Days and Lives :: Propaganda

Prisoner: Dimitri Panin

“We were driven in a Black Maria from the Kirov Transit Prison to a train, where we were installed in a Stolypin coach…One of our number, however—a Kuban Cossak, who recounted endless tales of his hunting and military exploits—continuously sang the praises of the regime…I was never in the least surprised by acts of lawlessness and oppression on the part of the regime. For this reason, I never got into an argument with either the camp authorities or our guards—except in cases of really exceptional highhandedness…But those who still regarded themselves as loyal Soviet citizens were constantly kicking up a fuss over something or other…Our friend from the Kuban had a set-to with one of the guards during an evening visit to the toilets. He was so insolent that the guards threw him into a punishment cell. There, after putting him in special handcuffs, they beat the daylights out of him. The handcuffs tightened at the slightest movement, thus impeding the blood circulation and causing such pain that the Cossack screamed his head off. This sort of punishment was just the right medicine for him. It helped him see things as they really were.”

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.

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.