A pioneering history of medical care in Stalin’s Gulag—showing how doctors and nurses cared for inmates in appalling conditions
A byword for injustice, suffering, and mass mortality, the Gulag exploited prisoners, compelling them to work harder for better rations in shocking conditions. From 1930 to 1953, eighteen million people passed through this penal-industrial empire. Many inmates, not reaching their quotas, succumbed to exhaustion, emaciation, and illness.
It seems paradoxical that any medical care was available in the camps. But it was in fact ubiquitous. By 1939 the Gulag Sanitary Department employed 10,000 doctors, nurses and paramedics—about 40 percent of whom were prisoners.
Dan Healey explores the lives of the medical staff who treated inmates in the Gulag. Doctors and nurses faced extremes of repression, supply shortages, and isolation. Yet they still created hospitals, re-fed prisoners, treated diseases, and “saved” a proportion of their patients. They taught apprentices and conducted research too. This groundbreaking account offers an unprecedented view of Stalin’s forced-labour camps as experienced by its medical staff.
Dan Healey is an expert on the social and cultural history of modern Russia and the Soviet Union. He is the author of Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia, Bolshevik Sexual Forensics, and Russian Homophobia from Stalin to Sochi. He is professor emeritus of modern Russian history at the University of Oxford.
“The Gulag Doctors is a prodigiously researched and elegantly written study of the practice of medicine in Stalin’s notorious labour camps. This pioneering work allows the reader to peer into this previously secret backstage of the Gulag with all its deadly contradictions.”—Lynne Viola, author of The Unknown Gulag
“With its evocative life-stories of doctors, nurses and medical researchers from across the Soviet Union, this masterfully researched and beautifully written book immerses us in the personal, political and professional dilemmas of patient care and medical ethics within, and beyond, the Gulag.”—Polly Jones, author of Revolution Rekindled
“The Gulag Doctors confronts a central paradox of the Stalinist Gulag: brutal exploitation of prisoners coexisted with a substantial health care apparatus intended to preserve their labour power. Using personal narratives, Healey leads us into the heart of this paradox and paints a profoundly human picture of an inhumane system.”—Alan Barenberg, author Gulag Town, Company Town
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