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Solzhenitsyn writes of the period in 1934 and 1935, when the Jewish commissar Genrikh Yagoda headed the Soviet secret police, and Yagoda's black vans went out every night in St. Petersburg, known then as Leningrad, to round up "class enemies": former members of the aristocracy, former civil servants, former businessmen, former teachers and professors and professional people, any Russian -- any real Russian -- who had graduated from a university. A quarter of the population of the city was arrested and liquidated by Yagoda during this two-year period.
And Solzhenitsyn laments that the citizens of St. Petersburg cowered behind their doors when the black vans pulled up at their apartment houses night after night to arrest their neighbors. If only the decent Russians had fought back, Solzhenitsyn says, if only they had ambushed some of these secret police thugs in the hallways of their apartments with knives and pickaxes and hammers, if only they had spiked the tires of the police vans while the thugs were in the apartments dragging out their victims, they could easily have overwhelmed Yagoda's forces and forced an end to the mass arrests. But they didn't fight back, and the arrests and liquidations continued. And so, Solzhenitsyn concludes, because of their cowardice and their selfishness the Russians deserved what the communists did to them.
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