Days and Lives :: Solidarity

Prisoner: Joseph Scholmer

The interpreter who sat in on Scholmer’s interrogations gave him some advice when the interrogator was out of the room. “‘I’d like to give you a friendly piece of advice. I know all about your case. You’ll get twenty-five years whatever happens, that’s certain. If you’re really stubborn you might succeed in shaking off the espionage charge, but it’d take you a year or two. Then they’d get you on something else. Admit that you carried out a little espionage for form’s sake. That’ll bring your interrogation to an end and your case will be closed. You’ll be sent to a camp where things are better than here. You can get help from your comrades there, but they can’t do anything for you here. The important thing is to preserve your health. Another year or two of prison conditions and you’ll be ruined. You know that yourself.”

National Solidarity

Nationality groups in the Gulag tended to form tight-knit mutual-assistance networks, especially among those who spoke languages other than Russian.

Prisoner cooks tended to favor their co-nationals with the best food. Prisoners evaluated one another’s trustworthiness based on stereotyped images of national identity. Thus, former prisoner Edward Buca remembered that some Georgians trusted him, a Pole, because “the Poles aren’t usually double-crossers.” Co-nationals were often the key to survival in a world where it was difficult, even impossible, to survive alone.