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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Frozen out of history

I found this gruesome story in a letter to Editor in today’s Telegraph:

Sir – Julius Strauss’s report on the lost prisoners of the Soviet gulag (News, Jan 3) reminded me of a wartime experience.

As an 18-year-old seaman aboard an escort destroyer out of Scapa Flow in 1943-44, I recall that, after shepherding the convoy in the Kola inlet north of Murmansk, we moved to the small dockside at Polyarni.

During one of our arrivals, when some of us were stretching our legs ashore, a well thrown snowball caused me to stagger against a snow-covered stack of logs. I recovered my balance to find that I was hanging on to a human foot, naked and frozen.

We found that the stack was not of timber, but of human bodies, laid five upon five, approximately 30 to a stack, piled along the jetty. We surmised that they were casualties of the war to the south, could not be buried in the frozen ground and had been moved by rail to an ice-free port for disposal at sea.

Having read your report, I am inclined to suggest that they had perished in the gulag Vorkuta, not far to the east.

Leslie James Cousins, Petersfield, Hants

The article mentioned in the letter talks of horrendous conditions of gulag prisoners at the Vorkuta camps.

Even in the context of the times, the suffering at the Vorkuta camps was extreme. In the winter, temperatures on the tundra can drop to minus 50C.

Inmates were provided with ill-fitting, poor quality clothes and forced to work 12 or 14 hours a day on a starvation ration. During the 1940s and 1950s a million prisoners passed through the Vorkuta gulags, according to Memorial.

At least 100,000, perhaps many more, died. They were buried in the rock-hard permafrost or simply left by the roadside to be covered by snow.

Many of the survivors are now trapped by poverty as the hyperinflation following the end of communism wiped out their meagre savings. For years Vorkuta was a political gulag. Today it has become an economic gulag.


5 comments to Frozen out of history

  • Jacob

    It is amazing how the enormous scale of Communist horrors and holocaust are unknown and underestimated in the West.

  • Andrew Duffin

    I don’t in the smallest way doubt the word of an eye-witness who was on the spot. And I yield to no-one in my detestation for Stalin’s regime (Jacob, you are so right!), about which I have read widely.

    But there is something about this story.

    Why would the MGB go to the trouble of stacking up all those corpses neatly? On a dockside?

    It doesn’t ring right somehow. There is lots of evidence from all over the Gulag that those who died – tens of millions, remember – were just bulldozed into the nearest hillside or river bank, from whence they were, in rare cases, released by a thaw or a flood or something, and hastily reburied, often with the subsequent execution of most witnesses to the event.

    But stacked up? On pallets? Under tarps? On a DOCKSIDE?

    Why would they bother doing that?

    No – there is more in this story than we have yet worked out; or than we ever will, I fear.

  • Andy Duncan

    Any communists reading this? I have the very thing for you:

    The Cure for Communism

    Obviously fascist propaganda, but you’ll never know if you keep avoiding it.

    Andrew Duffin writes:

    But stacked up? On pallets? Under tarps? On a DOCKSIDE? Why would they bother doing that?

    It was not only anti-communists who ended up in the Gulag. Many communist bureaucrats did too, after the regular purges. If you were a bureaucrat at a camp, and you felt one of these purges was coming on, you became an ABSOLUTE stickler for the rules. Because if you didn’t, your bureaucratic enemies in the camp, or back in Moscow, would use your failure to obey the rules PRECISELY to put you away in the camps too, as an enemy of the state, and a wrecker, so that they could have your (relatively) cushy post for themselves or their friends.

    There was probably some inane short-lived ‘economic’ regulation that the bodies be stacked in such-and-such a way, in such-and-such a fashion, and whichever bureaucrat was in charge of that camp made sure it was followed to the letter, unlike most of the time, because his skin was known to be on the line. His enemies will have been watching, and checking.

    That’s how bureaucrats kill each other. By smallprint. Quite literally, in full socialist states.

    But you’re right. Who can ever know the full details of the chaos and destruction brought about by proper full-blooded socialism?

    Let’s just hope we never live long enough to find out what such mental destruction of the mind is like, under full government control, wherever we’re currently living.

  • Google on “Democide” – some guy at Uni. of Hawaii, ( IIRC) has an excellent website if you like to just how nasty people can be to each other when supported by state aparatus.

  • gordon

    i came across your site while researching my grandfather.
    captain Gordon Clark was on convoys to russia in WW2, the convoys went to the kola peninsula and everyone normally says murmansk but my mother thinks he went another port at least on some trips, anyway Grandad had told the familly how workers at the dock were shot, he had seen them being shot and the bodies just left there in full view.