The Vorkuta Gulag was a Soviet era prison camp located in the Pechora River Basin, in the Komi Republic, part of the Siberian region of Russia, located 1,200 miles from Moscow and 100 miles above the Arctic Circle. Vorkuta Gulag was established in 1932 to exploit the resources of the Pechora Coal Basin, the second largest coal basin in the former U.S.S.R.. The city of Vorkuta was established to support the camp. There were approximately 132 sub-camps in the Vorkuta Gulag system during the height of its use in the Soviet prison system. From 1939, Polish prisoners were held here until Russia joined the allies, after it was attacked by Germany. The camp was then also used to hold German P.O.W.s captured on the Eastern Front in World War II as well as Soviet citizens and those from Soviet occupied countries deemed to be dissidents and enemies of the state during the Soviet era.
Although the camp was closed in 1962 there are large numbers of Soviet citizens who were former prisoners still living in Vorkuta, originally due to their former status as enemies of the state, then as a result of their poor financial situation. Memorial, a Russian human rights organization that focuses on recording and publicising the human rights violations of the Soviet Union's totalitarian era, estimates that of the 40,000 people collecting state pensions in the Vorkuta area 32,000 are trapped former gulag inmates, or their descendants
Inmates at Vorkuta who were forced to work in the region's coal mines went on strike during the Vorkuta uprising in July 1953. The mostly passive strike which lasted approximately two weeks was put down on August 1, when camp chief Derevyanko ordered troops to fire at the strikers resulting in the deaths of at least 53 workers, although estimates vary.
There were American servicemembers from various eras who were illegally detained in the Soviet gulag system including Vorkuta. Some fell into the hands of the Soviets during the end of World War II and during the Korean War, others were kidnapped from the streets of East Berlin during the Cold War.
Homer Harold Cox, was an American Military Policeman assigned to the 759th Military Police Service Battalion in West Berlin. On September 6, 1949 he was drugged and arrested while off duty, in the Soviet Sector of East Berlin. He was imprisoned at various Soviet prison camps including Vorkuta Mine No. Four and Vorkuta Mine No. Seven.
On December 29, 1953, he was returned to U.S. custody in Berlin along with fellow prisoner U. S. Merchant Marine Leland Towers. Cox would die of pneumonia less than a year later on September 27, 1954 in Lawton, Oklahoma.
Two other illegally detained Americans were Private William Marchuk, of Norristown, Pennsylvania, kidnapped in East Berlin in 1949 and expatriate, John H. Noble, 31, of Detroit, Michigan who was arrested by the Red Army in Dresden, Germany in 1945. Many Americans were never repatriated.
- Anton Kaindl: commandant, Sachsenhausen concentration camp (1942–1945), died at Vorkuta, 1948
- Jaan Kross (1920-2007): Estonian writer
- Jānis Mendriks: Latvian Catholic priest
In popular culture
- In the 2010 video game Call of Duty: Black Ops, the player, an American named Alex Mason, is imprisoned at Vorkuta in 1963, after being captured by Fidel Castro in Cuba, and partakes in a prisoner uprising along with his ally Viktor Reznov.
- Memorial website
- Robert Conquest, Paul Hollander: Political violence: belief, behavior, and legitimation p.55, Palgrave Macmillan;(2008) ISBN 978-0-230-60646-3
- Handling and Processing of Prisoners in USSR, IR-255-56, NBG Team, 7051st Air INTSERON, 7050 Air INTSERGU (USAFE), 18 December 1956, Air Intelligence Reports 1947 -62 (AIR), Deputy Director for Collection and Dissemination (DDCD), Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force (Air Staff), Record Group 341 (RG 341), National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD (NACP).
- Moscow #782 to State, December 30, 1953,611.6125/12-3053, Decimal, Central Files, RG 59, NACP. 31 The New York Times, January 22, 1954.
- The Stars and Stripes, September 29, 1954.
- Vorkuta Gulag- Time Magazine