The Other Dead Factory

Submitted by: Submitted by

Views: 161

Words: 2057

Pages: 9

Category: World History

Date Submitted: 09/27/2012 09:21 PM

Report This Essay

The Other Death Factory

My first impression on reading Anne Applebaum’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag: A History was an overwhelming sense of cold and hopelessness. The book presented a bleak picture of a prison system which was home – and often the final resting place – for an estimated 33 million people over more than half a century. But Applebaum’s tome is not about numbers. She does not seek to quantify the imprisonment of millions of “criminals” using statistics, but rather to draw attention to this overlooked episode in the history of the former Soviet Union. Her thesis is simply that the atrocities of Hitler do not elicit the same reaction as do those of Stalin. History proclaims that although the former Soviet Union did bad things, they were not as bad or as fundamentally wrong as those of Germany. This, according to Applebaum, is not only unreasonable – it is absurd.

“Gulag,” the Russian word for prison or camp, is actually an acronym for Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei (GULAG). “Gulag has also come to signify not only the administration of the concentration camps, but also the system of Soviet slave labor itself, in all its forms and varieties: labor camps, punishment camps, criminal and political camps, women’s camps, children’s camps, transit camps.” But isn’t “concentration camp” is a term usually associated with Nazi Germany? Applebaum notes that Jewish and other prisoners sent to Hitler’s camps were really sent to “Vernichtungslager – camps that were not really labor camps at all, but rather death factories. Upon entering these camps, prisoners were “selected.” A tiny number were sent to do a few weeks of forced labor. The rest were sent directly into gas chambers where they were murdered and then immediately cremated.” Whereas a sentence to a Gulag to cut lumber in the winter may have been a death sentence for most, Soviet camps were not intentionally organized to kill prisoners even if they succeeded in doing so. “In Germany you...