Days and Lives :: Fates

Prisoner: Lev Kopelev

Kopelev was released in January 1947 but after a short freedom was told that his case was to be retried. A few months later he was arrested again. He did have an opportunity to defend himself at his trial but was sentenced to three more years in corrective labor camps with an additional two years loss of civil rights. This sentence was voided as being too lenient. He was re-tried and sentenced to ten years in the camps and then five years loss of civil rights. “I came to understand that my fate was just because I did deserve to be punished – for the many years I had zealously participated in plundering the peasants, worshiping Stalin, lying and deceiving myself in the name of historical necessity. Gradually I lost my awe for those ideas which, in ‘capturing the masses,’ can become ruinous to whole peoples.” After Stalin’s death, Kopelev was finally released from the Gulag.


Survivors of the Gulag often found their former lives torn apart and irrecoverable after leaving the camps. Released prisoners experienced discrimination and alienation making living and working difficult. Those who did survive have contributed immensely to the documentation of the Gulag's history.

Listen to the sound or read the transcript below.

Movie Transcription

Across the former Soviet Union, millions lie in anonymous graves. Whether shot in a prison basement, or killed in Gulag camps by exhaustion, starvation, malnutrition-related illness, labor accident, or the violence of fellow prisoners and guards, millions died at the hands of Soviet terror.

Telling the story of the Gulag through the eyes of its prisoners inevitably excludes the stories of those millions who died. These victims did not make it out of the camps to publish memoirs. Their stories are buried beneath the grounds of Siberia, Kazakhstan and the whole of the former Soviet Union.

Even those who survived the camps emerged traumatized and brutalized. Readjusting to life outside the camps would be a struggle. Many former inmates maintained life-long bonds with their fellow inmates after leaving the camps, and many continue to struggle to keep the Gulag’s memory alive to prevent new human rights abuses in the countries of the former Soviet Union today.

*/ ?>