Days and Lives :: Conflict

Prisoner: Alfred Martinovich Mirek

“Although I remember, during the summer in one barrack three newly arrived criminal prisoners refused to fell trees, demanding easy work at the camp. The next day they didn’t get any bread, but they didn’t stay hungry. The next day they refused to go again. Maybe in the end they would have been accommodated but five other seasoned, tough criminals, long-time camp residents, joined them in the barrack. It became clear, that tomorrow the entire barrack might refuse to go to work… In the morning before “razvodka”—the roll call near the watch-room—the head of the camp, the foreman, and six guards. The head of the camp warned and threatened, the foreman, himself one of the criminal prisoners, cajoled and calmed them down, but they didn’t budge. Then they took them out of the barrack and moved through the watch-room to the zone. The were sure that they were to be taken to “BUR” (high security barrack, something like an isolation cell for several people). But the group turned the opposite way, to the left, when they left the gate. They were taken along the wire fence to the stables, seen very well from the watch-room where we congregated. At the wall, the eight saboteurs were shot… After that, nobody ever considered refusing to do anything, nor breaking any rules.”

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.