A world of women?


Many witnesses remember arriving in huts in Siberia where there were only women and their children. This world of women recurs in their recollections, and often the only male present was the commandant who came once a month to check on the various families in restricted residence in a village. The men, the fathers, were in camps, from which some would return and others didn’t. Some deportation orders specifically included “instructions for separating the deportee’s family from its head”.

It must be said that the post-war USSR was a world of women. The Second World War cost the USSR 26 million lives, mostly men.

The purges also hit men harder. Before the war, over 90% of the camp population were men. The figure was still over 80% after the war, although there were some women’s camps, such as the notorious ALZHIR in Kazakhstan.

It was a world of male domination due to labour specialisation, political and police domination. The commandants were all men. Men had the best-qualified jobs, while women counted as unqualified labourers.