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Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

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Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Old 02-28-20, 03:22 PM
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Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

I've had help translating all of my grandfather's letters from family in Estonia that are mostly from the 1960s. One thing that I realized now is that many of my relatives were deported to Russian labor camps - gulags in 1941 where many of them died. My mother was never aware of this either and is in shock. I have to wonder is this talked about in schools at all? I don't recall it being discussed in any history class I was ever in which I find deeply disturbing since millions of people died in these slave labor death camps. I've learned a little about the camps now and it's pretty horrific beyond words. I feel physically sick to know that several of my family died this way. My grandfather would've been put in one as well had he not left Estonia 2 years before the soviets started invading the country.
Old 02-28-20, 03:29 PM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Required reading:





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Old 02-28-20, 03:32 PM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Alternative to the 2nd book:


https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067530/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0
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Old 02-28-20, 03:36 PM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

I've heard the first book mentioned a few times since reading more about this and am going to check it out. I was watching a video on youtube "Drawings from the Gulag," an English translation of the book which was pretty disturbing. I'm not going to post the video here because it's really graphic.
Old 02-28-20, 03:39 PM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Not sure, we covered them quite extensively in middle school.
Old 02-28-20, 03:39 PM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Originally Posted by eXcentris View Post
Required reading:



The two very books I was going to say were assigned back in the day for college freshmen (I read Ivan in Western Civ and Gulag 1 and 2 in Russian Lit). We learned about the camps in HS history as well, though.
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Old 02-28-20, 03:41 PM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Well, given human nature to suppress horrors and the active work of the Russian government, it's not surprising that people don't know, or want to know about the gulags.
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Old 02-28-20, 03:46 PM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

US schools barely teach US history, why would they spend time on this subject?

I known about the Soviet gulags but only because my grandfather was in one. Lost three toes and developed other health issues while in the gulag.

Old 02-28-20, 03:54 PM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

The Gulag Archipelago is a three volume set of giant books, more than 2000 pages. I read about a hundred pages out of the first one when I was in high school before I gave up. I'm still creeped out by some of the stories that I read there.

Spoilerized for disturbing content.
Spoiler:
One of the best ways to make a man confess is to torture his wife. Interrogators realized after a while that one screaming woman sounds like any other, so they would torture a random woman and tell the man that the screams were from his wife.

There was a prisoner who had an pathological fear of bedbugs. So guards filled a cell with bedbugs, for their own amusement. When they opened the door and light from the hallway entered the room, the whole wall moved in blackness. Then they pushed the naked man in and closed the door. For a while, they could hear the man screaming and slamming his body against the walls. Eventually the screaming stopped. The next morning he was lying motionless on the floor, coated with bedbugs.



After World War II, Soviet troops who had been held as prisoners of war by the Nazis were sent home to the USSR. But they didn't get to see their homes. They were sentenced to the Gulag. As you can imagine, their health wasn't very good when they arrived in Siberia. Many died before the ends of their sentences.

Last edited by Nick Danger; 02-28-20 at 04:03 PM.
Old 02-28-20, 05:31 PM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

I figure most people have heard of these prisons simply because “Sentenced to the gulag” is a pretty common idiomatic expression in America. I’m honestly surprised you never heard of it.

There was a pretty good movie that came out a few years ago about the gulags. Directed by Peter Weir and staring Ed Harris. The Long Walk.
Old 02-28-20, 09:07 PM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Originally Posted by RichC2 View Post
Not sure, we covered them quite extensively in middle school.



Old 02-29-20, 04:53 AM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Originally Posted by Mabuse View Post
I figure most people have heard of these prisons simply because “Sentenced to the gulag” is a pretty common idiomatic expression in America. I’m honestly surprised you never heard of it.
I know this type of thread is a unique opportunity for people to claim they know everything about something when they really don't. I talked to a few people about it yesterday and their knowledge of gulag was non-existent so I don't think I deserve to be laughed at for not knowing much like in another post.

As someone with Estonian heritage, I was aware of the Soviet occupation which existed until 1991 and that Estonians were sent to Siberia by Russia but I did not know the widespread extent of the labor camps or heard the term gulag before. That is not a common term from where I'm from but perhaps that might be because I'm younger. I was told by an Estonian and Finn yesterday they weren't aware of the details of gulags either and you'd think people especially from these countries would be more aware.

Judging by this video I found on youtube the education on it does indeed seem to be poor and he blames communist sympathies in the west:


Last edited by statcat; 02-29-20 at 05:22 AM.
Old 02-29-20, 06:08 AM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Originally Posted by cultshock View Post
I'd love to see 100 current middle schoolers asked now and see how many would know. My guess would be zero.
Old 02-29-20, 06:24 AM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

^ I'd totally agree that zero out of 100 of today's (U.S.) junior high school students would know or be taught anything about the Russian gulags in their school history classes. They were every bit as tragic as the German camps, and an atrocious time to be alive, 1939 to 1945. So many didn't make it.

"If we do not learn from history, we shall be doomed to repeat it."
Old 02-29-20, 06:48 AM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

I read the first chapter of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich from my freshman English book. A compelling account of survival in a gulag.
Old 02-29-20, 07:52 AM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Originally Posted by VinVega View Post
Well, given human nature to suppress horrors and the active work of the Russian government, it's not surprising that people don't know, or want to know about the gulags.
Human nature won't suppress horrors unless it's being suppressed and even oppressed itself. Human nature tends to express it, either in literature or graphic imagery (art, for example).

In my experience, it isn't Russia who denies it entirely (of course we have their leaders who do because, well, they're in charge), it's AMERICA WHO WON'T TEACH IT and it's AMERICA WHO WON'T educate their children about it. Teachers actually refuse to do it. Could ramble on as to what they teach these days, but meh.

Kinda reminds me an Educational Gulag going on over here.

But that's just me. I'm sure America always has an honest and upfront information system to educate their young about the tragedies and atrocities of the world in a non-biased way.
Old 02-29-20, 08:49 AM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Originally Posted by Mabuse View Post
I figure most people have heard of these prisons simply because “Sentenced to the gulag” is a pretty common idiomatic expression in America. I’m honestly surprised you never heard of it.
This. I can't remember not knowing what a Russian gulag is. Just from pop culture. Movies and tv shows mention "being sent to the gulag". I believe there are gulag references on Hogan's Heroes. That Russian comedian used to tell gulag jokes all the time. He'd be on The Tonight Show and everybody's laughing knowing exactly what's he talking about.
Old 02-29-20, 08:49 AM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Originally Posted by zyzzle View Post
^ I'd totally agree that zero out of 100 of today's (U.S.) junior high school students would know or be taught anything about the Russian gulags in their school history classes. They were every bit as tragic as the German camps, and an atrocious time to be alive, 1939 to 1945. So many didn't make it.

"If we do not learn from history, we shall be doomed to repeat it."
One thing I realized from looking at my grandfather's letters is the deeply ingrained fear they must've had of the Soviets. In the 60s Estonia was still under Soviet rule. They don't ever reference what happened or provide details about it in the letters when my grandfather asks what happened to his brothers. They must've been aware of the possibility of these letters being read. Sometimes they don't even write their name on the address. He is just told by his then surviving brother that "We all went the same path in 1941. I managed to return after 10 years but our brothers they probably are not alive anymore." I assumed they were sent off to war at first and died but I then realized when my relative (I found her recently) described several of my family, men and women, as "political prisoner" in places like Komi what really happened to them.
Old 02-29-20, 09:08 AM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

You are beginning to hit the nail on the head statcat. If one hasn’t heard about the Soviet gulags it’s because the powers that be don’t want you to know. Your Finnish friend for instance. Finland is in a deep denial about the camps. They once shut down their entire tv network because Sweden was showing a movie version of One Day in the Life of Andrei. The Finnish/Russian history is very complicated and they feared economic retaliation.

A lot of people in the West with communist sympathies downplay their existence.
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Old 02-29-20, 09:10 AM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Originally Posted by zyzzle View Post
^ I'd totally agree that zero out of 100 of today's (U.S.) junior high school students would know or be taught anything about the Russian gulags in their school history classes. They were every bit as tragic as the German camps, and an atrocious time to be alive, 1939 to 1945. So many didn't make it.

"If we do not learn from history, we shall be doomed to repeat it."
It went on a lot longer than that. Into the 1960’s.
Old 02-29-20, 09:12 AM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Originally Posted by statcat View Post
I'd love to see 100 current middle schoolers asked now and see how many would know. My guess would be zero.
To be fair, I was in middle school (technically it was jr high (7,8,9th grade)) just before standardized testing became the end all requirement and teachers had a little more control of the syllabus. My history teacher in 9th grade was huge into WWII and Russian history in a largely military family town, so we probably went over a lot of additional things.
Old 02-29-20, 09:21 AM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Originally Posted by Mabuse View Post
It went on a lot longer than that. Into the 1960’s.
It was eased up a bit though. Around when Khrushchev came to power in 1953 he released many prisoners of petty crimes and political dissidents. The gulag system existed until 1987 I read.
Old 02-29-20, 09:24 AM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Originally Posted by Mabuse View Post
You are beginning to hit the nail on the head statcat. If one hasn’t heard about the Soviet gulags it’s because the powers that be don’t want you to know. Your Finnish friend for instance. Finland is in a deep denial about the camps. They once shut down their entire tv network because Sweden was showing a movie version of One Day in the Life of Andrei. The Finnish/Russian history is very complicated and they feared economic retaliation.

A lot of people in the West with communist sympathies downplay their existence.
Interesting about Finland. Thanks. I was already told by someone online that it was "a made up family story" so there is denial I can see just like Holocaust deniers.
Old 02-29-20, 10:46 AM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

Newsflash: Human history is one atrocity after another. There's no way they could teach them all in high school. The Holocaust is he gold standard and gets all of the attention, but Nazi Germany is far from the only power that has blood on its hands. Genocide. Prison camps. Concentration camps. Slavery. Religious fanaticism. Inquisitions. Communism. Capitalism. Colonialism. There's more than enough blood to go around.

And its also human nature to downplay and deny these things, especially when the blood is on your hands or you looked the other way when it was happening. There are still dumbfucks who claim the US Civil War fought over anything but the expansion of slavery.

Old 02-29-20, 11:07 AM
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Re: Russian gulag- why am I just learning about this now?

When I was in Estonia not long ago they talked about the Gulags and the Tallinn Offensive which was really interesting and depressing. Especially standing in Tallinn where they were showing old SS buildings and whatnot. Tallinn is on my top 10 list of places everyone should see.

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