Days and Lives :: Propaganda

Prisoner: Thomas Sgovio

“I had just dozed off when several officials and guards entered. We had to rise and listen to a lecture. Camp Commandant Sergeyev pointed out that the gold-washing period was about half over. If we wished to return to the great family of Soviet toilers we had to expiate our crimes by fulfilling our work quotas. We were to be fed according to our output. There were six categories of food cards, ranging from Number One, for those having 150% or more overfulfillment – to Number Six, the penal category. The latter was given to those who had under 50% – a bowl of soup and four hundred grams of bread daily – no breakfast, no supper. The Commandant read out the names and work percentages of the newcomers. None of us had over 30%. He assured us however, that we should not lose heart. Realizing we were greenhorns, from the intelligentsia, that none of us had ever worked physically, the Camp Administration would give us time to learn and adjust. For ten days we would be given the 4th food-card category, regardless of our output."

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.