Book Review: I Was A Slave In Russia

I Was A Slave In Russia: An American Tells His Story, by John Noble

Published in 1958, this account by an American young man who had been imprisoned by the Soviets as a spy after having spent World War II in Germany interned by Germany with his family is part of a genre of prison memoirs that includes such classic works as Elie Wiesel’s Night, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning [1], and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s masterful The Gulag Archipelago. The book, along with Susi Hasel Mundy’s A Thousand Shall Fall, also shows the delicate relationship between SDA’s and Nazi Germany, a relationship that was tense, but not entirely hostile, as the Nobel family had a relatively good life in Dresden before the Soviets took over, stole their patents, and imprisoned both father and son for years.

The title of this book actually gives a fair bit of flavor for how the book is written. It is a piece of very short (about 180 pages, including an appendix that shows Soviet propaganda against the author’s family) and straightforward prose. It is blunt, full of short sentences much unlike my own, and very vivid in its descriptions, and also full of transliterated (and translated) Russian terms. The book is told as a straightforward narrative of how an American young man (and his father) were imprisoned by the Soviets in postwar Dresden and the various prisons and prison experiences the author had until his release almost ten years later. Any reader of middle school age or higher should be able to handle the vocabulary, although the imagery provided here is rather graphic and probably unsuitable for children.

John Noble points out in almost clinical detail the deviant sexual behavior of prisoners, the oppressiveness and faked statistics of Soviet Russia (and Communism in general, which would also apply to China’s famed economic growth as well as its behavior toward prisoners and its general debasement of life), and the small ways in which prisoners like himself with some spirit were able to rise above the violence and dehumanization. Noble comments on how he quickly became indispensable to his captors as an organizer of paperwork in an anarchic environment and also how he had to slave in hard labor in the coal mines dealing with harrowing and unacceptable working conditions in the frigid Arctic north of Russia as a political prisoner.

Noble makes some very intriguing comments that mirror the comments of other books about prisoners. Political prisoners are nearly universally considered the least of the least as far as prisoners are concerned, because they serve as a threat to a regime, and while regimes can turn an occasional blind eye to crimes against civilians, crimes that threaten the legitimacy of a nation’s governing authorities are not tolerated by insecure and tyrannical regimes [2]. We see that problem in Thailand, for example, with lese majeste prisoners and the fatuous claim made that there are no political prisoners here in Thailand similar to the also false claims of the Soviets to the same effect.

Because this book is so simple and straightforward and accessible, this book makes a profoundly elegant condemnation of Communism for its brutality, for its fraudulent nature, and for its failure to provide for the well-being of its people. By showing the debasement of human life and worth under Communism in language that is simple enough and descriptive enough for nearly all to understand and see for themselves, this account became a popular television presentation in the 1950’s. The book has been obscure recently, even though it remains a work that is simple enough to serve as an object lesson against the lies of Communism for current generations who might be tempted by such ideologies as a solution to our own social crises. The book is therefore worthy of a far wider audience than it has received in recent decades.

The book is also immensely useful in its description of how the Christian faith sustained prisoners and allowed them to preserve their dignity in difficult situations, given the sin and despair all around them. This book has a companion volume called I Found God In Soviet Russia, which is presumably a lot more detailed about the question of faith than this volume, which touches on it occasionally (particularly in the author’s avoidance of prostitution and fornication, to say nothing of more serious sexual sins) as well as the tolerated illegality of religious services and prayer among prisoners in the gulags. Nonetheless, the book is of most use to someone who loves God and freedom and despises the police state mentality exhibited by the Soviet Union. That should be a sizable audience even now, long after the Soviet Union has been consigned to the dustbin of history. Of particular importance is the detailed descriptions given to a failed prison revolt the author participated in, an episode that many of the target demographic of the book will greatly appreciate.



About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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20 Responses to Book Review: I Was A Slave In Russia

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