Days and Lives :: Suffering

Prisoner: Alla Tumanova

“Of the entire five years of my incarceration, the most terrible months were the fifteen I spent in solitary. Time passes most slowly and oppressively in the evening. The window begins to darken and turn into a black square. The dim electric light and the brown-green walls give the small space an oppressive atmosphere. That familiar sensation of fear creeps back: if they don’t call me to the interrogator during the day, then for sure it will be at night. I attempt to read, but the book cannot distract me from my heavy thoughts. Now and then I catch my eyes roaming in vain across the lines on the page, even turning the pages, but I recall nothing of what I have just read. That feeling of absurdity returns: how could I have possibly ended up here? This is an impossible accident, a delusion.”

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.