Thursday, October 1, 2009

Graphic Gulag Collection Now At Heritage in D.C.

IT'S INDEED IRONIC that the lecture I attended this week at The Heritage Foundation on the success of the Reagan White House years---most notably in bringing down the Soviet Union ---was held in an auditorium where the Gulag Collection had just been hung for public display. No one can view this group of paintings up close and not be deeply moved by the mass death, horrors and starvation at Russian prison camps these convey. No one can miss the total dehumanization of human beings during this cruel government's communist take-over every aspect of Russian life.

In many ways it was worse than the German holocaust---which ended at the end of World War II---because it went on so much longer and was perpetuated on a country's own people. Government take-over of its people---including health care, the economy, the banking system--- always, always, always brings impoverishment in the long run.

FOR DECADES Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn painted word pictures of the mass cruelty, dehumanization, starvation, death and decay within Russian forced labor camps from the 20s to the early 70s known as the Gulag. Under Josef Stalin---during the time of communist rule over every aspect of men's lives---these camps and other repressive programs killed tens of millions of Russians. His best-known works---The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich---were written from first-hand experience and incarceration in the Gulag prison camps. Solzhenitsyn was later released, published his descriptive works and was later awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. In 1974 he was exiled from the Soviet Union and did not return to his homeland until 1994.

Later, another Russian artist chronicled his Gulag experience in a group of paintings now known as the Gulag Collection. His story is below.


In 1946, an artist named Nikolai Getman was imprisoned in the Soviet Union's GULAG. During the 1920s, the Soviet Union developed a system of extreme repression and terror that inflicted forced famines, purges, executions, and arrests on the people of the Soviet Union. Under Josef Stalin, forced-labor camps in Siberia became the pillar of that system. They were one of the principal techniques by which Stalin exerted absolute control over the lives and decisions of the Soviet people. An estimated 50 million people died as a result of Stalin's inhuman policies of terror and repression.

Getman's "crime" was that he had been present in a cafe with several fellow artists, one of whom drew a caricature of Stalin on a cigarette paper. An informer told the authorities, and the entire group was arrested for "anti-Soviet behavior". Getman spent eight years in Siberia at the Kolyma labor camps where he witnessed firsthand one of the darkest periods of Soviet history. Although he survived the camps, the horrors of the GULAG seared into his memory. Upon his release in 1954, Getman commenced a public career as a politically correct painter. Secretly, however, for more than four decades, Getman labored at creating a visual record of the GULAG which vividly depicts all aspects of the horrendous life (and death) which so many innocent millions experienced during that infamous era.

Getman's collection is unique because it is the only visual record known to exist of this tragic phenomenon. Unlike Nazi Germany, which recorded and preserved in detail a visual history of the Holocaust, the Russians prefer not to remember what happened in the GULAG. Not a single person has been punished for the deaths of the millions who perished there. If film or other visual representations of the Soviet GULAG existed, they have been largely destroyed or suppressed. The Getman collection stands alone as a most important historical document.

from the Jamestown Foundation

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