The Gulag Archipelago
|The Gulag (Main Directorate for Corrective
Labor Camps) Archipelago actually began not under Stalin but under
Lenin's appointee, Feliks Dzherzhinsky, and the CHEKA in 1919. Although
the CHEKA and the Gulag continued tsarist traditions, the Bolshevik/Communist
version was more horrible, according to first-hand accounts
by people like Eugenia Ginzburg, Aleksandr Solshenitsyn, and many others. The
NKVD ran the Gulag during the Terror of the 1930s. Zeks (prisoners)
as Solzhenitsyn named them "included murderers, thieves, and
common criminals along with political and religious dissidents" (or
alleged dissidents.) According to Gottfried, in 1937, there were "35 groups of camps in as many regions. Each group contained approximately 200 camps. Each camp housed roughly 1,200 inmates" (76-77).
a rich site with interviews, narrations, videos < http://gulaghistory.org/ > cruise around/learn more
visit Youtube site < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIrAD8wxm_I >
< http://gulaghistory.org/exhibits/days-and-lives/arrest/1/ >
scroll down and watch short video clip
The Camps/Kolyma/Magadan < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmYuTIjT9cY&NR=1&feature=fvwp >
The Gulag--a Overview < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6y2CTxbtL0&feature=related >--Show/good summary
|Lenin expanded the penal camp system but it was Stalin's
Great Terror that sent hundreds, thousands, millions of Soviet citizens
or to work
his gigantic, showcase enterprises. One of these was the
subway system that operated under the streets of Moscow. The subway
system was built in the 1930s by convict labor. Lazar Kaganovich directed the project at first. Lavrentiy Beria,
one of Stalin's more terrifying minions, worked to rationalize convict
labor and make the camps cost efficient.
|Eugenia Ginzburg described the horror
of the camps in her moving memoir, Journey into the Whirlwind.
The most famous, complete, and graphic description of the camps can
be found in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's three volume The Gulag Archipelago. His earlier One Day in the Life of
Ivan Denisovich shocked
Soviet readers when Khrushchev allowed its publication during the
post-Stalinist "Thaw" of the early 1960s. Solzhenitsyn and American "Kremlinologist" Robert
Conquest estimate that between seventeen and twenty million (possibly as
many as forty million) Soviet citizens were "repressed" during
the Great Terror. Although the Gulag did not comprise death camps,
hundreds of thousands died of malnutrition, overwork, dreadful living conditions,
and the like. "Life in a camp zone was brutal and violent. ....Prisoners
survived hunger, disease, the harsh elements, heavy labor, and their fellow
image source/Solzhenitsyn < http://gulaghistory.org/nps/onlineexhibit/dissidents/movement.php
image source < http://gulaghistory.org/nps/onlineexhibit/stalin/living.php >
|In the summer of 2006, the National Parks Service put on an exhibit
at Ellis Island with text and graphics describing the Gulag in the Stalinist
era. The information and graphics below come from the website that accompanied
the exhibit, first on Ellis Island and then on its travels to different
locations throughout the United States. The drawingsand sketches below were done from memory
by Jacques Rossi, who spent nineteen years in various Soviet work camps.
Arrested, like so many others in the 1930s, he survived
to publish The Gulag Handbook in 1987 (when it was more or less
safe to do so.) In his sketch below, Rossi laid out the barracks. A typical
camp zone would be "surrounded by a fence of barbed wire, overlooked
by armed guards in watch towers." The zeks lived in "overcrowded,
stinking, poorly-heated barracks."
| Stalin's Gulag drew in men and women from all walks of life,
all political affiliations, all social milieux. Eugenia Ginzburg's
Journey into the Whirlwind chronicles the Purge of loyal party
members; she (and Solzhenitsyn) encountered all manner of people in the
camps. The Gulag included those whose crime might be tardiness to work
a political joke, or petty theft; they served their terms along side
murderers, rapists, political dissidents. Maria Tchebotareva, a peasant
during the terrible famine of 1932-1933, stole three pounds of rye from
her collective farm; she was sentenced to 10 years, extended during the
war; she was then required to live in internal exile near her camp in the
Arctic Circle until Khrushchev's "Thaw" allowed her to return
home and search for her children.
||Rich peasants, the kulaks, were particularly vulnerable to arrest and
imprisonment. De-kulakization and collectization produced not only the
famine mentioned above (during which the Soviet Union exported grain,)
but massive arrests, deportations, and finally virtual annihilation. The
photograph (left) shows the arrest of one such peasant.
|Not specifically created as death camps, the Gulag
required that zeks work. Although
most of the camps were located in the far North or remotest Siberia,
played a major role in achieving some
of Stalin's stunning economic ambitions, e.g. the Moscow-Volga and White
Sea-Baltic Sea Canals and the Baikal-Amur Railroad (BAM.) Shukhov, the narrator of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and
his crew worked every day. Below a secret photograph presents
workers in one of the
image source < http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/vladimir-putin-crackdown-is-like-a-return-1403193
|Eugenia Ginzburg and her crew felled trees
in Kolyma. Shown here are male convicts in a Kolyma mine. You can see
by the way
they are dressed how cold it was.
image source < http://www.mining.com/gold-mining-at-former-stalin-prisoners-camps-in-russia-still-attracts-hundreds-72941
|Brutally long hours in bitter cold performing hard labor characterized
the lives of men and women in the Gulag. Many zeks, like Maria Tchebotareva,
found their sentences arbitrarily extended. In addition, most were forced
to live in internal exile after completing their terms.
|Some of the harshest camps lay in Kolyma in the Soviet Far East.
Eugenia Ginzburg's sequel to Journey, Within the Whirlwind, describes
the bone-chilling cold and the exhausting work of her camp experience.
||In other words, Stalinist Gulag authorities were not squeamish about imprisoning
women or forcing them to work at arduous tasks under dreadful, overcrowded
living and working conditions.
image source < http://gulaghistory.org/nps/onlineexhibit/stalin/women.php >
|As you know from Journey into the Whirlwind, women did backbreaking labor in harsh conditions, for example in the Soviet Far East near Kolyma.
image source < http://www.hawaiireporter.com/please-support-women-of-the-gulag-the-last-survivors/123
|They, like their male counterparts, were objectified and de-humanized,
from the moment of their arrest,
||as well as humiliated by body searches.
|Jacques Rossi, like Shukhov in Solzhenitsyn's novel
Gulag was conceived...to transform human matter into a docile, exhausted,
mass of individuals
of nothing else but how to appease the constant torture of hunger, living
in the instant...." Always to be dreaded was punishment, described
by both Eugenia Ginzburg and Solzhenitsyn, sketched by Rossi in the graphic Ordinochka (solitary
||Many of the camps existed in areas of extraordinarily
harsh climatic conditions, for example Perm in western Siberia and Kolyma
in the Soviet
Far East. Eugenia spent time in the latter. Rossi remembered, "There
is nothing you can do to protect yourself against cold." (see left) Some, like the
described could not/did not survive. (see right) Food rations, slim at
best, depended on the amount of work done. A "goner" who could
not fulfill his quota could literally starve to death.
Gulag: An Archipelago of Memory < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAixUsA-DXI&feature=related >
|When Stalin died in 1953, the nation mourned. His "cult of
the personality" had successfully transformed him into a god-like figure.
into paroxyms of grief and fear, even in the camps. To this
day, he remains a controversial figure in the Russian and Georgian territories
of the former Soviet Union--murderous tyrant or savior of the fatherland
from its internal and external enemies?
image source < http://gulaghistory.org/nps/onlineexhibit/dissidents/death.php
||Stalin's inner circle, those lucky or conniving
enough to survive the purges and the Great Terror, immediately engaged
in a power struggle over leadership of the Party and the government.
Molotov, Voroshilov, Beria, Malenkov, Bulganin, and Khrushchev jockeyed
for position, with Khrushchev emerging from the pack as victor. But Nikita
Khrushchev was no Stalin: his rivals were demoted rather than murdered
(except for Beria who, according to one legend, was murdered in the Kremlin
basements.) Khrushchev shocked the Central Committee of the CPSU when,
in 1956 at the XX Party Congress, he delivered a secret speech revealing
some of the horrific truths of the Stalinist era. He launched the brief
"Thaw" that allowed the publication of One Day in the Life
of Ivan Denisovich.
image source < http://gulaghistory.org/nps/onlineexhibit/dissidents/death.php
BIBLIOGRAPHY--apologies for absence of citation (what was I thinking?)!
Gottfried, Ted. The Stalinist Empire. Brookfield: Twenty-First Century Books, 2002.