- Birth Date:
- Death date:
- Person's maiden name:
- Александр Исаевич Солженицын
- Extra names:
- Aleksandrs Solžeņicins, Александр Солженицын
- Nobel prize, Pedagogue, teacher, Public figure, Publicist, Victim of repression (genocide) of the Soviet regime, Writer
- Moscow, Donskoy Cemetery
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn ( 11 December 1918 – 3 August 2008) was a Russian novelist, historian, and short story writer. He was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and communism and helped to raise global awareness of its Gulag forced labor camp system. He was allowed to publish only one work in the Soviet Union, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962), in the periodical Novy Mir. After this he had to publish in the West, most notably Cancer Ward(1968), August 1914 (1971), and The Gulag Archipelago (1973). Solzhenitsyn was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature "for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature". Solzhenitsyn was afraid to go to Stockholm to receive his award for fear that he would not be allowed to reenter. He was eventually expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974, but returned to Russia in 1994 after the state's dissolution.
Solzhenitsyn was born in Kislovodsk, RSFSR (now in Stavropol Krai, Russia). His mother, Taisiya Zakharovna (née Shcherbak), was of Ukrainian descent. Her father had risen from humble beginnings to become a wealthy landowner, acquiring a large estate in the Kuban region in the northern foothills of the Caucasus. During World War I, Taisiya went to Moscow to study. While there she met and married Isaakiy Semyonovich Solzhenitsyn, a young officer in the Imperial Russian Army of Cossackorigin and fellow native of the Caucasus region. The family background of his parents is vividly brought to life in the opening chapters of August 1914, and in the later Red Wheel novels.
In 1918, Taisiya became pregnant with Aleksandr. On 15 June, shortly after her pregnancy was confirmed, Isaakiy was killed in a hunting accident. Aleksandr was raised by his widowed mother and his aunt in lowly circumstances. His earliest years coincided with the Russian Civil War. By 1930 the family property had been turned into a collective farm. Later, Solzhenitsyn recalled that his mother had fought for survival and that they had to keep his father's background in the old Imperial Army a secret. His educated mother (who never remarried) encouraged his literary and scientific learnings and raised him in the Russian Orthodox faith; she died in 1944.
As early as 1936, Solzhenitsyn began developing the characters and concepts for a planned epic work on World War I and the Russian Revolution. This eventually led to the novel August 1914; some of the chapters he wrote then still survive. Solzhenitsyn studied mathematics at Rostov State University. At the same time he took correspondence courses from the Moscow Institute of Philosophy, Literature and History, at this time heavily ideological in scope. As he himself makes clear, he did not question the state ideology or the superiority of the Soviet Union until he spent time in the camps.World War II
During the war, Solzhenitsyn served as the commander of a sound-ranging battery in the Red Army, was involved in major action at the front, and was twice decorated. He was awarded the Order of the Red Star on 8 July 1944 for sound-ranging two German artillery batteries and adjusting counterbattery fire onto them, resulting in their destruction.
A series of writings published late in his life, including the early uncompleted novel Love the Revolution!, chronicles his wartime experience and his growing doubts about the moral foundations of the Soviet regime.
While serving as an artillery officer in East Prussia, Solzhenitsyn witnessed war crimes against local German civilians by Soviet military personnel. The noncombatants and the elderly were robbed of their meager possessions and women and girls were gang-raped to death. A few years later, in the forced labor camp, he memorized a poem titled "Prussian Nights" about these incidents. In this poem, which describes the gang-rape of a Polish woman whom the Red Army soldiers mistakenly thought to be a German, the first-person narrator comments on the events with sarcasm and refers to the responsibility of official Soviet writers like Ilya Ehrenburg.
In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn wrote, "There is nothing that so assists the awakening of omniscience within us as insistent thoughts about one's own transgressions, errors, mistakes. After the difficult cycles of such ponderings over many years, whenever I mentioned the heartlessness of our highest-ranking bureaucrats, the cruelty of our executioners, I remember myself in my Captain's shoulder boards and the forward march of my battery through East Prussia, enshrouded in fire, and I say: 'So were we any better?'"Imprisonment
In February 1945, while serving in East Prussia, Solzhenitsyn was arrested by SMERSH for writing derogatory comments in private letters to a friend, Nikolai Vitkevich, about the conduct of the war by Joseph Stalin, whom he called "Khozyain" ("the boss"), and "Balabos" (Yiddish rendering of Hebrew baal ha-bayit for "master of the house"). Also he had talks with the same friend about the need of a new organisation against the Soviet regime.
He was accused of anti-Soviet propaganda under Article 58 paragraph 10 of the Soviet criminal code, and of "founding a hostile organization" under paragraph 11. Solzhenitsyn was taken to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow, where he was interrogated. On 9 May 1945, it was announced that Germany had surrendered and all of Moscow broke out in celebrations with fireworks and searchlights illuminating the sky to celebrate the victory in the Great Patriotic War as Russians call the war with Germany. From his cell in the Lubyanka, Solzhenitsyn remembered: "Above the muzzle of our window, and from all the other cells of the Lubyanka, and from all the windows of the Moscow prisons, we too, former prisoners of war and former front-line soldiers, watched the Moscow heavens, patterned with fireworks and crisscrossed with beams of searchlights. There was no rejoicing in our cells and no hugs and no kisses for us. That victory was not ours". On 7 July 1945, he was sentenced in his absence by Special Council of the NKVD to an eight-year term in a labour camp. This was the normal sentence for most crimes under Article 58 at the time.
The first part of Solzhenitsyn's sentence was served in several different work camps; the "middle phase", as he later referred to it, was spent in a sharashka (i.e., a special scientific research facility run by Ministry of State Security), where he met Lev Kopelev, upon whom he based the character of Lev Rubin in his book The First Circle, published in a self-censored or "distorted" version in the West in 1968 (an English translation of the full version was eventually published by Harper Perennial in October 2009).
In 1950, he was sent to a "Special Camp" for political prisoners. During his imprisonment at the camp in the town of Ekibastuz in Kazakhstan, he worked as a miner, bricklayer, and foundry foreman. His experiences at Ekibastuz formed the basis for the book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. One of his fellow political prisoners, Ion Moraru, remembers that Solzhenitsyn spent some of his time at Ekibastuz writing. While there Solzhenitsyn had a tumor removed. His cancer was not diagnosed at the time.
In March 1953, after his sentence ended, Solzhenitsyn was sent to internal exile for life at Birlik, a village in Baidibek district of South Kazakhstan region of Kazakhstan (Kok-terek rural district). His undiagnosed cancer spread until, by the end of the year, he was close to death. In 1954, he was permitted to be treated in a hospital in Tashkent, where his tumor went into remission. His experiences there became the basis of his novel Cancer Ward and also found an echo in the short story "The Right Hand". It was during this decade of imprisonment and exile that Solzhenitsyn abandoned Marxism and developed the philosophical and religious positions of his later life, gradually becoming a philosophically-minded Eastern Orthodox Christian as a result of his experience in prison and the camps. He repented for some of his actions as a Red Army captain, and in prison compared himself to the perpetrators of the Gulag: "I remember myself in my captain's shoulder boards and the forward march of my battery through East Prussia, enshrouded in fire, and I say: 'So were we any better?'" His transformation is described at some length in the fourth part of The Gulag Archipelago ("The Soul and Barbed Wire"). The narrative poem The Trail (written without benefit of pen or paper in prison and camps between 1947 and 1952) and the 28 poems composed in prison, forced-labour camp, and exile also provide crucial material for understanding Solzhenitsyn's intellectual and spiritual odyssey during this period. These "early" works, largely unknown in the West, were published for the first time in Russian in 1999 and excerpted in English in 2006.Marriages and children
On 7 April 1940, while at the university, Solzhenitsyn married Natalia Alekseevna Reshetovskaya. They had just over a year of married life before he went into the army, then to the Gulag. They divorced in 1952, a year before his release, because wives of Gulag prisoners faced loss of work or residence permits. After the end of his internal exile, they remarried in 1957, divorcing a second time in 1972.
The following year Solzhenitsyn married his second wife, Natalia Dmitrievna Svetlova, a mathematician who had a son from a brief prior marriage.He and Svetlova (born 1939) had three sons: Yermolai (1970), Ignat (1972), and Stepan (1973).
Solzhenitsyn's adopted son Dmitri Turin died on March 18, 1994, aged 32, at his home in New York City due to a heart attack.KGB operations against Solzhenitsyn
On 8 August 1971, Solzhenitsyn was poisoned with what was later determined to be ricin, but survived.
On 19 September 1974, Yuri Andropov approved a large-scale operation to discredit Solzhenitsyn and his family and cut his communications with Soviet dissidents. The plan was jointly approved by Vladimir Kryuchkov, Philipp Bobkov, and Grigorenko (heads of First, Second and Fifth KGB Directorates). The residencies in Geneva, London, Paris, Rome and other European cities participated in the operation. Among other active measures, at least three StB agents became translators and secretaries of Solzhenitsyn (one of them translated the poem Prussian Nights), keeping KGB informed regarding all contacts by Solzhenitsyn.
The KGB sponsored a series of hostile books about Solzhenitsyn, most notably a "memoir published under the name of his first wife, Natalia Reshetovskaya, but probably mostly composed by Service", according to historian Christopher Andrew. Andropov also gave an order to create "an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion between Pauk[d] and the people around him" by feeding him rumors that everyone in his surrounding was a KGB agent and deceiving him in all possible ways. Among other things, the writer constantly received envelopes with photographs of car accidents, brain surgery and other frightening illustrations. After the KGB harassment in Zürich, Solzhenitsyn settled in Cavendish, Vermont, reduced communications with others and surrounded his property with a barbed wire fence. His influence and moral authority for the West diminished as he became increasingly isolated and critical of Western individualism. KGB and CPSUexperts finally concluded that he alienated American listeners by his "reactionary views and intransigent criticism of the US way of life", so no further active measures would be required.Return to Russia
In 1990, his Soviet citizenship was restored, and, in 1994, he returned to Russia with his wife, Natalia, who had become a United States citizen. Their sons stayed behind in the United States (later, his oldest son Yermolai returned to Russia). From then until his death, he lived with his wife in a dacha in Troitse-Lykovo in west Moscow between the dachas once occupied by Soviet leaders Mikhail Suslov and Konstantin Chernenko. A staunch believer in traditional Russian culture, Solzhenitsyn expressed his disillusionment with post-Soviet Russia in works such as Rebuilding Russia, and called for the establishment of a strong presidential republic balanced by vigorous institutions of local self-government. The latter would remain his major political theme. Solzhenitsyn also published eight two-part short stories, a series of contemplative "miniatures" or prose poems, a literary memoir on his years in the West (The Grain Between the Millstones), among many other writings. Once back in Russia Solzhenitsyn hosted a television talk show program. Its eventual format was Solzhenitsyn delivering a 15-minute monologue twice a month; it was discontinued in 1995. Solzhenitsyn became a supporter of Vladimir Putin who said he shared Solzhenitsyn's critical view towards the Russian Revolution.
All of Solzhenitsyn's sons became US citizens. One, Ignat, is a pianist and conductor. Elder son Yermolai works for the Moscow office of McKinsey & Company, a leading management consultancy firm, where he is now a senior partner.
Solzhenitsyn died of heart failure near Moscow on 3 August 2008, at the age of 89. A burial service was held at Donskoy Monastery, Moscow, on Wednesday, 6 August 2008. He was buried the same day in the monastery in a spot he had chosen. Russian and world leaders paid tribute to Solzhenitsyn following his death.
The Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Center supports explorations into the life and writings of the author and hosts the official English-language site dedicated Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The center strives to advance the legacy of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the English-speaking world through the promotion of a better understanding of his life, thought, and works.
|Relation name||Relation type||Description|
|5||Адриан Топоров||Familiar, Idea mate|
|9||Vladimir Efroimson||Familiar, Idea mate|
|13||Ivan Luppol||Idea mate|
|14||Majja Ulanovskaja||Idea mate|
|15||Lev Kopelev||Idea mate|