressing the misery of live in the Soviet Union lay in vulgar cursing...directed against anything and anybody except, of course, the true objects of their scorn - Joseph Stalin, the NKVD, the Communist Party, the entire Communist system." While Adamcyzk's mother continually reprises him to ignore the blatant cursing from the local Russians and to adhere to the moralistic principles he was taught in his homeland, Adamcyzk begins to realize that "the main reason for such vile cursing was the fact that it was recognized as a rare instance of freedom of expression."

What I have a hard time understanding is how people can allow themselves to live in such conditions under a government they recognize as being corrupt and inefficient, "disgusted by the failures of the system yet resigned to their fate." Adamczyk's mother refuses to allow him to attend the school in the town they have been relocated to because she fears he will be brainwashed. And her fears are not unfounded. Reading this book and hearing about the use of propaganda and the always present NKVD officers who spontaneously raid the homes of locals and interrogate them about 'how they feel about communism and life in the Soviet Union' makes the contradiction a bit more clear. Yet, part of me (fed by an indoctrination into American heroism and the belief that standing up for 'what is right' will result in eventual success) still wonders why a country did not stand up and fight against the government which oppressed them. Perhaps I will find out more as I read....

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