Days and Lives :: Labor

Prisoner: Evgeniia Michailovna Peunkova

“A shift at the factory lasted practically 12 hours: from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., and from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. The break between shifts was 30 minutes. This time was necessary for the motors to cool down.… Production at the factory was divided into many operations, and each female worker performed one of them. They did the same thing day after day over a period of many years. An individual was becoming a robot, an extension of the machine. Output norms grew from month to month, and we had to fulfill them. Those who didn’t make the norm were sent to the “BUR” [strict regime barracks], where the transgressors slept piled one upon another on a bare floor. As a punishment they received only 450 grams of bread per day. The night shifts at the end of month were especially hard. At 3 o’clock at night workers began to fall asleep and accidents happened: people stitched their own fingers, pierced their foreheads with fallers…”

Prisoner Labor Gang


Prisoners who could not avoid general labor needed to learn how to cheat while in the forest or the mines. Officials required prisoners to fulfill a certain labor quota everyday—to mine a certain number of tons of coal, or cut a certain number of cubic feet of timber. They set quotas at levels impossible to fulfill given the climate and the poor food provisions, but survival often depended upon receiving that full ration of food. So, the prisoners invented numerous ingenious ways to cheat on their quotas, a practice referred to as tufta or tukhta.

Eugenia Ginzburg recalled tufta in the forests. “This forest is full of piles of timber cut by previous work gangs. No one ever counted how many there are…If you saw a small section at each end, it looks as if it had just been cut. Then you stack them up in another place, and there’s your norm…This trick, which we christened ‘freshening up the sandwiches,’ saved our lives for the time being…[W]e laid the foundation of our pile with trees we had really cut down ourselves, leaving a couple or so we had felled but not yet sawn up to create the impression that we were hard at it. Then we went to fetch some of the old logs, ‘freshening up’ their ends and stacking them up on our pile.”