Days and Lives :: Fates

Prisoner: Lev Razgon

“So I finally made it to that day in March when all the sudden we heard this heavenly music on the loudspeakers. Bach, Handel, Beethoven, and then we heard the health announcement. I remember how we all ran to the camp infirmary and the doctors discuss this among themselves and tell us what we could hope for. So the chief doctor, his assistant and the male nurse all of whom were convicts of course, went into the bania to hold their meeting. Meanwhile we’re all huddled in the changing room, our teeth chattering with anticipation. They met for about 20 min, then the chief doctor walked out. He was a professor, a very well educated man. He was beaming, and he said, you guys, the bastard [Stalin] is finished. No hope for him. And we began kissing one another.”

Remembering the Gulag

Other than a brief period of openness that saw the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, discussing the Gulag’s history was forbidden until late in the 1980s. At that time, groups of former political prisoners started to document and commemorate the history of Soviet repression through monuments and publications. Although at first there was tremendous interest in learning about this part of their history, since the mid-1990s Russians seem to be forgetting the Gulag—a troubling development for many who believe historical knowledge is key to avoiding a repetition of the abuses of dictatorship.

To learn about the efforts to preserve the last Soviet camp as a museum and historic site, please visit the related exhibit on the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.

The post-war Gulag population differed in two key ways from its pre-war counterpart. First, it included significant numbers of nationalist partisans from the Baltics, western Ukraine, and western Belorussia—peoples whose homelands had been joined to the Soviet Union only as a result of the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact and who had fought a vicious guerilla war against Soviet forces until the late 1940s. These prisoners were accustomed to struggling against the Soviet state and against long odds. Second, the post-war Gulag population comprised many Red Army soldiers and officers who had served in Europe or been held in Nazi prisoner-of-war camps and thus came under the suspicion of the state. After Stalin’s death, such veterans combined forces with the former nationalist partisans to carry out a series of mass uprisings in Gulag camps.