“In the Gulag archipelago, souls are made or saved, as well as broken or lost. Solzhenitsyn remembers a group of intellectuals at the Samarka camp in 1946, dying of hunger, cold, and exhaustion from relentless labor:
Foreseeing the approach of death in days rather than weeks, here is how they spent their last sleepless leisure, sitting up against the wall: Timofeyev-Ressovsky gathered them into a ‘seminar,’ and they hastened to share with one another what one of them knew and the others did not – they delivered their last lectures to each other. Father Savely – spoke of ‘unshameful death,’ a priest academician – about patristics, one of the Uniate fathers – about something in the area of dogmatics and canonical writings, an electrical engineer – on the principles of the energetics of the future, and a Leningrad economist – on how the effort to create principles of Soviet economics had failed for lack of new ideas.
Death took some of the participants from one session to the next, but the vocation for learning could not be extinguished – and enforced suffering made better men of those whom it did not ravage utterly: ‘Formerly you never forgave anyone. You judged people without mercy. And you praised people with equal lack of moderation. And now an understanding mildness has become the basis of your uncategorical judgments. You have come to realize your own weakness – and you can therefore understand the weakness of others. And be astonished at another’s strength. And wish to possess it yourself. The stones rustle beneath our feet. We are ascending.’ Humanity – real, individual humanity – glimmers in the deepest hell.”