Days and Lives :: Fates

Prisoner: Vladimir Tchernavin

“My wife came with our son. We determined to escape together and tentatively made our plan for the end of the following summer. We also decided upon both the location from which we had to start and the exact meeting place. My wife and son were to reach it on a day to be agreed upon; I should then escape, meet them there and lead them to the frontier. We arranged a code for our letters, all of which were read by the censor of the GPU. The five days passed and they departed. I was still a prisoner, but with one solemn purpose during the seven months to come: to live, in order that we might be free – or, if necessary, die – together.” “Without compass or map, we walked over wild mountains, through forests and across swamps, to Finland and freedom.”

Introduction

Survivors of the Gulag often found their former lives torn apart and irrecoverable after leaving the camps. Released prisoners experienced discrimination and alienation making living and working difficult. Those who did survive have contributed immensely to the documentation of the Gulag's history.

Listen to the sound or read the transcript below.

Movie Transcription

Across the former Soviet Union, millions lie in anonymous graves. Whether shot in a prison basement, or killed in Gulag camps by exhaustion, starvation, malnutrition-related illness, labor accident, or the violence of fellow prisoners and guards, millions died at the hands of Soviet terror.

Telling the story of the Gulag through the eyes of its prisoners inevitably excludes the stories of those millions who died. These victims did not make it out of the camps to publish memoirs. Their stories are buried beneath the grounds of Siberia, Kazakhstan and the whole of the former Soviet Union.

Even those who survived the camps emerged traumatized and brutalized. Readjusting to life outside the camps would be a struggle. Many former inmates maintained life-long bonds with their fellow inmates after leaving the camps, and many continue to struggle to keep the Gulag’s memory alive to prevent new human rights abuses in the countries of the former Soviet Union today.