Days and Lives :: Guards

Prisoner: Dimitri Panin

“My interrogator at Lubyanka had been a young man, about thirty, by the name of Tsvetayev. It seems that he had been an engineer before the Chekists had recruited him. Obviously he had only recently completed his course in this new job, and my “case” was in the nature of an exam for him. I felt no ill will toward him, nor do I feel any now. He diligently carried out instructions that his superior had written down for him on a piece of paper. Exactly as they had trained him to do, he conscientiously swore, shouted, and threatened, but without real malice. During my interrogation at Lubyanka he had offered a fresh appearance; he had an attractive face, fair and with a soft rosy hue. There was no sign of brutishness in it. When I saw him again at Lefortovo, I involuntarily thought of Oscar Wilde. Before me was the portrait of Dorian Gray, a face vitiated by evil doing and depravity. Tsvetayev’s face had turned yellow, fat, and flabby, with deep wrinkles and brown pouches under his eyes. He was unrecognizable.”

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."