The aim of this work is to answer the question, “Can we generalize why certain people were able to survive more than others”? To survive the Gulag, many prisoners had to fight with others for food, shelter, and simple medical care. Certain prisoners went into religious and intellectual medications to preserve at least the appearance of intelligence. The survival required willpower, strength of mind, skills, mercilessness, and a lot of luck.
Every former Gulag prisoner explained his/her survival as a result of many insignificant strategies. A variety of memoirists claimed that the only reason why they have survived was due to their spiritual life. To distract themselves for the physical sufferings, many prisoners created mental exercises: religious rituals, music, art, cards, chess, and literature. Prisoners used to write and read poetry to each other, told stories, discussed philosophy and history. Under such harsh conditions, the prisoners were required to have an extraordinary imagination. To play cards or paint, they had to use anything that was easy to hide from the regular raids in the barracks. The tree core was used as a canvas and any blood was used as paint.
The Soviet Union has created a system that forced prisoners to constantly fight with each other. Being imprisoned led up to despair. Many were driven to commit acts, which they would never do when being held in normal conditions. Some used to injure their hands, hoping to get rid of the hard work. The intelligentsia-small intellectual part of the population of the camps emphasized the significant role of literature, especially poetry.
Nina Hagen-Thorn described situations when she read poems to her cellmates and they listened, as if they were the parched earth absorbing water. For Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn composing poetry was essential, “Poetry rewarded me by helping to not notice what they were doing with my body”.
Due to malnutrition, extreme climates, dangerous work conditions, and cruelty of others, prisoners were often dependent on the medical service that was available in the camps. The administrators of the camps used minimal resources for hospitals and severely limited the number of prisoners, who could ask for an absence of work. Prisoners were perceived skeptically and were considered to be potential malingerers, who used to shirk off. Such suspicious prisoners were usually substantiated. Prisoners deliberately mutilated themselves to avoid heavy work.
Many authors still remember the cases when doctors felt the need for prisoners to miss work by giving them the ability to reestablish their health. As Evgenia Ginzburg questions, “…what has made Dr. Klimenko to not only keep me in the hospital, but also try to bring homemade, high-calorie food?” Medical services were accounted as some of the most privileged positions in the camp system. Prisoners fought each other for a place as a doctor or an assistant, trying to avoid the...