Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970.
He became known worldwide with his work The Gulag Archipelago, in which he wrote, among other things, about the labor camps in the Soviet Union.
When the secret service in his country finds out in 1945 that he has spoken negatively about the policies of Joseph Stalin in correspondence, he is sentenced to eight years in a labor camp. After serving his sentence, Solzhenitsyn is exiled to southern Kazakhstan.
On this day in 2008, he died in Moscow.
His early life
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s father, a Cossack, died before Alexander was born. Since his mother was very sick, he grew up mainly with his grandparents. With them, he was made familiar with the faith as well as the Russian customs and traditions.
In 1924 his mother moved to Rostov-on-Don, where he also attended school. At the age of nine, he already had the desire to become a writer. He passed his high school diploma in 1936 and subsequently began studying mathematics and physics in Rostov-on-Don.
He actually wanted to study literature in Moscow, but the financial means were insufficient. In his youth, he was enthusiastic about the views and political orientations of Vladimir Lenin.
This resulted in numerous approaches and evaluations of his later confrontation with Stalinism.
The gulag banishment
In February 1945, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was unexpectedly arrested at the front by military counterintelligence and transferred to Moscow’s Lubyanka Prison for criticizing Stalin in letters to a friend.
Under Article 58 of the Soviet Criminal Code, he was sentenced without trial to eight years’ imprisonment followed by “perpetual banishment.” He spent his imprisonment in the labor camps of the Gulag.
Initially, he was placed in a special camp for scientists, where he met Lev Kopelev, who was also imprisoned. He processed his experiences with this special camp in the novel The First Circle of Hell in 1968.
Refusing to fulfill the work required to deal with predetermined scientific topics, Solzhenitsyn was later transferred to the Ekibastus camp complex in Kazakhstan for political prisoners. In this camp, he worked in a foundry.
In 1952, a year before his release from the Gulag, Solzhenitsyn’s wife Natalya (Natasha) divorced him. This was initially done by mutual consent to avoid further reprisals by the Stalinist power apparatus since marriage to a political prisoner could have led to dismissals or persecution.
According to her own testimony, Natasha remained faithful to her husband during the first years of his imprisonment from 1945 to 1950. A feeling of great inner attachment even seemed to deepen. However, the two often saw each other only a few times a year during this period.
Then, however, Natasha turned away from him and let the new assistant professor at her institute, Vsevolod Somov, who already had a son, move in with her.
The de-Stalinization of the USSR
Stalinization is a period in the history of the Soviet Union that meant that everything Stalin had made so powerful as the glorification of his personality, the Stalinist political system, and the labor camp system controlled by the Gulag had to make way for a new political line.
As soon as he came to power after Stalin’s death, his successor Nikita Khrushchev started that new policy.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn then gets permission to settle in European Russia and moves to Ryazan. Here he further develops his writing skills.
Solzhenitsyn’s work A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is published in 1962. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev grants special permission for publication in Novy Mir magazine.
It is the first so-called camp novel to be published in a communist country. Solzhenitsyn is known worldwide for this work.
The Nobel Prize for literature
When Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev is overthrown, the climate in the Soviet Union changes.
Writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is forced to submit to increasingly severe censorship.
Unhappy Soviet leaders
The Soviet leaders in this period are far from happy with Solzhenitsyn. Certainly not after he published the first volumes of his now-famous work Gulag Archipelago.
When he also publishes the critical Letter to the Soviet leaders in 1973, the Soviet leadership has had enough. The author is arrested and charged with high treason. In 1974 he was put on a plane to West Germany.
The author’s family settles in the United States a year after the expulsion. The writer stays here for twenty years and develops as a writer and thinker.
First known as a critic of communism, he develops more and more into a proponent of a return to traditional Russian values.
He is also very critical of Western democracies.
A freer climate for writers
After Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power in his country, Solzhenitsyn’s books can be published there. In 1974, he regained his citizenship, which was previously taken from him, and at the age of 75, the writer sets foot on Russian soil again. He is welcomed as a hero.
At the end of 2002, Solzhenitsyn, who continues to write in his wooden house just outside Moscow, wished that some of his books would not be published until after his death.
In 2007, President Vladimir Putin awarded the writer the State Prize, one of the highest Russian awards. This time Solzhenitsyn accepts the prize after refusing the price in 1998, an award that President Boris Yeltsin wants to give him.
The writer died at the age of 89 on August 3, 2008. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev immediately offers the writer’s family condolences.
Shortly after his death, his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy expressed positively about the author in the media.
References & Sources
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Center — Nobel Lecture. https://www.solzhenitsyncenter.org/nobel-lecture