Please Support: Women of the Gulag: The Last Survivors

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By Paul Gregory

A brief note from Richard Rowland, President of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii:


A very good friend of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii is Paul Gregory, PhD, of The Hoover Institute. He is the author of an excellent book that gives an inside look at Stalin in a very revealing human way. It is available at Amazon. I recommend you read it. If you do you will never forget it.

Now Paul is deeply involved with another important work. It is a film “Women of the Gulag” which is time sensitive and needs financial help. We asked him to brief us and the story is below. Please read it and if interested do all you can to help make it happen. We cannot get too many reminders of the horror of absolute power corrupting absolutely, cruelly, crudely and efficiently which is the Stalin story.


Unlike Hitler, Hollywood has yet to produce a credible treatment of Stalin.

We are making a documentary film of women survivors of Stalin’s Gulag. Our subjects are in their 80s and 90s. They are eager to tell their stories on camera. Several have said: “We believe we remained alive so long so as to be able to tell you our story.”

We began this project with our own funds and time. We felt it was urgent to film these extraordinary “last survivors” of Stalin. Most of our subjects are in ill health and living in conditions of poverty.

The failure of the film industry to cover Stalin, Stalinism, and Communism has something to do with Hollywood’s attraction to socialism. But it is also difficult to capture the tragedy of Stalinism. As Stalin said: “The death of one person is a tragedy; the death of a million is a statistic.” We have focused too much on the statistic (30 million or so lives), and not on the individual victims. Our film is about personal tragedies, not about statistics.

Why such a film?

In Russia, I encounter too many educated people who believe that Stalin’s murder of millions was somehow justified. Sure, Stalin was barbarous and cruel, they say, but he sped up industrialization and he beat the Nazi war machine. A couple of weeks back, I met a U.S.-educated young Russian business man who praised Stalin as a “great manager.” If your work was bad, he just had you killed or put in prison, he said.

Such views of Stalin are widely held (sadly even in the West), but they are dead wrong. Only a tiny fraction of Stalin’s victims were political enemies or failed managers and engineers. The overwhelming majority were simple workers, peasants, and employees, who could not understand what they had done wrong. Solzhenitsyn captured this truth with an anecdote: When prisoners arrived at the camp, they were split into groups by term of sentence. One prisoner with a ten year sentence objected. “But I have done nothing wrong.” The guard’s response: “No, those who have done nothing wrong are in the 5-year line.”

Less well known is the fact that millions of women were victims of Stalin repression. The wives of the hundreds of thousands executed under the standard charge of “enemies of the people” were given seven years or more as “wives of enemies of the people.”  If the wives escaped prison, they were denied jobs and their children were not admitted to higher education – branded forever as children of “enemies of the people.” There was also an “unknown” Gulag where peasants and their families were deported to live under horrendous conditions. The “unknown” Gulags of the “special settlements” were even more barbaric than the camps because children had to work and died alongside their parents. Children born in the Gulag remained as prisoners on the “account” of the special settlement – a form of slave labor that began with birth.

We successfully funded the first stage of filming through our own resources and two modest but successful crowd funding campaigns. We are very grateful to everyone who contributed! We presented our first results at Stanford University in November; the reports are here and here. We are now in post-production. We already have almost 40 hours of footage. The funds that we still need to raise will go towards recording more testimonies on HD video and editing the footage we have gathered. Clearly the timing is urgent as the survivors and the heroines of the original Stalin gulag are getting very old. This is “the last chance.” (Marcel Krüger has an interview with with the filmmakers here.)

Pulitzer-winning journalist Anne Applebaum (The Gulag: A History) expressed in her on-camera interview the following: “What had happened since the year 2000 is that history has been gradually re-politicized. And the Russians started treating history that way. And that means that they’ve become more sensitive again about discussing this sort of crimes of their past. For the Russians, understanding the history of the gulag is absolutely crucial.” It is also crucial for the West: “The failure in the West to understand the magnitude of what happened in the Soviet Union and central Europe may not seem to have a profound and immediate implication for the Western way of life, however, in the modern global society, it is important to raise awareness of the global history and politics.”

To quote Applebaum further in support of our film: “Aside from its historic value, a project like this one has special significance in the light of contemporary Russian politics. In recent years, under President Putin, Soviet and Russian history have been re-politicized, and the Stalin period has come to be viewed with ambiguity by politicians, writers, film makers, and regrettably the public. The stories of the victims of the gulag, told by simple people who had little or no understanding of why this was happening to them, make an excellent antidote to creeping historical amnesia. This project is also urgent, of course, because most of their subjects are in their advanced years, and their stories have to be recorded now.”

We have launched an “editing phase” Kickstarter campaign to complete the film. Stalin’s Gulag is not the most glamorous subject in today’s world. We suspect that those who understand communism and socialism will most want the story told. There is no starker way to learn about communism and socialism than through the incredible stories of women who survived.

You can go to the Kickstarter site to see our trailer and to get some more information on Marianna Yarovskaya, the Russian American film maker, who is the director and our team.

I think you will be impressed by the film trailer. My goal has been to create “Women of the Gulag” as a work of cinematographic art, avoiding sensationalism, and giving time to get acquainted with our characters/heroines. A film on this subject will have no impact if it is not of the highest quality. Note that the film makers working with us have Emmy and Academy Award nominations. They all have ties to Russia and believe strongly that this film must be made.

Please take time to go to the Kickstarter site and watch the trailer.