A few days ago we were in Spaask. Spaask is nowadays a memorial of what was once one of the deadliest labour camps (gulags) of Siberia (Kazakhstan). Being in such a place one needs to ask oneself: why?
– Why did Stalin create more than 400 gulags in Siberia?
– Why did he send there more than 18 million people, and who were these people? Were they really criminals? Or were they innocent people? What was the idea behind the plan of bringing these people to Siberia? Was it another ethnical cleansing? Or was there another reason?
What is a gulag?
It is widely accepted that the gulags were labour camps for political prisoners and petty criminals. Historians haven’t found any official information to prove that there was an intent to kill the prisoners at gulags. There was ‘no plan of destruction’ as Nazi Germany had. Still, due to the harsh winters of Siberia, the poor living conditions and the starvation that prisoners had to face, it is believed that two million were worked to death in the gulags.
Were the prisoners really criminals?
Petty crimes and jokes about the Soviet government and officials were punishable by imprisonment. About half of the political prisoners in the Gulag camps were imprisoned by the ‘Special Troika’, a commissariat of three people that issued simplified sentences without any trial and very basic investigations. Anyone could be sentenced quickly on the basis of a delation or a suspicion. A woman has been arrested for petty robbery (she was offering ice-cream that belonged to the government to workers and children who couldn’t afford to buy it, and covering it up at the end of the day with false sales). It is obvious from the sentences, that it didn’t really matter much what the crime was. Important was that there were many prisoners. Why?
Why send so many prisoners to labour camps?
Some say Stalin’s original plan was to create settlements in the most remote areas of Siberia, so as to have labour force in those places, which were rich in minerals. When this plan of massive deportations turned out to be a disaster, Stalin found another way to deport people to Siberia: prisoners to work in labour camps. The reason for these imprisonments was then mainly economic. Stalin needed free labour to work on the mining industry and to build the infrastructures to reach those remote mines: many of these prisoners built the infamous ‘Road of Bones’.