Days and Lives :: Suffering

Prisoner: Margarete Buber Neumann

Buber-Neumann dared to ask that her case be re-opened and was sent to the punishment compound. “It consisted of a block for women, another for men, a house for the natchalnik and a block of cells. At the gate was a small wooden hut for the guard. Prisoners entered one at a time through a narrow space. The dirt in the camp was bad enough, but in the punishment compound it was shocking. The place around the latrine pits was covered with piles of human excrement. The prisoners did not bother to use the pits. It was impossible to get away from the stench. The block for the women was worse than anything I had yet experienced in the camp. The sleeping places were knocked together out of rough bits of wood of various sizes and thicknesses, and some of the women slept on the floor.”

Introduction

Gulag prisoners suffered from terrible living and working conditions in the Gulag. They froze in poorly heated barracks after working in sub-freezing temperatures; battled against hunger; and suffered from treatment that stole their dignity.

Listen to the sound or read the transcript below.

Movie Transcription

Deep, pounding hunger pangs tormented the Gulag prisoner’s every moment. Shoving their way to the cafeteria window, prisoners craved…cried out for food, always knowing but wanting to forget that the thin, watery gruel…that the small hunk of bread (sometimes made of little more than sawdust)…that these pathetic “meals” would never prepare them for the climatic assault of the day.

The pathetic rags, not even worthy of being called “clothes,” no more protected prisoners from the constant cold than the pitiful “food” satisfied their constant hunger. The Gulag, after all, inhabited some of the planet’s coldest places deep in frozen Siberia.

Even the end of the work day brought no respite in this hell. Barely heated, crowded barracks stank of the ill and the dying, though even this was better than the “punished” prisoners who could spend months in a totally unheated, dank punishment cell with no blankets and a sub-starvation penalty food ration.