…and another book to add to the growing pile:

In the Nightmare


We know that history holds many surprises. One does not expect to learn more about the secret history of the Gulag than we already know from both Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago and Anne Applebaum’s Gulag: A History. This feat, however, is exactly what the Greek-born British documentary filmmaker Tim Tzouliadis has accomplished, in a book that should be placed alongside the others as a must-read account of the horrors Joseph Stalin inflicted upon his victims.

What Tzouliadis offers is a dramatic account of the previously unknown story of the thousands of American citizens who, during the Depression, sought employment and a better future in the “worker’s paradise” built by the Russian Bolsheviks after the 1917 revolution. All kinds of Americans joined the exodus. Some of them were ethnic American Communists or fellow-travelers who wanted to help build socialism. The majority, however, were average Americans who could not help but be tempted by the offers coming from Moscow: Skilled workers were promised paid passage, jobs at high pay, paid vacations, and free medical care. When the Soviet agency Amtorg advertised for help in American papers in 1931, they got over 100,000 applications for slightly over 10,000 advertised jobs. The flood of immigrants included not only steelworkers and auto-assembly-line workers (including Walter and Victor Reuther) but also teachers, clerical workers, dentists, and doctors.

One item of particular interest and exceptional irony, was the use of repaired “Liberty” merchant ships by the Soviets as part of the Gulag:

America’s wartime policy did more than just prettify Stalin. Lend-Lease aid was used to supply and repair the Liberty ships sent to the Soviet Union for wartime use, supposedly for the war against the Nazis. Half of them, we learn, were actually sent to Soviet Far East ports, such as Magadan, where they were used to send new slave laborers to the arctic Kolyma camp. “NKVD steamers,” Tzouliadis writes, “were reconditioned at the expense of the American taxpayer, before their quick return to service as the ‘death ships of the Sea of Okhotsk.’” One ship was overhauled at the cost of half a million dollars in 1942, after a fire caused it to sink. American workers opened the holds to find evidence that hundreds of prisoners had been locked inside. Yet the ship was returned to Vladivostok, where more prisoners were picked up to be sent to the Kolyma prison camp. “Without the NKVD fleet,” Tzouliadis notes, “the operations within Kolyma would have been impossible to sustain. The ships were an essential link in the mechanism, required to replace the prisoners who had died, and to expand still further the network of concentration camps. It was as if the Reichsministry had arranged to have its railway engines repaired in Philadelphia and then shipped back . . . to recommence their journey to Auschwitz.”

And while Stalin and his ilk have passed from this life, in light of the above – maybe, just maybe there might be due consideration at policymaking levels in the Free World about making nice with and spurring the industrial development along of the current crop of repressionist leaders. You know who you are.

Then again, we suppose it’s always about the “bottomline” and a quick return on investments, n’est-ce pas?


  1. I guess I understand in theory why we cooperated with Stalin durin g WW II. We wanted to open up a second front against Germany… and possibly eventually Japan. But, man, looking back on it, it sure leaves a bad taste in my mouth to think that we put up with that kind of stuff.

    Jim C

  2. claudio

    Alas, but we forget too soon. I know communism first hand, and so do those of my generation who grew up East of the Wall. I heard of the real horrors from parents but mainly grandparents and lived through some lesser ones. My daughter hears it from me, but to her it’s just a story, to associate with a future visit, but she’ll see none of the horrors. in another generation, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot et al will be only names in history books (hopefully) and they will be thought of the same as we think of King Herod or Ivan the Great.

    Time heals all wounds…..

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