Journey into the Land of the Zeks and Back A Memoir of the Gulag

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2020-10-01
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press

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Under the Soviet regime, millions of zeks (prisoners) were incarcerated in the forced labor camps, the Gulag. There many died of starvation, disease, and exhaustion, and some were killed by criminals and camp guards. In 1939, as the Nazis and Soviets invaded Poland, many Polish citizens
found themselves swept up by the Soviet occupation and sent into the Gulag. One such victim was Julius Margolin, a Pinsk-born Jewish philosopher and writer living in Palestine who was in Poland on family matters.

Margolin's Journey into the Land of the Zeks and Back offers a powerful, first-person account of one of the most shocking chapters of the violent twentieth century. Opening with the outbreak of World War II in Poland, Margolin relates its devastating impact on the Jews and his arrest and
imprisonment in the Gulag system. During his incarceration from 1940 to 1945, he nearly died from starvation and overwork but was able to return to Western Europe and rejoin his family in Palestine. With a philosopher's astute analysis of man and society, as well as with humor, his memoir of flight,
entrapment, and survival details the choices and dilemmas faced by an individual under extreme duress. Margolin's moving account illuminates universal issues of human rights under a totalitarian regime and ultimately the triumph of human dignity and decency.

This translation by Stefani Hoffman is the first English-language edition of this classic work, originally written in Russian in 1947 and published in an abridged French version in 1949. Circulated in a Russian samizdat version in the USSR, it exerted considerable influence on the formation of the
genre of Gulag memoirs and was eagerly read by Soviet dissidents. Timothy Snyder's foreword and Katherine Jolluck's introduction contextualize the creation of this remarkable account of a Jewish world ravaged in the Stalinist empire--and the life of the man who was determined to reveal the horrors
of the gulag camps and the plight of the zeks to the world.

Author Biography

Julius Margolin (1900-1971) was trapped in Poland by the successive Nazi and Soviet invasions in 1939 and was arrested by the Soviets in June 1940 for refusing to accept Soviet citizenship. From 1940 to 1945 he served time in the Soviet Gulag. Upon his return to the West, he wrote his memoirs, Journey to the Land of the Zek, and a description of his return via Europe, The Road to the West.

Stefani Hoffman is the former director of the Mayrock Center for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Research at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has translated numerous works, including Fear No Evil by Natan Sharansky.

Timothy Snyder is Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University. His award-winning works include The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999; Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin; and Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning.

Katherine R. Jolluck is Senior Lecturer in History at Stanford University. She is the author of Exile and Identity: Polish Women in the Soviet Union During World War II and the co-author of Gulag Voices: Oral Histories of Soviet Incarceration and Exile.

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