Days and Lives :: Propaganda

Prisoner: Eugenia Ginzburg

Ginzburg was sent to Yaroslavl where she spent two years initially in solitary confinement. “To this day, if I shut my eyes, I can see every bump and scratch on those walls, painted halfway up in the favorite prison colors, brownish-red and a dirty white above. Sometimes in the soles of my feet I still feel this or that crack in the stone floor of my cell: Number 3 on the second floor, north side. And I still remember the physical anguish, the despair of my muscles, as I paced the area in which I was henceforth to live. It was five paces long and three across. I was taken out of my cell three times every twenty-four hours: morning and evening to the washroom, and before or after dinner for exercise.”

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.