Days and Lives :: Suffering

Prisoner: Susanna Pechuro

“And the worst thing in that life is transportation from one camp to another. When you are in camp you have friends, and they can support you and help you, but when they take you out, they uproot you and your whole world collapses…And also it’s not only because this process of being transported somewhere is very hard, but emotionally that separation with your close ones, your friends, is equal to what you felt when you were separated from your relatives, and you go through that again and again and again, and you really feel complete despair. You feel that you can’t bear it any more. And then you meet the other people, and new people, and you understand that they’re no better off than you are.”


No Gulag indignity consumed prisoners like hunger. Prisoners could think of nothing but the search for food. To scrounge an extra bowl of soup made for a great day in the camps. Bread was treated as gold. Eating was ritualized—a holy moment when every prisoner sought to convince himself that he was eating enough. Based on his own Gulag experience, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s famous novella One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich reflects on the ritual of eating. “You had to eat with all your thoughts on the food, like he was nibbling off these little bits now, and turn them over on your tongue, and roll them over in your mouth—and then it tasted so good, this soggy black bread.”

Hunger could so destroy human dignity that scenes of prisoners digging through trash heaps in desperate hope of finding something edible became commonplace. Dmitri Panin recalled, “Death from a bullet would have been bliss compared with what many millions had to endure while dying of hunger. The kind of death to which they were condemned has nothing to equal it in treachery and sadism.”