Days and Lives :: Propaganda

Prisoner: Aleksandr Borin

“There was nothing worse than lice. Every crease of our clothes was infested with them. They consumed us during the day, but especially at night, depriving us of the only thing that could give us some strength—undisturbed sleep. ... Bread was brought to the camp irregularly, and usually distributed on the road in the cold. Prisoners took bread crusts frozen into stones—after all, in three days their share grew to half a loaf per prisoner—and immediately gnawed into the frozen pieces, crushing not only bread but also their teeth.”

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.”