KOLYMA: The Arctic Death Camps by Robert Conquest

KOLYMA: The Arctic Death Camps

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During Stalin's reign millions of human beings languished--or perished--in the prison camps of Soviet Kolyma, deadliest penal colony in the system Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn termed the Gulag Archipelago. Robert Conquest, author of the first comprehensive study of Stalin's Purges, combines a handful of survivors' accounts into a history of Kolyma. Kolyma, nearly as large as Western Europe, is the coldest inhabited region of Siberia. Officially, the gold mined by its inmates was Kolyma's one major product. Conquest contends, however, that there was another: death--the systematic elimination, on a scale rivaling Hitler's ""final solution,"" of the prisoners themselves. According to Conquest, some three million prisoners died at Kolyma. One, a French Communist veteran of Devil's Island, reportedly was moved to say, ""at Cayenne too it was nasty, but here it really is very nasty."" Prisoners allegedly were trapped in a system where even the fulfillment of impossible work norms did not bring sufficient rations. Most of Kolyma's inmates were accused of political crimes; the few real criminals were allowed to terrorize them, and often stole their clothing and food. To be one of Kolyma's few survivors one had to have a privileged job; nurse and store manager were among the most sought after. Conquest's study is an attempt to supplement Solzhenitsyn's own admittedly meager treatment of Kolyma in The Gulag Archipelago. He relies upon a relatively small number of sources, some already published and widely known. That his grim thesis cannot be proven or disproven is immaterial: through the skillful marshaling of evidence, devastating in itself, he has made a worthy addition to Western literature of the Gulag.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1978
Publisher: Viking