Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Amateur Researcher, Part I

I had always had the romantic notion that my grandfather escaped from a prison camp in deepest Siberia, but while working on this book, and looking at the map while doing so, I realized that he had never reached his final destination, that he had escaped from one of the interim, or transition, camps.

When I became interested in charting out his various journeys. I looked at maps of Poland and Russia and identified where different incidents took place. My first observation was that people traveled tremendous distances back then (sometimes voluntarily and sometimes involuntarily). My next discovery, when I located on the map the Siberian towns to which my grandfather referred on his flight home, was that he had only gotten as far as Western Siberia, not all the way to the Far East, which I believe was the intended area as that region in rich in gold deposits, and gold mining was the task the prisoners on his chain gang were to perform for the next ten years.

As you can imagine, it isn’t very easy to locate maps of the various forced labor camps (and, by the way, the ones during my grandfather’s era were called katorgas, not gulags); it would probably require searching through the Kremlin archives, not all of which are likely to be accessible by the general public. Even if I knew his precise, ultimate destination, that wouldn’t help me find the interim camps through which the prisoners passed on the long journey to their permanent exile. They might even have been temporary.

But last night I came across a website that provided some information that I hadn’t had, and hadn’t come across anywhere else. The website was one that sells term papers (!); among other hitherto unknown bits of information, it gave a name to the interim camp system: etape – a new word to use in my searches. Suddenly, all sorts of new resources turned up that hadn’t appeared before. The unidentified author of this particular essay, entitled “Siberian Prison System,” also provided information about prisoners traveling on barges to Tomsk, from which they walked the remaining distance, which could be thousands of kilometers.

(to be continued)

1 comment:

  1. This just gets more and more fascinating the deeper you delve!