Days and Lives :: Solidarity

Prisoner: Alla Tumanova

“For several months one of the distractions that helped me get by was ‘correspondence by knocking’ on the wall with the neighboring cell. Unfortunately, I was ill prepared for prison life having never learned Morse code. My neighbor, though, didn’t seem to have learned it either. So she and I had to invent our own personal code. I confess this was my first genuine feeling of joy for a long time: someone on the other side of the wall wanted to be friends! I liked my invisible neighbor from the start, and from the beginning of the day was impatient for each ‘meeting.’ But our contact was brief. One day the door unexpectedly opened and a furious sergeant, the one who was senior on the floor came in. ‘Why are you knocking on the wall? Don’t you know that it is forbidden in prison? The interrogator will be informed of this.’”

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.