Stephen F. Cohen


On his book The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin

Cover Interview of February 13, 2011

A close-up

I hope that your “browsing reader” glances at the Prologue, the pages one through six.  One informed reader said this must be the best short overview of Stalin’s terror ever published.

Having read the horrors described in those few pages may well make one want to know what later happened to the victims that survived them.

In three photo album inserts, I have included striking photos, showing the faces of some names that will be known to more than a few American readers—the widow of Nikolai Bukharin, Anna Larina, and her children—as well as less-well-known others, before, during, and after the years of their victimization.

The faces of the victims need to be seen. Anna Larina (the widow of Nikolai Bukharin, who was executed in 1938), with their son Yuri, whom she had not seen in nineteen years, and her two younger children, Nadya and Misha, by her second husband, at her place of Siberian exile, 1956. The photographs reproduced on page 50 show Anna Larina’s aging during her years in the Gulag, and Yuri’s in the orphanage.

Several compelling photographs of Olga Shatunovskaya are reproduced in the book. Left, Olga Shatunovskaya before her arrest, in 1936; right, in a Magadan camp, 1945.  After her release in the early 1950s, Shatunovskaya became a member of Khrushchev’s inner political circle and, in that capability, helped to free millions of other victims from labor camps and exile.

Many of the photos in the book are my own, and thus quite personal. A 1980 photo of the author with Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko.

In the pages eight and nine I explain how this author, who grew up in Kentucky far from all of that, ended up living among Stalin’s victims in Moscow and eventually writing their story.  If nothing else, my own “fate” in this regard reminds us how unexpected our lives can be.