Sadistic nature of Gulags in the Soviet Union during Communism – Drawings from the Gulag by Danzig Baldaev
In the Soviet Union, desk drawers became sarcophagi; entombed within them were the creative endeavours of the most talented and perceptive Soviet citizens. Yet it is best not to idealise such hiding spaces as reserves of dormant illumination; indeed, there may have been no limit to the depths of darkness possible within them.
Consider the case of Danzig Baldaev. Born in 1925 in Ulan-Ude, in east-central Russia, Baldaev was the son of an ethnographer who was arrested as an “enemy of the people”. He grew up in an orphanage for the children of “enemies” and following his service in the second world war was “forced”, as he described it, by the NKVD (a forerunner of the KGB) to work as a warder at Kresty prison in Leningrad, now St Petersburg. His employment in the Soviet penal system took him all over the USSR, but in private, he poured the psychological detritus of his profession into a terrifying work of sadistic pornography, which he dedicated, in 1988, to Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
His drawings and descriptions imprint themselves awfully in the imagination: in one image, three nude, emaciated women, so wasted by hunger and work that their uteruses have prolapsed, line up before a camp doctor beneath a sign bearing Lenin’s dictate, “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.” In another, an unclothed university professor is lashed, sodomised and gloated over by his uneducated guards for his pursuit of an unapproved science. Elsewhere, sick workers are steamed in a sauna, and then hauled naked into temperatures below freezing to expire from shock. On the most nauseating page, a young woman who has refused the sexual advances of her captors sits tied to a tree atop an anthill in the notoriously insect-ridden Siberian woods with a tube “inserted into the vagina so the ants could crawl inside”.