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."

Portrait of Stalin

Soviet Propaganda in Microcosm

The content of the propaganda activities in Gulag camps mirrored those in the Soviet Union at large. Images of Stalin, slogans extolling the heroism of labor in the Soviet Union, explanations of the superiority of socialism to capitalism, lessons on hygiene and cultured living—all showed the type of society and the type of person Soviet authorities were trying to create. Above all, propaganda focused on labor, which was seen as the key to rehabilitating the criminal and to completing the camp’s economic plans. A prisoner who refused to work was refusing to reform himself and did not deserve rehabilitation or release.

In this excerpt from Stolen Years, former prisoner and painter Nikolai Getman recalls working on propaganda in the Gulag.

Movie Transcription

FROM STOLEN YEARS Nikolai Getman – “So I was given jobs painting slogans and posters. Slogans like ’shockwork is the path to liberation,’ or ’liberation through honest toil.’ And whose quotations were these? The words of our great father. So I had to make a portrait of him, as well. I did a good job of painting him. His portrait came out well.”