During the spring of 1933, Stalin's police rounded up nearly one hundred thousand people as part of the Soviet regime's "cleansing" of Moscow and Leningrad and deported them to Siberia. Many of the victims were sent to labor camps, but ten thousand of them were dumped in a remote wasteland and left to fend for themselves. Cannibal Island reveals the shocking, grisly truth about their fate.
These people were abandoned on the island of Nazino without food or shelter. Left there to starve and to die, they eventually began to eat each other. Nicolas Werth, a French historian of the Soviet era, reconstructs their gruesome final days using rare archival material from deep inside the Stalinist vaults. Werth skillfully weaves this episode into a broader story about the Soviet frenzy in the 1930s to purge society of all those deemed to be unfit. For Stalin, these undesirables included criminals, opponents of forced collectivization, vagabonds, gypsies, even entire groups in Soviet society such as the "kulaks" and their families. Werth sets his story within the broader social and political context of the period, giving us for the first time a full picture of how Stalin's system of "special villages" worked, how hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens were moved about the country in wholesale mass transportations, and how this savage bureaucratic machinery functioned on the local, regional, and state levels.
Cannibal Island challenges us to confront unpleasant facts not only about Stalin's punitive social controls and his failed Soviet utopia, but about every generation's capacity for brutality--including our own.
Review of the original French edition: "The mind-blowing story of a bureaucratic utopia that turned into carnage. A 'micro-history' that forms a representative example in a country where the inconceivable became the norm."--Thomas Wieder, Le Monde
"[An] absorbing new book. . . . After detailing the lead-up to the deportation of the 'socially harmful elements' and the political situation surrounding it, Mr. Werth zeroes in on the Nazino affair to illustrate the policy's devastating effect."--Martha Mercer, New York Sun
"Few books have captured the human tragedy of Stalin's bloody reign so succinctly or with such force."--Douglas Smith, Seattle Times
"Cannibal Island is a grim tale of ten thousand 'anti-social elements' deposited on an empty Siberian island in the Ob river in the 1930s. But, more than that, it is a story of how the brutal purge machinery was oiled and run at its lowest level."--Paul E. Richardson, Russian Life Magazine
"Nicolas Werth's excellent history of the Nazino gulag is a portrait of a place that went from terrible to unimaginable.... In a strong field, Cannibal Island is one of the grisliest and most unpleasant accounts of gulag life.... This one ranks as one of the more memorable exhibits in the gallery of horrors."--Graeme Wood, Weekly Standard
"This is an utterly harrowing account of the 'bloody implementation of a utopia' and an exemplary analysis of the Soviet state, with its 'number culture' and 'pseudocategorizations' -- all of this underpinned, of course, by the most spectacular cruelty."--Richard King, Sydney Morning Herald
Table of Contents:
Foreword by Jan T. Gross ix
CHAPTER 1: A "grandiose plan" 1
CHAPTER 2: Western Siberia, a Land of Deportation 23
CHAPTER 3: Negotiations and Preparations 59
CHAPTER 4: In the Tomsk Transit Camp 86
CHAPTER 5: Nazino 121
Epilogue, 1933-37 181
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Jan T. Gross: