Days and Lives :: Solidarity

Prisoner: Margarete Buber Neumann

“When I look back on the first two months of my stay in the Birma punishment compound, I hardly remember the laborious work in the fields, the scorching sun beating down, the constant hunger, the terrible nights with bed-bugs and lice, the malice and chicanery of my fellow prisoners, and I think instead of my friendship with Boris Resnik. We met every morning before the roll call. He would make me the morning cigarette of mahorka in newspaper, and together we would stand and smoke and marvel at the daily wonder: the rising of the sun over the mountains in the distance. One day we decided to work in the kitchen garden instead of the fields. Our work there consisted in weeding a patch of grass with our hands. We progressed on our knees singing softly.”

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