Farewell to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, writer, Nobel Prize winner, and the most famous Soviet dissident died at the age of 89 on August 3, 2008 in his home near Moscow. He lived a long and hard life, but he died the way that he wanted to: "He wanted to die in the summer – and he died in the summer," his wife Natalya said. "He wanted to die at home – and he died at home. In general I should say that Aleksandr Isayevich lived a difficult but happy life."

His entire life was a victory over the most improbable. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born on December 11, 1918 in Kislovodsk in Southern Russia, half a year after his father died in a hunting accident. He managed to get a Soviet university education despite the fact that his mother Taisiya came from one of the richest families of Southern Russia and his father Isaakiy was an officer in the tsar’s army.

Aleksandr was raised by his mother in abject poverty as his earliest years coincided with war communism and its abolition of private property (making economic calculation impossible); what followed was mass starvation and destruction. His family was no exception – their property was confiscated and later destroyed by central planners.

Solzhenitsyn stated in his autobiographical series of novels The Red Wheel that his mother was fighting for survival and they had to keep his father’s background in the old Imperial Army a secret. Taisiya was well educated and openly encouraged her son’s literary and scientific interests, while also secretly raising him in the Christian faith. He studied physics and mathematics at Rostov University before becoming a Soviet army officer after Hitler invaded Russia in 1941.

He was commissioned as a Soviet artillery officer during the Second World War despite the fact that he had previously been rejected due to poor health. A successful artillery captain, he was arrested by the secret police in 1945 for disrespectful remarks about Stalin in a letter to a friend.

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August 7, 2008

Yuri N. Maltsev [send him mail], Professor of Economics at Carthage College in Wisconsin. Before coming to the U.S. in 1989, he was a member of a senior team of Soviet economists that worked on President Gorbachev’s reforms package of perestroika. He is the author of Requiem for Marx.

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