Writing in your “journal”, wadded toilet paper bound together with rope and starch, you are suddenly interrupted by a prison guard. He briskly tells everyone in the barracks to pack their things, and leaves immediately. A buzz goes through the air; could this be a signal for an early release? Packing your meager belongings, you check the area around your bunk one last time to see if you forgot anything of use. Picking up a few pieces of wood, you quickly bundle everything together to make sure nothing is lost and stolen. Looking around at some of the other older prisoners, they seem to take their time, somber looks on their faces.
“Is something amiss?” you say inquisitively to them, and one of them turns back to look at you.
“Do you REALLY think they would let us off the hook that easy? No, idiot, we’re going to another camp. Where, I don’t know.”
Carrying his words in your head as you walk to the trains, you see that the carriages are all cattle cars, and a small pit opens in your stomach. Those damned carriages, the weeks spent inside moving at a snail’s pace through seemingly every rural station, or not moving at all, without food, water, sanitation, and clean air to even breathe…
After trial and confession, prisoners were taken to railroads via disguised vehicles on the outskirts of town. Inside the trains, the prisoners were locked inside no matter the temperature, and those who were lucky enough could sit by the windows in the very upper corners of the cattle carts. With cold logic, food was barely or sometimes not at all given in small quantities, since that would take more time to get things going. Those who were weakened already by sickness, hunger, and abuse could die of exposure if not given aid. During times where the Soviet government was enacting a purge, bodies would sometimes pile up at remote train stations.
Prisoners were usually not separated in their “criminal social classes”, and were packed in together with professional criminals. On the painstakingly slow journeys to drop off points, criminals could abuse and kill those who were defenseless, as well as steal their clothes and whatever food they had. Once the trains reached their destinations, prisoners were either forced to walk to their camps or take another method of transportation, such as a boat. Boat rides were notoriously unsanitary, where prisoners were (once again) crowded below decks with no toilets. On top of more abuse, rape, and murder in these holding tanks, food that was occasionally delivered was thrown in without the thought of making portions, so the “fittest would survive” by getting to the food and keeping it. Of course, this group tended to consist of professional criminals, although it was considered sweet irony by some prisoners who watched these criminals get sick from eating the sewage-contaminated rations.
Upon arrival, prisoners tended to be introduced to pre-constructed gulags, but some were dumped on an empty plot of land and forced to build their own. There are individual survivor stories by former gulag inmates, stories that will be shared in the next entry…
Do Svidaniya, Comrades