Days and Lives :: Conflict

Prisoner: Olga Adamova-Sliozberg

Olga confronted a female criminal when she worked as the brigadier of the field agrarian team. “Once, while surveying the field, I noticed that whole rows of cabbage didn’t have a core where the whole cabbage is supposed to grow from little leaves. At first I thought that another pest is eating them and I would have to immediately start a struggle against them. Suddenly I saw that a member of our crew, a criminal prisoner Valya, is calmly picking these cores and eating them like seeds. ‘Why are you doing this? You will destroy the whole crop!’ She gave me an idiotic smile and replied: ‘Why do we need it? The boss will feed us anyway.’ I almost beat her up, wrath blinded me, but she just smiled innocently.”

Criminal Tattoo

Ethno-National Conflict

The multi-national and multi-ethnic composition of the Gulag fostered further conflict. Prisoners often clung together in ethno-nationally homogenous groups—Russian, Ukrainian, Estonian, Chechen—and conflicts often emerged among these groups. Some prisoners, especially from western Ukraine and the Baltics, had been part of fiercely nationalist partisan armies that fought against the Soviets during and after World War II. Upon arrival in the Gulag, many took out their frustrations especially on Russian and Jewish prisoners, whom they blamed for their subjugation. Anti-Semitism was common among nearly all national groups, who wrongly deemed all Jews communists. As Joseph Scholmer recalled, “Whenever conversation in the camps turns to the subject of what will happen when the Soviet Union collapses, the enemies of the Jews, whether Lithuanians, Ukrainians, or Poles, always say the same thing: ‘You can be sure of one thing, there won’t be a single Jew left alive by the time we’ve finished.’”