Days and Lives :: Fates

Prisoner: Danylo Shumuk

“Just then my name was called. For a few minutes I was anxious and my heart was beating strongly, but by the time I reached the commission’s office I had composed myself. Behind a table, in a fairly large office, sat an intelligent, pleasant-looking, middle-aged man who was the head of the commission and a member of the Central Committee of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union). A procurator from the Procuracy General, with a dissatisfied, distrustful look on his face sat on the right, and a benevolent-looking elderly general sat on the left…“’We have no more questions,’ the head of the commission told me when they finished their discussions…’We’ve decided to free you and annul your conviction,’ the head of the commission told me, ‘although you’ll be deprived of your rights as a citizen’…on the next day we were summoned to the watch-tower and a guard opened the gates. A duty officer called us out according to the standard procedure and a pleasant feeling filled me soul, for this was the first time that we were passing through the gates without a convoy.”

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.