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Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir 1st Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199934867
ISBN-10: 019993486X
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"Gulag scholars should mine Mochulsky's memoir for insights into the decision-making process of a local camp boss facing often contradictory directives, knowing that failure could easily turn a boss into a prisoner." --The Journal of World History


"This is a fascinating memoir, presenting for the first time the voice of a "gulag boss." It offers a devastating counterpoint to the existing picture of Stalin's gulag that we have from victims' memoirs. The discovery and superb translation of this memoir by Deborah Kaple represents a major contribution to Gulag studies." --Lynne Viola, author of The Unknown Gulag: The Secret World of Stalin's Special Settlements


"Many memoirs by people who lived under the Stalinist regime in the USSR have appeared, but few give any real sense of how the repressive apparatus functioned. Fyodor Mochulsky's memoir offers the perspective of a Gulag prison camp official who, despite being a committed Communist, was able to sense a disjuncture between his expectations and the terrible reality he confronted. Although Mochulsky's memoir is necessarily selective and was written with the benefit of hindsight, it gives a valuable sense of some of the things he felt and the dilemmas he faced while overseeing Gulag operations. The memoir undoubtedly leaves out the worst aspects of Mochulsky's job, but he does not pretend to have been a hero or a closet dissident. If only inadvertently, his account lays bare the evils of the system he loyally served." --Mark Kramer, director of Cold War Studies, Harvard University


"Gulag Boss provides a unique and fascinating insight into the mind and morality of the men who ran the Soviet concentration camps."--Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gulag: A History


"A fascinating memoir" --American Thinker


"This unique viewpoint on the harsh Stalinist prison system is an important historical document" --New York Post


"Essential reading ... I could hardly put it down." - Simon Sebag Montefiore, Literary Review


About the Author


Fyodor Vasilevich Mochulsky (1918-1999) was a foreman and boss at Pechorlag GULAG NKVD from 1940-1946.

Deborah Kaple is Associate Research Scholar and Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Princeton University. She is the author of Dream of a Red Factory: The Legacy of High Stalinism in China (OUP, 1994).
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019993486X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199934867
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 0.9 x 5.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #480,960 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Fred Bacon on November 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
During the 1990's, while researching researching the history of the Soviet Advisors Program, Deborah Kaple met a retired Soviet diplomat in Moscow by the name of Fyodor Vasilevich Mochulsky. Mochulsky had worked in China during the 1950s as part of the Soviet Advisors Program and was happy to relate his experiences to Ms. Kaple. But there was another side to Mr. Mochulsky which did not come out until much later in their working relationship. As their friendship and trust strengthened, Mochulsky handed her a manuscript which he asked her to have published in the West. Troubled by his memories of the years working as a boss in a Gulag, Mochulsky had tried unsuccessfully to publish his memoirs during the glasnost years of the 1990s. It was this manuscript which he asked Deborah Kaple to have published abroad.

There is a vast literature of memoirs and histories of Stalin's brutal slave labor camps, but this is the first memoir told from the point of view of a GULAG NKVD employee. It offers a unique, but limited, perspective on what it was like to serve in the mid-level management of the camp system. Although hired to be a construction foreman, Mochulsky often found himself having to serve as the camp administrator, or Boss, for his units. (He was moved frequently from one camp location to another.)

After graduating from Moscow Institute of Railroad Transportation in 1940, Fyodor Mochulsky was selected by the NKVD to work as a railroad construction foreman in the new Pechorlag work camp near the Arctic Circle. As a beneficiary of the USSR's public education system, Mochulsky was obliged to serve two to three years of public service in return. So, when the NKVD offered him a job, he had little option than to accept the appointment.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is based upon the reminisces of Fyodur Mochulsky, a civil engineer who wound up working for the NKVD in the capacity of a work boss in the Gulag system of slave labor camps. As such, it is an unusual account of the slave labor system from the administrative side rather than from the prisoner side.

Not that Mochulsky sees the Gulag as a reservoir of slave labor, at least not at first. In fact, he thought he would be a simple engineer supervising technical work on a railroad being built in the challenging arctic environment of the Komi region. Instead, he found himself in charge of prisoners due to a lack of key personnel, with the responsibility for the construction of a stretch of the vital railway. His life became one of "norms"... not just limits for which the railroad line could be built, with standards regarding grade of track, number of sleepers per meter, etc. but also the norms regarding the use of human material. Prisoners were fed according to how much track they laid down. The "norm" for a regular day was very low, a fact that Mochulsky doesn't speak about much. He also never mentions how many "zeks" died while working on his line, although given the arctic conditions and the poor health of many of the prison population this MUST have occured.

When WWII broke out it became imperative that the rail line be completed. The line made the coal fields of Vorkuta accessible and without that coal the weapons factories east of the Urals could not function. German POWs arrived at the Gulag and were utilized to complete a vital bridge under Mochulsky's supervision.

Mochulsky would later be selected for political work and would receive a commission in the NKVD.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is an interesting look at the views and perspectives of one of the men who ran the GULAG. As such, it is well worth reading. Too often we take the view of the imprisoned and thus forget how easy it is in a totalitarian state to slip into the role of one of the persecutors. This is not an easy read, but it may be well worth the time.
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The book was well written, choricled Fyodor's life within the Soviet system, but seemed oblivious to the epic suffering and mind boggling losses the Gulags are known for. I liked it from the perspective of a bureaucrat, focused mainly of the "getting jobs done" aspect. I recommend this, but with reservations.
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Format: Hardcover
borrowed from the library. Not a book I would buy but it was a decent read. I've read several books from the viewpoint of prisoners so to read about the viewpoint of someone forced to be a boss was interesting. He makes it pretty clear he had little choice but to take on the numerous positions he had in the prison system and that there was a fine line between being an administrator or prisoner. He found creative ways to get the prisoner to work, such as allowing them to elect their own cook and housing the various group in separate huts. He describes each situation from an engineers point of view and yes avoids discussion of the deaths that no doubt occurred.
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