Mar 182008

I’m still reading Anne Applebaum’s book. One thing that is new to me is how the gulag hospitals were in some places very nice — a completely different world from the prison camp for those prisoners unfortunate enough to be fortunate enough to be sent to them.

“Paradise” is what Evgeniya Ginzburg called the hospital where she worked in Kolyma. “We felt like kings,” wrote Thomas Sgovio of the “recovery barracks” in the Srednikan lagpunkt, where he received a “fresh, sweet roll in the morning.” Others write with remembered awe of the clean sheets, of the kindness of nurses, of the lengths to which doctors went to save their patients.

Of course, they weren’t all like this. Some were filthy, overcrowded death-traps. But it’s interesting that some were.

The problem was that there was usually some sort of quota system that allowed only a certain number of patients to be admitted to them each day. In the meantime, other prisoners were dying from disease, overwork, abuse, and malnutrition outside the hospital. And doctors sometimes had to reserve a few hospital slots for the criminal prisoners who terrorized the camps, which meant even less were available for the prisoners who really needed them.