Ivan Chistyakov was
a Muscovite who was expelled from the Communist Party during on the
the purges of the late 1920s and early 1930s. He commanded an armed
guard unit on a section of BAM, the Baikal-Amur Railway, which was
built by forced labour. He was killed in 1941.
In the archives of the Memorial
International Human Rights Centre in Moscow is an extraordinary
diary, a rare first-person testimony of a commander of guards in a
Soviet labour camp.
Ivan Chistyakov was sent to the Gulag
in 1935, where he worked at the Baikal-Amur Corrective Labour Camp
for over a year. Life at the Gulag was anathema to Chistyakov, a
cultured Muscovite with a nostalgia for pre-revolutionary Russia,
and an amateur painter and poet. He recorded its horrors with an
unmatchable immediacy, documenting a world where petty rivalries put
lives at risk, prisoners hacked off their fingers to bet in card
games, railway sleepers were burned for firewood and Siberian winds
froze the lather on the soap.
From his stumbling poetic musings on
the bitter landscape to his matter-of-fact grumbles about his stove,
from accounts of the conditions of the camp to reflections on the
cruelty of loneliness, this diary is unique - a visceral and
immediate description of a place and time whose repercussions still
affect the shape of modern Russia.
The Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard
Hardback, Demy HB
138x216mm, 288 pages
Order from Waterstones or Amazon USA
‘A rare and fascinating insight into the Soviet camp system, and
a reminder that the imprisoned weren't its only victims’
Anna Reid, author
for Review of Ivan Chistyakov's Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard
The translation by
is adroit and haunting, without adding excess
literary polish to Chistyakov’s journal. Andrea Pitzer, StarTribune,
Beyond this honest, gripping memoir, nothing else is known about the
single precious life that Chistyakov lived, that was wasted so
Paul E. Richardson, Russian Life, Montpelier, Vermont.