Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the Forgotten Senses

Was the Great Russian Writer Aided by Supernatural Powers?


On his first night at Lubyanka Prison in Moscow, the lean, frightened army captain was subjected to subtle cruelties he never knew existed. And this despite the fact that he had been battling the Nazi invaders across the steppes of Rus­sia for four years, first as a soldier, then as an officer, in the Soviet Union’s Red Army.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 26, had been arrested at the battlefront on February 9, 1945, for making derogatory re­marks about Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in letters to a friend. He had been stripped of his rank and quickly transport­ed from East Prussia to the Russian capital by train.

On that first, sleepless, night in prison, he was taken to one cell after another and made to strip three times. The first time was to search his body cavities and rip his shoes and clothes apart to see if he was hiding a weapon. The sec­ond time was to make him shower, then clip off all his body hair. The third time was to subject him to a rigorous medical examination. He was forced to give his name and birthplace over and over again. Solzhenitsyn ended up in a cell without a bed, continuously lit by a 200-watt bulb, so small he could rest on the floor only perpendicularly. He wasn’t allowed to sleep.

Then came three days of interrogation. Sometimes he was beaten. He passed this time in solitary confinement.

Late on the fourth night, he was transferred to a cell containing three other prisoners. This made him happy. Oth­er human beings were here, in the same predicament as himself, with whom he could talk.

Solzhenitsyn didn’t meet these fellow prisoners until everyone woke up the next morning. He liked and trusted two of them. He completely mistrusted the third.

Twenty-nine years later, he wrote in The Gulag Archipelago (Vol. I), “I sensed something alien in this front-line soldier who was my contemporary, and, as far as he was concerned, I clammed up immediately and forever.

“I had not yet even heard the word ‘nasedka’—‘stool pigeon’—nor learned that there had to be one such ‘stool pi­geon’ in each cell. And I had not yet had time to think things over and conclude that I did not like this fellow, Georgi Kramarenko. But a spiritual relay, a sensor relay, had clicked inside me, and it had closed him off from me for good and all. I would not bother to recall this event if it had been the only one of its kind. But soon, with astonishment, and alarm, I became aware of the work of this internal sensor relay as a constant, inborn trait. The years passed and I lay on the same bunks, marched in the same formations, and worked in the same work brigades with hundreds of others. And always that secret sensor relay, for whose creation I deserved not the least bit of credit, worked even be­fore I remembered it was there, worked at the first sight of a human face and eyes, at the first sound of a voice—so that I opened my heart to that person either fully or just the width of a crack, or else shut myself off from him com­pletely . . . On the other hand, the sensor relay helped me distinguish those to whom I could from the very beginning of our acquaintance completely disclose my most precious depths and secrets—secrets for which heads roll . . . Dur­ing all those seventeen years [of imprisonment, exile, and underground authorship] I recklessly revealed myself to dozens of people—and didn’t make a misstep even once. (I have never read about this trait anywhere, and I mention it here for those interested in psychology. It seems to me that such spiritual sensors exist in many of us, but because we live in too technological and rational an age, we neglect this miracle and don’t allow it to develop.)”

For Solzhenitsyn, who had excelled in physics and mathematics at school and university and distinguished him­self in combat, this stay at Lubyanka prison—it would be almost four months—was to pale into insignificance beside the frightful seventeen-year-long ordeal that now awaited him. Those seventeen years—during which he abandoned the Marxism he had fervently believed in—included eight years of imprisonment, principally in a scientific research center and then, for a longer length of time, in a gulag in Ekibastuz, Kazakhstan; a bout with cancer that almost killed him; release from prison into political exile, during which he taught high school; and a period when, though now free, he had to labor clandestinely, under much harassment by the government, to put into words the experienc­es he had brought back on bits of paper, in his heart, and in his memory, from the dark places he had known.

The inhuman conditions of Stalin’s slave labor camps killed off most prisoners. For the few possessing a great po­tentiality for the expression of inner power, these conditions sometimes goaded supernormal coping mechanisms into re-emergence—mechanisms that seem to have lain dormant in mankind for several millennia. The “hidden sen­sor relay” that clicked into play for Solzhenitsyn in the cell in Lubyanka was the first of a number of suppressed inner senses that would be galvanized into resurrection in the author. He describes this in his books, and he describes it in other prisoners. These hidden faculties included a tapping into, and an obedience to, one’s “conscience”—though perhaps “Discernment” is a better word, as we’ll see—in every instant of one’s life.

These supernormal faculties, slowly a-birthing, enabled Solzhenitsyn to survive and prosper: In 1970 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In novels like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962) and The First Circle (1968), in the non-fiction work The Gulag Archipelago (1973-1978), the author was almost the first to lay bare the brutalities of Stalin’s slave labor camps (“gulag” means “labor camp,” and “archipelago” means “group of islands;” Solzhenitsyn himself coined the term “Gulag Archipelago”). This “archipelago,” writes historian Paul Johnson, constituted “a vast series of substantial territorial islands with the Soviet Union, covering many thousands of square miles.” Mass executions often took place in the gulags; in the Kolyma camps alone, in 1938, 40,000 men, women and children were machine-gunned to death. Johnson quotes historian Roy Medvedev as asserting that “the total number of victims in the years 1936-9 was about

4.5 million; the total of deaths caused by Stalin’s policy was in the region of 10 million.” Almost all the prisoners toiled for sixteen hours a day. A strong man’s health could be broken in a month. The arrests were completely arbi­trary; Stalin’s aim was to terrorize and cow the populace through these abrupt arrests of innocent people. His cruelty extended even to sending thousands of Russian soldiers, newly returned from imprisonment in German prisoner-of­war camps, back to prison, this time a gulag, as “traitors to the U.S.S.R.” Solzhenitsyn was arrested just as this mon­strous policy was beginning to take shape.

There’s another example in literary history of the mystical expansion that took place in Solzhenitsyn in the camps. The extreme privation that awakened his hidden senses had awakened those of Italian Renaissance goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571) in the dungeons of Rome’s Castle of Sant’ Angelo. Incarcerated in one of the deepest and dankest cells, Cellini attempted suicide; this provoked his “guardian angel” (or so he tells us in his Autobiogra­phy) into taking action. Even as his prisoner days and nights continued to be harrowing, this ever-more-explosive manifestation of his personal power continued to bear Cellini up in impossible circumstances until, at last, he was freed.

But what exactly are these hidden senses?

That’s a hard question to answer, since we’ve forgotten about their existence, and almost forgotten that we’ve for­gotten. The myths of antiquity seem to bear witness to the presence of expanded senses in earlier stages of humanity. The Book of Genesis tells us that “there were giants on the earth in those days.” The Book of Joshua alludes to Og, King of Basan, who ruled a race of giants; some feel this race, perhaps helped by ETs, was superior to our own. Colin Wilson and Rand Flem-Ath are two among many journalist-scholars to speculate (in The Atlantis Blueprint, 2001) about ancient, long-vanished civilizations, such as Atlantis, that were likely superior to ours.

Solzhenitsyn was certain that modern technology played a crucial role in the continuing atrophy of mankind’s su­pernormal senses. In the novel Cancer Ward (1968), the brilliant, old-school, semi-retired oncologist says to his much younger colleague, “You know, I worked for twenty years before X-rays were invented. And, my dear, you should have seen the diagnoses I made! It’s like when you have an exposure meter or a watch, you completely lose the knack of estimating exposure by eye or judging time by instinct. When you don’t have them, you soon acquire the trick.”

Perhaps the faculty he describes—can we call it Orientation?—is vanishing from the everyday world; but Solzhe­nitsyn observed in abundance in the camps the presence of what perhaps can be called the faculty of Discernment. He writes in The Gulag Archipelago (Vol. II):

“Survive! A powerful charge is introduced into the chest cavity, and the heart is surrounded by an electrical cloud so as not to stop beating. They [the camp guards] lead thirty emaciated but wiry zeks [camp prisoners] three miles across the Arctic ice to a bathhouse. The bath is not worth even a warm word. Six men at a time wash themselves in five shifts, and the door opens straight into the subzero temperature, and four shifts are obliged to stand there before or after bathing—because they cannot be left without convoy. And not only does none of them get pneumonia. They don’t even catch cold. (And for ten years one old man had his bath just like that, serving out his term from age fifty to sixty. But then he was released, he was at home. Warm and cared for, he burned up in one month’s time. That or-der—“Survive!”—was not there. . . .)

Solzhenitsyn adds: “Simply to survive does not mean ‘at any price.’ ‘At any price’ means: at the price of someone else.” One of the highest expressions of the rebirth of the hidden senses of mankind, which ultimately demands tap­ping into a moral dimension—and which, in the following example, may perhaps be called the faculty of Judgment— can be seen in the character of Grigory Ivanovich Grigoryev, the soil scientist/prisoner, as Solzhenitsyn describes him in the same volume:

“{He] was subjected on all sides to the camp philosophy, to the camp corruption of soul, but he was incapable of adopting it. On the Kemerova camps (Antibess) the security chief kept trying to recruit him as a stoolie. Grigoryev re­plied to him quite honestly and candidly: ‘I find it quite repulsive to talk to you. You will find many willing without me.’ ‘You bastard, you’ll crawl on all fours.’ ‘I would be better off hanging myself on the first branch.’ And so he was sent off to a penalty situation. He stood it for half a year. And he made mistakes which were even more unforgiveable: When he was sent on an agricultural work party, he refused (as a soil scientist) to accept the post of brigadier offered him. He hoed and scythed with enthusiasm. And even more stupidly: in Ekibastuz at the stone quarry he refused to be a work checker—only because he would have had to pad the work sheets for the sloggers, for which, later on, when they caught up with it, the eternally drunk free foreman would have to pay the penalty. (Or would he?) And so he went to break rocks! His honesty was so monstrously unnatural that when he went out to process potatoes with the vegetable storeroom brigade, he did not steal any, though everyone else did. When he was in a good post, in the privileged repair-shop brigade at the pumping-station equipment, he left simply because he refused to wash the socks of the free bachelor construction supervisor, Treivish. (His fellow brigade members tried to persuade him: Come on now, isn’t it all the same, the kind of work you do? But no, it turned out it was not at all the same to him!) How many times did he select the worst and hardest lot, just so as not to have to offend against conscience—and he didn’t, not in the least, and I am a witness. And even more: because of the astounding influence on his body of his bright and spotless human spirit (though no one today believes in any such influence, no one understands it) the organism of Grigory Ivanovich, who was no longer young (close to fifty), grew stronger in camp; his earlier rheumatism of the joints disappeared completely, and he became particularly healthy after the typhus from which he recovered: in win­ter he went out in cotton sacks, making holes in them for his head and his arms—and he did not catch cold.”

Only with the death of Stalin in 1953, and in particular with the emergence after 1956 of Nikita Khrushchev, did Stalin’s gulags begin to be dismantled. Not until 1970 did the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s works really get underway in the Soviet Union. The ruling elite couldn’t bear the subsequent elated public reaction to his revelations, and ban­ished him from the U.S.S.R. He spent two years in Switzerland, then eighteen in Cavendish, Vermont. In 1992, Boris Yeltsin forgave him, and in 1994 he returned to Russia. Solzhenitsyn died in 2008, almost ninety, and revered, how­ever nervously, by his fellow countrymen.

By John Chambers

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