Notorious Russian gulag gets 75th anniversary party

From left to right: Vorochilov, Molotov, Stalin and Nikolai Iejov aka Nikolai Yezhov, pose at the shore of the the Moscow-Volga Canal, in 1937. Yezhov was the senior figure in the NKVD (the Soviet secret police) under Joseph Stalin during the period of the Great Purge. After Yezhov was tried and executed he vanished between 1939-1991 from this image. The Moscow Canal, named the Moscow-Volga Canal until the year 1947, is a canal that connects the Moskva River with the main transportation artery of European Russia, the Volga River. It is located in Moscow itself and in the Moscow Oblast. It was constructed from the year 1932 to the year 1937 by Gulag prisoners during the early to mid Stalin era. AFP/GettyImages

MOSCOW Millions of people died in Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's gulag, but the 75th anniversary of the founding of one of the notorious forced-labor camps was cause for a celebration in Russia.

Russian news portals reported Tuesday that local officials and prison wardens threw a party last week honoring the Usolsky camp in the Urals, with music and dancing and speeches by former camp guards.

The NKVD, the KGB predecessor which ran the gulag, "instilled traditions in the camp that still hold value today," the Solikamsky regional department of Russia's prison service said in a statement. These traditions included allegiance to the motherland, mutual assistance and respect for war veterans, the statement said.

Hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers who had been captured by Nazi forces during World War II were sent to the gulag after the war.

"So hard were the times in which the Usolsky camp was founded, so heavy were the burdens it overcame!" Sergei Yerofeyev, deputy chairman of a committee for retired prison wardens, said in the statement. The camp was founded in 1938, a year when the NKVD executed hundreds of thousands of people for "political crimes" and sent millions more to the gulag.

"What bravery its directors displayed over that time, so that the institution could stand tall and successfully complete its production and social tasks," Yerofeyev added.

Usolsky camp held from 10,000 to 30,000 prisoners at any given time, including those convicted of "counter-revolutionary activity" and other political crimes. More than 16 percent of prisoners there died of malnutrition and overwork, one of the highest rates in the gulag.

Many political prisoners were freed after Stalin died in 1953. The Usolsky camp transferred its remaining political prisoners in 1955 and was closed in 1960.

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