Gulag Gold

Prisoners working in the Gulag The prisoner who took this photo died short;y afterward.

It was during the 1920s when gold was first found in the Kolyma River Basin by Yury Bilibin a pioneering Soviet geologist.  It was immediately after his discovery that Joseph Stalin founded the infamous prison camps that became the notorious “Gulag” whose purpose was to supply gold to the fledgling Soviet Union.  It was in these camps where criminals and political dissidents were sent to mine gold under the most barbaric conditions.  They were Death Camps where a human life was only worth three weeks of labor and then was discarded.

Prisoners at work mining gold in the Gulag
Yury Bilibin was a young geologist, but already well known in the Soviet Union when he was picked to lead the first expedition into distant reaches of northeastern Russia as head of the First Kolymian Expedition of 1928 - 1929. This was when they discovered extensive deposits of gold that under Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union were slave labor camps.  It was here that Bilibin developed his theories on placer gold deposits and intrusive volcanics that led to the development of the theory of Metallogeny and Plate Tectonics. In 1938 he published his famous monograph the “Principles of Placer Geology.”  For his work as one of the fathers of this science Bilibin received The Stalin Prize First Degree of the Soviet Union.

For the next 80 years this part of Russia has been extensively explored by geologists who have developed into working mines producing other metals other then gold until today it is a major mining center of Russia. Since the fall of the Soviet Union it has attracted the attention of many American mining companies.

These are the dead in the Gulag.
The Gulag was a system of forced labor camps established by Cheka in 1919 in the Soviet Union, but it wasn’t until the early 1930s that the population of these camps became significant.  By then it was under the control of the Main Directorate of Corrective Labor Camps commonly called the Gulag.  It was no longer operated by the Cheka, but now was under the NKVD, and later the KGB.  All of these organizations were parts of the secret police.  It continued to operate from 1919, but was mainly disbanded after the death of Stalin in 1953.  Parts of the Gulag continued to operate until the days of Gorbachev into the 1990s.  The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 finally wrote “finish” to the Gulag.

This is one of the gold mining camps in the Gulag.
The prisoners in the Gulag comprised a polyglot group of including murderers, thieves and political and religious dissenters forced to work under barbaric conditions. The Soviets used Gulag Labor for many projects beside mining gold they were also used to build the White Sea – Baltic Canal, the Moscow – Volga canal, the Baikal – Amur main railroad line, a large number of hydroelectric installations, numerous industrial projects in remote areas of the Soviet Union.  It was Gulag manpower that did most of the country’s lumbering and mining for coal, copper and gold. 

Gold was what they mined in the Kolyma Basin, placer gold that was mined by prisoners. A book was published the Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn a survivor of the camps gives a graphic description of life in the Gulag. Solzhenitsyn was eventually released from the Gulag and exiled from the Soviet Union to settle in the United States where he made his home in Vermont.  The downfall of the Soviet Union saw Solzhenitsyn return to Russia. Today his book, the Gulag Archipelago is required reading in all the schools of Russia as a reminder of what happened in the Gulag.  Not since the days of the Roman Empire had miners labored under such conditions.