This paper looks at the book Journey Into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg and examines how her story impacts the study of the Stalinist Terror.
Eugenia Ginzburg: Portrait of a Prisoner
Eugenia Ginzburg experienced the heart of the Stalinist Terror as few have who lived to tell about it. A staunch communist supporter, Ginzburg found herself wrongfully accused of being an enemy of the people and subsequently thrown into jail. She spent the next eighteen years as a part of the Stalinist prison camps, suffering the hardships and tortures that those camps heaped upon the prisoners unfortunate enough to be imprisoned in them. Yet, through it all, Ginzburg never gave up on her communist convictions, and remained loyal to her party, only saying that Stalin was an enemy of the people, not the communist party. Because of her unique perspective of having been a part of the horrible machinery of the Stalinist prison system, Ginzburg is able to give us a rare inside view of just what that period in time meant to the people of Russia and to communism in general. This paper examines the things that Ginzburg's book has to teach us that can not be found in regular textbooks on the subject.
Very few people ever went into the Stalinist prison system and came out to tell about it. Eugenia Ginzburg is the exception. During Josef Stalin's reign of terror in the Soviet Union, millions of people were sent to prison and labor camps, or outright executed, for a variety of petty reasons, including being an "enemy of the state," telling political jokes, speaking against Stalin, and even for nothing at all other than suspicion from Stalin or one of his informers. Stalin instigated the great "party purges" in which the top leaders of the communist party were executed, so that they would no longer be a threat to Stalin's regime. Terror and suspicion swept the land in the Soviet Union at this time. It was not unusual for neighbors to spy on neighbors and inform on them to the secret police in order to hopefully deflect suspicion and arrest from their own homes for another day. It was often only a temporary solution. Very few families in the Soviet Union at this time remained unaffected in some way by the Stalinist Terror movement.
The amazing thing about all of the terror and destruction that was happening in the Soviet Union at this time is that so many people were unaware of what was really happening. All most people knew was that their friends and neighbors, and even their family, would often disappear for no apparent reason and never be heard from again, and that this would happen periodically. It was only the people who became a part of the prison and labor camp system who really knew what was happening, and they were in no position to tell anyone on the outside about it. While people on the outside of the prison system undoubtedly had their reservations about just how good of a system communism was turning out to be for them, considering the economic hardships and depravations that were plaguing the entire country, no one dared to speak of such concerns for fear of disappearing just as so many others already had. Because of this, we now have very little information as to the full extent of the implications of the Stalinist Terror, as we only have large amounts of information about what was happening outside of the prison and labor camp system at this time. Ginzburg, from her inside perspective, gives us a unique and valuable view of what went on in the heart of the Stalinist Terror machine. This information is invaluable to history and to our full understanding of this period in Soviet history.
A teacher and staunch communist supporter, Ginzburg found herself a victim of the informant system, where neighbors, friends, and co-workers informed on each other in order to avoid arrest themselves. Thrown into jail, Ginzburg found herself transferred from jail to labor camp across the country for years. What she found, to her surprise and intrigue, was that her supposed crime seemed to change with every facility to which she was transferred. She started out as an "enemy of the people," and by the time she was…