Wheelbarrow wheel, Kinzhal Camp (Kolyma Region), undated

The working implements were frequently fashioned from wood. Hardly any of them have come down to the present.


Working Conditions

The chief purpose of the camps was the economic exploitation of inmate manpower. In the eyes of the Soviet administration, the prisoners represented a readily available and replaceable resource.

The inmates performed many different types of forced labour. A working day could last as long as sixteen hours. Work orders had to be followed under the greatest time pressure and regardless of health considerations. The inmates had nothing but the simplest tools and - at most - primitive technical equipment at their disposal. Accidents were a common occurrence.

What were the conditions under which Gulag inmates had to work?

The inmates' working conditions

An inmate transporting mining waste out of a mine in a mine car, Kolyma Region, 1940s. The prisoners had to perform heavy labour at temperatures far below -30 °C in winter. | Source: "Memorial" Collection, Moscow
Transporting mining waste in wheelbarrows, White Sea - Baltic Canal, 1932 | Source: "Memorial" Collection, Moscow
Unloading large rocks on the White Sea - Baltic Canal, 1932 | Source: "Memorial" Collection, Moscow
Prisoners at work building a railway line on the Volga, 1944 | Source: "Memorial" Collection, Moscow
Forest workers transporting logs on a rail vehicle running on a wooden rail they had built themselves. Svir Camp (Leningrad Region) early 1930s | Source: "Memorial" Collection, Moscow
Transporting logs with the aid of a horse-drawn cart on wooden rails, White Sea - Baltic Canal, 1932 | Source: "Memorial" Collection, Moscow