Here is another part out of Anne Applebaum’s Gulag: A History. This is a quotation from the memoir of Antoni Eckart, a Pole educated in Switzerland, describing how the Western prisoners were frequent objects of fascination to the mainly Russian prisoners.

At specially organized, carefully hidden meetings with some of the more trusted among them, I told them of my life in Zurich, in Warsaw, in Vienna and other cities of the West. My sports coat from Geneva, my silk shirts, were most carefully examined, for they were the only material evidence of the high standard of living outside the world of communism. Some of them were visibly incredulous when I said that I could easily buy all these articles on my monthly salary as a junior engineer in a cement factory.

“How many suits did you have?” asked one of the agricultural experts.

“Six or seven.”

“You’re a liar!” said one man of not more than 25, and then, turning to the others: “Why should we tolerate such fantastic stories? Everything has its limits; we are not children.”

I had difficulty making it clear that in the West, an ordinary person, taking some care of his appearance, would aim at having several suits, because clothes keep better if one can change from time to time. For a member of the Russian intelligentsia, who seldom has more than one suit, this was difficult to grasp.


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