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Surviving the Soviet Gulag

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Danielle Hart

Dr. Jeff Hayton

Hist 583

September 10, 2018

Surviving the Soviet Gulag

            Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Russian novelist, WWII veteran and former prisoner during the 1940s and 1950s under Stalin’s regime, he was sentenced to eight years of hard labor for allegedly spreading anti-Soviet propaganda. After eleven years, Solzhenitsyn was released and went on to write books based on his  internment experience, including One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Life in the gulag, a system of labor camps maintained in the former Soviet Union, were unbearable, inhumane, cruel, and vicious. For a person to survive the gulag Solzhenitsyn described it took a sense of hope, faith, dignity, perseverance.

            Despite the gruesome realities of life in the gulag a person can still have a sense of hope. For Ivan a sense of hope could be something as simple a shorter workday during the winter – only ten hours rather than the typical twelve. Time was precious, including the short about of time at the start and end of the day when prisoners could have to themselves. It was, “a time when anyone who knew what was in the camps could always scrounge a little something on the side” (Solzhenitsyn 2). For Ivan, it allowed him to be resourceful and to find things to keep him occupied such as finding materials to sew covers for his mittens. A task like that, while small was done for Ivan’s personal satisfaction and gave him hope along with reinforcing his own personal self worth.

The Soviet Union was the first nation that had an objective to eliminate religion and thus create an atheist state. Alyosha, whom Solzhenitsyn often refers to simply as “The Baptist”, was sent to the gulag for his religious beliefs. Despite the threat every day of additional punishment, Alyosha continues to read from the  New Testament every night.




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