ALZHIR museum in Kazakhstan commemorates victims of Stalin’s repression (PHOTO)

Astana, Kazakhstan, July 21

By Elena Kosolapova - Trend: Anna Yendanova was exiled to ALZHIR concentration camp in Kazakhstan when she was 21 years old leaving two little babies including six-month old baby-boy in an orphanage.

She spent eight years of severe hard labor, starvation, tears, humiliations, abuse, uncertainty about the future and having no information about her family. She just knew that her little son died during this period. And when she was released the head of the orphanage informed her that her older girl had died too and her last hope for normal life crashed.

This frightful life story is just one among thousands of similar stories of women exiled from all over the Soviet Union to ALZHIR concentration camp (acronym for Akmola Camp for Women of Traitors to Motherland) in purges of dictator Joseph Stalin.

The only their guilt consisted in not betraying their husbands, who were repressed in the 1930s. Many of the women were promised they would meet their loved ones who had been previously arrested and came to the camp on their own free will.

They wore their best clothes and trimmings and had no warm coats and boots which are so necessary for living in the severe Central-Asian steppes. But they were cruelly deceived. In fact their relatives had been executed by that time and the women themselves were imprisoned in the camp and forced into slave labor. Some women following long interrogations signed documents accusing them and their relatives of the uncommitted crimes and using these "confessions" women were sentenced to prison and camp labor.

This territory was an empty steppe when the first groups of convicts were brought. Escorted by convoys and dogs women established themselves as best as they could. In a snowstorm and blizzard, heat and rain they build barracks, mowed cane in a nearby lake which served them as mattresses and wood for the ovens. However it gave little heat so that the temperature in the barracks did not exceed 6-8 degrees. Food rations were very poor and contained no more than bread, porridge and thin soup. Moreover the women had to perform unpaid labor consisted of sewing army uniforms, raising livestock, planning trees and raspberry bushes and other agricultural tasks.

The inmates of Stalin's camps made a huge contribution to the country's economy. The infrastructure created by the prisoners is still used in some post-soviet countries including Kazakhstan.

About 8,000 women of all nationalities served their full sentence in ALZHIR camp, 18,000 more passed through the camp and then were transferred to other camps which were sprawling over all the country during in Stalin's reign of terror. A lot of high-profile and famous people were among the prisoners. The most talented people including actresses, composers, singers, writers and politicians were exiled to the prison camps which spread out throughout the Soviet Union, including ALZHIR. One of the most well-known ALZHIR's prisoners was Rachel Plisetskaya, the Soviet actress and the mother of famous Russian ballet dancer Maya Plisetskaya.

The life story of Anna Yendanova whose autobiography could be found in ALZHIR memorial museum created in the place of former camp ended happily. She did not give up, some years later met a good man who understood her and was not afraid to marry her. The couple lived a long life and had three children. However many imprisoned women died in the camp or remained social outcasts after being freed.

ALZHIR camp was closed in 1953 following Stalin's death and for dozens of years this place was forgotten. A memorial complex was created here in 2007 on orders of the Kazakh president. The bunker-like museum is located in a quiet spot about 35 kilometers from Astana, Kazakhstan's capital.

A lot of documents, letters and photos reflecting the life of women-prisoners, memories of former inmates and their private things, artist's installation related to repressions time and other exhibits were collected here. A number of monuments stand around the museum including the Arch of Sorrow and several marble blocks honoring victims of various nationalities at the entrance, and some sculptures. And behind the museum there is a large commemorative wall with the names of all the women who suffered here about seventy years ago. The visitors of the museum also can watch a special 20-minutes movie about the history of the camp and the museum.

The memorial complex projects the painful feelings that inmates of this camp experienced. This museum, like many others reminding us of history's darker moments, is a must. They remind the people about the grim pages of the past and hopefully will prevent us from repeating such terrible tragedies.

Edited by C.S.

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