Days and Lives :: Suffering

Prisoner: Anna Larina

“My cell, designed to hold four people, contained two sets of double bunks made of wood, with a little walkway between the planks. Yet I would be locked in alone. A tiny grated window, little more than a glass slit just under the ceiling, admitted no daylight. A dim electric light would burn around the clock. When we had first come below ground, I saw a rat running through the space between the window’s double panes of glass, another one scampering over the planks of one of the lower bunks. I took off my soaked slippers, put them on an upper bunk, and set to work, standing ankle deep in the water. Having bailed out the water I entered the cell. The guard locked the door, the bolt clanked, the lock clicked, the keys jangled. I had learned, by this time, not to be surprised by anything.”

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.