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Karlag (Karaganda Corrective Labor Camp, Russian: Карагандинский исправительно-трудовой лагерь, Карлаг) was one of the largest Gulag labor camps, located in Karaganda Oblast (now Karaganda Region, Kazakhstan), Kazakh SSR, USSR. It was established in 1931 during the period of settlement of remote areas of greater USSR and its' ethnic republics. Cheap labor was in high demand for these purposes. Hundreds of thousands of inmates were creating wealth for the nation for a mere bowl of soup a day. People were arrested and transported from the West of the Aral Mountains to the gigantic labor camp in Central Kazakhstan spanning from Akmola Region in the North to the Chu River in the South. Later, after WWII, another wave of "enemies of the people" poured in from newly added territories. These were immigrants and Soviet POW's captured by Hitler's army and later "liberated" by the Soviet Army. An enormous part of Karlag inmates were political prisoners - "enemies of the people" who were victims of the Article 58 RSFSR. [1] Over a 1,000,000 inmates served in total in Karlag over its history.[2]

One of the main reasons for creating Karlag camp was the establishment of a large agricultural base supported by free labor for rapidly growing industry in Central Kazakhstan - Karaganda Coal Basin in particular. The camp was founded on the territory of uninhabited empty steppe and grew fairly quickly within the first couple of years with the help of neighboring regions of the North and South. The total territory of Karlag was about 6,800 sq. miles out of which only 300 sq. miles was dedicated to agriculture while the rest was used for pastures. As Karlag territory expanded it absorbed some civilian settlements which included ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Germans who moved to those parts between 1906-1907. As a result, in 1931 those civilian settlements were forced to relocate. This operation was enforced with the help of NKVD forces. The fate of the native Kazakh people was the most tragic. Collectivization of steppe, forced relocation, and confiscation pushed them to the city of Karaganda and its' neighboring regions. Karaganda was just starting to build the coal mines so many of these resettled people were used as cheap labor. Other Kazakhs who lived a nomadic lifestyle were often stripped of their livestock and forced to work at the mines in unacceptable conditions. Confiscated sheep, camels, cattle, and horses were transported to the newly formed "Eastern Meats" (Vostok Myaso) organization which was processing it in order to feed the labor force.

The empty lands of resettled people were soon filled with thousands of rows of inmates. Echelons of new prisoners came one after another from the central parts of Russian SSR. They quickly spread across steppe building railroads, housing for livestock, housing for camp employees, barracks, and isolation units.

Karlag Admin Building in Dolinka

Karlag wardens answered only to Gulag NKVD in Moscow. None of the members of Soviet, State or local government organs had any influence on operations facilitated by the wardens and supervisors of the camp. It resembled a colony with a heavy management apparatus. Its' departments included: administrative-agricultural, planning and control, culture-educational, human resources, trade, supply-chain, transport, finance, political, medical, and more. In Karlag with inmates' efforts were built meat-processing plant and leather/fur processing plant which produced leather products, furs and valenki.

Notable inmates[edit]

Children in Karlag[edit]

The children of the "enemies of the people" served time in Karlag. Many of them did not survive because of the harsh conditions of detention. Undressed and barefoot children slept on bare reed mats. For pregnant women, there was no postponement of the sentence. On January 1, 1938, among the arriving 2103 wives in the Karlag were 655 pregnant and nursing mothers. In 1941, 108 pregnant women arrived. In the breast group it was forbidden to take children in their arms. It was allowed only to change wet diapers. In 1939 there were 451 youngsters in the camp, 114 children died in one year. In 1940-1941 1048 children were born in Karlag, and in 1950-1952 - 1713 children. 576 children are accommodated in 5 Infant Houses in Karlag. On the territory of Karlag, there existed: a children's centre, an Osakarov orphanage, a Dolinsky orphanage, a baby house of the sanitary and medical division, 18 kindergartens and nurseries. Upon reaching the age of four, the children were sent to the Osakarovsky orphanage. Separation with children drove women to despair, some went crazy. Pregnant women were examined by doctors and sent to the branches of the maternity wards. During the period of breastfeeding, the imprisoned mothers worked in vegetable gardens located nearby, and in the winter in the sewing workshop where they lived. Women were forced to work 10 or more hours in order to be eligible for infant feeding. Often, exhausted and half-emaciated women lost breast milk, as a result of which babies died. According to archival data, there is a high mortality rate of children in infants' homes, orphanages of Karlag. So, for 1941 - 1944, 924 children died, and for 1950-1952 - 1130. On August 22, 1950, the Decree of the USSR Government "On the exemption from punishment of convicted women during pregnancy and women with young children" was issued. After this decree, 785 pregnant women, 706 women with young children outside the camp, were released. In total, 2886 women were released.


  1. ^ "Karlag", a website to preserve information about Karlag and its inmates
  2. ^ "Names", a page of the Karlag website