Days and Lives :: Conflict

Prisoner: Joseph Scholmer

“We said very little to each other on this first day. We loaded up our sledges and pulled them over to the building site. I saw to it that the old man didn’t do too much. When we said good-bye to each other he made a little bow and said: ‘Thank you very much.’ The next day I put him wise to the basic rules of camp life: (1) Do as little work as possible. (2) Eat as much as possible. (3) Get as much rest as possible. (4) Take every opportunity you can to get warm. (5) Don’t stand any nonsense from anybody. (6) If anyone hits you, hit back immediately without a moment’s hesitation. ‘But I’ve never hit a human being in my life,’ answered Moireddin. ‘If you hit anyone here you’re not hitting a human being but a bit of human scum. If you once allow anyone to hit you without sticking up for yourself they’ll never stop. A week later he was transferred to a brigade loading up slag. It was a filthy job for him. I saw Moireddin every day when the shifts changed. One day he wasn’t there. I asked the people in his brigade what had become of him and they said: ‘Moireddin’s got five days in the bur [punishment barracks]!’ ‘What for?’ ‘For hitting the brigade leader!’

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.