Days and Lives :: Fates

Prisoner: Thomas Sgovio

“Liberation of the holdovers began in September 1946 – sixteen months after the War’s end. Finally, I was called…eight and a half years I had waited for this. Finger printing – my right thumb was pressed on the left-hand bottom part of my release affidavit. There were about a dozen of us waiting to receive our papers – but no, the Registration Official gathered the green slips and commanded, ‘Come on – follow me!’ In single file we followed him through the gates, down the road to the settlement, and to the Administration building. A woman official waited for us. She grabbed our papers and looked them over. One by one our names were read – ‘Tomas Sgovio? You are hereby notified that although you are now a free-citizen, you fall into the category of those fixed to Dalstroi – without the right to leave the territory…sign here that you have been notified of your status.”

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.

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.