Both the executioner and the victim

One walks along the streets of Magadan through high-walled corridors dug out in the snow. They are narrow, and when another person is passing one must stop to let him by. Sometimes at such a moment I find myself standing face-to-face with some elderly man. Always, one question comes to my mind: And who were you? The executioner or the victim?

And why am I moved to wander? Why am I unable to look at this man in an ordinary way, without that perverse and intrusive curiosity? For if I could summon up my courage and ask him this question, and if he responded sincerely, I might hear the answer: “You see, you have before you both the executioner and the victim.”

This too was a characteristic of Stalinism – that in many instances it was impossible to distinguish these two roles. First someone, as an interrogating officer, would beat a prisoner, then he himself would be thrown into prison and beaten; after serving his sentence he would get out and take revenge, and so on. It was the world as a closed circle, from which there was only one exit – death. It was a nightmarish game in which everyone lost.

- Ryszard Kapuscinski, Imperium