Days and Lives :: Guards

Prisoner: Lev Razgon

“At last the door swung open, confidently and wide, and in strode a young NKVD lieutenant. Two warders stood by the door. The lieutenant was neatly dressed and close-shaven, the buckles of his belt and shoulder straps shone, and folds of his field shirt were creased perfectly, and he gave off an aroma of eau de cologne, good tobacco, health, youth, home and good fortune – all the things that I had once considered quite natural…Only for the first few weeks had I continued to look on the jailers and interrogators as people just like me: they might be mistaken or worthless scoundrels, I had thought, but they were human beings, nevertheless. Then, in an instant, I changed my mind. It was impossible to establish any human contact with such people, or regard them as human beings; they were only pretending and we, for our part, also had to make believe that they were just like us.”

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."