Ludmila Cojocaru: Soviet system meant repression, extermination, enslavement of population

The Bessarabians who went through the horrors of the Soviet Gulag and returned home feel not like victims, but like winners of the system, historian Ludmila Cojocaru stated in IPN’s public debate “The GULAG phenomenon: genesis, manifestation, lessons”. According to the historian, the shocking testimonies of Bessarabians who survived the Gulag show that solidarity and faith in God helped those who survived to overcome Soviet terror.

The Gulag was a network of forced labor camps and colonies that existed in the Soviet Union. Ludmila Cojocaru said it is hard to estimate the total number of people who passed through the Soviet Gulag, but there were hundreds of camps and colonies in the USSR.

“In 1953, there were 146 camps. There were 10 special camps and 627 colonies. Many of the Bessarabians I asked if they feel victims of the system said that they feel not victims, but winners of the system. Survivors tell us that faith in God helped them. From the testimonies of survivors, we saw a kind of curse on the Soviet regime and hope that this would pass too. Solidarity was the second, less known source of resistance. We have the case of Alexei Marin, who was arrested during the deportations of 1941 and was sent directly to Ivdel. There, like everyone else, he almost died of hunger, cold and exhaustion, but someone from Bessarabia, from the Jewish community, helped him, saving his life. That ethnic Jew saved his life by transferring him to another category of work,”, said Ludmila Cojocaru, who heads the Museum of Victims of Deportations and Political Repression, a branch of the National Museum of History.

The historian noted that the purpose of forced labor camps was to isolate suspicious elements of the Soviet regime from the rest of society and exploit them through forced labor. In addition, through the Gulag, the Soviet system aimed to erase people’s memory, cultural and spiritual identity.

“Attempts were made to flee such camps. But there were few such cases because such attempts were extremely dangerous. Those caught were killed before everyone’s eyes so as to teach the others. The Soviet state, the Soviet administration meant repression, extermination, enslavement of the population, erasure of identity, memory. Those who managed to maintain their identity, traditions, faith, managed to overcome those challenges more easily,” explained the historian.

Ludmila Cojocaru noted that the shocking testimonies of the deported Bessarabians show that, although they were far from home, they did not give up their national identity and did not lose faith in God.

“We have emotional testimonies of how those deported and those taken to forced labor camps did not skip Christian holidays. They said that initially they only heard that it was Christmas or Easter. Later they united, solidarized to return to these identity anchors. When they no longer had strength, they resorted to prayers,” stated Ludmila Cojocaru.

The public debate entitled “The GULAG phenomenon: genesis, manifestation, lessons” was the 28th installment of IPN’s project “Impact of the Past on Confidence and Peace Building Processes” which is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany.

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