Days and Lives :: Propaganda

Prisoner: Galina Ivanovna Levinson

"The barracks, of course, had two-level plank beds. Each was for eight people: four at the bottom, for at the top. At night, the barracks were locked and we used buckets… When we arrived, they gave us mattress covers and straw to fill them, pillow covers and straw for the pillows, half-wool blankets, and, I think, even rough sheets. [...] For the first year and a half, we didn’t have the right to correspondence… Then, they let women who gave birth in the camp to write. When their children grew to one year old, women got permission to inquire about kids who were sent to orphanages. Only after we were all allowed to write one letter a month."

Barrack Ruins with Propaganda Slogans, Salekhard-Igarka.

The Gulag as Educational?

Soviet authorities presented their camps as the world’s most progressive penal institution—at the forefront of a shift away from punishing and to reeducating prisoners. Camp newspapers, propaganda posters, political speeches, theatrical productions, film showings, literacy classes—these were just a few of the ways in which camp authorities sought to convince their prisoners of the educational aspects of Gulag life. They even created an entire administrative structure—the “cultural-educational sections,” or K.V.Ch.—to oversee this Gulag activity. Prisoners viewed it as a cruel joke.

“The ‘K.V.Ch.’ which was supposed to conduct cultural and educational activities among the inmates,” recalled former prisoner Jerzy Gliksman, “ran a Clubhouse in every zone, the so-called ‘Red Corner,’ a special barracks in which prisoners could—and were even expected to—spend their free time. Here the inmates were supposed to read, study, play chess, or engage in other cultural pastimes. For the most part, however, these Clubhouses stood empty, and the vast majority of camp inmates never frequented them. The prisoners were far too tired and far too intensely concerned about satisfying their most primitive wants to find time and energy for filling intellectual needs.”