Getman Painting - Prisoners at Rest

Getman Painting - Prisoners at Rest Civil Rights Social Studies Tragedies and Triumphs Visual Arts Disasters

Nikolai Getman helps us to understand the meaning of “rest breaks” in a forced-labor context.  Here we see a group of men are taking a break from their gold-mining work.

Resting was not free in the GULAG.  For every moment of rest, a prisoner had to add another moment of work to an already difficult, 14-hour day.

The Global Museum on Communism tells us more about this Getman painting:

Prisoners were allowed to take breaks when they wanted, but every minute of rest was added to a fourteen-hour day, extending the time during which they would be forced to dig to meet the day's cruelly high gold quota.

A barter system developed for rare items like tobacco and tea. One gram of gold was worth a gram of tobacco or tea. The price of such items was high, however, as it meant longer hours of labor to enjoy such pleasures while on break.

On these breaks, the prisoners avoided conversations that might risk the length of their terms. They talked instead about trivial things like the weather. Getman has intentionally arranged the figures in the shape of the cross as a reference to the enormous burdens the prisoners had to bear.

Media Credits

Image, described above, online courtesy Global Museum on Communism (The Gulag.org).  The original is maintained by the Jamestown Foundation.


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"Getman Painting - Prisoners at Rest" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. May 31, 2020.
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