Samizdat “Self-publishing” was the name given to the underground literature that opponents to the Soviet government secretly wrote and distributed within the Soviet Union. Intellectual opposition to Communist rule emerged in the 1950s and 1960s and formed into a human rights movement.
From the late 1960s, these “dissidents” systematically collected and attempted to publicise Soviet human rights violations and the harsh conditions faced by political prisoners in the gulags.
In 1973, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s book The Gulag Archipelago was published abroad. The book was a sensation, as it laid out for the world the history of the Gulag. Soon after, Solzhenitsyn was stripped of his citizenship and exiled from the Soviet Union. Soviet authorities constantly battled to stop the actions of human rights activists, arresting and imprisoning many of them.
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was born in Kislovodsk, Russia, on December 11, 1918. His father had studied at Moscow University, but left when World War I broke out and died four years later, in the summer of 1918, leaving Solzhenitsyn’s upbringing to his mother. As a child, Solzhenitsyn wanted to be a writer, and by the 1930s he was sending his writings out for publication, to no avail.
Solzhenitsyn attended the University of Rostov-na-Donu and graduated from the Department of Mathematics and Physics, but he soon went on to fight in World War II. His fate would change in 1945 when he was arrested for letters he had written to a school friend that were critical of Joseph Stalin. Subsequent to his arrest, Solzhenitsyn spent eight years in prisons and labour camps and three years in exile.
In 1956, Solzhenitsyn was allowed to settle in central Russia, where he taught mathematics and began writing in earnest. By the early 1960s, with government control being loosened in Russia, Solzhenitsyn saw his short novel Odin den iz zhizni Ivana Denisovicha (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) published in Novy Mir (New World), a leading literary journal.
Based on Solzhenitsyn’s own experiences, Ivan Denisovich described a day in the life of a Stalin-era inmate, and its authenticity struck a chord with readers, especially since it was the first such work to appear in post-Stalin Russia.
In 1964, however, the political tide soon turned against Solzhenitsyn when Nikita Khrushchev fell from power and restrictions on cultural activities were reinstated. Solzhenitsyn lost government-sanctioned publishing privileges and soon had to resort to publishing through underground “samizdat” means. Despite the oppressive nature of his homeland during this time, Solzhenitsyn found success internationally, as publishers abroad clambered to release his work.
Solzhenitsyn’s Soviet citizenship was restored in 1990 and he returned to Russia in 1994, after twenty years of exile in America.
In 1998, his autobiography, Ugodilo zernyshko promezh dvukh zhernovov: ocherki izgnaniia (The Little Grain Managed to Land Between Two Millstones: Sketches of Exile) began appearing in installments. Solzhenitsyn died five years after the final installment was published, on August 3, 2008, in Troitse-Lykovo (near Moscow).
The author’s Erika 10 is on display at the Solzhenitsyn Foundation in Moscow
East German Erika typewriters were an important tool for many self-publishing “samizdat” dissidents.
The University of Bremen hosts one of the largest “samizdat” archives in the world (it was established in 1982, after a meeting between Willy Brandt and the Czechoslovak dissident Jiří Pelikán). The archive is home to a collection of self-published magazines and books from across Eastern Europe, and an Erika Daro typewriter (Model 32) …
Speaking about the typewriter, Susanne Schattenberg, historian and director of the University’s Eastern Europe Research Centre:
“It was ideal, because you could type up to seven sheets, with carbon paper between the sheets, and the copies at the rear were always halfway readable.”
The following typewriter, a 1970s Erika Daro (Model 40), was used by Soviet historian Soya Metlitskaya to type and copy critical texts by the songwriter and actor Vladimir Vysotsky, the writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Solzhenitsyn, and the poet Osip Mandelstam, who died in the Gulag in 1938 …
Metlitskaya’s typewriter on display at the “Memorial” Society, Moscow, in a 2013 exhibition entitled: “Gulag: Traces and Testimonies 1929–1956”
The following Erika typewriter (a 1980s Model 105) belonged to the priest Sigitas Tamkevičius and was used for the preparation and duplicating of editions of “The Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church” …
The typewriter was adapted for the rapid changing of the script mechanism (this perhaps explains why the ribbon cover has been dispensed with) in order to make it more difficult for the organs of state security to establish a link between the typewriter and the texts written on it, should the typewriter be found and confiscated during a search.
Erika Szeles (1941 – 1956) a 15-year-old girl and Hungarian Freedom Fighter, seen here with a machine gun in Budapest during the revolution, 1956. She was eventually shot by the Soviets. Photo by Vagn Hansen.