Days and Lives :: Solidarity

Prisoner: Alexander Dolgun

Communication between prisoners was strictly monitored. A kind of Morse code had been developed of the letters of the Russian alphabet. A prisoner in the cell next to Dolgun’s constantly tapped on his wall but it took him some time to understand the code. “Five rows of six letters. Of course! That’s what he sends the every night! The whole goddamn alphabet! How could I have missed it for so long? A pure rush of love in my chest for a man who has been asking me for three months now who I am, and I can’t even tell him.”

Religion in the Gulag

Religious believers went to great lengths to maintain their rituals inside the camps. Joseph Scholmer recalled Lithuanian Catholics holding mass 600 feet below the surface in an unused portion of a mine. "About twenty men had collected there…. All were standing there in silence: they were sunk in prayer. They felt quite safe here. No soldier who values his life would ever venture down into the pit…. [After the Mass] we departed as silently as we had come."

Even gender segregation—a significant hindrance to a Catholic woman who could only receive the sacraments from a male priest—could be creatively overcome. As the historian Reverend Christopher Lawrence Zugger has written, "In many camps, Catholic women would write down their sins on a piece of paper or tree bark with a number, which would be smuggled to the priests on the men’s side [of a Gulag labor camp]. The priests would go along the fence and silently dispense absolution to the women, who held up their fingers to identify themselves, and smuggle penances back to them."

Orthodox Priest at Solovki