BAKAL | 2016

Since 1941 until 1946 there was the Bakallag labor camp (part of GULAG system) on the territory of Ural city Chelyabinsk (Russia). In wartime it was turned into the place of detention for free Soviet citizens — representatives of so called “enemy” nations. The Italians, Finns, Romanians, Hungarians, but mostly Germans, deported mainly from the Volga region, where their ancestors were invited by official manifestos still in 1760s, were declared as potential saboteurs and spies. 

Mobilized for the construction of roads, housing and local factories, which now make the main industrial potential of the city, the prisoners of Bakallag, 86% filled by Soviet Germans, worked often without projects and estimates. The daily feeding — 400—600 grams of bread, millet gruel on the water in the mornings, skilly of rotten nettle silage in the afternoons and evenings, the bitter infusion of pine needles. The easiest work is a stone quarry, the most difficult is tree felling. Any manifestation of dissatisfaction with detention conditions, even verbal, was perceived as a clear pro-nazist and could face the responsibility up to the execution. Dying of starvation and disease, prisoners took on last shelter in unmarked mass graves among the metallurgical slags.
After more than 70 years the events associated with the camp have little or no reflection in the contemporary city landscape, and Russian Germans, like thousands of other repressed citizens, remain not only outside the formal processes of glorification, but generally at the periphery of commemorative process.
Collective memory can’t tolerate ambiguity. It’s easier and more convenient to reduce events to mythic archetypes. The traumatic experience of thousands and thousands of people is forced to overcome a reluctance to hear about it, but also heroic stereotypes of society. In Chelyabinsk, as in many other areas of the former Soviet hard-labor camps of GULAG system, the memory of the survivors and the memory of the deceased is enshrined in the rare memorial places. However, these places are deprived of the symbolic aura of memory, which would indicate past and conceptualize it. They are just a continuation of total oblivion. And oblivion doesn’t have healing powers for historical traumas.