Photo of the Day

Maria Tchebotareva. Trying to feed her four hungry children during the massive 1932-1933 famine, the peasant mother allegedly stole three pounds of rye from her former field? confiscated by the state as part of collectivization. Soviet authorities sentenced her to ten years in the Gulag. When her sentence expired in 1943, it was arbitrarily extended until the end of the war in 1945. After her release, she was required to live in exile near her Gulag camp north of the Arctic Circle, and she was not able to return home until 1956, after the death of Stalin. Maria Tchebotareva never found her children after her release. Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.


Warning, some people may find this story Disturbing.

Have you ever been late to work?

In the Stalin era, a person who arrived late to work three times could be sent to the Gulag for three years.

Have you ever told a joke about a government official?

In the Stalin era, many were sent to the Gulag for up to 25 years for telling an innocent joke about a Communist Party official.

If your family was starving, would you take a few potatoes left in a field after harvest?

In the Stalin era, a person could be sent to the Gulag for up to ten years for such petty theft.

The transportation methods to the Gulags were often even more disturbing and painful than the camps themselves. Most long journeys began at the railroad station. However, prisoners were not loaded onto trains at the station in full public view; they were loaded at sidings down the track, away from public glare. It was done secretively – just as the process of arrest late at night. It was usual for up to sixty or more people to be crammed into one carriage, which was constructed from wooden planks and had a few rows of horizontal boards to sleep on. There was no illumination, and rats and vermin abounded. No matter the weather, the captives were only allowed to wear the clothes they were arrested in.

?The night search, the most degrading procedure, was frequently repeated. ?Get up! Get undressed! Hands up! Out into the hall! Line up against the wall.? Naked we were especially frightened. ?Among the blind, the one-eyed is king,? and next to them I was still a hero?for the time being. Our hair was undone. What were they looking for? What more could they take away from us? There was something, however: they pulled out all the ties that had been holding up the nuns’ skirts and our underwear.?

Conditions in the camps, for those who survived the trip, were extremely harsh. Prisoners received insufficient clothing and inadequate food rations which made it difficult to endure the severe weather and the long working hours. As a result, the death rate from exhaustion and disease in the camps was enormously high.

But, to fulfil the camps’ economic goals, more and more prisoners were required, which accounts for the rapid increase in camp populations in the 1930s. Eventually, every Soviet Secret Policeman was assigned a certain arrest quota in order to ensure a large enough labour force in the Gulags.

In order to achieve this quota, the Secret Police simply fabricated cases against ordinary, innocent people.

Stalin’s Gulags, 1930. Under Stalin’s rule of terror, he killed anyone that might oppose him, encouraged citizens to spy on each other and sent millions of people to Gulags (prison camps) to perform forced labour, pictured here in 1930. Kulaks (Russian peasant) resisted Stalin’s forced collectivization, but millions were arrested, exiled, or killed.

Before Stalin’s reign of terror started in the 1930s, the people in Russia had to deal with the 1917 Russian Revolution. On February 23, 1917, workers of textile factories throughout Russia went on strike in order to demand for bread. Furthermore, On February 26, 1917, the day was a turning point. The soldiers who had freely mingled with the crowd for days were finally allowed to kill.” Before Stalin came to power, there was not much of a pre war life, as there always seemed to be a war. After Lenin died in 1922, this was when Stalin came to power.

Immediately following the death of Stalin, however, the Soviet story is one of uncertainty and insecurity. Stalin’s death removed the hope that the cult of personality could be used to overcome the difficulties of the USSR. This left the problem of who was to rule because there existed no clear mechanisms by which to choose a new leader.

Following Lenin’s Death in 1924, a triumvirate, a troika, as the Russians called it, consisting of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin took over the reins.” “Very soon, Stalin succeeded in gaining the dominant position in the government and pushing the rest of the people out of the office.

At the onset of the 1930?s, Stalin wanted his 5-year plan to transform the Soviet Union into a global superpower realized. Part of this plan involved the collectivization of private farms. Seventy percent of farmers, mostly kulaks, were not impressed by his plan and unwilling to take part in it. On December 27, 1929, Stalin proposed that the party ?[eliminate] the kulaks as a class.?

By January 30, 1930, the removal of kulaks, and even people that were only accused of being kulak was sanctioned. Within a year, 1.8 million people had been deported to Gulags, exiled, or killed. Naturally, their belongings and land were confiscated by the state or stolen by the looting parties that routed them out.

Stalin?s forced removal of these people and his need to collectivize farmland led to a famine from 1931-1932 that affected the Ukraine more so than any other member of the Soviet Union. On August 7, 1932 he implements the ?law on the five ears of corn,? which sentenced ?tens of thousands of starving people? to death or 10 years in prison for the crime of ?counter-revolutionary theft? ? in other words for stealing the grain that Stalin earmarked for a provisioning system that excluded 80% of the Soviet Union?s populations. This law mainly affected peasantry and the disenfranchised. Stalin then passed the ?passportization? law in December of this same year, which prevented specific groups of citizens from accessing food rations and pinpoints ?undesirables.” The New Year brought with it, even more, restrictions ? railway ticket sales were limited to prevent the exodus of starving peasants from their towns. Anyone caught trying to flee the famine was either forced to turn back or dropped off outside city limits and forced to fend for themselves. The peasants continued to die via starvation, from poisoning caused by eating food ?unfit for human consumption,” or by suicide.

Prisoner labour at the construction of the White Sea ? Baltic Canal.

?Doctor, those inmates ain?t following the plan! Zero diet for ?em!?

(Slogan at the wall: ?Women are the great power!? ? I. Stalin)

In ITLs, ?enemies of the people? were forced to do the hardest work ? digging and logging. Most of the exhausted women suffered the vaginal prolapse as a result of strain and starvation. Weakened and ill ones were finished off by deprivation of food.

With a purpose to inflict psychic trauma, ?enemy? women and girls were stripped naked at interrogations.

Some perverts from NKVD loved to do this with young women and especially girls from ?enemies? and ?enemy family members? (?family member of the enemy? was an official reason for imprisonment ? NvS). Neither oral nor written complaints had been reviewed by officials. Honest and principled State Attorney staff members were exterminated. The NKVD had unlimited right to take away any citizen?s life, while State Attorney Office became a puppet accomplice of NKVD with no own rights.

With the most brutal and horrible medieval tortures, the NKVD was beating out of innocents completely absurd confessions like ?spying for capitalist Antrantide?. Most of NKVD officers were just sadists ? that was highly valued as ?activism in the fight against enemies?.

The order ?Face the corner, arms at sides!? was often used in interrogations.

Interrogated ?enemies? were standing at their feet for days without rest, food, water, and sleep, suffering feet swelling. When the victims were falling down unconscious, they were swilled, beaten and forced to stand again. For their ?efforts,? butchers were awarded and afterwards honourably retired at ages 50-60.

Because of overpopulation in special orphanages for ?traitors of the motherland family members?, ?enemy? children were executed in Tomsk, Mariinsk and Shimanovskaya railroad station, Central Isolation Cell of BAM prison camp. It was considered that after reaching the age of majority, they would become a threat to the existing system.

In addition to 3rd-grade interrogation, women were put into thug cells where they were brutally humiliated and gang raped. Afterwards, most of the victims committed suicide (hanged themselves, cut their veins, ate soil etc.)?

With hunger, diseases and slave labour, millions of ?enemy? and ?kulak? women were murdered by communists ? die-hard enemies of freedom, democracy and the entire humankind. A bowl of slumgullion and 300 g. of bread were all the man could hope after working the entire day outside in the cold. Trying to get a fake satiety, prisoners boiled the bread in salted water. Swelling, tag on the foot and prison graveyard were the result. The inmates were saying that Gulag was worse than Nazi concentration camps.The NKVD covered up the entire country with a thick web of informers called ?stukach? (slang derogatory name) and ?seksot? (official abbreviation for ?secret employee?).

Driven by envy, self-interest and other low instincts ?stukachs? had no slightest conscience, shame or dignity. They were falsely accusing everyone (family members, friends, co-workers, cell mates) of espionage, plots, anti-soviet propaganda and other crimes. The NKVD did no checks of those denunciations. Indeed, it promoted any perverted lie to forge good statistics and show off trials upon ?enemies?. So, the elite of nation was destroyed to achieve the stupidity and meanness.

The NKVD supported delation of parents by their own children. Collaborators were praised like heroes, but some of them were forced to cooperate through beatings. In the entire country there was a campaign of public parent renunciations. Children were forced to give public confessions for the mass media and condemn ?spies? on meetings. Some teachers forced their pupils to write essays like ?What do you (yourself, your father and mother) think about the arrest of Marshals: Tukhachevsky, Blukher, Egorov and others?. After writing such an essay ?many pupils were deprived of their parents and sent to special orphanage camps.?Prison guards were allowed to sell ?live goods? to thugs during the transportation. Women from Germany, Poland and Baltic states were ?valued? especially and gang raped. Some kingpins had a ?property? of many such women.

A drawing by Evfrosiniia Kersnovskaia, a former Gulag prisoner. ?The arrival at the corrective labour camp turned out to be the culmination of the humiliation. First, we were made to strip naked and were shoved into some roofless enclosures made out of planks. Above our heads, the stars twinkled; below our bare feet lay frozen excrement. An enclosure measured 3 square feet. Each held three to four naked, shivering, and frightened men and women. Then these ?kennel cages? were opened one after the other and the naked people were led across a courtyard?the camp version of a foyer?into a special building where our documents were ?formulated? and our things were ?searched.? The goal of the search was to leave us with rags and to take the good things ?sweaters, mittens, socks, scarves, vests, and good shoes?for themselves. Ten thieves shamelessly fleeced these destitute and barely alive people. ?Corrective? is something that should make you better, and ?labour? ennobles you. But ?camp?? A camp wasn?t a jail. So then what on earth was going on? Courtesy of Evfrosiniia Kersnovskaia Foundation, Moscow.

GULAG?was the name for the Main Administration of Corrective Labour Camps. The inmates or ?zeks? of the Gulag consisted of common criminals, political prisoners and simple
citizens caught up in the government?s various ?waves? of repression.Gulag is an acronym for Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagarei (State Administration of Penal Labour Camps), the bureaucratic entity responsible for running the country?s penal camps. From 1929 until 1954 these camps were under the control of the secret police, known as the OGPU (1922-1934), the NKVD (1934-1946) and the MVD (1946-1954). While the camp system had precursors in both the Tsarist and early Soviet period, the Gulag was created as a vast complex of repression by the Soviet dictator, Iosif Stalin. Beginning from its inception as one political prison, the former Solovetsky monastery, the Gulag grew to encompass dozens of major camp complexes with thousands of individual camps and millions of inmates.

Gulag prisoners could work up to 14 hours per day. Typical Gulag labour was exhausting physical work. Toiling sometimes in the most extreme climates, prisoners might spend their days felling trees with handsaws and axes or digging at frozen ground with primitive pickaxes. Others mined coal or copper by hand, often suffering painful and fatal lung diseases from inhalation of ore dust. Prisoners were barely fed enough to sustain such difficult labour.

In the eyes of the authorities, the prisoners had almost no value. Those who died of hunger, cold and hard labour were replaced by new prisoners because the system could always find more people to replenish the labour camps.

Built between 1931 and 1933, the White Sea-Baltic Sea Canal was the first massive construction project of the Gulag. Over 100,000 prisoners dug a 141-mile canal with few tools other than simple pickaxes, shovels, and makeshift wheelbarrows in just 20 months. Initially viewed as a great success and celebrated in a volume published both in the Soviet Union and the United States, the canal turned out to be too narrow and too shallow to carry most sea vessels. Many prisoners died during construction.

Prisoners mine gold at Kolyma, the most notorious Gulag camp in extreme northeastern Siberia. From the 1934 documentary film Kolyma. Courtesy of the Central Russian Film and Photo Archive.

Kolyma was a name that struck fear into the Gulag prisoner. Reputedly the coldest inhabited place on the planet, prisoners spoke of Kolyma as a place where 12 months were winter and all the rest summer. Kolyma was so remote that it could not be reached by an overland route. Prisoners travelled by train across the length of the Soviet Union only to spend up to several months on the Pacific coast waiting for the few months each year when the waterways were free of ice. Then, they boarded ships for their trip past Japan and up the Kolyma River to their gold-mining destination. Surviving Kolyma was more difficult than any other Gulag locale.

Antonina Golovina. Even after Stalin was dead, the fear that was instilled into the lives of his victims stayed with them throughout their entire lives. Take the story of Antonina Golovina. Antonina was only eight years old when she and her family were forced into exile in a remote part of Siberia. Her father was taken into custody and was forced to work in the labour camps of the Gulag. Many years later, even after she was reunited with her father and was allowed back into the Soviet Union, Antonina still sensed that terror. The anxiety was so much so that she even joined the Communist Party when she was old enough, just to protect herself and her family from any of persecution. She lived all of her life not uttering a single word to anyone she worked with or any of the two husbands she had about her old life and about her family. This was how many of the population of the Soviet Union lived their lives after Stalin’s reign, in terror and anxiety every day.

In 1933, Stalin?s policies reached new heights of terror. In an effort to expel the remaining classes that he felt were ?anti-Soviet? – including former nobles and priests, bourgeois intellectuals, policemen, and foreigners – Stalin allowed the secret police to purge and clean the cities. Roughly 500,000 Soviet Poles and Germans (and possibly Koreans) were deported much as the kulaks had been. Many of this number died in exile. By 1935, 266,000 more people described as “harmful elements,” including homeless children, had been rounded up.
On July 3, 1937 (the beginning of the Great Terror or the Great Purge), Stalin declares that ?anti-Soviet elements? were returning from exile and pinpointed them as saboteurs. By July 30, 1937 Order No. 00447 was issued allowing for the execution of the ?most active? elements and the arrest and deportation to concentration camps for 8 to 10 years for the ?least active.? Quotas were even implemented. In Leningrad 4,000 most-active elements were to be executed, while 10,000 least-active were sent to camps. The quota system also called for a certain number of camp prisoners to be executed. Troikas were used to try and execute people. In 1938, one troika in particular (the Dalstroi troika) sentenced 12,566 people, 47% (5,866) of whom were sentenced to death. In cases where the accused was foreign, the probability of receiving a death sentence was significantly higher.

Work colonies were established for minors, and new laws were adapted that allowed for the execution of children under the age of 12. If children were young enough and evinced enough they were sent to orphanages. If they were old enough, and behaved, as supporters of Stalin should, they were sometimes allowed to stay at home without their now dead or incarcerated parents.?However, life was by no means easy for many of them. 155,000 children were sent to work colonies over the next 4 years, with 10,000 being in the Gulag by 1939. Some children were bullied by adults at orphanages because they were children of “enemies of the state.” Others, still, were raped or otherwise taken advantage of. Pregnant women were not spared. They were rounded up as well and forced to give birth in camp.?By 1940, 1.3 million people were imprisoned in the Gulag.

A prisoner who went on hunger strike is being forcefully fed through his nostril. According to laws of Soviet humanism, only those who had normal body temperature (36.6?37 C) could be shot. Photo: Drawings from the GULAG? by Danzig Baldaev, a retired Soviet prison guard.

Photo: Drawings from the GULAG? by Danzig Baldaev, a retired Soviet prison guard.

?Crushing the skull? of ? the enemy of the nation? who didn?t agree to give away his daily work results to thugs. Photo: Drawings from the GULAG? by Danzig Baldaev, a retired Soviet prison guard.

During the 1930s, the escalation of Stalinist terror and repression (particularly during the Great Terror of 1936-1939) meant that the population of the Gulag labour camps continued to grow. There are estimates that over 18 million people passed through the Gulag in total, and many women were sent to these labour camps, including large numbers of political prisoners, many of whom were sentenced under Article 58, their only crime being their association as ?wives of enemies of the people?. However, proportionally their numbers remained relatively small in relation to the male population: for example, in 1939 women only comprised 8.4 per cent of the total Gulag population, while others have estimated that in 1942 only around 13% of Gulag inmates were female. Initially, many camp commanders were reluctant to accept women, as they believed they were weaker than men, so would take longer to fulfill the work norms set by the Gulag administration. In February 1941 the central camp administration even sent a letter to the NKVD and camp commanders ordering them to accept convoys of women and listing jobs that women could be particularly useful for, such as textiles, wood and metal work and light industry.

However, despite their relatively small numbers and despite the fact that men and women had to endure broadly similar living and working conditions within the camps, women?s experiences of the Gulag were also distinctively different to those of their male counterparts in a number of ways, as depicted by the accounts in numerous female memoirs and personal testimonies.

Many women?s first memories of the Gulag tell of their fear, embarrassment and degradation. On arrival at their assigned camp, women were generally led to the bathhouse where they had a rare opportunity to wash. This was often an embarrassing and shocking experience. One former zek (prisoner) recalled how:

?The personnel were all male. You had to overcome the shame and humiliation, clench your teeth and control yourself, to endure the dirty jokes calmly and not spit at those hideous faces, or punch them between the eyes?. Another former prisoner drew the scene of humiliation, revealing that women were made to wait for their turn naked in the snow.

The humiliation did not stop there: guards often exploited the situation to ?inspect? the new arrivals, as women were a rarity within the Gulag: ?After the bath, we had to wait a while for our clothes, which had been taken to be disinfected. This period of waiting was the worst?our guards came in under the pretext that one of us might attempt to escape? recalled Anna Cie?likowska.?The disinfection of prisoner?s clothing was generally ineffective anyway as the water used to wash the clothes was often not hot enough to kill the parasites and merely served to excite them further. In order to reduce the incidence of lice, women therefore endured further embarrassment as their heads and pubis were shaved. This procedure was supposed to be carried out by a female doctor, but they were rarely available, so male guards and doctors gleefully stepped in.

Some women resisted: ?I was so shocked about it that at first, I refused?soldiers kept my hands behind my back, while another forced my legs apart?.?But women also had to submit to regular physical searches: ?They searched our hair, our mouths and even our?[they] were carried out solely to frighten and humiliate us?.

Women suffered greatly in the Gulag. Male camp employees, guards, and even other male prisoners sometimes raped and abused women. Some female prisoners took on ?camp husbands? for protection and companionship. Some were pregnant on arrival or became pregnant while in the Gulag. Occasionally, Gulag authorities released pregnant women and women with young children in special amnesties.

More frequently, mothers had little respite from forced labour to give birth, and Gulag officials took babies from their mothers and placed them in special orphanages. Most often these mothers were never able to find their children after leaving the camps.

By the order of the prosecutor general Vyshinsky, any methods were considered ?good? to get the confession. NKVD staff used brutal tortures with pump, soldering iron, bottle (shoved into vagina and anus), rats (placed in the heated bucket under victim?s bare buttocks) etc.

Execution by the ?court of thieves? sentence in one of ITL?s (Gulag abbreviation for labour penitentiary camps) By the order of the prosecutor general Vyshinsky, any methods were considered ?good? to get the confession. NKVD staff used brutal tortures with pump, soldering iron, bottle (shoved into vagina and anus), rats (placed in the heated bucket under victim?s bare buttocks) etc.

Yet, other women quickly adopted a more pragmatic approach to their new situation. Speaking about the regular physical searches, Elinor Lipper a former Gulag inmate said that, ?What we hated worse than the confiscation of the little things we needed, worse than the humiliation of the whole procedure, was the fact that we were robbed of our all-too-brief night?s sleep? ? something which was essential due to the toll taken by the physical labour that all Gulag inmates were subjected to in one form or another. Some women appear to have adjusted to camp life more quickly than others as practical concerns took precedence. Furthermore, other women spoke about how they quickly became more adept at concealing the few personal possessions that they had, utilising fish bones from their daily soup to create needles in order to repair clothing and fashioning knives from bits of metal. Eleanor Lipper, claimed that ?women are far more enduring than men?and also more adaptable to unaccustomed physical labour?, Camp women formed more powerful relationships with one another and helped each other in ways male prisoners did not such as by sharing food rations. Kseniia Dmitrievna Medvedskaia spoke of how she feared ostracism after a stint in the punishment cell; however her apprehensions were quickly dispelled as on her return to the barracks the other women greeted her warmly and shared the food they had saved for her.

During the epoch of Stalin, such mass executions were common. Party staff, political and other activists, artists were executed by center?s orders, which were issued like hunting licenses by species of animals ? moose, saigas, arkhars, argali, bears? This was made regularly to prevent the rise of national dignity in distant parts of the USSR.

?After we?ll ruin this scoundrel?s ass through, he?ll be quick to remember how to make sabotage against Soviet regime and party in university with his cybernetics!?

Despite this camaraderie, however, many women found life in the Gulag to be a demoralising and defeminising experience. Due to the toll of regular manual labour in the Gulag, women?s bodies became worn and ?everything feminine about them ceased to be, both biologically and physically?. Many women also described the shock they felt when they caught a rare glance of their reflections in a broken piece of glass or a mirror.? With shaved heads, loose fitting men?s clothing and skeletal bodies, they appeared genderless. Ginzberg described how, while watching another female work brigade: ?As we continued to watch the files of workers passing by, an inclination of a joke left us. They were indeed sexless?this sight appalled us and took away the last remnants of or courage?. Serving time in the Gulag proved to be a dehumanising experience for many women, many of whom felt they were forcibly stripped of their femininity.

Life in the camps was not all bad: Sometimes people asked whether there were ever any good times in the camps? there were?there were good, even joyful moments that had nothing to do with material comforts.?This comfort could come in the form of a friend or a lover. Sadly, many women were physically abused by male inmates and camp guards, with horrific accounts of rape and abuse a frequent issue in Gulag memoirs. Some women, therefore, took ?camp husbands? to offer them protection, while others deliberately sought out sexual encounters with guards in order to receive physical protection, higher rations and time off work. Elinor Lipper described how ?women who once dreamed of hearing the phrase ?I love you? know found the words ?butter, sugar and white bread? a proper substitute?, while another former Gulag inmate explained ?(?[I] don?t think that this is the place for love and commitment?I wasn?t in love with Victor. I stayed with him because it isn?t safe for women to be alone?.?However, genuine relationships also formed within the Gulag: In Minlag camp, male and female prisoners sent notes to each other via their friends in the camp hospital. In other camps coded letters were thrown over the fence dividing the two sexes. Some lovers were even ?married? across the barbed wire.?These relationships could give a prisoner hope in what often seemed to be a hopeless situation.

Soviet Propaganda Poster
?Look Me in the Eyes and Tell Me Honestly:
Who is your friend? Who is your enemy?
You have no friends among capitalists.
You have no enemies among the workers.
Only in a union of the workers of all nations will you be victorious over capitalism and liberated from exploitation.
Down with national antagonisms!
Workers of the world unite!?
Courtesy of the State Perm Region Archive of Political Repression.

?Pregnancy was, therefore, a relatively common occurrence in the camps and stories of children and motherhood are a common theme within female memoir literature. For many, children symbolised ?normal? life and made prisoners feel as though they were on an equal footing with ?free? women, something which could have helped some women to regain a sense of femininity and purpose in a hostile environment,??while Hava Volovitch spoke of how: ?our need for love was so desperate that it reached the point of insanity, of banging one?s head against the wall, of suicide. And we wanted a child ? the dearest and closest of all people, someone for whom we could give our own life?.

Potentially, there were practical benefits to pregnancy too. A decree of January 10, 1939, stated that female?zeks?were allowed thirty-five days off work before the birth of their child and twenty-eight after their child was born.?Pregnancy could save a woman from beatings and even from execution. Rumours circulated that pregnancy could ensure an early release, as amnesties for pregnant women were implemented at various points. However, pregnancy was seen as a camp offence and many inmates were forced to have abortions, even though the practice was made illegal in the Soviet Union in 1936.?Camp officials often took the decision to forcibly terminate a women?s pregnancy so that she could continue to work, in the interests of reaching production targets. There were also some women who attempted to end unwanted pregnancies themselves: Anna Andreevna talked of how she witnessed one woman stabbing herself with needles until she began bleeding heavily, signifying the end of her pregnancy. Even those terminations performed by camp doctors were often unskilled and dangerous. Therefore, pregnancy could be a scary time for expectant mothers.

The survival rate of babies born in the Gulag was extremely low and children were often born in terrible, unhygienic conditions.? Hava Volovich recalled her experience of giving birth to a daughter in the Gulag:

?She was born in a remote camp barracks, not in the medical block. There were three mothers there, and we were given a tiny room to ourselves?bedbugs poured from the ceiling and walls; we spent the whole night brushing them off the child. During the day we had to go to work and leave the infants with any old woman?these women would calmly help themselves to the food we left for the children?.

Children were not allowed to stay with their mother for long: after the birth, they were quickly transferred to a camp nursery and the mothers were sent to a camp for?mamki?(nursing mothers). Despite ?official? camp regulations?Mamki?were often forced to return to work almost immediately after giving birth and were only allowed to breast feed their babies at specific times. Mothers were only permitted to visit their children regularly if they were breast-feeding so sometimes camp commanders would claim that a mother had stopped lactating in order to get them back to work earlier. If a woman missed their feeding ?appointment?, their child would generally go hungry.

ITL administration is picking sex slaves from arrested family members of ?enemies?. Women ?enemies of the people? were inspected naked before being sent to certain labour. Those who agreed to become sex slaves of administration were assigned to easy work. Others were either sent for logging and other heavy labour or put into cells and tortured with hunger. A traditional Gulag joke for new arrivals ? ?give ?em steam?.

New arrivals who were waiting in so-called ?septic? were watered with fire hose from guard tower, while the outdoor temperature was -30?-40 C. After several hours of more waiting, covered with ice, they were finally let inside ? when the administration wanted to.

The high infant mortality rate in the camps is therefore understandable. Giuli Fedorovna Tsivirko recalls her experience of being a mother in the Gulag: ?my son died after eight months. He died. He was born weighing one and a half kilograms, blue. He looked at me with the eyes of a grown person. I felt that he was doomed? And Hava Volovich watched her child slowly turn into ?a pale ghost with blue shadows under her eyes and sores all over her lips?.

If a child did survive, they would be removed from the camps within two years. This operation was usually carried out at night to take the mothers by surprise and to avoid emotional displays: ?Then came the order to take the children away from their mothers and send them to a nursery away from Solovki. We were heartbroken! There were so many tears!?On discovering that their children had been taken, many women would fling themselves against the barbed wire in an attempt to take their own lives. Once removed from the camp, the address of a child?s whereabouts was usually omitted from the mother?s records making it almost impossible for a mother to trace her child even after she was released.

Not all women in the Gulag camps embraced motherhood: Few claimed that some women used pregnancy to ensure early liberation from the Gulag and once freed, they would leave their children on the nearest porch or train station bench, as they no longer had any need for them.?However, in their memoirs, many female?zeks?appear to have?viewed their children as a humanising force in a dehumanising situation and a way of reclaiming their identity. The birth of a child could will a woman to survive for the child?s sake. However, these children were unlikely to survive, and if they did, ultimately they would be forcibly taken from their mothers. So pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood within the camps could also be an extremely traumatic experience that had the potential to leave both physical and psychological scars.

According to a 1993 study of archival Soviet data, a total of 1,053,829 people died in the Gulag from 1934 to 1953 (there is no archival data for the period 1919?1934). However, taking into account the likelihood of unreliable record keeping, and the fact that it was common practice to release prisoners who were either suffering from incurable diseases or near death, non-state estimates of the actual Gulag death toll are usually higher. Some independent estimates are as low as 1.6 million deaths during the whole period from 1929 to 1953, while other estimates go beyond 10 million.

Most Gulag inmates were not political prisoners, although significant numbers of political prisoners could be found in the camps at any one time. Petty crimes and jokes about the Soviet government and officials were punishable by imprisonment. About half of political prisoners in the Gulag camps were imprisoned without trial; official data suggest that there were over 2.6 million sentences to imprisonment on cases investigated by the secret police throughout 1921?53. The GULAG was reduced in size following Stalin?s death in 1953, in a period known as the Khrushchev Thaw.

In 1960 the Ministerstvo Vnutrennikh Del (MVD) ceased to function as the Soviet-wide administration of the camps in favour of individual republic MVD branches. The centralized detention facilities temporarily ceased functioning.

Although the man who emerged as the Soviet leader (Nikita Khrushchev) tried to act as fast as possible following Stalin’s death to help his people, there was much damage that was already done. As a consequence of his “purges” many families were left broken and distraught following Stalin’s death. It is recorded that by the end of his reign in 1938 the secret police, or NKVD, has as many as half of the urban population down on their lists for execution. That would mean that one in every twenty people would have soon been dead or imprisoned which is where a lot of death took place.