Days and Lives :: Fates

Prisoner: Anna Larina

Larina was released from the Gulag system in 1959 after Stalin’s death, ill with tuberculosis, after having spent almost twenty years of her life there. She did not see her son for 18 years. She devoted the rest of her life to clearing her husband’s name. He was finally “rehabilitated” and cleared of all charges in 1988 – fifty years after his death. In 1988, she gave a speech at a conference commemorating the hundredth anniversary of Bukharin’s birth given by the Institute of Markism-Leninism of the Communist Party Central Committee.

Crosses in Forest

The Gulag’s Ultimate Victims

Historians have established that at least 1.6 million died in the Gulag camps. The real number may be higher, as camp authorities had many ways to hide true death figures, including releasing prisoners who were on the verge of dying. In this way, a prisoner reduced to the point of death by labor and starvation would die outside the camp and thus be excluded from official Gulag mortality statistics. Many of the unmarked graves will never be found.

In this excerpt from Stolen Years, Nikolai Getman describes the anonymous markings placed on prisoner graves.

When the guard filled out a report on the burial, he wouldn’t say that the corpse had a name like Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov. Instead, he would write down a certain designated number. Such as M3720. This number, M3720, was then stenciled into a tin can, using a hammer and nail. Usually the perforated number would appear on the lid, but sometimes people would go through the trouble of cutting apart the whole can, thereby leaving more room for the inscription. This piece of metal was attached by wire to the foot, and that was proof that a certain person, M3720, was buried right there under the hill. I can still hear the sound of this piece of wire and can lid tinkling in the wind.