Soldier, prisoner, writer, and philosopher Alexandr Solzhenitsyn died Sunday evening, August 3rd, 2008. Growing up in the Soviet Union, he served as a decorated commander for the Red Army, yet he was arrested for an anti-Soviet comment made in a personal letter in early 1945. He was promptly placed in a labor camp called Ekibastuz, which gave him the foundational experiences to write One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a complete account of a real life day under Stalinist repression. Throughout the rest of his life, Alexandr continued to write, despite Soviet/Russian efforts to censor his works. In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, but had to wait to accept the award because he was unsure if the Soviet Union would allow him to return at that time. By 1974, he had been deported, and accepted the award at that time.
Alexandr lived a full life, experiencing the depravity that exists, and the atrocities that are committed every day. He rightly states the reason for all of this, our rejection of God most high:
Imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes which had not been noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life.
Solzhenitsyn had a good head on his shoulders. He seems to have understood the essence of human nature, and how it can drive mad people to do heart wrenching things. He also understood that it wasn’t just certain people, like Stalin, or Hitler, or the Red Army soldiers who rape a Polish woman just because she looked German. No, he says it best in one of my favorite quotes:
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? -Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
You will be missed, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Thank you for your legacy, your compassion, and your hard words courageously expressed amidst a fallen world.