Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dostoevsky on Katyn

"Fyodor Dostoevsky had set a crucial scene of The Brothers Karamazov at the Optyn Hermitage in Kozelsk, which in 1939 and 1940 became the site of the Soviet prisoner-of-war camp.  Here took place the most famous exchange in the book:  a discussion between a young nobleman and a monastery elder about the possibility of morality without God.  If God is dead, is everything permitted?  In 1940, the real building where this fictional conversation took place, the former residence of some of the monks, housed the NKVD interrogators.  They represented a Soviet answer to that question:  only the death of God allowed for the liberation of humanity.  Unconsciously, many of the Polish officers provided a different answer:  that in a place where everything is permitted, God is a refuge.  They saw their camps as churches, and prayed in them.  Many of them attended Easter services before they were dispatched to their deaths."

     Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands:  Europe between Hitler and Stalin (New York:  Basic Books, 2010), 138, citing Vladimir Abramov, The murderers of Katyn (New York:  Hippocrene Books, 1993), 46, and Stanisław Swianiewicz, In the shadow of Katiń (Calgary:  Borealis, 2002), 63, 66.

No comments: