Days and Lives :: Suffering

Prisoner: John Noble

“Three days passed and no food was distributed to us. At last on the fourth day a few ounces of bread and some thin soup were handed to me; on the fifth day, more of the same, but as I lay down that evening I had no idea that on the following morning would begin a twelve-day starvation period. When it became apparent on the first of those days that there was to be no food, loud protests, uncontrolled curses and screaming were let loose. Men went out of their minds, women prisoners became hysterical. Some Moslem prisoners chanted their prayers. Then death struck, right and left. Cell doors were opened and dead bodies pulled out by an arm or a leg. Some seven hundred prisoners had entered that starvation period. I was one of twenty-two or twenty-three that survived, along with my father.”

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.