Last week, I discussed the return of soldiers back into the normalcy of everyday life in Russia. More specifically, the troubles they had to regain that normalcy that they lost by going into war. This week I was interested in exploring another avenue of people returning to society. That being prisoners of the Soviet Union throughout the war. The release of prisoners is one of the avenues that “destalinization” affected. During the war there was the Gulag which was a system of labor camps that ranged from about 1930 to 1955 ran by the Soviets. As you could imagine, the conditions were lackluster and they were forced to work up to 14 hours a day. At the end of the war many of the prisoners were able to go home. “The first post-Stalin action of this kind was the amnesty issued by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on March 27, 1953” (1). An amnesty was issued to most people. There were various stipulations to it such as “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” (1). Anyone who didn’t fit under this umbrella did not qualify for a release. In total, 1.5 million prisoners were released were released. While you can view this as a nice act done by the Soviets, they were simply following tradition. The tradition states “amnesties were granted upon the death of a tsar or after war” (1).
As you can tell from the image above, camps were everywhere. I found the first picture I included to be very interesting. It depicts a camp near the village of Bezymianka which manufactured airplane parts during the war. I believe it shows a very real and all encompassing look into the operation they were running. From the clothing to the structures in the back round it gives us a great image of the GULAG. Similar to veterans, prisoners were never able to be fully integrated into society. Everything around them in there day to day life was just a constant reminder of the injustice that occurred. ” Survivors had seen the worst that life could offer, instilling some with an unquenchable courage and need to speak forthrightly” (1). Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a very influential reason that these injustices came to life through his writings. Many songs were written about these labor camps and in many ways labor camps made its way into popular culture. A language was even formed that “gave rebels a language of resistance that would guide them through the coming decades” known as blatnoi slang (1). Check out the video below for a great overview if you want to learn more!
(Youtube video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8l7wzzD2Bv0