Days and Lives :: Labor

Prisoner: Aleksandr Borin

“Tolkachev was the head of our shop. He was a laborer, with no education and talked of education with distrust and even with some irony. But he was not mean and didn’t put pressure on prisoners. He worried about perpetual technical breakdowns not only because they threatened the completion of the plan, but also because they could influence his employees’ fate. “People must be fed,” – he responded to the complaints made by Solodnikov, a senior accountant of our plant… Everyone knew about terrible temporary construction sites and northern camps, and everyone held fast to this colony, where our job was in a relatively warm and, in general, habitable place.”

Construction Works at Belomorkanal.

The Nature of Labor Performed

Work. Back-breaking, unskilled, inefficient physical work performed in impossible climates with starvation-level food rations. This was Gulag life.

Movie Transcription

Tamara Petkevich – All of those years, we were hungry, cold and loaded down with impossible physical labor—forestry, digging, breaking rock, in other words, we returned to the barracks so weakened, knowing that at 5:00 in the morning, they would bang on the rails again, which meant that we would have to wake up for roll call and we would have to line up and put on our wet clothes that hadn’t dried out from the previous day, and go back out to the woods. Nikolai Getman – Most of all, we dug mine shafts. But before we dug the shafts, we had to conduct exploratory digs. 2 meters, 3 meters, 4 meters, 5 meters. But you’ve got to realize that this is a permafrost region. Permafrost! We were working with stone, granite. All the labor was done by hand with pickaxes. All the debris had to be removed by hand. This was exhausting labor. Picks had to be sharpened and hardened, yet they never were.