Days and Lives :: Labor

Prisoner: Edward Buca

“We were marched to the site of the new mine: no. 20. The mine already in operation was no. 19, and both were surrounded by barbed-wire fences with watch-towers at each corner. When we arrived at the site, some of our guards went to man the towers and the rest stayed with us. Some of us were given picks and shovels, others crowbars, heavy sledgehammers weighing about ten kilos, axes or saws. We were divided into work brigades each with different assignments: clearing snow where the smithy was to be built, preparing the site for the instrumentalka or toolshop, sawing planks for the buildings. A desetnik, or civilian foreman, was in charge. He was to be a department chief of the new mine.”

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.