Anna Aslanyan

The brutality of the Gulag was totally dehumanising

First published in 1947, Julius Margolin’s account of the labour camps provides one of the most vivid insights we have into the horrors of Stalinism

Prisoners of the Soviet Gulag. Credit: Alamy

‘It was a gray mass of people in rags, lying motionless with bloodless, pale faces, cropped hair, with a shifty, gloomy look.’ Julius Margolin’s first encounter with Soviet prisoners takes place in August 1940 on the way to a labour camp in the north of Russia. Four years later, waiting at another transit point, he sees ‘semi-cripples, former, present and future invalids’, ‘bony shadows with hands and feet like sticks, in smelly tatters and dirty rags’.

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