Forgotten Witness to the Gulag

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Born in Pinsk, Margolin earned a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Berlin in 1929, but became a resident of Palestine in 1937, after meeting Ze’ev Jabotinsky and other leading Zionists. Unfortunately, Margolin decided to visit his homeland in 1939, just before war broke out. He was arrested in Pinsk in 1940 and imprisoned by the Soviet secret police as a “Ze-Ka” (or Z/K). The term is a Russian-language abbreviation for zakliuchyonnyi, or “inmate,” a term which originally referred to prison laborers who built the White Sea Canal in the early 1930s. Unlike 8,000 of the slave laborers who died in that earlier project, Margolin survived his imprisonment in several gulags. He returned to Palestine in 1946, where he wrote his memoir in Russian, finally finishing the book in 1947.

However, Israeli publishers and politicians did not want to hear about the gulag system in the USSR, which was seen as a wartime ally against Hitler. In February 1946, Margolin wrote letters to such leading Israeli politicians as Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Moshe Sharett and Yosef Sprinzak, informing them of the situation of Soviet Jews imprisoned in the gulags; none of these leaders replied. Nor did English-language publishers take any interest, despite the advocacy of Arthur Koestler. (Jurgenson notes that Koestler “tried in vain to interest influential English-language personalities to get the book published.”)

Fascinating article of the lives of those Jews who suffered under persecution, only for their suffering to be refused recognition in the aftermath.

Too bad this particular book is in French, and sadly… I am simply too American to know any language but my own.

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