Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir

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Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir, by Fyodor Mochulsky, edited and translated by Deborah Kaple, OUP, RRP£16.99, 272 pages

The classic Gulag memoirs – Ginzburg, Mandelstam and Solzhenitsyn – are harrowing accounts of innocent people enslaved and murdered in Stalin’s prison camps. This one, discovered by Princeton academic Deborah Kaple, is a first: it is by a man who oversaw a forced-labour unit.

At 22, Fyodor Mochulsky was chosen to supervise the construction of a railway in the Arctic north to guarantee coal supplies in the coming war with Hitler. He defends the project as vital and insists that he improved conditions. He even writes of “the happiness and pride of work”.

It is a rare insight into the mind of a man complicit with state-sponsored terror. But don’t expect soul-searching or remorse: Mochulsky’s tone is managerial, matter-of-fact and drowning in detail about units, divisions and so on. For most of the book, he boasts of his productivity. Only in the epilogue does he lambast the atrocities of Stalin’s regime – and even then it reads like a glasnost-era afterthought.

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