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Stalin and the Soviet Gulag

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  1. Stalin and the Soviet Gulag Cris Martin Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Harvard University

  2. Joseph Stalin

  3. Soviet GULAG GlavnoyeUpravleniyeLagerey— Main Camp Administration

  4. Gulag Statistics • Existed 1918—1987, most active during Stalin’s reign, 1929-1953 • 476 camp systems, hundreds, thousands of individual camps • Estimated 18 million imprisoned, 6 million exiled (15% of the population)

  5. 1921: USSR established under Lenin 1922: Stalin named General Secretary of Communist Party 1924: Lenin dies 1929: Stalin overcomes rivals to become head of USSR Early Soviet History

  6. Great Turn • 5 Year Plan • Industrialization • Collectivization • Dekulakization

  7. Rationale behind Gulag • Remove criminal elements from Soviet society • Rehabilitation and construction of supreme Soviet utopia • Stalin’s psyche and need for power • Economy

  8. Soviet economy • Free labor would benefit Soviet industrialization • Prisoners were too ill, weak, underfed, untrained to be productive • System became to large and far-reaching • Gulag became financial burden despite attempts to make it more productive in the early 1940s

  9. 141 miles long, only 6-12 feet deep Basically useless for large vessels, barges, passenger ships Stalin considered it a great success Over 100,000 prisoners died during its construction Today, only 10-40 boats per day use canal Belomor Canal

  10. Types of prisoners • Criminals • Political Prisoners • Article 58 • Other

  11. “Nobody knew what tomorrow would bring. People were afraid to talk to one another or meet, especially families in which the father or mother had already been ‘isolated.’” ~Yelena Sidorkina, arrested 1937 Propaganda/Culture of fear

  12. The Great Terror • 1937-38 • 700,000 shot • Kirov’s assassination led to new decrees and greater power for NKVD • Claimed life of Yagoda, and Yezhov (pictured).

  13. A prisoner’s journey • Arrest/interrogation/prison • Trial? • Transport

  14. Life in the Camps: Work • Work varied by camp location • Survival often depended on your job • Fulfilling the norm • Tufta, or cheating • Avoiding work

  15. “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 refuse and, according to some prisoners, eat rats and dogs.” ~ Andrei Vishynsky, 1938 Daily rations Cauldron I: 300 g. bread, 1 liter thin soup, spoonful of groats, 1 liter soup Cauldron II: 500 g. bread, 1 liter soup, 2 spoonfuls groats, 1 piece spoiled fish Cauldron III: 700 g. bread, 1/2liter soup, 2 liters soup, 2 spoonfuls groats, 1 piece spoiled fish Life in the Camps: Food

  16. Life in the camps: Weather, Violence • Russian winters • Barracks • Threats from criminals

  17. Sharashki: secret research and development laboratories in the Soviet Gulag labor camp system.

  18. Aftermath • 1953: Stalin died • Within 3 weeks, mass amnesty declared • 1956: Khrushchev’s secret speech • Destalinization • 1951: A Day in the Life published • Restalinization under Brezhnev

  19. 1988: Last camp closed Today still little discussion of Gulag in Russia No national monument to victims and survivors In 2003, Russian citizens were asked, “What role did Stalin play in the history of our country?” Positive 53% Surely Negative 33% Difficult to say 14% The end of the Gulag

  20. Why should we care? “I wrote my book about the Gulag not ‘so that it will not happen again,’ as the cliche has it, but because it probably will happen again. We need to know why--and each story, each memoir, each document is a piece of the puzzle. Without them, we will wake up one day and realize that we do not know who we are.” ~Anne Applebaum