In a strong field, Cannibal Island is one of the grisliest and most unpleasant accounts of gulag life. Its author, best known as a contributor to the Black Book of Communism (1997), a book-length butcher’s bill of communism’s millions of victims worldwide, is among a cohort of historians who have provided a picture of Stalinism that matches in gruesomeness and exceeds in scholarly rigor the anthologies of rumor compiled by Robert Conquest before the opening of the archives in 1991.Perhaps surprisingly, the disgorging of thousands of secret, yellowed documents since 1991 has not dramatically revised our understanding of what happened in the gulags. But shocking miniatures–Werth humbly calls his a “microhistorical effort”–are emerging more vivid than those we could reliably cite before. This one ranks as one of the more memorable exhibits in the gallery of horrors.
What exactly happened on Cannibal Island? How did it get its name?
Honestly, it turns out. Nazino Gulag got its name “Cannibal Island” by being chock full of cannibals. Turns out that when Stalin had all those soviet citizens who refused to work deported to the Nazino Gulag, along with criminals, the insane, mentally handicapped, and the odd 103-year-old partially paralyzed man, things went from bad to worse to The Hills Have Eyes in no time.
On May 18, about 5,000 déclassé labor colonists, nearly all men, disembarked at Nazino, an island about half the size of Central Park. Their rations consisted of one large rotting pile of flour communally administered by a few guards, and no containers. The enterprising among them removed their hats and shirts and loaded them with a meager clump of flour–not that it mattered, since they were so crazed with hunger that they ate the flour raw and washed it down with the giardia-infested waters of the Ob and Nazina rivers. Diarrhea struck immediately.Within two days, dozens had died, and the living feasted on their corpses. Visitors found bodies mutilated and stripped of their tenderest meat and organs, and caught settlers with human livers in their hands. The few guards lacked shoes, uniforms, and discipline, and were, said an official, “in no way distinguished from the déclassé elements they were supposed to monitor.” The guards did, however, have rifles, and they eagerly extorted food and favors from their ragged charges. In one case, a guard fell in love with a pretty deportee and tried to protect her. When he returned from a short trip away, the other deportees had tied her to a poplar tree and, while she still lived, cut off her breasts and muscles for meat.
Authorities found out that Nazino had gotten out of hand, and eventually they sent in guards to protect the nearby villagers from being overrun and devoured. But the initial reaction was denial. Officials insisted that rumors of a cannibalistic nightmare lacked foundation and were, by the way, seditious. They contended that those who resorted to eating the dead suffered from mental illness and were “cannibals by habit,” rather than because the Soviet system had failed them.
Nazino was only one of many gulags in which the Ukranian kulaks (prosperous peasants) were abandoned in order that they would starve. The rumors spread quickly through the USSR at the time. Those soviets who wrote about the rumors were killed or sent to the gulags themselves. Even those who spread rumors might be sent the gulags.
How the Left Biased Media has blood on its hands
But yet, there were journalists living in free countries who knew, and who refused to write about the millions upon millions of dead in the Ukranian Famine, aka Holodomor, of which Cannibal Island was a small part. The most prominent supposed journalist in America at the time was The New York Times’ Walter Duranty, who published Stalin’s official disinformation concerning the millions who starved at his command, in pursuit of an idealized communist society. For his service in spreading lies and countering the truth for Stalin’s propaganda machine, Duranty won the Pulitzer Prize. And that is why the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Times will forever be tarnished. They are stained with the blood of millions. The sweet stink of the charnel-house is impossible to separate from the pages of the Times, as if the paper were printed on rolls of human skin and blood and black bile were used for ink.
Perhaps I engage in hyperbole. But I believe it is justified.