In 1945 at a gulag labor camp near the village of Bezymianka. The workers pictured above helped support and construct the  airplane industry during WWII.

During the war and years before, the Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps also known as the GULAC held millions of prisoners. Gulag’s were the main punishing system for the Soviet Union. They held all different types of people including rapists, murders, thieves, political prisoners and many innocent men and women convicted for petty smaller crimes. Gulag’s weren’t prisons but were labor camps that forced prisoners to work excruciating hours, in horrific climate conditions and unbearable labor intensive jobs.

Picture of prisoners in a Gulag camp in 1932 working on the White Sea Baltic Sean Canal.

This all changed after the war. “One of the key elements of “destalinization” was the release of prisoners from camps administered by the GULAG”. On March 27, 1953 Stalin’s first post action granted amnesty by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR which freed a variety of different prisoners. “The edict covered persons sentenced for up to five years, those convicted of economic and military crimes regardless of their terms of imprisonment, women with children under 10 years of age or who were pregnant, juveniles up to age 18, men over 55 years of age and women over 50 years of age, and convicts suffering from incurable diseases.” Within three months of the amnesty decree over 1.5 million prisoners were released. The decree also stated that crime has decreased and that there “is no longer necessary to retain in places of custody persons who have committed offenses representing no great danger to the state”. The part that is most shocking is although some men and women were in gulag’s for legitimate reasons others were in for crimes as innocent as arriving late to work three times or telling a joke about the communist party.

Once freed, prisoners had an extremely hard time integrating into the soviet society. The torture and pain these prisoners faced in the gulag’s could not just be forgotten. Men, women and children saw punishment and physical mistreatment that most people could not image. This made it difficult to forget andwe4e forgive the government and adapt back into society. “Though many went on to live peaceful lives, they stood as living testament to the injustices of the state. Survivors had seen the worst that life could offer, instilling some with an unquenchable courage and need to speak forthrightly.” Afterwards some were brave to tell their stories through books, poetry and songs.

7 thoughts on “GULAG’S

  1. It seems that following the war, Stalin knew he had to offer some forms of compensation to quell the general desire for reform. This appears to be an easy target because the work camps were no longer needed to produce war time goods. You did a great job of hyperlinking, bringing multiple sources into your blog.


  2. I really enjoyed reading your post, it has ha lot of great facts and especially cool pictures. The Gulags truly seemed horrible, even with the release of so many during destalinization. It seemed to be a step in the right direction at least though. Nice post.


  3. It is fascinating how different prisoners were in terms of the crimes they committed. As you point out, despite crime being redefined more narrowly, the real issue was integration back into society. Nice hyperlinking and I enjoyed the Fraternal Graves song at the end!


  4. What Drew said about “Fraternal Graves”! Vysostsky’s lyrics are always so powerful. The emptying of the camps is such an important piece of De-Stalinization and you’ve given us a lot to think about here. Something happened to the post title though? And good job using the Current Digest — if you go back an grab the “permanent URL” the link will work (now it just sends you to the main database page.)


  5. I found this post really interesting because it highlights a part of the war years that people may overlook. I was unaware of the wide range of different criminals that were held in these camps! I actually learned a lot from this post.


  6. This post was very cool. I liked that you didn’t just focus on the atrocities that occurred there but how those that were released also had a hard time assimilating back into society. Those poor men and women were punished, sometimes for crimes that didn’t justify an imprisonment, not only in the GULAG but also out of it too. Its a little heartbreaking.


  7. Nice (well, not really ‘nice’ per say) topic to post on from this time period! This all sounds so brutal, yet I feel GULAGs aren’t talked about as much as other harsh labor camps throughout history. You make a great point in discussing the prisoners transfer into society. I wonder if the USSR looked/seemed all that different to them when they were finally released.


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