One day, as you walk back to barracks to look for a piece of firewood, a door is suddenly thrown open and two guards haul out an unconscious prisoner, throwing him into a snowdrift. Beaten, slashed, and burned, the man lays in a sprawled position as others walk past him without a thought. You begin to do the same, knowing that the 500 calories per day rations is barely enough to carry your own weight, let alone another person, until the man starts shifting back to consciousness. He raises his bloodied face in your direction, and puts up his four-fingered hand in a call for aid. Finally coming to a “moral decision”, you ask other prisoners to help you carry the wounded prisoner to the medical office until someone finally agrees. Dragging the man by his feet, you and the other prisoner carefully weave around environmental hazards until you reach the ever-growing line to the infirmary.
“Poor bastard looks like he’s been tortured,” says a prisoner with a bandaged wrapped around his face. “I’d kill a guard before anyone would do that to me. You guys have been in the same predicament at least once, I presume?”
The prisoner assisting you nods slowly, while you shake your head sideways, signifying a “no”.
“Vezuchiy, vezuchiy! The things they do to land you an impromptu execution based on forced confessions…”.
In typical head-scratching Soviet bureaucracy, a prisoner was usually forced to sign a paper document that they pleaded guilty, often to a crime they didn’t commit. If the prisoner refused, they were tortured physically and psychologically by secret police interrogators with “cruel and unusual punishments.” The second link I have provided below shows visual drawings of gulag life and the many ways an “enemy of the people” was punished. Physical torture methods could range from fairly modern to practically medieval, with women getting the worst interrogation. A cheap favorite was suffocating prisoners with a plastic bag, and another was putting a group of prisoners in a warm, lice-infested cell. Medieval methods include rat torture, which is when a rat in a metal bucket is positioned near a victim’s anus, and the bucket is slowly heated up. This gives the rat a sense of desperation as it buries into the victim’s body to escape the heat.
Psychological torture could be much worse to those with a higher pain tolerance and could break the most battle-hardened prisoner. This form of torture was effective because it further gave the illusion that the government knew EVERYTHING about your life, so you must literally watch every move you make in the future, provided that you survive that long. One sadistic method was to bring in a person who resembled a loved one and pretend to kill them in front of the accused. Spouses and children were brought in for interrogation too, with many fearing the “9 grams of happiness” delivered by a bullet to the head. Pictures of past actions were also provided to the suspect, who tried to remember what they were doing at the time without realizing that the person in the photo could be someone else entirely.
Suspects almost always signed the confessions in the end to “speed up the process”, wanting to escape the endless torture, only to be dumped in the gulags, which were arguably worse than what they bargained for. If they survived the journey to the gulags, they would encounter a place of fear and death, an interrogation room the size of an entire prison camp. This brings us to next week’s topic, the transportation conditions and methods of those being sent to the gulags.
Do Svidaniya, Comrades