The Vorkutlag (Russian: Воркутлаг), sometimes Vorkuta Gulag, was one of the major Soviet era GULAG labor camps, full name Воркутинский исправительно-трудовой лагерь (Vorkuta Corrective Labor Camp). It was located in the Pechora River Basin, in the Komi Republic, part of the Siberian region of Russia, located 1,900 kilometres (1,200 mi) from Moscow and 160 kilometres (99 mi) 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.
A large number of American prisoners held by the Soviet Union (USSR) passed through and/or were held at Vorkuta Gulag during the most of the period of the Cold War. In particular, US military servicemen from various eras (from the 1940s up until as late as the 1980s) were illegally arrested,captured and subsequently detained and held by the notorious Soviet Gulag (labour-camp) prison system, including the one at Vorkuta. A significant proportion came from falling into Soviet hands towards the end of World War II between the winter of 1944 and the spring and the summer of 1945 (when the Soviet Red Army advanced further westward into Nazi German-occupied Poland and then Germany itself and came across thousands of US military personnel captured and held as prisoners-of-war (POWs) in many prison-camps by Nazi Germany) while the rest ended up in the USSR as POWs captured by North Korea and the People's Republic of China (PRC) during the Korean War (this constituted a small number and comprised mainly of US Air Force pilots involved in the conflict in captivity by the PRC and/or North Korea) and others being kidnapped by the Soviet military (with perhaps some covert help from East German authorities as well) from the streets of East Berlin during the early part of the Cold War (from 1945 up until the 1970s).
Homer Harold Cox was an American military policeman assigned to the US Army's 759th Military Police Service Battalion based in West Berlin. On the 6th of September in 1949 he was drugged and arrested (most likely by Soviet military personnel) while on off-duty and being in East Berlin (the Soviet-occupied sector of a divided Berlin (similar to that of the whole of Germany) after WWII). He was imprisoned at various Soviet prison-camps and labour-camps throughout his entire period of captivity in the USSR, including at Vorkuta Mine No. Four and at Vorkuta Mine No. Seven.
On the 29th of December in 1953, he was finally repatriated back to the USA via West Berlin along with fellow American prisoner Leland Towers (who served in the US Merchant Marine). Cox passed away from pneumonia just less than one year later on the 27th of September in 1954 in Lawton in Oklahoma.
Another American military serviceman illegally detained by the USSR at around the same period of time was US Army private William Marchuk of Norristown in Pennsylvania, who was also kidnapped (either by the Soviet military or East German authorities) in East Berlin in 1949 and sent to the Soviet Union shortly afterwards. John H. Noble, an 31 year-old American civilian from Detroit in Michigan who stayed in Germany as a US expatriate together with his family during WWII, was also arrested by the Soviet Red Army in Dresden in Germany at the end of the war in Europe in 1945. Not many American civilians and military personnel held by the USSR were ever repatriated back to the USA, despite constant (but reduced and downplayed) pressure from the US government, which had actually been aware of the USSR's actions.
- Anton Kaindl: The commander of Nazi Germany's Sachsenhausen concentration camp between 1942 to 1945, who died at Vorkuta prison-camp in 1948.
- Jaan Kross (1920-2007): An Estonian writer.
- Armand Maloumian (1928-2007): A French writer.
- Jānis Mendriks (1907–1953): A Latvian Catholic priest.
- Günter Stempel (1908-1981): An East German politician and a member of the country's Liberal Democratic Party.
- Yevgeny Ukhnalyov (1931-2015): A Russian artist.
- Revolt Pimenov: A Russian mathematician and a historian, also a Soviet dissident, and later, a post-Soviet politician.
- Mikhail Molostvov: A Russian dissident of the Soviet Union who later became a post-Soviet politician and a statesman.
- Zoya Voskresenskaya, the chief of the Special Section of Vorkuta prison-camp, who served between 1955 to 1956.
In popular culture
- "Red Snow", the second segment of the twenty-first episode of the first season (1985–86) of the television series The Twilight Zone, features Vorkuta as the sanctuary of a vampire community.
- In the 2010 video game Call of Duty: Black Ops the player, an American named Alex Mason, is imprisoned at Vorkuta from 1961 to 1963, after being captured by Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion, and participates in a prisoner uprising along with his ally Viktor Reznov.
- Memorial website(Russian)
- Robert Conquest, Paul Hollander: Political violence: belief, behavior, and legitimation p.55, Palgrave Macmillan;(2008) ISBN 978-0-230-60646-3
- "THE GULAG STUDY". nationalalliance.org. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
- 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