I will be speaking at the Sixth International Conference on Religion and Society on March 23, the second day of the event. It is at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Prior to the death of my mentor, Dr. Leonard Latkovski, we had submitted a proposal and abstract to present at the Conference. The topic, which will be soon published in an article for the Journal, concerns how religion and faith contributed to the survival of prisoners in the Soviet gulags.
The gulags, for those who may not know, were labor camps within the Soviet Union, taking in anyone from common criminals to political and religious dissidents. Within the span of USSR’s lifetime, from 1917 to 1991, there were over 30,000 gulag camps. They were across the entire Soviet Union, going far north into the Arctic Circle. For all intents and purposes, the prisoners were slaves used for manual labor (mining coal, felling timber, mining uranium), with trumped up charges and excessive punishments.
It is impossible to know how many prisoners passed within the gulags, as the Soviets either withheld records or lied about prisoners. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, himself a political prisoner of the gulags, believes that over sixty-six million people were prisoners.
In this presentation, I hope to show how faith, which was specifically targeted under the Soviet Criminal Code (section 58.10), played a role in these conditions of the gulags, with life-risking labor, impossible work quotas, torture, and brutal subfreezing temperatures. I have studied several individuals, from the famous Menachem Begin, who later became the Prime Minister of Israel, to the more obscure, such as Latvian priests Viktors Penjuss and Stanislavs Cuzans.
Perhaps, after this is all done, I shall make a series of posts on this topic.