Voices from the Darkness
The Holocaust and the Soviet Gulag are frequently remembered for the vastness of their human cost. Rightly so, for the Holocaust claimed 6 million Jewish victims and 5 million non-Jewish victims. Estimates for the number of victims that deaths and ordered executions in the Gulag claimed range widely—from 3.5 million up to 20 million, with most estimates putting the mark in the range of 10-12 million. These numbers are absolutely staggering. It seems almost impossible to put such statistics into any concrete terms; how, separated by generations and geography, can we begin to understand the tangible meaning of a loss of life on the order of ten or twenty million people? How can we understand the far-reaching effects of that sort of terror perpetrated by humans, and of that sort of terror inflicted on humans? Moreover, what sort, exactly is the terror that we are referring to when we talk about the events of the Holocaust and the Gulag? To a certain extent, the answers to these questions are out of our grasp; only those who experienced these events firsthand can begin to comprehend them. Even survivors attest to the incomprehensible nature of their experiences. In order to at least try to shed light on some of these questions, however, this work attempts to look at the Holocaust and the Gulag through the eyes of individuals who lived through the ordeal, in the hopes that this will start to make these events more comprehensible. I have chosen to focus specifically on women, partly because the massive size of the body of Holocaust and Gulag literature necessitates some sort of narrowing of the field, and partly because women confronted a different face of terror than did men; their gender intrinsically shaped their experiences. It is an attempt to find out how some women—for the number examined is too small to make any claims to universality—lived through such extenuating circumstances. The bulk of it is based on selective findings in personal memoirs and narratives. While personal accounts may not be the most accurate source for historical data, they are an ideal location for gaining a greater understanding of the personal human cost. Numbers can attest to the staggering magnitude of the terror; personal accounts can attest to the depth and the effect of the terror on the victim. The historical events of the Holocaust and the Gulag were the reasons for the socio-psychological aspects of resistance and survival that is the main focus of this study.