Sentenced to the Gulags: How scr*wed?

From my ignorant ears have heard, the gulags were incredibly harsh places to live. THe weather, malnutrition, common criminals let loose.

As horrible as it is, the death rate seems to not be as high as I would imagine. To my biased spoiled American feelings, I wouldn’t last a second in Stalin’s resort complex.

So how did they do it? Were Soviet peoples simply made of stone?

The death rate was anywhere from 10-20%. That’s pretty high.

It also depended on where and when, if the Gulag was in Magadan and Stalin is the ruler, the prisoners may already be dead before reaching the destination.

One thing I’ve learned in my life is, it is simply amazing what you can do when you have to.

People do not just roll over and die, (well almost never). It takes a lot of doing to die.

It’s also worth considering that Beria was under pressure to make the GULAG self-financing. The death rate might well have been higher if the NKVD didn’t need to turn a profit.

In general, if you made it to a camp, your life would have been brutal, inhuman, and horrific, but you probably would have survived.

Dead people don’t make profits.

You should read Man is Wolf to Man. It will answer your questions.

The Gulags were slave labor camps, not extermination camps. That is, the prisoners were certainly frozen and worked to exhaustion, and nobody took any particular pains to make things comfortable, and if lots of them dropped dead nobody cared. But killing them wasn’t the point, like it was at the Nazi death camps. For instance, when Solzhenitsyn was in the Gulags, he developed cancer and was sent to a hospital for treatment, and after he served his term he was released.

So the Gulags weren’t a death sentence. If Stalin wanted you dead, he’d have you shot rather than sent to the Gulags to be worked to death.

In fact, one of the odder scenes in “Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich” was the bit where the Captain received a care package of high quality snacks from his relatively well-to-do family. (Fiction, I know, but Solzhenitsyn meant it to reflect the reality of Gulag incarceration.)

And when the Captain gave Shukov a tiny bit of sausage and a cookie from the care package (for all the little helpful things Shukov did for him that day) it was the best thing that had happened to Shukov in months—A bit of tobacco or a little extra gruel was a HUGE deal to a prisoner…

From what I’ve read, surviving the first year was the hard part. Once you made it to that point, you had a halfway decent chance of making it three, four, five or however many years your sentence was.

One of the things that I’ve never understood about the Soviet system especially under Stalin was what determined the fate of anyone who fell afoul of the system. Some people were tortured into giving confessions and then shot. Some sentenced (effectively) to life at hard labor. Some actually got committed to mental institutions. And the only thing that makes less sense than why any particular person was arrested was why any particular person was ever released again.

Lumpy I’m sure somebody will correct me if I’m wrong here, but I’ve long thought of life under Stalin as an example of a Chaotic Evil society. You could be punished based on rules that were unclear and ever changing. The severity of your punishment was largely unpredictable.

Contrast this to life under Hitler, a Lawful Evil society. Sure the people in charge are just plain evil, but the rules are pretty clear. If you belonged to the right group and espoused the right political views, your odds of survival were very high.

The way I’ve seen it put is this. If you lived in ancient Rome and you were fed to the lions in the Coliseum, at least you were being fed to the lions for a clear reason. But if you lived in the Soviet Union, you might be arrested merely for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or because the local police chief had been ordered to arrest a certain number of people, or because a bureaucratic order had gotten screwed up somewhere. Even strong supporters of communism and the Party could be arrested. Once arrested, needless to say, there was no procedure by which any challenge could be mounted, so there was no motivation for anyone to work for your release.

It kind of makes you glad that you were born in the United States (or whatever country you were born in.)

I am a huge nerd, because not only did I immediately understand you, I literally have said the exact same thing, down to thsoe precise words. :eek: