The gulag

Imprisoned for years on Putin’s whim

Imagine: it’s 16 December 2004 and you are a middle-ranking banker living in Moscow – prosperous but ordinary, a long way below oligarch level. You are looking forward to a New Year’s trip with your family to Prague – the hotel is booked; your young son is excited. Your phone rings while you are at lunch: an investigator whom you’ve never heard of asks you to come and answer a few questions. You ask if tomorrow will do. ‘No, you must come today,’ insists the caller. ‘It’ll take around 20 minutes.’ What do you do? If this were the beginning of a thriller, Vladimir Pereverzin would have instantly made his

A last-minute escape from the Holocaust

At the beginning of his profoundly moving memoir of his grandparents, parents, the Holocaust and the Gulag, Daniel Finkelstein writes: This the story of how my family took a journey which ended happily in Hendon, eating crusty bread rolls with butter in the café near the M1, but on the way took a detour through hell. Who would have guessed what those people, tucking into rolls at the newly-opened Brent Cross shopping centre in the mid-1970s, had been through? There was Finkelstein’s elegant Polish-Jewish grandmother, Lusia Finkelstein, known locally as ‘the Lady of Hendon Central’ in her hat; his German-born Jewish mother, née Mirjam Wiener, a maths teacher, who particularly

Stalin the intellectual: the dictator cast in a new light

The link between mass-murdering dictators and the gentle occupation of reading and writing books is a curious one, but it definitely exists. Mao was a much- praised practitioner of traditional Chinese poetry; Hitler was widely if haphazardly read, dictated Mein Kampf and was a fan of Karl May’s Wild West stories; and Stalin, as Geoffrey Roberts shows, took books at least as seriously as the purging of foes, real and imagined. Though we may wonder whether Enver Hoxha and Kim Il-sung really wrote the dense works of Marxist-Leninist theory with which they’re credited, there is no doubt that Stalin found the time while running the Soviet Union and fighting the