Days and Lives :: Propaganda

Prisoner: Olga Adamova-Sliozberg

“Those who fulfilled the norm received 600 grams of bread, those who didn’t received 400 grams. The difference of 200 grams was a matter of life and death because it was impossible to live on 400 grams a day when you worked in the cold of -50 celsius. … The winter of 1943 was very hard. The rations changed from 600 to 500 grams. Besides bread, we got soup with black cabbage and herring heads (a half liter of soup had two or three cabbage leaves and one herring head) and three tablespoons of watery porridge with a half teaspoon of vegetable oil, and for dinner we got a finger-size piece of herring tail. All this time we worked 10-hour shifts in cold of a minus 50 Celsius. People started to waste away [dokhodit’].”

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.