38 Photos of Russia's Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present

38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present

Jacob Miller - September 4, 2017

Gulag, an acronym of ‘Glavnoye Upravleniye LAGerej,’ meaning ‘Main Camps’ Administration’ was a government agency created under Vladimir Lenin which reached its peak as a Soviet forced labor system during Joseph Stalin’s rule from the 1930s until the 1950s. The camps were home to a wide range of convicts and political prisoners. Inmates were sentenced, often without trial by the NKVD Troika Secret Police.

Gulags were located in isolated areas wherever the economic task at hand dictated their existence. The majority of them were located in northeastern Siberia and in the southeastern Soviet steppes of Kazakhstan.

The Solovki prison was the first corrective labor camp constructed after the Bolshevik Revolution, established in 1918. The conditions in Solovki and the numerous other Gulags were severe. Because the camp administrators too optimistic with their estimates of productivity, they were forced to work longer hours on lower food rations. The over-worked, under-fed prisoners would work even slower and would be given even longer hours with less food, in a disparaging cycle.

Andrei Vyshinsky, a procurator of the Soviet Union, wrote a memorandum to NKVD chief Nikolai Yezhov in 1938 which stated: “Among the prisoners, there are some so ragged and lice-ridden that they pose a sanitary danger to the rest. These prisoners have deteriorated to the point of losing any resemblance to human beings. Lacking food, they collect orts [refuse] and, according to some prisoners, eat rats and dogs.”

Throughout the history of the Soviet Union, there were at least 476 separate camp administrations. The Russian researcher Galina Ivanova stated that “to date, Russian historians have discovered and described 476 camps that existed at different times on the territory of the USSR. It is well known that practically every one of them had several branches, many of which were quite large. In addition to the large numbers of camps, there were no less than 2,000 colonies. It would be virtually impossible to reflect the entire mass of Gulag facilities on a map that would also account for the various times of their existence.”

It is estimated that over 50 million people were sent through the Gulag system. Forced labor is still used as punishment today.

38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Philosopher Pavel Florensky after being arrested for “agitation against the Soviet system.” Florensky was sentenced to ten years of labor in Stalin’s gulags. He would not serve the full ten years. three years after this picture was taken, he was dragged out into the woods and shot. USSR. February 27, 1933. Wikimedia Commons
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Yuriy Tyutyunnyk, a Ukranian General who fought against the Soviets in the Ukranian-Soviet War. Tyutyunnyk was allowed to live in Soviet Ukraine after the war — until 1929 when Soviet policies changed. He was arrested, taken to Moscow, imprisoned, and killed. USSR. 1929. Wikimedia Commons
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
A gold mine that, during Stalin’s reign, was worked through prison labor. Magadan, USSR. August 20, 1978. Wikimedia Commons
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
A miner who died working in a forced labor camp is put to rest under the ground. Vaygach Island, USSR. 1931. Wikimedia Commons
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Convicts sleep inside of a sod-covered house in a Siberian gulag. Siberia, USSR. Date unspecified. Library of Congress
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Not every political prisoner was lucky enough to be sentenced to forced labor. Here, the bodies of thousand of Polish people lie dead in a mass grave. Katyn, Poland. April 30, 1943. Wikimedia Commons
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Polish families are deported to Siberia as part of the Soviet Union’s relocation plan. Influential families in conquered states would often be forced into labor to help systematically destroy their culture. Poland. 1941. Wikimedia Commons
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Posters of Stalin and Marx gaze down at the prisoners inside of their sleeping quarters. USSR. Circa 1936-1937. New York Public Library
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Prisoners at work building the White Sea-Baltic Canal, one of the first major projects in the Soviet Union made entirely through slave labor. 12,000 people died while working amid the harsh conditions at the canal. USSR. 1932. Wikimedia
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Prisoners at work operating a machine inside of a gulag. USSR. Circa 1936-1937. New York Public Library
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Prisoners digging clay for the brickyard. Solovki Island, USSR. Circa 1924-1925. Wikimedia Commons
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Prisoners hammer away at the rocks in the White Sea-Baltic Canal. USSR. Circa 1930-1933. Wikimedia Commons
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Prisoners in a Soviet gulag dig a ditch while a guard looks on. USSR. Circa 1936-1937. New York Public Library
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Stalin comes out to inspect the progress on the Moscow Canal, which is being built by imprisoned workers. Moscow, USSR. April 22, 1937. Wikimedia Commons
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
The chiefs of the gulags. These men were responsible for forcing more than 100,000 prisoners to work. USSR. July 1932 Wikimedia Commons
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
The crude lodgings that host a group of prisoners in one of Stalin’s gulags. USSR. Circa 1936-1937. New York Public Library
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
The directors of the gulag camps gather together to celebrate their work. USSR. May 1, 1934. Wikimedia Commons
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Two Lithuanian political prisoners get ready to go to work in a coal mine. Inta, USSR. 1955. Wikimedia Commons
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Young boys in a gulag stare at the cameraman from their beds. Molotov, USSR. Date unspecified. David Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies

38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
The prison and its surroundings in winter. Guards are allowed to shoot an escaping prisoner after he has crossed the middle wooden fence. It is more humane to shoot an escaping prisoner, there is nothing for miles and would most likely starve. Investigations surrounding the shooting of an inmate rely heavily on the position the body is found in. If the prisoner’s head is facing away from the camp, he is presumed an escapee and the case is closed. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
This photo shows the head of IK-28, a maximum-security Russian penal colony, located in Yertsevo, in the northern Arkhangelsk region near the Arctic Circle. It was once part of a cluster of camps founded in the late 1930s as part of the Gulag system. Today, it houses over 1,000 prisoners, many of whom were convicted on murder or terrorism charges. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Roll call is taken three times a day. Escape is nearly impossible. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
A young rabbi from Moscow leads a ceremony with Jewish prisoners. Prison authorities tolerate all religions, figuring that a practicing prisoner is less trouble than an idle one. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
An inmate baking bread for the prisoners’ breakfast. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
An inmate walks past the prison barracks on his way to his daily work mandate. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Prisoners are kept in distinct sectors to prevent them from sharing items and ideas with other groups. For example, prisoners convicted of terrorism charges (mainly from Chechnya) are kept together in one sector. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Prisoners walking past a Russian Orthodox Church back to their sectors after dining. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
The sign reads, ‘Every employee is a teacher and a controller’. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
These prison guards are on a 2-hour, 25-kilometer trip for a shift change with guards at a colony-settlement of about 100 non-dangerous prisoners. It’s about -31ºF outside, and around 10ºF inside the truck. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
This inmate oversees the prison’s Russian Orthodox church, which is attended by about 30 inmates. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
This inmate was allowed to keep his mustache after proving that it was a part of his family heritage dating back to the 16th century. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
This prisoner, convicted of killing two people, chops wood. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
A prisoner chopping trees as his daily work. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Locals near the railway station. There are two trains a day out of Ercevo—one to Arkhangelsk in the morning, and one to Moscow in the evening. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
The dining hall. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Workers return to their sector at night. newrepublic
38 Photos of Russia’s Harsh Gulags, Past and Present
Guards form a perimeter, discouraging prisoners from making a run for it. There is nowhere to go. newrepublic

 

Sources For Further Reading:

History Channel – Gulag

The Moscow Times – 7 in 10 Russians Support Reviving ‘Gulag’ Prison Labor

Bloomberg – It’s Not a Gulag, Russia Says of Plan to Put Prisoners to Work

The Times – Gulag Camps That Killed Two Million Gave People Start in Life, Russia Declares

The Atlantic – The Truth About Stalin’s Prison Camps

The Conversation – Russia and The Gulag: Putin Is Fighting for State Control Over How Soviet Horrors Are Remembered

The Guardian – ‘A Lifetime Sentence’: Children of The Gulag Fight to Return from Exile

All That’s Interesting – 32 Disturbing Photos of Life Inside Soviet Gulag Prisons

West Port Library – Bolshevik Revolution: 1917: The Sparks That Ignited Revolution

Smithsonian Magazine – What You Need to Know First to Understand the Russian Revolution

The Guardian – Russia’s Gulag Camps Cast in Forgiving Light of Putin Nationalism

Encyclopedia Britannica – Pavel Alexandrovich Florensky

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