Motherhood and Survival in the Stalinist Gulag

in Aspasia

This article analyzes the Gulag memoirs of four women political prisoners—Olga Adamova-Sliozberg, Liudmila Miklashevskaya, Nadezhda Joffe, and Valentina Grigorievna levleva-Pavlenko—to examine the interplay of motherhood and survival. Each was a mother of small children sentenced to forced labor camps in the northern polar regions of the Soviet Union. Motherhood played a complex role in their survival. The rupture in family relations, particularly the separation from their children, magnified the psychological and emotional stress of their incarceration. Yet, being a mother in the camps provided a compelling motivation to stay alive. It helped them to sustain a sense of normalcy by connecting them to their former lives and to the family unit that represented stability and sustenance amid the bleakness of their Gulag existence.

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