Far back in time, somebody of poetic talent had expressed the tragedy of the prisoners through lyrics composed to a soft, sad and melancholic tune. Inmates throughout the entire region of Kolyma sang these lyrics with many variations. Anatol Krakowiecki, the Polish author mentioned earlier, memorized the first verse, together with the musical notes and recorded them in his book. The verse in translation sounds as follows:
"I live on the coast of the Okhotsk Sea,
where the Far East ends;
I live in hardship and misery
building a new settlement here."
"Hardship and misery", cold, sickness and hunger were never absent from Kolyma's slave laborers. And the settlement spoken about was nothing else but the camp itself with all its gold mining arrangements. Other verses of the song describe the misery in which the prisoners lived, and the last of them related to the cold, snowy peaks of the mountains where the souls of the dead were to find their eternal rest.
The rewards for labor and miserable existence were given in the form of food rations, varying according to the productivity of the individual man. In the summer, when production was at full swing, the highest ration amounted to 600 grams of bread, a bowl of thin soup three times a day and a quarter of salted herring. For the less productive men the bread was scaled down to 400 and 200 grams a day. In the winter all rations were reduced to the lowest and the soup servings to two a day. Basic winter work was to keep main thoroughfares free of snow and to remove the upper crust of soil down to gold bearing level.
The general supervision of the camp was in the hands of the guard detachment and its commander. The prisoners-functionaries, picked from the common criminals handled the internal affairs. Political prisoners were excluded from the privileged functions. The subordination of the prisoners to the criminal elements had some valid justification in the eyes of the penal authorities. The criminals were the extended hands of the prison terror. These chosen men were assigned such positions as internal camp supervisor, cook, men issuing bread and barrack orderlies - they were most feared by the prisoners for the club which they carried and used to punish the lesser of their own class.
It was the responsibility of these camp functionaries to get men out of their barracks in the morning, and to use any means to secure the highest rate of productivity from the prisoners. The use of clubs, and beating with spades and pickhandles, was a common sight. Among other drastic measures applied to prisoners was cutting ration short or finding additional work for them after the regular 12 hour work. On some occasions such punishment ended in death, for which the functionaries were never held responsible.
All labor camps were part of the same penal system, but they varied as to their purpose. Gold-mining and mining in general was the basic reason for their existence; road building and road maintenance in the marshy taiga were secondary in importance; and the so called OLP camps or Special Labor Camps were set for some specific task and generally remained under the supervision of men outside the system.
The mining camps were feared for such hardships as cold, hunger, hard work and high mortality rate. The OLPs could be anything from a place of reasonable existence to that of the utmost degree of intolerance, such as hard labor camps. One of the last type of the camps was became an experience of some 500 Poles in Magadan, as a punishment for refusing to go to work. Of these Poles 75% perished within two and half months. Roadwork in general involved hard work as well but the treatment of the prisoners was more tolerant.
Krakowiecki in which he described a group of men sent from the mine to the easier job at roadwork gave a good picture of the gold mine laborers. This is how he describes the group of these men:
"...From there, from the gold mine, came a procession of human phantoms. These people were driven hard to work, like animals, through the entire (summer) season. The animals would have revolted or died. The man endures more than they do. The men exploited through the season changed into skeletons. One cannot understand how these people are still alive? Only skin and bones, without exaggeration. These past people, physically completely destroyed, are not needed in the gold mine anymore, because their productivity is nil; therefore the half dead men are directed to the task of maintaining the roads."