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Geocurrents on Google Earth: The Gulag Archipelago Illustrated

Submitted by on March 15, 2010 – 5:40 am 3 Comments |  

The Gulag system began under Lenin as a means of ‘Re-Education through Labor,’ and was expanded exponentially under Stalin. Twenty to Thirty Million people were imprisoned in concentration camps that stretched across the whole of the Soviet Union. The Gulag system was significantly de-intensified under Nikita Kruschev in 1960, but by that time, millions had perished, and millions remained enslaved.

These camps stretched across the continent in a massive system, coined the Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, one of the most important authors and historians of the 20th century, who had himself been enslaved in the system. His interviews with hundreds of zek’s in the Gulag system a harrowing portrait of humanity’s bleakest moments, and is an invaluable historical source.


For this weeks Geocurrentcast, I have digitally mapped a small sample of the labor camps in the Gulag Archipelago. It is an attempt to illustrate how terrain to be used as torture. There are a staggering amount of camps from this system, and I eventually endeavour to digitally map the whole of the Gulag Archipelago, overlaid with historical imagery.

First download the Google Earth File hereto access the tour.

If you are new to Google earth tours, first download google earth. Then download this file, and double click the video icon to play the narrated tour, or just click around the former Soviet Union.


Here are few other sites and maps I found, constructing the tour, that are particularly striking:

SOLOVKI

Solovki, a former monastery in on the Solovetski Islands was first inahbited by monks in the mid 15th century who migrated north from Moscow. Its was renowned for its harsh wintry solitude, and regarded as a holy place by some, owing to the absence of snakes. Passage to the island can be made nowadays only once a twice a week by plane or by ferry, when the conditions permitted.


Solovki was one of the first camps in the Gulag system, operating from 1923-1939. Solovki was a measuring stick for many of the methods of coercion and psychological control by the Soviet Government. It is in a sense, the Alcatraz of the Gulag Archipelago, as it is actually based on a frozen island. Solzhenitsyn said of Solovki:

It was a place with no connection to the rest of the world for half a year. A scream from here would never be heard.


CAVNIK


CAVNIK, based in Northern Transylvania, Romania, is not a striking camp in any way. There were 96 others almost exactly like it in Romania alone. However, I through that this hand drawn prisoners map was particularly telling.


(image from http://www.osaarchivum.org/gulag/txt1.htm)

Poland

Illustrates the extent of the camp system, one state as a microcosm of the whole.



Solzhenitsyn’s history is so important because, as google earth showed, there is remaining no physical evidence of the camps all of Poland. Most of the coordinates lead to empty fields and drifts, while some led to shopping centers. What lies below the surface is invisible to our eyes.

PERM 36

Perm-36 is the only Soviet Gulag that has not been deconstructed. It is now preserved as a world heritage site and memorial, and is accompanied by aUNSECO museum on the Gulag System.



(Perm-36 Camp, Photo from the Museum’s Website)

If you’re taking a real Gulag tour through Russia, stop by the Perm-36 camp, as well as theMednoye Memorial Complex. Otherwise you’d have to take your chances with the strange historical narratives from the Russian State History Museum, or the Darwin Museum.

Make sure to read your Solzhenitsyn. Start with A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, then progress to the poems he memorized in the camps which compose The Trail. Then, make a deep study of the Gulag Archipelago.

(Many thanks to Warc 1 in the Google Earth Community, for assembling the Kolyma Highway KML used in this presentation, and available here)

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  • Anonymous

    Derp

  • Mar252

    There were no gulag camps in Poland; there were many German prison and labour camps but not soviet gulag;

  • Guest

    please, add the googel earth tour again because is not available right now;