The Gulag Doctors

Dan Healey


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Yale University Press
27 February 2024
ISBN: 9780300187137
368 pages

From the publisher

A pioneering history of medical care in Stalin's Gulag-showing how doctors and nurses cared for inmates in appalling conditions

A byword for injustice, suffering, and mass mortality, the Gulag exploited prisoners, compelling them to work harder for better rations in shocking conditions. From 1930 to 1953, eighteen million people passed through this penal-industrial empire. Many inmates, not reaching their quotas, succumbed to exhaustion, emaciation, and illness.

It seems paradoxical that any medical care was available in the camps. But it was in fact ubiquitous. By 1939 the Gulag Sanitary Department employed 10,000 doctors, nurses and paramedics-about 40 percent of whom were prisoners.

Dan Healey explores the lives of the medical staff who treated inmates in the Gulag. Doctors and nurses faced extremes of repression, supply shortages, and isolation. Yet they still created hospitals, re-fed prisoners, treated diseases, and "saved" a proportion of their patients. They taught apprentices and conducted research too. This groundbreaking account offers an unprecedented view of Stalin's forced-labour camps as experienced by its medical staff.