Bath and laundry (96th kilometre labour camp)

Quite a lot of attention was paid to hygiene in the Gulag camps. Among other reasons, this was done in order to prevent infections or outbreaks of lice and other parasite infestations. (Of course, this was not always successful; the prisoners often only changed clothes for the winter and the summer.) Consequently, a hut with a bath and laundry was an integral part of every camp that had facilities.

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The hut in which the bath (banya in Russian) was located was relatively large. Unfortunately, we did not find one that was fully equipped in any camp. Therefore, we have only one panoramic photograph – showing the remnants of a steam bath. There are still some wicker “whisks” lying around under the wooden structure, which inmates used to whip themselves while bathing. The rest of the space was most likely used for doing laundry, and perhaps also for shaving and cutting hair.

“A steam bath was mandatory once a week. They kept a very strict eye on it. Food and baths – they were the most important things,” said Vasily Basovsky when describing everyday life in camps used to construct the Salekhard–Igarka railways.

However, a hut with a bath could also be used for other, unofficial purposes. As Alexander Snovsky recalled: “In one camp near Dudinka, I became the bath manager. At the request of one of my acquaintances, I permitted Baptist prisoners to congregate in one of the rooms on the days when the baths were not being used.”

Razor

A handmade razor found in one of the prison huts. Some prisoners considered daily personal hygiene to be one of the basic prerequisites for successfully surviving their sentence.


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