Help for Heroes

The Banality of Evil

Lev Razgon's unique and chilling encounter with one of Stalin's mass murderers.

Lev Razgon is a true survivor of the old Soviet Union. Now in his eighties, he is one of only two people still living who attended the infamous 17th Party Congress of 1934 which set Stalin on his road to purges and mass murder. Arrested at the age of thirty, Razgon spent nearly twenty years under the shadow of the Gulags – the vast prison. system that Stalinism erected for all those who dared to criticise or who were sometimes just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Razgon's Memoirs, first featured in the Moscow journal Ogonyok, include an array of figures – political and intellectual – whom he met through his experiences. But one of the most striking – and chilling – encounters is related below in an extract from the forthcoming English translation of the memoirs in book form: the encounter he had in a Moscow hospital with a seemingly-ordinary man, one however who brought with him ghosts from the past ...

It was November 1977. I was at the Cardiology Institute in Petroverigsky Street recovering from a heart attack. During the night, they moved me out of the intensive care unit (someone else needed the bed) and into the ward opposite. There was no hope of getting to sleep again. I waited impatiently for the cleaners to begin shuffling in the corridor outside, for the squeaking of doors opening and shutting, and the brisk footsteps of the nurses. There was something terribly familiar about these sounds. They didn't just remind me of the Botkin Hospital from the previous year. They took me back to much earlier events: to the inner prison at the Lubyanka and to Butyrki, to Stavropol prison, the Georgievsk transit prison, and to numerous transit prisons and camps in Ustvymlag and Usolag.

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