Map documenting the extent of the Soviet gulag system

[Sylwester Mora & Piotr Zwierniak,] MAP OF CONCENTRATION CAMPS IN SOVIET RUSSIA. [Rome: Wlochy, 1945.]
Propaganda map and surrounding text. The map printed in two colors, 13 1/8”h x 23 ¼”w at neat line. Overall printed area 19”h x 26”w on a 19 ½”h x 27 ½”w sheet.

A powerful persuasive map produced at the end of the Second World War and documenting, though likely with some exaggeration, the extent of the Soviet gulag system.

The Gulag was created under Vladimir Lenin almost immediately after the Revolution, taking its name from an acronym of the Russian phrase for “Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps.” Though estimates of its scale differ, it eventually grew to include hundreds of camps housing millions of criminals, political prisoners, and prisoners of war. All lived under extremely rough conditions, marked by poor food, hard labor, and high mortality. After the Second World War, the size and brutality of the Gulag provided much ammunition for the propaganda efforts of Cold Warriors in America and abroad.

PJ Mode’s Persuasive Maps web site describes the map:

“The first appearance of a cold war map of Soviet concentration camps. It purports to show the various concentration camp systems, occupying fully half the territory of the Soviet Union. Text on the right of the map explains the organization of the camps and says that it was drawn from “original soviet documents and written statements from former prisoners.” It explains that there are additional camps not shown on the map for want of adequate information. At the top of the map are photographs of “soviet documents from the camp authorities.” Below the map are details about the particular industries and activities of individual camps and systems.”

The most obvious persuasive feature of the map is the use of black-line borders and orange shading to demarcate the individual “camp systems”, which convey the false impression that the Gulag in aggregate consumed perhaps half the landmass of the Soviet Union. One peculiar feature is the map’s use of English for the title and the extensive “Particulars” to the right of and below the map. One possible explanation is that the authors wished to produce but one version of the map for use in the Polish, French and Italian editions, and that English was the language most likely to be understood by all three audiences.

According to PJ Mode,

“The map was produced by “by two Polish military offıcers, Sylvester Mora and Pierre Zwierniak” in “one of the fırst books to bring in fırsthand accounts by prisoners and to feature some of the fırst attempts at quantifying slave labor.” (Barney 2013, 346). The book was Sprawiedliwość Sowiecka, published in Rome in 1945, also published as La Justice Sovietique and Giustizia Sovietica. Mora and Zwierniak were pseudonyms for S. Starzewski and Kazimierz Zamorski ([Anne] Applebaum[, Gulag: A History,] 2003, 649.)”

The Mora-Zwierniak map was first adapted in America when Isaac Don Levine, editor of the anti-Communist magazine Plain Talk, included a revised, English-language version in the May, 1947 issue (See Persuasive Maps #1337.) The revisions included a more precise rendering of the locations of labor camps, the inclusion of wrenching photos of “Gulag children,” and the offer of a $1000 reward for “evidence disproving the authenticity of the Soviet documents here reproduced.”

In all, a powerful and unusual example of early Cold War propaganda.

Persuasive Maps: The PJ Mode Collection, #1330. Rumsey #10518 (variant).