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Gulag: Life and Death Inside the Soviet Concentration Camps [Hardcover]

Tomasz Kizny

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Book Description

Nov. 6 2004

A historic photographic record of the Soviet Gulag and its legacy.

The Gulag was a network of labor camps and penal colonies run by the Soviet security organizations. While forced labor and internal exile had a long history in Russia, the Gulag evolved into a devastating tool of political suppression and massive industrial production. From the early years of the Revolution to the final years of the USSR, millions labored and perished within this system.

Gulag covers the history of the Gulag with incredible essays and firsthand narratives by former prisoners. The text is accompanied by photographs provided by the prisoners, survivor groups and state archives as well as contemporary photographs that show the camps as they look now.

Each chapter covers a key camp or work project of the Soviet penal-industrial complex:

  • Solovki, the monastery that was the birthplace of the Gulag system
  • The White Sea Canal
  • Vaigach, the doomed humane camp
  • The Theater in the Gulag
  • Kolyma, the deadly Siberian gold rush
  • Vorkuta, coal mining above the Arctic Circle
  • The Railroad of Death

Each chapter has:

  • A concise introductory essay
  • Formerly banned and previously unpublished archival photographs
  • Detailed chronology of the camp
  • Prisoners' accounts of life and death in the camps and colonies
  • Contemporary photographs
  • Accounts of survivors some of whom still live near their former camp or colony.

Gulag is a remarkable pictorial history of a harrowing era of the twentieth century.

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Product Description

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Kizny, a Polish photographer and journalist, spent 15 years researching this amazing book, which contains 550 black-and-white photographs of life in the Soviet Gulag. In 1986 he began collecting eyewitness accounts from former Polish prisoners, and he traveled across the former USSR to find other witnesses and to photograph remnants of the Gulag, which was in operation from the 1920s to the 1980s and consisted of a network of concentration camps spread across the most northerly reaches of Europe and Asia. The harshness of the Arctic climate, the starvation levels of the diet, the length of the sentences, the routine brutality and depravity of the guards, the absence of proper medical care and of adequate heating and clothing, and the lack of hope inevitably produced a devastating mortality rate. Tens of millions of the convicts were frozen, starved, or worked or beaten to death. The photos gathered here range from official archival snapshots, showing both inmates and their captors, to scenes of enormous construction projects and snowbound ruins. Kizny has added his own photographs of the abandoned camps or work projects and included a brief history of the camps and personal accounts of survivors. These rare and historically significant photographs can only hint at the appalling horrors committed within the camps, and the importance of the book cannot be overstated. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


Some book reviews could consist in their entirety of the phrase "Read this book." Here's a good example... it demands your upright posture, at a table or desk, studying the sheer enormity of the atrocity known as the Gulag... Read this book. (Linda Turk Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal 2004-10-31)

Hundreds of photos of gulag inmates and their surroundings... introduced by short and damning essays... an essentially arresting and haunting compilation. (Library Journal 2004-12-00)

A stark visual reminder of the tens of millions of zeks, or putative convicts, who perished. (Carlin Romano Philadelphia Inquirer 2004-12-12)

Unique... certainly the widest ranging and most complete album of Gulag photographs ever published. (Anne Applebaum New York Review of Books 2005-03-24)

Massive... What makes Kinzy's book distinct from previous Gulag exposés is its powerful pictorial testimony... essays, historical notes, government records and eyewitness accounts that provide crucial background for the images. (Louise Abbott Montreal Gazette 2004-12-04)

Had Alexander Solzhenitsyn's forte been gathering photographs he would have created a book like Tomasz Kizny's. (Globe and Mail 2004-12-04)

Listed in January Magazine's Best of 2004: Extraordinary... unforgettable... Gulag is much more than a book: it's a lifework. (Aaron Blanton January Magazine 2004-12-00)

[Starred Review:] Amazing book... These rare and historically significant photographs can only hint at the appalling horrors committed within the camps, and the importance of the book cannot be overstated. (George Cohen Booklist 2004-12-01)

Powerful and moving... It's tough and many of the photographs will send a chill down your spine. (M. Horton Edmonton Journal 2004-11-28)

Impressive... a stunning indictment of Soviet totalitarianism... many memorable images in this powerful book. Summing Up: Highly recommended. (T. Sexton Choice 2005-05-00)

An extraordinary book. (January Magazine 2006-01-00)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
More than any other place, the monastery on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea symbolizes the tragedy inflicted on Russia by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brutal reminder of horrible times Nov. 25 2008
By James D. Crabtree - Published on Amazon.com
The Gulag system of slave labor camps is rarely brought up and never compared to the death camps run by the nazis. Yet millions lost their lives in them, and they were not just Russians either: Ukrainians, Latvians, Finns, Uzbeks, Armenians, Poles, Czechs, Germans, Spaniards and even some Americans wound up in the meat grinder that was the communist response to opposition, both real and imagined. Run by the secret police, photography was officially forbidden and yet the author of this book has managed to locate photos of select aspects of the Gulag, as well as current photos which show the results of forced labor.

This is a very haunting book but does not begin to touch the horror that was the Gulag system. The eyes of the lost look back at you, many of them guards and prison administrators before the system caught up with them as well.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Photographic Book - But Keep Open Mind May 14 2013
By KinoChelovek - Published on Amazon.com
The photographs and historical references in this oversize, heavy book are great. I have used this book for its photographs for several projects. The book covers many of the infamous camps of the GULag system, including Solovki (Islands), Kolyma, and Vorkuta. The book is divided into sections involving the history of each, along with historical and present-day photographs that give a glimpse into the horrors and eventual disintegration of the towns and camps themselves. There are also interviews by those who lived in the camps and surrounding areas who witnessed the horrors of the camps and the horrid conditions (man-made and natural) that were somewhat occluded during the GULag system's life.

My major problem with the book, and this should really be taken with any book on subjects with deep, emotional, long-existing ties (the Holocaust is an example) is that the historical writings often sway into emotions, and those emotions can obscure historical accuracy. Yes, the GULag camp system was horrid, but personal emotions often create strong biases leading to inaccuracies. Does this diminish this book. Yes, somewhat. After reading historical writings like Applebaum's "Gulag," I tend to try to find more objectivity in my readings. Kizny seems to be caught up in his emotions to give accuracy in the writings contained in this book, and there are instances in this book where the photographs do, too. If one reads Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago," you will understand what I mean.

Kizny's photos in this book are often used online and in other books. Again, this book is an excellent source for historical photographs.

I give the book 4 1/2 of 5 (Amazon won't allow 1/2 stars) for the photographs and history. The 1/2 star less is for the emotional biases in the writings. Take the writings with a grain of salt.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad time in our civilization. Nov. 23 2008
By Willie B - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Gulag: Life and Death Inside the Soviet Concentration Camps

This is a pictoral book that defies description. It shows a very sad time in our civilization, man's inhumanity to man. It is a phenomenol reminder of a time no one should forget.

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