The Moscow directors of the newly organized government agency, The Central Gold Monopoly, realized that effective exploitation of Kolyma's gold fields could not reach the peak of productivity without advanced American technology. A group of their geologists and technocrats made a trip to California to acquaint themselves with American mining systems. They inspected some of the American mines and managed to recruit a few American engineers. That was, however, the limit of the assistance they got from the Americans.
Unable to secure foreign technology or develop their own, they resorted to slave labor, provided in abundance by the all powerful Soviet police organization. By then, socio-economic conditions in the country had taken a drastic turn for the worse. In 1929, Stalin began to collectivize the Soviet farming industry. From then on, peasants and small landowners were not allowed to own the land or to profit from the sale of the crops. Those who resisted this policy were dealt with ruthlessly. Some were executed, but hundreds of thousands of others were driven to the peripheries of the Soviet Empire to form an enormous, expendable slave labor force.
Stalin particularly targeted those who were traditionally the richer peasants, the so-called "kulaks." This class of the people were unwilling to join the farm collectives and were subjected to reprisals from state security personnel. Though there was some open rebellion, most of the affected population resorted mainly to passive resistance. People simply refused to work in the collectives. Stalin's response was to let them be starved out of existence. The kulaks had destroyed farm equipment, burned fields, and slaughtered livestock, but the government officials locked up the remaining food stores and induced a famine.
As a result, a sufficient amount of food was not produced to feed the country's population. These shortages of farm products resulted in the greatest man-made famine in the history of mankind. The region most affected was the Ukraine. According to recent Ukrainian reports (from Kiev), at least half a million people died of starvation. Other sources estimate the number as high as three million. Police reprisals continued with mass arrests and mass deportation of whole populations to remote corners of Siberia. Ukrainian historians claim that these persecutions were directed entirely against ethnically Ukrainian people. Though it may have seemed this way from the Ukraine, the known facts indicate numerous other ethnic groups were included in these pogroms.
For centuries this part of Europe (Ukraine) had a large Polish population - many of them remained in place after the Revolution. The total or partial disappearance of Poles from the areas of Kamieniec Podolski, Winnica, Zhytomierz and Kiev, and the most recent discovery of ethnic Polish groups in Kazakstan, Uzbekistan and other regions of Siberia, clearly indicates that Poles were persecuted as much as any other ethnic groups in Ukraine. Also, since the Ukrainian section represented the economically poorer class, and was from the beginning of communism supportive of this social and political change, they were unlikely to be the only persecuted group. Furthermore, they must have enjoyed some of Stalin's confidence since, according to the report of Eugenia Ginzburg in her book "In the Whirlwind," the guards for the prison camps in Kolyma were recruited from Ukraine and Tashkent.
In addition to "kulaks" and Poles from Ukraine, the insane Soviet system of persecution reached out for other sources to provide slave labor for the Gulag or Labor Camp Administration in the entire Soviet Union, including Uzbeks, Tatars, ethnic Germans, Georgians, Armenians, Turkmen, Mongols, Latvians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Chinese, Koreans, Afghans, Finns, and countless unnamed others. By the mid 30s, Stalin Purges and Show Trials were in full swing. His aim was to wipe out any challenge to his leadership and to impose total control over the people. That his repression created a mass of slave workers, was an added bonus. No one in the Soviet Union was immune from this, reagrdless of ethnicity or nationality. In fact, foreigners were viewed as a threat. The war years brought huge numbers of unfortunate foreign nationals under Soviet control. The number of foreign nationals sent to the Gulag varied from year to year, depending on where these purges were being conducted. The chart below summarized the annual Gulag (NTL) population, of foreign nationals only, based on data recently released from the old Soviet archives (Pohl 1997).
Many of the old Bolsheviks who had deviated their loyalty to the Party and to the communist ideology were arrested, tortured, charged with most ludicrous crimes, were found guilty in show trials and executed. The Red Army lost over 70% of its higher-ranking officers by imprisonment and execution. But more than this; ordinary, everyday people were also arrested and sent into exile too - it did not matter if they were innocent or guilty. The gold fields of Kolyma were not deprived of their share of this labor bonanza. The activity of execution and sentencing both Russains and foreigners to the labor camps reached a frenzy before and during the wars years, as shown in this chart based on data from Pohl (1997).
By then, the riches of this distant sub-Arctic land were ready to be developed and exploited. The initial infrastructure was named "Kulturbase," and was basically limited to the port of Nagayevo and the supply center in Magadan. With the arrival of the first director of Kolyma, Edward Petrovich Berzin, (in 1932) it was renamed "Dalstroy" and quickly expanded its operations. Under his direction, the whole region of Kolyma became a fast growing frontier land of the Soviet Union whose entire economy was based on cheap slave labor. In a short time the main thoroughfare to the North from an initial 13 kilometers developed to a 1034 kilometer-long highway leading from Magadan to the Arctic port of Ambartchik. Thousands of labor camps were built along this road and thousands of mines, predominantly gold mines, began operations.
The key to the fast development of Kolyma was its capitol city Magadan. This small sub-Arctic fishing village, inhabited by the northern tribe of Ewenis, (who gave it the name meaning "sea dunes") rapidly developed into a busy penal colony. Hundreds of thousands of prisoners were delivered each year to Kolyma's slave labor camps. They populated the town of Magadan and its hinterland, and were meant to work there to their deaths and not return. Consequently, Magadan, from having only 165 houses and buildings in 1935, (not counting prison camps), grew within half a century into a metropolis of 160,000 people. It became, in the process, a thriving mining, industrial, fishing and cultural center, and remains so today.
Recent official Soviet Russian publications, such as the book "Magadan" portray the city as a beautiful, modern place - vital, progressive and, most of all, free. In this entire book there is no mention whatsoever of the slave labor which gave this place a birth from the death and suffering of countless souls. This present modern capitol of the North seems to have no memory, no shame, and no desire to know the crimes of its past.
Not one sentence or paragraph is dedicated to all the Soviet nationalities and many prisoners from such countries as Poland, Germany, Rumania, Lithuania, Latvia, Mongolia, China, Korea, Afghanistan, Armenia, or the Japanese POWs of World War II who lived, worked and died there. With the dismantling of the slave labor camps in the late 50s and 60s the memory of these murdered slaves and war victims also perished from the history books of Kolyma's libraries and schools, and from the records of government offices. Although some records have come to light from old Soviet archives, the denials in Kolyma continue to this day.
The slave workers, the product of Stalin's repression, started to arrive in Kolyma in the early 30s to begin massive exploitation of the mineral resources. The cargo fleet, created for that purpose, carried its human load on a one-way trip to the frozen land of the North. Only a very few ever returned to their homelands, and most of them came back as invalids, the victims of severe frostbite. The majority of them remained forever in mass graves, dug into the permafrost, or had their bodies buried under rocks or carried away by spring flood to the Arctic Sea. Their souls, as prison folklore had it, found eternal rest on the white peaks of the mountains, called "sopkas."
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, and the invasion of the Eastern Polish provinces by the Soviets, new sources of slave labor were found to feed the economic needs of Stalin's empire. Some two million Poles were forcibly removed from their homes by the Soviet police and resettled in the vast territories of Siberia and Kazakstan. They had to work in collective of the wide steppes or lumberjacks in the taiga or as slave labor in the camps of the cold and remote northern regions. Some Poles were executed by the Soviets like the 15,000 Polish officers who died in the forests of Katyn and Miednoye. The strange geographical names of the sub-Arctic and Arctic regions of Siberia became part of the Polish historical dictionary. Most of them became synonyms of the Polish wartime martyrdom in the Soviet Union.
Soon three other countries, forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union, contributed manpower to the slave system of the Gulag. The patriots of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia followed the tragic trail of Poles to sacrifice their effort and lives for the benefit of their persecutors and exploiters.