Days and Lives :: Propaganda

Prisoner: Margarete Buber Neumann

Buber-Neumann dared to ask that her case be re-opened and was sent to the punishment compound. “It consisted of a block for women, another for men, a house for the natchalnik and a block of cells. At the gate was a small wooden hut for the guard. Prisoners entered one at a time through a narrow space. The dirt in the camp was bad enough, but in the punishment compound it was shocking. The place around the latrine pits was covered with piles of human excrement. The prisoners did not bother to use the pits. It was impossible to get away from the stench. The block for the women was worse than anything I had yet experienced in the camp. The sleeping places were knocked together out of rough bits of wood of various sizes and thicknesses, and some of the women slept on the floor.”

Introduction

The atrocities of working and living conditions in the camps went unnoticed as Soviet authorities promoted the Gulag as a progressive educational prison system to the general populace and prisoners. Posters displayed at the camps reinforced labor—at whatever cost—as a heroic and honorable contribution to the state.

Listen to the sound or read transcript below.

Movie Transcription

Over many Gulag camp gates, a slogan declared: “Labor in the USSR is a matter of honor, glory, courage and heroism.”

In the barracks, posters screamed, “Glory to Stalin, the Greatest Genius of Mankind.”

At the work place, banners urged, “More Gold for Our Country, More Gold for Victory!”

These proclamations of the glories of socialism, the heroism of Soviet labor, and the possibilities of reeducation and reintegration into Soviet society sat uneasily in an environment saturated with death and deprivation.

Millions survived their Gulag, but they would have laughed at the notion that they were re-educated. Most would have used words such as “traumatized,” “brutalized,” or “disfigured”—terms not featured on the propaganda posters.