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.”

Digging a Grave

Propaganda’s Impact

Measuring the impact of propaganda is difficult. Despite all they suffered, many Gulag prisoners loved their country, and when it faced a battle for its very survival in World War II—the Soviet Union’s “Great Patriotic War”—the love of country proclaimed in camp propaganda found a receptive audience. Eugenia Ginzburg recalled the arrival in Kolyma of news about the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. “We, the outcasts, racked by four years of suffering, suddenly felt ourselves citizens of this country of ours. We, its rejected children, now trembled for our [motherland].”

Many Gulag prisoners worked hard in the camps to provide food, energy, and munitions for the front. More than a million prisoners were even released to join the Red Army at the front, and some performed heroically in defense of the motherland. But did their love of country and their heroic actions come from the Gulag’s propaganda? It seems very unlikely.