Death and Redemption

Death and Redemption-Prisons

Just to start the conversation, I’d like to mention how rich and multi-faceted Steve’s book is, and how useful the various short and long discussions on many aspects of the Gulag are. For instance, the section titled “Hierarchy of Detention: The Institutions of the Gulag” is a thorough and clearly-written several page discussion about all the relevant Gulag institutions. Going along with his idea that prisoners were sorted out according to their presumed redeemability, he lists, from most severe to least: execution, prisons, katorga camp divisions and special camps, corrective labor camps, special settlements and corrective labor colonies. Within each of these categories, he clearly sets out a compact descriptive history. I am so grateful to have this spelled out so brilliantly (for myself) and I can’t wait to have my students in the Soviet Gulag class use this resource.

What I don’t like about Steve’s book is…the lack of photos. Where are they? I so much wanted to see Dolinka that I found this on the internet. I hope it’s the right one. The title is “Karlag Museum, Dolinka, Kazakhstan.” The prose in the book is very descriptive, but I needed a visual.

Karlag Museum, Dolinka, Kazakhstan



9 replies on “Death and Redemption-Prisons”

Thanks for the comments, Deborah. As for the photos….guilty as charged. It was a mistake, and I now wish I had included them. I was just so focused on finishing the damn text that images got lost in the rush to the tenure finish line.

The building in Dolinka, by the way, was abandoned, crumbling, and boarded up when I was last there in 2006. It has since undergone major rehab and has been opened as a museum of Karlag. A terrific photo essay of the museum is available here, though I caution that the website often features offensive ads at the bottom of each page.

You raise an interesting point, Deborah and Steve, about photographs that says much about the limitations of the academic publishing model. Though the issue is tangential to the book’s argument and scholarship, I think it is worth pointing out one of the advantages of digital discussions such as these: words can be supplemented so easily with readily accessible images. And we don’t have to mess around with the annoying copyright and press resource constraints — as well as the practical problem of rushing to tenure that Steve mentions! — that force us to make compromises with the final product.

That would be a huge museum if it takes up much of that old administrative building. I wonder how many people actually get out to Dolinka to visit it, however. Has anyone been there?

I will be going to the museum next winter, when I’m off researching the next book. I’m also going to visit the museum to ALZhIR located on the site of the camp division just outside of Astana. I’ll definitely report in on the blog after I visit these museums.

(ALZhIR, an acronym but also the Russian term for Algeria, stands for the Akmolinsk Camp for Wives of Traitors to the Motherland–a special subdivision of Karlag that housed women who were arrested merely for their husbands being arrested during the Great Terror. This is the subject of my next book.)

Miriam, I am writing a book focused specifically on ALZhIR. Hopefully focusing on a particularized location for a short period of time, I will be able to uncover things that the more sprawling effort in Death and Redemption could not find. I have received an ACTR grant to complete the research over the course of four months next winter in Russia and Kazakhstan.

Just wanted to chime in and say that a recognition of the various forms and institutions of punishment is a crucial contribution of Steve’s book. There is too often a tendency to view the Gulag as an undifferentiated system of concentration camps, but clearly such a view is misleading. I am also intrigued by Steve’s argument that the Gulag “was both a concentration camp and penal system”. (53)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.