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Nikolai Getman - GULAG Prisoner

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Nikolai Getman (1917-2004) was a Ukrainian artist who served time as a forced laborer in Siberia’s Kolyma camps. 

In the fall of 1945, Getman was in a café with other artists when one of his friends drew a caricature of Stalin on a cigarette box.  Someone informed the government about this event, and all the artists who were present were arrested (on 12 October 1945) for “anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation.”  As punishment, Getman was sent to the GULAG.

Stalin died in 1953.  Nikolai was released on the 30th of August, 1953.

With memories of slave-labor life burned in his mind, Getman began to illustrate what people had endured at the Kolyma camps.  His pictures help the rest of the world to understand what he and all the other forced-laborers had to endure for so many years:

Some may say that the Gulag is a forgotten part of history and that we do not need to be reminded.  But I have witnessed monstrous crimes.  It is not too late to talk about them and reveal them.  It is essential to do so.

Some have expressed fear on seeing some of my paintings that I might end up in Kolyma again - this time for good.  But the people must be reminded, as part of their education, and as a tribute to the memory of the more than 50 million who died as a result of one of the harshest acts of political repression in the Soviet Union.  My paintings may help achieve this.

Nikolai created about 50 paintings.  He worked in secret, not even telling his wife.  If anyone had found out about his work, he could have been sentenced again for “anti-Soviet” behavior. 

Getman hoped that his efforts would help others to never forget what happened to millions of people who endured horrific conditions in the GULAG.


Media Credits

Image online, courtesy Jamestown Foundation.

 

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