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History Russia & The Former Soviet Union

The Unknown Gulag

The Lost World of Stalin's Special Settlements

by (author) Lynne Viola

Oxford University Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2009
Russia & the Former Soviet Union
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2009
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One of Stalin's most heinous acts was the ruthless repression of millions of peasants in the early 1930s, an act that established the very foundations of the gulag. Solzhenitsyn barely touched upon this brutal episode in his magisterial Gulag Archipelago and subsequent writers passed over the subject in silence. Now, with the opening of Soviet archives, an entirely new dimension of Stalin's brutality has been uncovered. The Unknown Gulag is the first book in English to explore this untold story.

Historian Lynne Viola reveals how, in one of the most egregious episodes of Soviet repression, Stalin drove two million peasants into internal exile, to work as forced laborers. The book shows how entire families were callously thrown out of their homes, banished from their villages, and sent to the icy hinterlands of the Soviet Union, where in the course of a decade, almost a half million would die as a result of disease, starvation, or exhaustion. Drawing on pioneering research in the previously closed archives of the central and provincial Communist Party, the Soviet state, and the secret police, Viola documents the history of this tragic episode. She delves into what long remained an entirely hidden world within the gulag, throwing new light on Stalin's consolidation of power, the rise of the secret police as a state within the state, and the complex workings of the Soviet system. But first and foremost, she movingly captures the day-to-day life of Stalin's first victims, telling the stories of the peasant families who experienced one of the twentieth century's most horrific instances of mass repression.

A compelling story of human suffering and survival in Stalin's Soviet Union, here is a new chapter in the history of the gulag, virtually hidden from sight until now.

About the author

Lynne Viola is Professor of History at the University of Toronto. She is the author of The Best Sons of the Fatherland and Peasant Rebels Under Stalin and coeditor of The War against the Peasantry.

Lynne Viola's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Magnificently wide-ranging"

--Times Literary Supplement

"A seamless and quite moving narrative.... a social historian at the top of her game."

--Lewis H. Siegelbaum, Slavic Review

"A path-breaking and authoritative work."

--Douglas Smith, The Seattle Times

"This scholarly, nuanced work shines light on Stalin's forced resettlement of two million Soviet peasants in the 1930s. ...likely to become the scholarly standard on one of the 20th century's most horrific crimes."

--Publishers Weekly

"After years of archival and field research, Viola reproduces whole an obscured segment of Stalinism's barbarity in which half a million perished and nearly two million agonized."

--Foreign Affairs

"Historians have long been aware of the scale of collectivization and the exile of the kulaks. But The Unknown Gulag provides the human voices that were secreted away for decades in formerly closed archives. Ms. Viola's painstaking research lays the foundation for a compelling and, in certain ways, surprising narrative."

--The Wall Street Journal

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