Photo Gallery The Gulags of the Soviets

After the guns of World War II fell silent, tens of thousands of Germans still languished in Soviet gulags far away from home. Many of them were prisoners of war. But quite a few had been sent east from Germany and had done nothing wrong.
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Tens of thousands of German prisoners of war ended up in Soviet gulags during World War II. Thousand others were taken into custody as political prisoners after the war came to an end. Many of them ended up in the camp near the Siberian town of Vorkuta. In 1952, the camp held 40,000 inmates, some 3,000 of whom were women. This image from 1945 shows one of the cell blocks.

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The gulags were primarily hard labor camps, but prisoners also sometimes landed in solitary confinement should they violate camp rules. This image, taken in 1989, is of a cell in the forced labor camp of Perm.

Foto: Corbis
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The work in the camps was hard and the nourishment often insufficient. This image shows Lothar Scholz in 1947. "When I was released to go home, my condition wasn't all that bad, contrary to the many years previous. The situation for many German prisoners improved once Stalin died in 1953 and they were allowed to receive packages from home.

Foto: Metropol Verlag
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Prisoners in Vorkuta in 1945. The camp existed between 1938 and around 1960 and held as many as 73,000 prisoners at one time. They labored away in the coal mines nearby.

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A local resident passes by a former cell block belonging to the Dolinka camp in present-day Kazakhstan. Such camps were established in numerous parts of the Soviet Union, often in areas which were sparsely populated but where labor was needed for mining.

Foto: ? Stringer Russia / Reuters/ REUTERS
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Former gulag prisoner Karl Heinz Vogeley shortly after his return to East Germany in 1954. He was able to have a successful career following his release, but was closely watched by the Stasi for years after his imprisonment.

Foto: Metropol Verlag
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The prisoners in Vorkuta slept on simple wooden bunkbeds, side-by-side. This image is from 1944.

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Prisoners in Vorkuta didn't just have to work in the coal mines nearby, they also toiled away in this brick factory. They also were tapped to build railway lines and housing. This photo was taken in 1945.

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Millions of people passed through the Soviet gulag system, the majority of them residents of the USSR. This image is of the remains of a barbed wire fence around a former gulal on Vaigatch Island in the Russian Arctic.

Foto: Corbis
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The labor camp Perm 35, not far from the Ural Mountains, is considered to be the last of the political prisons in the Soviet Union. This image is from July 1989.

Foto: Corbis
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Former German prisoners of war and political prisoners released from custody in the Soviet Union were brought initially to a camp in Friedland, in the German state of Lower Saxony. A wall at the camp was plastered with notes from families looking for their missing relatives.

Foto: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kuluturbesitz
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Returnees from Soviet camps are greeted upon their arrival in the town of Eschwege in Hesse in 1955. The final German prisoners of war were allowed to return home in 1955 at the behest of German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

Foto: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz/ Robert Lebeck
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A group of former prisoners disembark from a train at the German border in October 1955. The return of these former prisoners of war was one of the most emotional events in Germany's postwar history.

Foto: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz/ Robert Lebeck
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This undated image shows the cemetery of Jur Shor, not far from Vorkuta. The site was formerly that of coal mine 29 where prisoners of the nearby gulag were forced to work.

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In 1988, the people of Vorkuta errected this monument to the victims of political repression. From 1938 to 1960, thousands of prisoners died in the gulag in Vorkuta, many Germans among them.

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