known mostly as a place for political prisoners and for repressing political opposition
September 21, 2007 10:39 AM   Subscribe

GULAG: Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom. An online exhibit which includes photographs of work in the gulag, women in the gulag, living in the camp, what were their crimes, Perm-36 Gulag Camp, the history of the gulag system, the inspiring stories of dissidents and what happened after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Samizdat was the name for underground literature that opponents to the Soviet government secretly wrote and distributed within the Soviet Union. It was the internet of the gulag years.

About one of the greatest monsters in history, Joseph Stalin, on Wikipedia, "Early researchers attempting to tally the number of people killed under Stalin's regime were forced to rely largely upon anecdotal evidence. Their estimates ranged from a low of 3 million to as high as 60 million."

The Gulag entry on Wikipedia.
posted by nickyskye (16 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Meant to also include Anne Applebaum's Tales From the Gulag with excellent photographs. [pdf]
posted by nickyskye at 11:00 AM on September 21, 2007

Good exhibit—thanks for the post. Allow me to put in a plug for the work of Varlam Shalamov (mentioned on this page of the exhibit); his Kolyma Tales contains some of the barest, coldest, most frightening prose I've ever read. Solzhenitsyn didn't write much about Kolyma because he said Shalamov did it better than he could.
posted by languagehat at 11:23 AM on September 21, 2007

When I was a teenager, I read this guy's book. I literally had nightmares about it
posted by timsteil at 2:58 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Some historians are now suggesting that the Gulag originated not as a penal system but as a utopian experiment.

Lynne Viola, author of The Unknown Gulag, did an interesting series of posts for the OUP blog describing her research on the book: 1: Looking for the Kulaks, 2: The Central Archives, 3: The Provincial Archives, 4: Why did the Soviets Document their Crimes? and 5: The Survivors' Testimony.
posted by verstegan at 3:08 PM on September 21, 2007

Thanks for those links, verstegan. Now I want to read Viola's book.
posted by languagehat at 5:40 PM on September 21, 2007

> I literally had nightmares about it

Solzhenitsyn gave me nightmares, and I am not given to nightmares.

In the meantime, Star Simpson's on-the-chest art project, 500 posts and counting. Jeez.
posted by jfuller at 5:53 PM on September 21, 2007

I just spent an hour perusing links, and learning things. Great post.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:51 PM on September 21, 2007

Russian history is equally fascinating and depressing.
posted by TrialByMedia at 10:25 PM on September 21, 2007

The Gulag Collection — 50 paintings by Ukrainian Nikolai Getman [Wikipedia], who spent eight years in Kolyma labor camps as a zek.
posted by cenoxo at 12:18 AM on September 22, 2007

The Latvian occupation museum had an interesting, if chilling, exhibit about the gulags when I last was there a few years ago.

Good post.
posted by Harald74 at 1:30 AM on September 22, 2007

Thank you all for adding the excellent additional links to the thread.

cenoxo, Those paintings by Nikolai Getman are particularly interesting in light of what was said in the article you linked. What a terrible and poignant burden it was for him. He said, "I undertook the task because I was convinced that it was my duty to leave behind a testimony to the fate of the millions of prisoners who died and who should not be forgotten."

The millions who died.

Wow, so he was put into the the Gulag for being present at a cafe where somebody drew a cartoon of Stalin on a cigarette paper. And he spent 8 years in hell for that. yikes.

"Getman's collection is unique because it is the only visual record known to exist of this tragic phenomenon. Unlike Nazi Germany, which recorded and preserved in detail a visual history of the Holocaust, the Russians prefer not to remember what happened in the GULAG. Not a single person has been punished for the deaths of the millions who perished there. If film or other visual representations of the Soviet GULAG existed, they have been largely destroyed or suppressed. The Getman collection stands alone as a most important historical document."

That's stunning info. I had no idea nobody was ever punished for the Gulag system, can imagine that injustice must have a deep impact on the survivors and in unspoken ways upon the next generations. Since those punished would have been fellow citizens, who were part of the great betrayal or siding with Stalin's bullying, maybe the fear of talking about the horror of the Gulag system was that it might tear the nation in pieces to remember and take action.

Interesting quandary. In Germany the SS and Nazis could be blamed for what happened in WWII but in Stalin's Russia it would seem that it pitted one ordinary citizen against another.

Reading about Getman on Wikipedia, it linked to another Gulag survivor, who both wrote about her experiences and did amazing drawings of life in the Gulag, Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya. Her awesome drawings are in her Wikipedia entry.

Can anyone recommend any good books about the Stalin era? About how that mass insanity happened? I've only read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's brilliant "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich", when I was a kid and it was life changing.

Perhaps now that enough years have passed there are few survivors of the Gulag alive, it's possible to safely reveal the horrors of so many millions without fearing that it might completely shred the now broken-into-pieces nation to tell the truth?
posted by nickyskye at 7:32 AM on September 22, 2007

nickyskye, you might be interested in checking out Martin Amis' book Koba the Dread- it's not about the gulag per se, but it is a fascinating read about the Stalin era, and how absolutely insane it was. There are a lot of incredible and true anecdotes from that time and he is a really good writer, he really puts it all together in a horrifying but beautiful way.
posted by Oobidaius at 11:20 AM on September 22, 2007

Thanks so much Oobidaius! Your recommendation is much appreciated. It turned out rainy today in NYC, may go to Barnes and Noble later and check it out.
posted by nickyskye at 12:19 PM on September 22, 2007

Yikes! I hope you haven't left yet, nickyskye—I absolutely disagree with the Amis recommendation. His sloppy reliance on random secondary sources is pressed into the service of his ongoing feud with Christopher Hitchens (see here, for instance: "The most withering criticism of Koba the Dread has come ... from Anne Applebaum in Slate.'Contrary to the reviews,' she writes, 'Koba the Dread is not, in fact, a competent account of Stalin's reign but rather a muddled misrendering of both Soviet and Western intellectual history.'") I would recommend instead any of the reputable biographies (Isaac Deutscher, Adam Ulam, Robert Tucker, Robert McNeal), supplemented by Simon Sebag Montefiore's riveting Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar.
posted by languagehat at 2:02 PM on September 22, 2007

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's 1962 book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is worth reading (online text here), and Tom Courtenay's portrayal in the 1970 movie is worth seeing.

The Gulag Study lists reports of American POWs who may have been held by the Russians after WWII.
posted by cenoxo at 3:28 PM on September 22, 2007

Thanks languagehat and cenoxo for the additional book references.
posted by nickyskye at 8:54 AM on September 24, 2007

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