go to PREVIOUS CHAPTER . . . go to NEXT CHAPTER . . .
go to REFERNCES

Chapter 1 Alaska Notes: Brutality and Violence

1.1 Buchta Nagayevo

According to Kozlov (1), the Sea of Okhotsk bay, Nagayevo, was named (in 1912) after a Russian admiral. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was known to explorers as an uninhabited area and as a source of fresh water. Before 1928 the area was used only by nomads as a small summer fish-camp. The present population of Magadan, an industrial town with a university and a port, is 162,000. In 1931 it was only 500. According to Biurkov(2), the town, “in memories of millions of people is strongly linked with Kolyma. And Kolyma became a synonym of brutality, violence and trampled destinies." The place was originally designated (1928) as a Soviet cultural center for Tungusis and Evenkis, local nomads. A Latvian Social Democrat, Karlis Lukss (1888-1932), was the organizer of that center. In 1932, however, the center was closed and its buildings were taken over by a new administration, Dalstroy. That administration constructed and ran numerous concentration camps based on slave labor.

1.2 Man Is Wolf To Man

In a preface to "Man Is Wolf to Man" (3) Adam Hochschild writes: "The Soviet empire of Stalin's day is a world hard for most of us to imagine. Seldom has any nation endured such a massive, self-inflicted genocide. And seldom, if ever, has a major country kept so high a proportion of its own people, and those of countries it dominated, in prison. We know now that during Stalin's lifetime more than 20 million Soviets, more than one out of eight men, women, and children, were executed by firing squads or sent for long terms to the Gulag. After the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany divided Eastern Europe between them in 1939 and 1940, hundreds of thousands more people from Poland, Romania, and the Baltic states found themselves in Soviet execution cellars or in the far-flung network of labor camps. A traveler today can find Polish and Lithuanian names on prisoners' graves from the Arctic Ocean to the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Kolyma is where the bulk of Russia's gold is. Over a span of two decades starting in the early 1930s, more than two million prisoners were sent to mine that gold. The region quickly became legendary for its remoteness, its extreme cold, and its high death rate. Kolyma lies far beyond the reach of a railway line; getting there required crossing all of Russia on the Trans-Siberian and then traveling by ship for another week northward through the icy Sea of Okhotsk. Hundreds of thousands of underfed Kolyma prisoners perished from malnutrition, from mining accidents, and from the bitter cold. The area's record low temperature is minus 97.8 degrees F. Kolyma is the coldest inhabited region on earth. Few prisoners returned from Kolyma to what they called 'the mainland' until after Stalin's death in 1953. Even long after the dismantling of the Stalin-era labor camp system, it was impossible for any Westerner to travel to Kolyma. Then, under Gorbachev, many closed doors opened."

In 1991 the author of the above preface traveled to Kolyma to study how Russians were trying to come to terms with the Stalinist era. The results of his investigations were published (4).

1.3 How Many Victims?

In a preface to “Man Is Wolf to Man" (3) Adam Hochschild writes: “The Soviet empire of Stalin's day is a world hard for most of us to imagine. Seldom has any nation endured such a massive, self-inicted genocide. And seldom, if ever, has a major country kept so high a proportion of its own people, and those of countries it dominated, in prison. We know now that during Stalin's lifetime more than 20 million Soviets, more than one out of eight men, women, and children, were executed by firing squads or sent for long terms to the Gulag. After the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany divided Eastern Europe between them in 1939 and 1940, hundreds of thousands more people from Poland, Romania, and the Baltic states found themselves in Soviet execution cellars or in the far-flung network of labor camps. A traveler today can find Polish and Lithuanian names on prisoners' graves from the Arctic Ocean to the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Kolyma is where the bulk of Russia's gold is. Over a span of two decades starting in the early 1930s, more than two million prisoners were sent to mine that gold. The region quickly became legendary for its remoteness, its extreme cold, and its high death rate. Kolyma lies far beyond the reach of a railway line; getting there required crossing all of Russia on the Trans-Siberian and then traveling by ship for another week northward through the icy Sea of Okhotsk. Hundreds of thousands of underfed Kolyma prisoners perished from malnutrition, from mining accidents, and from the bitter cold. . . . “

In 1991 the author of the above preface traveled to Kolyma to study how Russians were trying to come to terms with the Stalinist era. The results of his investigations were published (4).

1.4 Prison Ships

Conditions under which slaves were delivered to Magadan are described in (7), a book published in 1947. They were as horrible as those on the infamous slave ships between Africa and the New World. “. . . Special measures were taken to suppress disobedience or mutiny. Strong iron grilles cut the hold into several completely isolated sections. Armed guards walked constantly along narrow passages between the grilles. At carefully selected spots there were nests of machine guns which could cover every corner of the hold. In addition there were fire pumps, so arranged that at a moment's notice a powerful jet of cold ocean water could be turned on insubordinate persons.” . . .


A 1930's propaganda poster. The Russian text states "the captain of the Soviet State, leads us from victory to victory."

Interesting information about Stalin's slave ships, and atrocities during cruel journeys, can be found in Bollinger's book (8). The author presents a realistic estimate of the number of prisoners that were delivered to Kolyma camps between the early 1930's and 1953. That number, close to 900,000, was calculated on the basis of known capacities of individual ships (typically 3000 prisoners), on population in individual camps, and on the attrition rates (on the average, about 35% of prisoners died each year). The number, close to one million, is about two times smaller than what was published before new information became available. It is said to be in good agreement with recent analyses of the Soviet-era archives. Exaggerated ship capacities, 8000 to 120000, as above, were probably responsible for the discrepancy. Was Kolyma, the most horrible part of Gulag, very dfferent from other regions in which slave labor was used on a large scale? What about other northern camps, such as Norilsk, Varkuta, and Murmansk ? What about numerous camps in the Ural region, and in Kazakhstan? I do not know the answers to such questions. One thing is clear; the so-called "proletarian dictatorship" was a horrible thing.

1.5 Evolution Of Magadan Region, 1932-1939

1.5.1 Simple Human-wave Tactics.

This section focuses on the evolution of Magadan's camps and provides more illustrations of extreme cruelty; it illustrates the meaning of the term "white crematoria," sometimes used to describe Siberian camps. According to (9), the first prisoners of Magadan were victims of collectivization policy. “In 1931-2, the decision was taken to base the campaign to exploit Kolyma on the splendid harbor of Nagayevo, several miles long and well protected from the wind by its high clifs, in spite of its other disadvantages. It was impossible to build a real settlement at Nagayevo, so the operational base was set up beyond the cliffs some miles inland in a swampy area on the edge of the polar taiga. Here, in the early thirties, "he settlement of Magadan was begun." A Latvian revolutionary, Edward Berzin, educated as a painter in Riga and Berlin, became the first director of Dalstroy. His goal was to maximize industrial productivity; he was subsequently arrested and executed. Elimination of the so-called “enemies of people" then became the primary function of the camps. . . .

1.5.2 On The Way To Gold Mine 1

[This section contains a long quote from the 1978 book of Robert Conquest.] “One prisoner records: 'In March of 1933, 600 prisoners were sent to Gold Mine 1 of the Mining Administration of the North . . . We had to travel 370 miles in deep snow and during terribly cold weather to the Khatenakh sopka. We had to make 16 miles a day, after which we spent the night in tents set up on the snow. After our scanty rations in the morning, we set out again. Those who were unable to survive this long gruelling march and died on the way were left with the snow for their only tomb. Our guards forbade us to give them a proper burial. Those who lagged behind were shot by the guards, without stopping the column. For thirty long days we trudged along over the immense expanses of snow, arriving at last exhausted at the sopka of Khatenakh, where we were quartered in tents already awaiting us.' . . . "

1.5.3 End Of 'Idyllic' Years

[This is also from the 1978 book of Robert Conquest.] The author of (9) continues: “It is also true that in this earlier period the prisoners had not experienced conditions in jail and in transit as crowded, as ill-fed and as unhealthy as became normal under Yezhov [the next secret police chief]. And these earlier prisoners had a much lower proportion of intellectuals and a higher one of peasants, not only stronger and more adjusted to and experienced in outdoor physical labor, but also less amenable to bullying by urkas [criminals]. In retrospect, then, the period was idyllic. The frightful casualties of the first years were almost forgotten. The fact that the political prisoners should not have been there at all, being innocent of anything except a critical attitude to Stalin - and more often not even that - was not the fault of the local authorities. And elsewhere in Russia things were already far worse. But the end of the Berzin era was approaching. At the June 1937 Plenum of the Central Committee, Stalin personally attacked the practice which, he said, had come into force, of `coddling' prisoners. Throughout the USSR the response was a vast increase in brutality. A decision to extend this to Kolyma came shortly. NKVD chief Yezhov, certainly with Stalin's approval, specifically denounced conditions in the area `with indignation' at a meeting of the Central Committee - evidently the one held on 11-12 October 1937. . . . "

1.6 A Monument To Victims Of Stalinism

After reading Alaska Notes over the Internet, Larry Cribben, a biology professor who retired several years ago, sent me photos of a monument to victims of Stalinism, shown in the next figure. Larry traveled to Magadan to adopt several children. Additional information about the monument was sent to me by Rita Pinkley who runs the adaption agency from Seattle. She wrote: “The statue is called 'Grief Mask' . The artist is Ernest Neizvestny, a very famous man who now lives in New York. He had an idea which he called the 'triangle of Sufferings' and planned to build three memorials, the Grief mask and also statues in Yekaterinburg and Vorkuta. These are the three major Gulag cities, symbols of Stalinism. Thus far, only the statue in Magadan is completed. ... Long ago, the prisoners were considered rehabilitated and permitted to go away but many stayed. Perhaps that is why the Magadan Region took the first position in the USSR with the percentage of people with higher education and the first position with the number of books in home libraries. It is one of the most highly intellectual regions of Russia."


Monument to victims of Stalinism in Magadan


I have read in several places that a large proportion of the present population of Siberia consists of descendants of ex-convicts. This is not an accident. The issue of "what to do with released prisoners" was actually debated by the Soviet authorities in 1938. According to (11) Stalin asked : "Can't we arrange things so that people stay in the camps? If not, we release them, they go back home and pick up again with their old ways. The atmosphere in the camp is different, there it is harder to go wrong." Many kinds of administrative obstacles, and incentives, were created to accommodate the wishes of the leader. Another "by design" element had to do with common criminals in camps composed mostly of political prisoners. Stalin knew that thieves and murderers would terrorize other prisoners and prevent potential attempts at "civil disobedience."

1.7 Two Ideologies Of Mass Murder

. . . A friend from California, after reading the draft of my essay, wrote: "Well, Ludwik: I have NEVER been able to understand man's inhumanity to man and I suppose I never will. This is all so sad." In the answer I wrote that extreme inhumanity is beyond understanding. But then I returned to Solomon (10) where there is a chapter entitled “Reflections on Violence." Referring to the main architect of soviet cruelties, Stalin, the author wrote: "He was not a learned man - no great orator like Trotsky nor a military genius like Blucher. Stalin merely knew better than anybody else the value of terror. He raised it to the rank of a state dogma. It became the raison d'etre of the Soviet state and the source of its advancement. The ruthless suppression of millions in thedesolated camps would have meant nothing if the 'others,' those who temporarily remained behind, did not learn the lesson. The rules of Stalin's game of terror were desperately crude and desperately simple. They told you about them as soon as you entered the compound: In order to survive you must work, and in order not to die from work you must know how to make others work. Hunger was the regime's other whip. A man of culture looking for food in rotten garbage would have certainly exclaimed `It took a million years to make a human being from the animal, but it takes less than a few weeks to reduce him to that status again.' "

1.8 Preconditions To Genocide

Are mass killings avoidable? Hitler's holocaust was based on racism; Stalin's slaughter was based on the concept of class struggle. Can we say that these two ideologies of intolerance are responsible for mass killings? Or should the tragedies be attributed to the evil nature of leaders? The two tyrants were not alone; it is impossible to kill millions without favorable social conditions. Can such conditions be identified? Can they be eliminated? How can this be done? I am not sure how to answer such questions. But I strongly believe that all occurrences of mass genocide should be analyzed and exposed, not hidden or forgotten.

Mass murder occurs when brutal and sadistic criminals, to be found in every society, are promoted to positions of dominance, when propaganda is used to dehumanize the targeted population and when children are inoculated with intolerance and hatred. It occurs when victims ("inferior races" or "class enemies") are excluded from the norms of morality, when ideological totalitarianism is imposed and when freedom is suspended. Fear and violence, the preconditions of genocide, are likely to be found in societies with large numbers of thieves and informants. Stalin and Hitler were fanatical leaders inspired by a gang mentality and by the concept of "historic mission." They believed that intolerance and large scale brutality were necessary ingredients of social order. Each of them was also supported by the “cult of personality.”


click here to go to THE NEXT CHAPTER


go to the INTRO . . . go to Chapter 01 . . . go to Chapter 02 . . . go to Chapter 03 . . . go to Chapter 04
go to Chapter 05 . . . go to Chapter 06 . . . go to Chapter 07 . . . go to Chapter 08 . . . go to Chapter 09