Most people who research the Soviet Gulag reads of the terrible toils that the prisoners had to undergo. Men had to work long hours in bitter cold temperatures (as low as -40 Celsius) and were often half starved. They also endured grueling treks to the work site in the freezing cold. Many worked building buildings, roads and even canals. Many had to mine various minerals including the radioactive uranium without any protection. However, a lesser known fact was that there were many women and children in the Gulag. Women too were arrested for dissenting or they were labeled as an accomplice along with their husbands. Many women had children either out of rape or security found in having a relationship with a man, mostly guards. Many Gulags had nurseries for the children, but they were cold and ill-treated. The mothers had to work as hard as the male prisoners and couldn’t supervise their children. Unfortunately, the Soviet state saw those children as “socially dangerous” and blamed them along with the adults. Many children were separated to go to orphanages at age 4 and later 12 months. They often ended up in gulags and teenagers and adults. A particularly heartbreaking story was of a mother who’s child died at age 1.
” Here, I was expected to work in the forest, felling trees as normal during the day — while my pudgy little angel with the golden curls, back at the camp’s infant shelter, soon turned into a pale ghost with blue shadows under her eyes and sores all over her lips. I caught a chill on the bladder, terrible lumbago and shaved my hair off to avoid getting lice. My appearance could not have been more miserable and wretched. But in return for bribes of firewood, the guards let me see my daughter outside normal hours. But the things I saw! I saw nurses shoving and kicking children out of bed before washing them in ice-cold water. I saw a nurse grab the nearest baby, tie back its arms and then cram spoonful after spoonful of hot porridge down its throat. My little Eleanor began to fade faster. ‘Mama, want home,’ she cried one evening, her little body covered with mysterious bruises. On the last day of her life, when I picked her up to breast-feed her, she stared wide-eyed into the distance, clawing and biting at my breast, begging to be put down. In the evening, when I came back with my little bundle of firewood, her cot was empty. I found her lying naked in the morgue among the corpses of the adult prisoners. She had spent one year and four months in this world and died on March 3, 1944.” (Dailymail.com) .
What strikes me the most is how the children were treated because of their parent’s crimes. The Soviet government presumed they were all guilty from day one. I wonder why they couldn’t just send them off indoctrinate them in Soviet values than to presume automatic guilt. The saddest part is that the children born into the Gulag have not known a world outside of that despair and hopelessness. At least the adults had a taste of a free life. Overall, the Gulag touched men, women and even children during it’s existence.
(Horrible: little children working alongside adults in the Gulag)