Academic journal article Military Review

GULAG BOSS: A Soviet Memoir

Academic journal article Military Review

GULAG BOSS: A Soviet Memoir

Article excerpt

GULAG BOSS: A Soviet Memoir, Fyodor Vasilevich Mochulsky, translated by Deborah Kaple, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010, 272 pages, $29.95.

While much has been written about and by the victims of the gulags, very little has surfaced concerning the guards, administrators, and technicians who administered the vast slave labor system. This makes Gulag Boss, the reminisces of a civilian engineer who volunteered to work on one of the notorious labor projects on the edge of the Arctic Circle, a rare window into how this system worked.

A product of the Soviet system, Fyoder Mochulsky graduated from a trade school in 1940, was a candidate member of the Communist Party, and went to the far north believing that the people serving time there not only deserved to be punished but were also being rehabilitated through their labor.

He soon found that the system was not all he thought it to be. In addition to ordinary criminals there were former repatriated POWs from the Winter War with Finland, Poles from what was now called the Western Ukraine, Basmachi rebels from Central Asia and Kulaks-peasants who were slightly better off than the standard dirt-poor peasant. He also rapidly learned that neither rehabilitation nor punishment was the purpose of the system. It was to provide the state free labor on projects and in conditions in which no one in their right mind would volunteer.

Mochulsky discovered that there was no one from the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) assigned to administer his work unit (apparently a common problem in the gulags) and by default, he became responsible for all aspects of the slave-labor operation on the stretch of track he was building his area. …

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