Days and Lives :: Solidarity

Prisoner: Lev Kopelev

“The prisoners were served a watery gruel, made of millet and smelling of motor oil, in used tin cans. I couldn’t get it down at first, and ate only the daily portions of bread and sugar. April 9, 1945, was my thirty-third birthday, and that morning our cell boss, the former White Russian Colonel Pyotr Berulya, presented me with a pound of sugar, made up of ten or eleven individual portions. It was a birthday present from my cell mates, and it gave me my first moment of happiness in prison. They, too, were hungry and afraid, yet they did what little they could to provide a bit of human warmth to one of their fellow prisoners.”

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.