Handmade pouch for bread, from a camp near Abez (Pechora Railway), early 1950s.

Many inmates made pouches of this kind for themselves. They usually carried the pouches with them at all times for fear that the contents would be eaten by rats or stolen by fellow prisoners.


"Eye damages caused by avitaminosis." Lecture material belonging to camp physician Yekaterina Golts, with hand-drawn display panels for a camp physicians' conference, 44 pages. Camp in the Vorkuta Region, December 1941.

Y. Golts (1889-1943), Russian doctor, 1938 convicted to eight years of forced labour, imprisoned in various camps in the Vorkuta Region, worked as doctor, early release in 1943.


Hunger and Disease

Constant hunger was one of the inmates' fundamental experiences. Disastrous hygienic conditions and poor medical care aggravated the situation.

Fights over the scarce provisions were par for the course. The quality of the food was usually poor. Above all meat, fresh vegetables, fat and sugar were rare. Only those who had the proper vessels could receive food, particularly soup. Vermin spread virtually unchecked. Epidemic infectious diseases such as typhus and dysentery presented a constant threat. Frostbite, night blindness and scurvy were common. There was a lack of qualified medical personnel, as well as the necessary equipment and medications.

The inmates were permitted to rest for no more than a few minutes...

Inmates eating their midday meal during a break

Inmates eating their midday meal during a break, White Sea - Baltic Canal, 1932
Source: "Memorial" Collection, Moscow

Where did sick inmates receive medical treatment?

Admission room of a camp infirmary barrack

Admission room of an infirmary barrack, camp in the Vorkuta Region, 1945
Source: Russian Federation State Archive, Moscow

Report by Nadezhda Surovtseva

[...] they didn't tell us anything about an epidemic, but it was obvious: spotted fever was rampant in the zone [...]

Report by Nadezhda Surovtseva, 1989 (1:30 min.) in German

N. Surovtseva (1896-1985), banishment to the Kolyma Region in 1927, conviction to forced labour in the Kolyma Region in 1936, worked in the camp as a nurse

Source: Nadezhda Surovtseva, "Memoirs of Kolyma", in Simeon Vilensky (ed.), Till My Tale Is Told, Indianapolis and Bloomington, 2001