Days and Lives :: Propaganda

Prisoner: Thomas Sgovio

“I had just dozed off when several officials and guards entered. We had to rise and listen to a lecture. Camp Commandant Sergeyev pointed out that the gold-washing period was about half over. If we wished to return to the great family of Soviet toilers we had to expiate our crimes by fulfilling our work quotas. We were to be fed according to our output. There were six categories of food cards, ranging from Number One, for those having 150% or more overfulfillment – to Number Six, the penal category. The latter was given to those who had under 50% – a bowl of soup and four hundred grams of bread daily – no breakfast, no supper. The Commandant read out the names and work percentages of the newcomers. None of us had over 30%. He assured us however, that we should not lose heart. Realizing we were greenhorns, from the intelligentsia, that none of us had ever worked physically, the Camp Administration would give us time to learn and adjust. For ten days we would be given the 4th food-card category, regardless of our output."

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.