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I saw the devil

Posted March. 14, 2022 07:49,   

Updated March. 14, 2022 07:49


I used to see a heated debate on the question “What is Justice?” As an anecdote goes, four sailors were cast adrift in the middle of the ocean on a wrecked ship. The weakest out of the four was killed and eaten by the remainder of the survivors. Fed by human flesh and blood, the three survivors spent nine more days until they were rescued. Repatriated to their home country, they were accused of murder. People were enthusiastically debating over what they would have done if it had happened to them. To our surprise, we ask such a hard question as if it were not too big of a deal.


Russian author Varlam Shalamov was prisoned in a notorious detention facility in Kolyma, part of the Siberian region when he studied law in Moscow University. For 17 years, he suffered the cold, hunger and more than 16-hour intensive labor every day. Trembling with extreme fear, he even thought that he would rather end his life not to see what we humans should never experience – a young prisoner biting and eating a corpse out of hunger, a priest slaughtering his adorable puppy but murmuring in tears, “It was good, though” and a crowd of people, too insane to mourn over someone else’s death, fighting over a loaf of bread that was supposed to be handed over to a dead prisoner next to them if he had still been alive. Shalamov wrote “Kolyma Stories” to share his firsthand experience as one of the Kolyma survivors.

“I was still a human being for now, here,” he wrote, implying his in-depth introspective and humble insight into who we humans really are. As he said, he was “still” a human being “for now.” He must have clearly realized how hard it is to stay human when we are thrown into an abyss of ultimate fear and horror.

“What would I have done?” Imagining ourselves in all kinds of such terrible situations, we tend to take this question lightly and give an answer loaded with a sense of justice. Shalamov asks us in a low and careful voice, “We are still human beings for now. Then what next?”