Stalin's Slave Ships: Kolyma, the Gulag Fleet and the Role of the West Paperback – 30 Sep 2008
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Management consultant and student of maritime history Bollinger has written a valuable book on the maritime transportation system that Stalin used to send tens of thousands of Soviet citizens to the Kolyma prison camps. In clear and concise prose, he describes not only how Stalin supplied the Gulag camps of northeastern Siberia with forced labor, but also how the European and US governments acquiesced in this slave trade and actually built or refurbished many of the ships in Stalin's fleet....Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. --Choice
"Bollinger tells a fascinating tale about one of the more sordid chapters in the history of Stalin's forced labor empire. The book should also be read for its lessons about the West's inadvertent complicity in this sorry saga." (David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye^LBrock University^Lauthor, ^IToward the Rising Sun: Russian Ideologies of Empire and the Path to War with Japan^R)
"An ingenious use of neglected sources to shed new light on the workings of Stalin's labor camp system." (David Stone^Lauthor of ^IHammer and Rifle: The Militarization of the Soviet Union, 1926-1933^R) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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The book is NOT for squeamish and politically correct readers because it undermines received popular popular.
Bollinger began this book with the Gulag slave ship named THE INDIGRIKA which ran aground in late 1939. Tensions between the Soviets and Japanese delayed rescue efforts. However, as Bollinger reported and documented, almost 750 concentration camp prisoners died by freezing or being shot by guards as these prisoners were shot trying to avoid a frozen drowning death. What may be surprising to readers is that some of the later prisoners were US military personal.captured from POW camps are doing intelligence work and never heard from again.
Another early chapter referred to Kolyma concentration camp as the end of the world which is apt description. Bollinger described the geography and climate very well, and the only way to transport concentration camp inmates to Kolyma was by ship in areas adjacent to the Arctic Ocean. An interesting poem written by the prisoners is follows:
Twelve months of winter,
The rest summer
The fact is that this part of the world is colder than the North Pole and the summit of Mount Everest. To give a vivid description, temperatures can be as cold as 90 degrees below zero. Skin freezes at minus 40 below C. Prior to the rise of Big Communism, the main reason for Kolyma explorations was the discovery of gold in 1850, and, during the Soviet regime, rediscovered from 1927-1929. Initially, the inmates were sent to extract gold, and, comparatively speaking, had adequate food and winter clothing. However, by 1937, Stalin sent inmates to Kolyma to die. Those who survived the treacherous voyages were given inadequate food and winter gear. Bollinger reported one account where prisoners on board a ship rebelled and were doused with cold water and froze to death. When the prisoners were first sent to Kolyma, the inmates were divided by specialization of labor. Engineers, construction designers, and manual laborers had specific work to build the facilities. However, Stalin & co. made everyone a common laborer which obviously caused collapse of living (dying) quarters and work stations much worse.
In 1944, 3,000 female prisoners were sent to Kolyma via the slave ships. One can imagine the abuse these women suffered. One may assume that Stain & co. wanted to give the Russians a sense of equality. Earlier in 1941, survivors reported that those unfit for work were loaded on the ships and thrown overboard to drown just to get rid of them. Per the title of a book, MAN IS A WOLF TO MAN. The casual indifference to imposed suffering and death are stunning to those who are supposed "civilized."
Not only were conditions terrible at Kolyma, but ocean treks to and from Kolyma were hazardous. Bollinger detailed the hazards of ice, narrow channels, dangers of running aground. Many of these sea disasters were concealed until tourists discovered hulks and the remains of ship explosions that reached land. As an aside, those who died from ship disasters or explosions may have experienced "a blessing in disguise."These voyages were almost as dangerous to ship crews as well as the prisoners. The total losses re the sea treks and concentration camp brutality probably exceeded three million poor souls. Readers should note that these mass murders occurred in JUST ONE CONCENTRATION CAMP among several such concentration camps which were known as the Gulag Archipelago. Demographic experts predict that between 1928-1954, Soviet losses were as high as over 50,000,000 mass murders.
One may further ask who supplied the ships and a repairs of Stalin's ships. Bollinger cited "chapter and verse" that the Dutch, the British, and the Americans bankrolled these repairs and built some of the ships via the tax payers. With developing tensions, the Americans were either ignorant, duped, or "turned a blind eye." Given international "string pulling," this should not be too surprising.
Bollinger's book is an "eye opener." Bollinger did a solid job of research and supplied readers with copious notes and charts/graphs. He also wrote well, and the book is clear. Another asset Bollinger showed was honesty. Where statistics were unclear and honest errors were made, Bollinger indicated these problems and errors.
James E. Egolf
January 18, 2016
There is some good detail here, yet I feel that this as viewed a work of history is incomplete, and to a fair degree unfinished. And as another reviewer commented, the author's use of English could have been better. (...) When all reports are in, what may very well result, in addition to a stronger anti-Soviet statement, is one that weighs even against the United States itself. Nonetheless, to someone unknowledgeable of these events and years, this is a good place to commence one's reading.
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