In part 1 of this article, published May 4, Philip Yancey looked at the phenomenon of concentration camps under the Stalin and Hitler regimes and, drawing from survivors’ accounts, concluded that they teach observers several important lessons. Victims did not go as “sheep to the slaughter” as some have blithely assumed. Rather, victims often displayed great reserves of mercy and moral courage. And even in the midst of a completely materialistic environment from which every vestige of beauty had been removed, art—poetry, music, literature—continued to surface. Yancey concluded that these signs of resilient morality and aesthetics are rumors of transcendence pointing to a human immortality that could not be snuffed out, even in the camps.
To the victims of the camps in Germany and Russia, hope was the daily bread of survival. How can a man condemned to face twenty-five years of hard labor in Siberia make it through a day? He lowers his expectations, sets small goals and achievements for himself, anxiously searches for objects of hope.
Solzhenitsyn’s account of one day in Ivan Denisovich’s life ended with him falling asleep fully content. “He’d had many strokes of luck that day: they hadn’t put him in the cells; they hadn’t sent his squad to the settlement; he’d swiped a bowl of kasha at dinner; the squad leader had fixed the rates well; he’d built a wall and enjoyed doing it; he’d smuggled that bit of hacksaw blade through; he’d earned a favor from Tsezar that evening; he’d bought that tobacco. And he hadn’t fallen ill.
“A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day.” (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, p. 158).
To those of us who spend our days worrying about excessive static on the car’s FM radio, the worn pile on living-room ...1
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