How Sherlock kept me out of the Gulag

May 30th, 2009 by prof.kovaciny Leave a reply »

By Bohdan Kachmar. Translated by Roger Kovaciny.

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Bohdan Kachmar, Ukrainian. My first doctorate was in medicine. I am close to a second doctorate in theology from Andrews in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Theology will keep people alive forever and not just as long as their hearts keep beating. Until fifteen years ago I practiced cardiology in Moscow, which was paradise in the Soviet Union. Purgatory was being a slave laborer in the Soviet gulag.

I would have been in the gulag together with my friend Roman Vovk except that I read Sherlock Holmes.

Back in Soviet times, printing the Bible was a crime that would get you 12 years of “re-education”. Americans have no idea what this means. It means:

1. Being on a 900-calorie diet… for twelve years. You’re never NOT hungry, even though your dog or cat wouldn’t want the lukewarm swill they give you. Your teeth start falling out from lack of minerals. 2. Working whether or not you are sick, exhausted or something hurts. Going to the latrine only when they let you. 3. Having none of the comforts you take for granted, the things your bathroom is full of. Living in a barracks and having so little you can carry it all in your pockets. 4. Working in conditions that you couldn’t even pay an illegal immigrant to accept, not for any amount of money, like for instance underground in Siberia and up to your knees in cold water without waterproof boots. 5. Being able to see your wife once a year–if they don’t cancel permission after she’s already made the long and expensive trip. Having the guards steal whatever they want out of her care packages. Having the government pressure her to divorce you. Suggesting that she do it so they won’t persecute HER. 6. Such punishments for breaking rules as two weeks in an unheated cell, without your coat, in winter.

But we risked all that to print parts of the Bible. It wasn’t possible to do more than a page at a time, which we were able to mimeograph. But if they found out who cut the stencils… 12 years for each of us.

Fortunately, my friend Roman Vovk was a typewriter repairman. Not a very good one, it seemed. He always kept the typewriters longer than he should have.

That’s because I read Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock proved that a wicked stepfather had faked a love letter on his typewriter. Every typewriter, you see, develops defects over time. An “O” may be flattened on the bottom or top. A tiny grain of sand in the metal of an “e” turns into a microscopic hole in the letter. One point of a “t” may be weak and rounded off.

When the KGB finds the machine with all three defects, they know they’ve got you.

What Roman Vovk did was that, after I cut stencils on a particular typewriter, he would take my typewriter keyboard and a dozen others completely apart and redistribute the keys randomly. The typewriters would then go back to their original offices and the KGB, with all their microscopes, never did catch on. They never found one typewriter where all the defects matched. Probably drove them crazy–and I hope they actually read the Bible pages which they were searching for typewriter evidence.

Such dedication to the Word is why, after Soviet power collapsed, Roman became general secretary of our Lviv branch of the Ukrainian Bible Society, and why I still work full-time translating the original languages into modern Ukrainian.

It isn’t easy, but we don’t complain much about how hard it is.

After all, we were ready to spend 12 years in a Soviet slave labor camp.

Thank you, Sherlock!

Dr. Bohdan Kachmar
Ukrainian Bible Society
44 Vul. Ivana Bahryanoho 79041
Lviv, Ukraine

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