Days and Lives :: Suffering

Prisoner: Olga Adamova-Sliozberg

“Those who fulfilled the norm received 600 grams of bread, those who didn’t received 400 grams. The difference of 200 grams was a matter of life and death because it was impossible to live on 400 grams a day when you worked in the cold of -50 celsius. … The winter of 1943 was very hard. The rations changed from 600 to 500 grams. Besides bread, we got soup with black cabbage and herring heads (a half liter of soup had two or three cabbage leaves and one herring head) and three tablespoons of watery porridge with a half teaspoon of vegetable oil, and for dinner we got a finger-size piece of herring tail. All this time we worked 10-hour shifts in cold of a minus 50 Celsius. People started to waste away [dokhodit’].”


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.