01 February 2020
james andanson / sygma / getty images
james andanson / sygma / getty images

ON 12 FEBRUARY 1974, the author and Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn—seen here, that March, in exile in Switzerland—was arrested by Soviet authorities. The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet stripped him of his citizenship and deported him to West Germany, before charging him with treason.

Born in 1918, Solzhenitsyn was raised by his widowed mother and aunt—his father, an officer in the Russian imperial army, died before he was born. After studying mathematics and physics, as well as completing a correspondence course in literature, he served as a decorated artillery officer during the Second World War. In 1945, however, he was arrested after the military secret service found private letters by him that were critical of the Soviet leader Josef Stalin. Charged with anti-Soviet propaganda and founding a hostile organisation, he was sentenced to eight years at labour camps, followed by three years of administrative exile.

Solzhenitsyn returned from exile in 1956, soon after Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor, denounced the excesses of Stalinism. Khrushchev defended the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s 1962 novella, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which was based on his experience in the labour camps. Following Khrushchev’s ouster, in 1964, Solzhenitsyn was blacklisted. He was expelled from the national writers’ union and stripped of his rights. Nevertheless, his books The First Circle, Cancer Ward and The Gulag Archipelago were published in the West to great acclaim.

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