Days and Lives :: Labor

Prisoner: Anna Larina

In her memoir, Larina mainly writes of her first years in the Gulag, though she was there for twenty. For much of this time, because of her status as the wife of Bukharin, she was kept under close surveillance and was not allowed out to perform labor. Instead, much of her time was spent dealing with the grinding boredom of doing nothing. “By this time, I was an experienced zek [prisoner], having already been detained in many prisons: Astrakhan, Saratov, Sverdlovsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk. I had become accustomed to an isolated existence without books, paper, or pencil, unable to do anything but string together rhymes and memorize them by endless repetition, read from memory the verses of my favorite poets.”

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.