gulag island


You know something is wrong when you find yourself longing to be lying on a wooden plank in a Gulag barracks. The “residents” of Nazino Island could only wish for the stark comforts and liminal order of a labour camp over the ghastly scenario that played out before them in the early spring of 1933 in Western Siberia. In the middle of the night, they were dumped on a small, barren island in the midst of an icy, roaring river hundreds of miles from civilization. With no food, no shelter, not much for clothing, 6,000 people, plucked from the streets of Moscow a few weeks before, found themselves wondering how their lives had taken this ghoulish and, for most, fatal turn. Nicolas Werth’s Cannibal Island: Death in a Siberian Gulag recounts a chapter in a horribly train-wrecked experiment in penal reform. Werth sifts the story of Nazino or “Cannibal” Island, from an assortment of Soviet archives to illustrate arguably the worst nightmare of the whole fiendish Gulag enterprise.

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