Gulag by Anne Applebaum
Returning from a trip to the Soviet Union in 1934, P. L. Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins, wrote caustically that she had been “diddled”: “the tourist is shown only the best of everything.” Unlike Travers, most writers and intellectuals who visited the Soviet Union at the time were quite easily taken in. Among them was the Nobel Prize-winning French writer Romain Rolland, who brushed off reports of brutality in Soviet concentration camps with the comment that “There are almost identical things going on in the prisons of Poland; you have them in the prisons of California . . . ; you have them in the English dungeons of the Andaman Islands.” Even today, although no one denies the existence, or the horrors, of the Gulag—the vast system of Soviet prison camps—some scholars still downplay the central role it played in Soviet history.
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