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Gustav Herling 1919 - 2000

Gustav Herling in Naples in 1944 with Lidia Croce

Gustav Herling in Naples in 1944 with Lidia Croce

Gustav Herling was a Polish writer and journalist. In 1939, after Poland was partitioned between Germany and the USSR, Herling was arrested by the Russians while trying to leave the country for France to fight the Germans. Deported to a labour camp on the Baltic, after Germany’s attack on the USSR he was released and joined the Polish Volunteer Corp under general Anders. He fought alongside the British, between 1942 and 1944, in North Africa and in Italy, at Montecassino. In 1955 he settled in Naples, dividing his time between this city and Paris, where he worked for the Polish magazine "Kultura", which he had helped found in 1947. He also worked in Italy, contributing to Ignazio Silone and Nicola Chiaromonte’s magazine "Tempo presente", as well as to various daily papers and periodicals. His book on the GULag experience, A World Apart, was published in London in an English translation in 1951, with a foreword by Bertrand Russell who admired both its documentary rigour and its literary merits. In France, on the other hand, despite the enthusiastic appreciation of Albert Camus, he was unable to find a publisher until 1985, and in Italy not until 1994, except for a previous practically clandestine edition, that went unnoticed. As Herling himself wrote in a preface to the Russian edition (1986) of his book, the cultural establishment mainly followed Sartre’s advice: "even if it is true, don’t speak about it". Now that the book has been re-discovered, his other writings are appreciated too, including Diario scritto di notte (Italian translation of selected passages published in 1992).

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The difficult defense of human dignity

In communist totalitarianism

The Gulag as the organized system of soviet labor camps was a powerful instrument for the extermination of entire groups of citizens by the communist totalitarian regime, in the USSR since half of the Twenties and then by emulation of the other countries of the communist bloc, both in Europe and in the Far East.
Through terror, the regime exerted an iron grip over the population who completely submitted to the regime. 

For those who opposed the regime the question was not about risking their lives to rescue other human beings, but to save their true identity at the cost of their life. Through this, indirectly, other lives were saved and this courageous kind of moral resistance contributed to the collapse of the Soviet empire, which collapsed at the end of 1989.