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A World Apart: The Journal of a Gulag Survivor Hardcover – September, 1986

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 262 pages
  • Publisher: Arbor House (September 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0877958211
  • ISBN-13: 978-0877958215
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,982,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1940, after Poland was annexed by the Soviet Union, Polish writer Herling, then 21, was arrested on several false charges and placed first in a Russian prison, then in a slave-labor camp. This memoir, first published in 1951 and available here for the first time, is apowerful account of life in the Kargopol camp, where wretched conditions and subzero weather were only the outward signs of the prisoners' inhuman existence. Herling goes beyond the daily rounds of life to detail the psychological adjustments (the "Great Change") that required prisoners to eliminate all memory of the past to survive. In sharp, spare prose, he gives us the faces, moods and stories of these hopeless prisoners as they cope with hunger, pain and the ever-present fear of anonymous death. An important document of its kind. Photos.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Language Notes

Text: English, Polish (translation)

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Herling maintains a sombre note throughout the book, but he rarely judges or seeks revenge. Very similar to Primo Levi, Herling decides to portray the horror of a place where very few accounts survive in an almost detached account. He compliments matter-of-fact observation with more metaphysical psycholoically challenging idealism, a style that works well without ever confusing either the reader or the issue. Despite the overall tone, he even manages to inject some scattered humour, illustrating that the human animal is a very accepting species. As long as one has hope, almost anything can be survived. This book is perhaps one of the most valuable insights to an almost ignored horror.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Leszek Strzelecki on February 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Perhaps the best summary of this book comes from Bertrand Russell himself who wrote an introduction to its first English edition in 1951: "Among the many books that I have read about experiences of the victims of the Soviet prisons and camps, the `World Apart' by Gustaw Herling impressed me the most and is best written. This book possesses very rarely seen power of simple and lively narrative and it is completely impossible to question anywhere his truthfulness."

In spite of this testimony from one of the greatest intellectuals of the XX Century, the book did not enjoy much positive recognition for many years. It is an example of a thing done by "a wrong guy at the wrong time in the wrong place". Czeslaw Milosz explained that condition somewhat like this: After the war Gustaw Herling was known more for his service in the Polish Army of Wladyslaw Anders considered at the time, especially in France and Italy, as Fascist and the book was clearly anti-Soviet. At the same time the prevailing mood, especially among the left-leaning intellectuals was decisively pro-Soviet. It is a well-known fact that Jean Paul Sartre was a downright aggressive pro-Stalinist even thought he was well aware of the existence of forced labor camps in the Soviet Union. After all the Soviet Union was an Ally who played decisive role in the defeat of the Nazi Germany. Today things are considerably better. In her recent book "Gulag, A History", Anne Applebaum acknowledges Herling's work as one of the main bibliographical sources and quotes it extensively. Still, for the public in general it remains a rather obscure work.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jan Peczkis on February 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book, originally published in 1951, is one of the first, if not the first, English-language account by a Polish inmate from the early-WWII (1939-1941) period. In the Preface (pp. ix-x), eminent British philosopher Bertrand Russell condemns the Communist apologists for their denials of the Soviet concentration camp system.

Herling had been caught trying to flee Poland during her 1939 dismemberment by the Soviets and Germans. Since Nazi Germany was than an ally of the USSR, his desire to continue fighting the Germans was treated as an anti-Soviet act. He ended up at Yercevo, the Kargopol camp, located at Archangel, on the White Sea. He summarized his experiences (pp. 254-256) in refutation of Gulag-deniers.

One prominent feature of this book is its insight into the psychology of both the tormentors and the tormented. We learn, for example, that Communist tortures were designed not merely to make the victims sign a confession of guilt, but to destroy their very personality. (p. 65). Previous inmates of the Gulags who now served as overseers were often extremely harsh to current inmates. (p. 108). (This is reminiscent of Bruno Bettelheim's testimony about the conduct of long-term inmates of Nazi concentration camps towards newer prisoners.). Those inmates who planned escapes and stored food for them did not actually try to escape--which they knew was almost impossible. Their efforts were simply to build hope for the future. (pp. 124-125). Some Communists who now were incarcerated continued to cling to Communism because otherwise they would have nothing else to live for. (p. 185).

It has fallaciously been argued that there was no Soviet equivalent to the Nazi death camps--no camp to which admission absolutely guaranteed death. In fact, there were.
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