Days and Lives :: Guards

Prisoner: Lev Kopelev

“An order: Everyone out. The prison was being moved to keep up with the front. We were packed together in an open truck, with our belongings. Two guards with submachine guns sat on wooden benches on either side of us, and two others, with police dogs, guarded the back. ‘No talking! No squirming about! Any move to get up will be taken as an attempt to escape! The guards will shoot without warning!’ Turning off the highway into a wood, we drove through a gate and stopped before a long, white, two-story structure. We were herded into a large basement room and told to sit down on the floor. Roll call. By surname. In reply, you were supposed to give your first name and patronymic; specify the statute under which you were arrested; state whether you had been sentenced or were awaiting trial; and if sentenced, specify the number of years.”

The Climate

The extreme climates of the Gulag did not discriminate. Though they had better food, clothing, and shelter than the prisoners, guards also suffered from the brutal conditions. As former Gulag prisoner Joseph Scholmer recalled, "Most of the soldiers at Vorkuta are simple creatures, who are really just as much prisoners of the tundra and victims of the cold as the prisoners themselves. Service up there in the north is a sort of exile for them. Their life consists of guard duties, drill, and occasional visits to the cinemas in the town to which they are marched off in little columns."