The Kolyma road known as the "Road of Bones" for all the men that died along the road.

(When Joseph Stalin died in 1953, people in Russia wept. The common Russian knew nothing of what was taking place in the far northern regions of Siberia. The horrible tragedy of the prison camps is summed up in one paragraph in a Russian newspaper printed in 1930: "Mercy and compassion are capitalistic prejudices and the belch of abstract humanism. But hatred is the form of love on the transitional stage from capitalism to communism.")

Traveling north from Magadan is the Kolyma road. The road is named for the Kolyma River that flows about 400 kilometers from Magadan through the North Country. The Kolyma road was built by the hands of Stalinís prisoners that had been banished to this cold region. The road to Yagodnoe was called the "Road of Bones." They have a saying because of so many that died - "a log and a body, a log and a body". The road was built to reach the gold fields and the prison camps. The Kolyma road goes north to Yagodnoe and Susaman. It makes an 850-kilometer circle through the mountains and is called the "circle of gold". There are hundreds of gold mines throughout this region which is one of the richest in the world. Many of these mines now operated by the government, are working 24 hours a day.

During the communist days the prisoners were sent to the camps of Kolyma to mine the gold by hand. There were 300 prison camps in the Kolyma region alone. Stalin had 10,000 prison camps throughout Russia and Siberia. Joseph Stalin destroyed more people than any man in history, upward to 45 million, most of them his own people. The Germans captured many Russian soldiers when they invaded Russia and sent them to prison camps in Germany. When they were released by the Germans, Stalin sent them to the prisons in Siberia, saying they collaborated with the Germans.

Vyachaslov Palíman was a prisoner that survived the prison camp. His life was spared because he had the knowledge of growing cabbage, which is one of the few things that will grow in the cold region. He told of watching as he worked the suffering of the prisoners. Day and night trucks loaded with prisoners that had arrived by ship in Magadan came into the camps. It was 12 hours or more by truck and many died. At the camp many of the prisoners were put in chains and only released to go into the mines to work. The prisoners had to work 12 hours every day and were locked in the barracks at night. At the end of each day the commander of the camp came and the chief of prisoners would give him a list of prisoners that had not performed their work that day. At night, the guards would come to the barracks and call the prisoners outside whose names were on the list. The guards would make them strip off all their clothes, the charges were read that were against them and they were shot. The average life in the camps was 6 months. He told of hearing the prisoners weeping and praying, some were cursing. The prisoners were sent into the mines at 7:00 each morning for 12 hours. It was so cold, one had to keep moving or freeze. Some of the prisoners would just give up, squat down and in a few minutes they were dead.

The camp of Malídyak was one of the most cruel of all the camps. On one occasion in 1939, orders came from Moscow to kill a group of 169 men. They were apparently placed in a pit and were shot in the top of the head. Two KGB agents through the night shot all of these men. Their bodies were frozen and buried in the pit. In 1998 the river that flows through the camp over flowed and began to wash the frozen bodies up. They were still preserved. They were fully clothed with their heavy winter clothes.

Thousands of the Russian Christians were among those sent to these camps because they would not denounce their faith in God. Many of the families that live in the region today are families of the former prisoners who stayed in the region when released from prison. The Russian people are now learning the whole truth as well as the rest of the world. The memories and scars for many families still bring pain as they remember their loved ones.

Quote from journalist Martin Steele: "Those who fail to remember the past, are doomed to repeat it".

Br. Gene

For Kolyma photos, click here.

10/2002