The L’Osservatore Romano paid homage this week to one of the most important Russian intellectuals and the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, Alexander Solzhenitsin, an Orthodox Christian who died on Sunday at the age of 89 and who survived the cruelty of the Russian concentration camps, or Gulags, where millions died.
“A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and “Archipelago Gulag” are two of the most well-know works by this important Christian thinker, which made known to the world the barbarities being committed in the Gulags, where priests and religious were also among the millions who died.
Solzhenitsin was born in Kislovodsk on December 11, 1918, on the eve of the Russian revolution. Despite his preference for literature, he graduated with degrees in physics and mathematics.
Between 1942 and 1943 he lived in the Ukraine and wrote critically of Stalin. He was arrested on February 9, 1945 and condemned to eight years at the Gulags. During this time, the Vatican newspaper reported, Solzhenitsin experienced the arduous life of a dissident, one of intellectual secrecy and exile.
While he was in the Gulag, he wrote that several dozen dissidents were spread out all over Russia and that “each of us wrote about what we knew according to the dictates of our honor and our consciences, that is, about what was the essential truth, which is not made up solely of prisons, firing squads, jails and deportations. When the time comes we will emerge together from the depths and thus our great literature that we have expanded in the depths of the sea during the Great Revolution will be rebuilt.”
Between 1973 and 1976, Solzhenitsin penned “Archipelago Gulag,” in which he described the Stalinist system of the first half of the century as a “universal prison” for the millions of who lived in the Soviet Union.
In his last years, the famed dissident also published a diary and a series of articles written between 1967 and 2003 under the title, “Sketches from Exile” in which he argued for a modern Christian humanism that would save Russia, the west and the entire world.
“We must build a moral world,” he wrote. “The new explosion of capitalist materialism constitutes a threat for all religions.” The Vatican newspaper praised Solzhenitsin for holding fast to the faith that sustained him in prison and gave him the courage to continue encouraging others to believe in a “higher plan,” a plan that makes it worthwhile to be in this world.