RUSSIA-Sept. 21, 2004
- Slavomir Rawicz in The
My eye caught a bit of shiny silver tin protruding
from the snow. As I bent down to inspect the abnormally
placed piece of metal, I realized it wasn’t
metal at all—it was a pile of mica. I picked
some up, and the flaky substance cleaved off into
perfect trapezoid shapes in my hands.
Our guide Nicholi had hiked us three miles deep
into the murky Siberian forest to show us the remains
of Rawicz’ Gulag camp. This was what we had
traveled to Siberia to see—the actual spot
where Rawicz had been imprisoned and kept in intense
labor for two years before he plotted his escape.
The camp’s remains were in shambles, although
its presence was obvious. There were foundations
of barracks that the prisoners had built themselves
and stayed in, the scattered shards of pots, an
old guard stand, and even a grave pit for the prisoners
who got out of line or were worked to death.
As it turned out, the pile of mica I had stumbled
on wasn’t the only one. Through gestures
and charades, Nicholi explained that this particular
Gulag camp was a mining camp for mica and quartz.
As he hiked us further up the valley to the actual
mine, we noticed old wooden wheelbarrows that had
obviously been used to carry large loads of rocks
and minerals back to camp.
With so many labor camps scattered around the
region, it was impossible to tell if this exact
Gulag was where Rawicz spent his time. This particular
camp was relatively small. When it came time to
close the mine and get rid of the prisoners, all
200 men were chained together, marched 40 miles
down to Lake Baikal, and forced onto the thin ice
of the lake, where they all broke through and drowned
to their deaths. Rawicz’ fate was luckier.
When it came time to leave, we gladly left the
camp’s eerie remains behind, ready to continue
our journey south along Lake Baikal.
reported by Lauren Edwards