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David Holloway on: Slave Labor, Scientists and the Soviet Nuclear Program
David Holloway Q: Were the scientists aware of the slave labor that was being used for construction of this new enterprise?

DH: Yes, the scientists did know about the slave labor because, first of all, it was a kind of standard part of the Soviet economy at by that time. It had been used widely in the '30s. But we also have accounts, for example, when the first scientists go out to Arzamas-16, you know, the first Soviet weapons lab, they know that there is a labor camp just beside that site, and the laborers are marched in each day to build the new facility and then marched back at night. Yes, so they know, absolutely, that that's the labor that is being used. And we have memoranda signed by [the scientific director of the Soviet nuclear project Igor] Kurchatov asking for the allocation of another ten or 20,000 prison laborers to work in mines, or the construction of some new plant. That was just part of the Soviet economy, and nobody who was involved in the project could have failed to know that that was being done.

Q: What I found to be pretty startling in Andrei Sakharov's memoirs is where he describes this wartime psychology, and the dedication of the scientists to the nuclear project. He does mention in passing the sacrifice that is being made by thousands, maybe millions of others for the enterprise. And he actually seems almost exhilarated by the scale of it, by the pain that people suffered for it. It seems somewhat out of character for Sakharov who is very sensitive to other people's feelings and suffering. What do you make of that?

DH: Well, I think that Sakharov is actually one of our best witnesses on these issues of the, if you like, the management style of the whole project, because he was himself a person with very considerable moral awareness as we know from his later life in particular. So when he says that look, we believe so much in what we were doing. We were so carried away by the grandeur, the scale of what we were doing, that we accepted, that tens of thousands of people suffered and the country as a whole suffered, or paid for the nuclear project. Then I think we can believe him and say that yes, that is an accurate reflection of what was going on. People were carried away. So there was the sense of you know, we need to do it for the country. We need to show ourselves as good scientists, but also, this is a magnificent -- this is a huge undertaking. It's an enormous challenge of vital importance, and the sheer scope of it is kind of breathtaking. And the very fact that we know that, you know, prison laborers are being used, or that whole areas of the country are deprived of electricity to provide the power for some of the plants in the atomic industry. That only confirms to us just how important what we are doing is. This is the kind of tangible proof of how vital our job is. So, somehow, the very fact that other people had to pay for it, I think, served to reinforce the conviction that, yes, this is really important. Because after all, it wasn't really important, people would not be asked to make those sacrifices.

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