On February 9, 1940, seven-year-old Witold Rybicki and his family awoke in the middle of the night to banging on the door of their home in Lida, Poland (modern Belarus). Outside was an officer of the Soviet secret police, then called the NKVD, who gave his father orders: Do not run away. Your house is surrounded by soldiers. You have an hour to pack your personal belongings. Do not worry about bringing much. Everything you need will be at your destination.
The Rybickis were never informed of charges against them, evidence of wrongdoing, a sentence, or their destination. Witold, his parents, and four of his siblings were taken from their home to a train station, where they were loaded into a cattle car about 15 meters long by five meters wide along with about 40 other people. The car was completely bare otherwise, with just a hole in the middle of the floor for a toilet.
For nearly a month, the train traversed Eastern Europe and Russia toward Siberia, not allowing anyone outside of the cramped, filthy cars except for a short period on Saturdays. Every morning, soldiers delivered four gallons of water and one of soup for the entire car of 40 people.
The prisoners finally disembarked in a city called Tomsk. From there, they walked two days through the Siberian taiga (forest) in the dead of winter to a set of barracks with small, barren rooms built specifically for Poles. This was part of the Soviet gulag system, a chain of forced-labor camps and settlements where tens of millions of prisoners were punished and reeducated by the state through grueling physical labor in harsh conditions.
This account of life under Soviet rule is not an extreme outlier, but indicative of how the communist regime treated its own people. This week marks 100 years since the revolution that gave rise to communism in Russia and, subsequently, Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Avowedly Marxist regimes killed anywhere from 65 to...