Glavnoe upravlenie lagerei – GULAG/Main Camp Administration also known as Soviet slave labour camps had 18 million people passing through this massive system from 1929 to Stalin’s death in 1953. People with anti-soviet views, criminals, people late for work or who wrote critical letters about Stalin were arrested by the Cheka (secret police), in fact anyone could be arrested, at anytime, for any reason and withered within the vast prison system until their release, which was forever doubtful.
In 1942, under Beria’s control the camps became essential for the production of war materiel. The Lubyanka, Lefortovo and Butyrka prisons in Moscow processed the initial intake of prisoners for eventual distribution to the lagerei in the far north and in Siberia. The tragedy of ex-Red Army soldiers, deportees, refugees who were arrested on crossing the border back into the Soviet Union who should have been recognised as heroes were sent to camps with no prospect of release. In 1945 the forced repatriation, on the direct orders of Churchill, of the Lienz Cossacks in Austria, these Cossacks, who fought for the Wehrmacht, faced certain death by firing squad or a lingering death in the endless GULAGs. A shameful act by England, the NKVD duly obliged. 4 million POWs who served in the German Armed Forces, 600,000 Hungarians, 400,000 Romanians even 600,000 Japanese POWs were incarcerated in the GULAGs in the aftermath of World War 2.
‘Man is a creature that can get used to anything, and I think that is the best definition of him’. Dostoeevsky, The House of the Dead.
The criminals, the politicals, Ukrainian and Baltic Nationalists, Jews, Ultra Religious clergy all perished in the GULAGs. Solzhenitsyn became the best known Russian writer due to a Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich the shirker which Kruschev allowed published in 1962 because its contents discredited his enemies, later in 1974 Solzhenitsyn was expelled to comfort in Vermont USA; Sergei Korolev was released to lead the Soviet Union’s space programme; Gustav Herling, released to serve in the Polish Army in 1941, his memoir A World Apart was praised in Warsaw marking his death in 2000 with newspaper headlines.
GULAGs Endure Today
A North Korean defector, described in 1992, his ten years in Yodok, North Korea, punishment camp where at least 200,000 North Koreans are being ‘re-educated.’ At present, gangs of North Koreans, work in isolated logging camps thereby paying off loans made by Russia. The GULAGs endure in 2015.
Gorbachev, whose paternal (1933) and maternal grandparents (1938) suffered under Stalin’s repressions initiated an anti-alcohol crusade in 1985 then commenced his glasnost (openness) after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident. The freedom to read the Gulag Archipelago, Doctor Zhivago and even Lolita ensured many GULAG memoirs were widely read in Russia.
Putin, a Chekist (secret policeman) inherited Soviet power, its military establishment and imperial power. The obliteration of Grozny, Chechnya, in 2006, with 80,000 dead, which was discovered by Google Earth, ensured Putin did not recall Stalin’s deportation of the Chechens to Siberia and certain death. This travesty, the destruction of Grozny, Chechnya, was the equivalent of post war Germany invading western Poland. The western press did not pursue this neglect of Russian history. The new Russian elite’s contempt for its fellow citizens where Yeltsin’s oligarchs with billionaire status who were then challenged and imprisoned (Khodorovsky and Beresovsky) by Putin ensures Russian wealth is lodged in Swiss bank accounts and owning English football clubs is so currently fashionable. Putin’s Russia has not learned from its history and will continue to bully and intimidate its opponents to restore Imperial Russian territory.
How many died?
2,749,163 from 1929 to 1953 died in the GULAGs, The Stalinist Penal System, Pohl. There were 786,098 political executions from 1934 to 1953. The Book of Communism quotes 20,000,000 deaths from the Bolshevik Revolution; Red Terror; Civil War; brutal collectivization; mass deportations; mass executions and the 1937-38 mass murders instigated by Stalin, a paranoid, vindictive sadist who imagined enemies everywhere.