Days and Lives :: Fates

Prisoner: Dimitri Panin

“My six-month journey as a shtrafnik, my stay in the punishment cells at Spassk, and further run-ins with interrogators, my encounters with ordinary working people, and my eventual transfer to a “peaceful” camp at Karaganda; my release from camp and banishment for life in northern Kazakhstan (which fortunately turned out to be only three years, owing to Stalin’s death), all will be described in a second volume of the Notebooks, provided that I am granted the strength and time.” (Panin, 319) Panin never did write a second volume, and as it turned out, “The ‘Organs’ waited eleven years, until 1955, before giving me a certificate of rehabilitation which stated than order dated August 19, 1944, had been rescinded and all charges against me dropped for lack of evidence.”


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.

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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.