Relatives of the Damned

By doing approximate calculations, you have surmised that you have been in the gulag for a year now, watching as a new line of new prisoners come out of the trains. News is scarce around these parts, but you have gathered enough knowledge to know that a war has broken out with Germany, and that the German Sixth Army is bogged down in Stalingrad, locked in a brutal stalemate in street-by-street battles. The new prisoners seem to be former Germans and Red Army soldiers alike, giving each other death stares without actually enacting any combat. Turning to walk back to the warmth of a coal stove and rubbing your hands together, you suddenly begin to speculate why you have lived this long. Through the cold winters, declining rations, and overall brutality of the gulag, why do some people survive over others?

Enough with this wrong-think, it will get you killed, you think as you wave the thought away, but only worse sentimental memories replace it. It has been a year since you last saw your spouse, and your simple brick home in the countryside. How much it hurts to think like this, as your gaze bumbles in the distance.

“I see you’re thinking about home,” says a prisoner as he throws a lump of coal into the furnace. “Don’t ask why, but I have a tendency for noticing these sort of things. See, my wife and kids are in that concrete house at the far end, near the watchtower. Insane, how some people move to the gulags just to see their incarcerated loved ones…”.

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Wives and children of gulag prisoners were always shunned by the rest of society for being associated with “enemies of the people.”  Next door neighbors and family friends would become distant, given more incentive by Soviet propaganda to turn in the remaining family members to the authorities. In many cases, spouses were treated worse than gulag prisoners, since the prisoners were with others who could share similar stories and therefore relate, while spouses were still in “free” society. Spouses frequently lost their jobs and houses, and were only allowed to see their husband and wife occasionally, if the prisoner had been working hard. To make matters worse, spouses had strictly limited communication with their significant other, not knowing which prison camp they were sent to.

Children who were born into the gulag system, or when both of their parents were incarcerated, were made to live with family members and state-run orphanages. Educational opportunities were severely limited, since tutors and educators could be arrested for “teaching enemies of the people”. As mentioned in the last entry, the Soviets applauded individual children who, by their actions, became model propaganda figures for future children of the USSR. This was mostly achieved through the denunciation of parents to the regime, usually under the duress of experienced political officers. Denouncers were also given materialistic rewards, such as the property of an evicted criminal or a portion of the market stock of a shopkeeper.

No amount of typed words can express the fear and anguish close family members went through while someone they loved was in a prison camp, so next issue will address the crude and inhumane methods of the interrogations perpetrated by the Soviet authorities.

Do Svidaniya, Comrades

Sources Used:

http://gulaghistory.org/nps/downloads/gulag-curriculum.pdf

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