Days and Lives :: Conflict

Prisoner: Lev Razgon

“The life of the ‘honorable thieves’ in the camp were surrounded by rules of behavior that were observed with an almost religious fervor. If a criminal was ‘honorable’ and then broke the rules he had no alternative but to ‘run for the dead zone.’ This was a ploughed and raked strip of land between the high fence and a low barrier of barbed wire. Each prisoner who found himself in the ‘dead zone’ had to lie face down on the ground immediately. Otherwise he would be shot dead, without any warning, by the armed guards on the watchtowers. The ‘ratters’ would run for the ‘dead zone’ when they were being persecuted by their former comrades. The guards then led them from the safety of this stretch of earth and locked them up in the punishment block. From there, after some time, they would be put in a transport to another camp in the same system.”

Gateway to Mines at Vorkuta

Sexual Violence

Prisoners faced the constant threat of rape, both homosexual and heterosexual.

“[A]n excited group of prisoners gathered around a bench next to the wall,” recalled Janusz Bardach. “Those in the back row were jumping up, trying to see over the heads and shoulders of those in front, who were shouting obscenities and holding their penises….A young man lay on his stomach [in the baths], and another man lay on top of him, embracing him around the chest and moving his hips back and forth. His back was tattooed with shackles, chains, and the popular Soviet slogan ‘Work is an act of honor, courage, and heroism.’ On both sides were trumpeting angels. He breathed heavily, while the young man underneath moaned and cried out. The spectators shouted. I caught sight of the young man’s grimacing face.”

In this excerpt from Stolen Years , Yelena Glinka describes gang rape on a ship transporting prisoners to the Gulag.

We were taken to this ship. We were marching, five abreast, as always, in columns. Five abreast, surrounded on all sides by guards, guards dogs, German shepherds. All around, guards with machine guns.

They loaded us aboard, and the first thing that happened was that female criminals—the people from the criminal underworld—began to rob us of our own clothes. They made the women strip. The women resisted, they yelled, they batted. It got so bad, that if the criminals liked your underwear, they made you sleep naked—naked—and tossed you some flea infested rags, in return.

The prisoners in one of the men’s holds found a pickaxe. They pierced a whole through the wall—into the women’s hold with a pickaxe. And the men—the criminals began filling the women’s hold, and then they gang raped the women.

Movie Transcription

We were taken to this ship. We were marching, 5 abreast, as always, in columns. 5 abreast, surrounded on all sides by guards, guards dogs, German shepherds. All around, guards with machine guns. They loaded us aboard, and the first thing that happened was that female criminals—the people from the criminal underworld—began to rob us of our own clothes. They made the women strip. The women resisted, they yelled, they batted. It got so bad, that if the criminals liked your underwear, they made you sleep naked—naked—and tossed you some flea infested rags, in return. The prisoners in one of the men’s holds found a pick axe. They pierced a whole through the wall—into the women’s hold with a pick axe. And the men—the criminals began filling the women’s hold, and then they gang raped the women.