The Gulag

Was this a specific place?

No, this wasn’t a specific place. It was technically the name of the Soviet agency that managed the forced labor camps of the Lenin and Stalin eras.

In the Western world, the term “gulag” came to refer to the generic Soviet system of camps, regardless of where they were. There were hundreds of forced labor camps. Millions of Soviet citizens died in them through 1960. As many as half of the prisoners were incarcerated without trial.

Why I Looked It Up

I was watching 2015 movie The Man from U.N.C.L.E. A Soviet commander tells an agent that he will be “sent to the Gulag” unless he completes his mission. I got to wondering if this was a specific place.

Notably, however, the usage of the term in that movie was wrong in two ways:

  1. The Gulag camps were only in operation through 1960, and the movie was set in 1964
  2. Usage of the general term “The Gulag” was an English invention. In the Soviet Union, “Gulag” was the agency that administered the camps, not the camp themselves. Therefore, it’s unlikely a Soviet military officer would threaten to send someone to “The Gulag.”

Postscript

A book about Stalin’s regime is the first time I’ve noticed a camp referred to by a specific name:

Berna Klauda was a little old lady from Leningrad; she scarcely could have looked less like a subversive element. in 1937, however, she was sentenced to ten years in the Perm Gulag…

According to this article, the camp known as Perm-36 was only shut down in 1988. It’s well-preserved and open to tourists. Here it is on Google Maps.

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