Days and Lives :: Propaganda

Prisoner: Lev Razgon

Razgon was placed in a punishment cell for neglecting to return a scrap of unused toilet paper to the guard. “I ended up in a “bright” cell. A small cupboard of a room, two paces long and one and a half in width, and no windows. An iron frame with several cross-bars was fixed to the wall; this was the bed. It remained up all day and then, by some mechanism outside the cell, was let down for four hours during the night. The tiny room, the floor, the walls, the ceiling, the so-called bed, and the enormous metal-lidded slop bucket were all covered in a dazzling white glossy paint. A 500-watt bulb shone from the ceiling, day and night. After an hour of this, you began to go crazy. Most of the time I stood in the corner with my eyes firmly closed.”

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.