Days and Lives :: Propaganda

Prisoner: Danylo Shumuk

At NKVD’s headquarters in Kiev, Shumuk refused to give more information than necessary. After being deprived of sleep for three days, they brought him in for a second interrogation. “Once again I was left on the stool until morning: losing consciousness and falling; sitting down again and then falling as soon as I was upright. In the cell it was the same; a warder stood at the door to make sure I stayed awake, and I was prevented from sleeping for five full days. This form of torture, which is just as exhausting as physical violence, is incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it.”


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.