Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kozelsk–a Glimpse into a Soviet Death Camp

This year marks the seventieth anniversary of the Katyn Forest Massacre, the murder of thousands of Polish prisoners ordered by Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Communist Party Politburo in March 1940. A Polish exhibition commemorating this event, which has been touring Europe and the United States for the past few months, is now in the Herbert Hoover Memorial Pavilion through January 2011. The exhibition consists of forty-three panels of images and text, augmented by selected documentation from the Hoover Institution Library and Archives, home to the largest and most comprehensive holdings on modern Poland outside Poland.

Among the Hoover contributions to the exhibition is the only known photograph of the Kozelsk prison camp, in which more than forty-five hundred Polish prisoners were kept between October 1939 and April 1940, before they were executed and buried in the mass graves at Katyn. The camp occupied the buildings of one of the most important centers of Orthodox Christianity in prerevolutionary Russia, the Optina Monastery, which had been visited by tens of thousands of the faithful, including some of Russia’s leading writers and intellectuals, most especially Fyodor Dostoyevsky, for whom the monastery provided much of the inspiration for his best work, The Brothers Karamazov. After the revolution, the Bolsheviks killed or exiled the monks and turned the monastery into a prison camp. During the time that it housed Polish prisoners, it was identified to the outside world as the “Maxim Gorky Rest Home.” The photograph of the monastery-turned-prison was brought out, folded and concealed in his clothing, by Ludwik Jaksztas a Polish air force lieutenant, who was one of the several dozen prisoners selected by the NKVD, probably for operational reasons, for transfer to another camp and thus spared execution. Who the photographer was is not clear; it may have been made by a member of the camp underground who did not survive or somehow obtained from a Soviet source. It was likely one of several photographs given to individuals as they were being taken out of the camp, virtually all to be executed. The copy given to Jaksztas was the only one that reached the outside world and is now in the Wiktor Sukiennicki papers in the Hoover Archives. Sukiennicki, a Polish legal scholar and later a research fellow at Hoover, was the principal investigator of the Katyn murders on behalf of the Polish government in exile.

Lieutenant Jaksztas escaped the killing fields of Katyn but never made it back to Poland. Released from captivity after the Nazis attacked their Soviet ally in the summer of 1941, he joined the Polish forces loyal to the London-based Polish government in exile. A navigator with the RAF Polish 305 Squadron, his Mosquito bomber was shot down on the third day of the Normandy invasion. He is buried in the Langannerie cemetery in northern France, along with some seven hundred other Free Poles. The Kozelsk Optina Monastery has been returned to its original purpose and, after major restoration, has again become a vibrant center of Russian Orthodox Christianity.

Box 2, Wiktor Sukiennicki papers, Hoover Institution Archives

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Diplomatic Horseplay

After a hard day of high-level talks and shuttle diplomacy, how do diplomats unwind? More than fifty years ago, one did so by spoofing his colleagues on all sides of the table. His account of the 445th meeting of the European Advisory Council, on April 1, 1945, is written in the dry, reportorial style typical of meeting minutes, and is in the John Marshall Raymond papers at the Hoover Archives.

The minutes begin with a review of the minutes of the previous meeting. After a series of amendments to change "will" to "shall" and "labour" to "labor" (with the British representative dissenting), the group moved on the future organization of the Tripartite Council in Berlin. As the chair, the USSR representative opened by announcing that his government had decided to be represented on the council by one member from each state in the Soviet Republic. Because there were sixteen states, he proposed that the council be called in future the Unumdevigintipartite Council.

The meeting quickly recessed so that the U.S. representative could get a Latin dictionary. On reassembling, a counterproposal, that "Novededemipartite" be substituted for "Unumdevigintipartite," generated "a lively but indeterminate discussion" that lasted until noon, when they adjourned for lunch.

At 2:30 "the U.S. representative, being the first back from lunch, took the chair." During the recess, he had consulted both his government and the adviser to the U.S. embassy on ancient languages. The United States was prepared to accept the USSR proposal, he announced, "on condition that his country be represented by one member from each of the United States. There were forty-eight of these (at this point the Br. Representative expressed his surprise and stated that according to his records held in the Foreign Office there were only thirteen). Continuing, after some reference to a schoolroom atlas, the U.S. representative proposed that the Tripartite Council should be called in future the Septemet Sexagintapartite Council. He was also understood to say 'Check,' but since none of the Central European countries was represented at the meeting this remark was considered irrelevant."

At this point the British representative left to make an urgent call, so the meeting adjourned for tea, coffee, and vodka. When the U.S. and USSR representatives returned at 4:30, they found the British representative in the chair making calculations. Resuming the meeting, he announced that his government would accept both proposals on condition that each of the dominions, colonies, crown colonies, and dependencies in the British Commonwealth also be represented, which he figured totaled forty-nine. He therefore proposed that the council be called the Centumestsedecempartite Council. "He expressed his warm feelings of friendship for the other members of the Council and their Governments by saying to the USSR representative 'Mate,' and the U.S. representatives 'Mate to you, too."

Before discussion could continue, a "considerable commotion outside… made further work impossible. On inquiry it was discovered that a foreigner calling himself 'de Gaulle' had attempted to get in but had been overpowered and removed to safe custody." Because it was 5:00, the meeting was adjourned.

Icing the cake, the author classified these meeting minutes Top Secret.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Is Firing Line the New Sex? (with apologies to Mary Eberstadt)

Since its publication in Policy Review last year, Mary Eberstadt's exploration of the effects of unlimited sex and food on advanced nations, "Is Food the New Sex?" has been a perennial favorite on the web. In a shameless effort to transmit that success to our blog, I posit here that Eberstadt's observations about food also apply to William F. Buckley's Firing Line television series. After all, with more than one hundred Firing Line programs available on Amazon.com, additional titles available directly from the Hoover Archives, and just about any transcript available through the Hoover website, Firing Line fans now enjoy a previously unimagined level of abundance. As Eberstadt observes with food and sex, the dramatic expansion in access to Firing Line is due to technology, in this case the Internet, digital copying, and DVD on demand.

Where Eberstadt takes us to the kitchens of Betty and Jennifer, I suggest visiting their living rooms. Thirty years ago, Betty's living room was equipped with only a television to enjoy live broadcasts of Firing Line. No matter how much Betty loved the show, she was limited by the television schedule but was accustomed its enforced scarcity.

Betty's thirty-year-old granddaughter Jennifer pays far more attention to Firing Line and feels far more strongly about it than Betty ever did. Even though Firing Line ended in 1999, Jennifer can watch any title from her library of Firing Line DVDs at any time, and she even proselytizes; on occasion she'll rack up her current favorite episode when friends visit, and when gifts are exchanged a DVD featuring Malcolm Muggeridge is sure to be inside Jennifer's colorful wrapping. She argues the merits of the Allen Ginsberg show with her liberal coworkers and consistently asserts the moral authority epitomized in "Is It Possible to Be a Good Governor?" Jennifer's annual holiday tradition includes viewing "How Does One Find Faith?" Clearly, where Betty felt opinions about Firing Line were a matter of individual taste, Jennifer is certain that her opinions about Firing Line are not only politically correct but also morally correct: she feels that others ought to be as devoted to Firing Line as she is.

Deep down, there has been a revolution in how we now think about Firing Line--changes that allow Firing Line to become a way of life. Over breakfast you can watch program clips on You Tube; sneak a peek at the studio shots on Hoover's Firing Line slideshow when you're at work; during lunch, screen a show on DVD for your coworkers. When you ask someone a tough question, deliver it with your best impression of Buckley's winning smile. En route home on the train, read a PDF transcript and memorize Buckley's best lines to share at your next party. After dinner watch another DVD and then write a review of it on Amazon.com--be sure to match Buckley's elevated discourse and set a higher standard for the social Internet! Before you go to bed, peruse the list of Firing Line's 1,504 programs, send us a request for the next title you'd like to watch, and fall asleep dreaming of it.