Kitchen, mess hall, clubhouse (96th kilometre labour camp)

Every camp had its own kitchen connected to a mess hall. In the camps we have explored most are located at the opposite end from the main entrance to the zone. Mess halls also sometimes fulfilled a social function – as clubhouses.

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Half of the barracks comprises a kitchen where large iron boilers for cooking built into brick kilns are still visible. Tables were set out in the mess hall section. The kitchen was the focal point of life in a camp, where desperate hunger often prevailed. Food was usually served twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. During the day prisoners ate (if they had food) outside at communal works.

The basic food in all of the Gulag camps was a thin soup known as balanda. “In Igarka the food was awful. They boiled soya, which is heavy and falls to the bottom of the boiler. The cook knew how to serve it. For an ordinary brigade he ladled from the top, so they got water. If there were thieves in the brigade, or if it was for the post, the sewing workshop, the spa or sick bay, then he ladled from the bottom,” says former prisoner Alexander Snovsky of the food. “They gave out 800 grams of bread in the morning for the whole day. Bread is life. It was served precisely – try giving out 10 grams less and they kill you!”

In some camps, mess halls also fulfilled the role of clubhouse. Walter Ciszek remembers one thus: “After registration the leader led us to a clubhouse equipped with cards and chess sets, some pieces of papers and brochures. Good workers also had the privilege of being allowed to read. On big holidays, such as 1 May and the October Revolution anniversary, they even screened films for exceptional workers.” Theatre performances by special prisoners’ theatre groups could also be held at clubhouses.

For a clearer insight here is a panoramic view of one kitchen and mess hall, which was documented in camp no. 29, Klyuch.


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