Norilsk Journal; Comes the Thaw, the Gulag’s Bones Tell Their Dark Tale – by Steven Lee Myers (New York Times – February 24, 2004)

The bones appear each June, when the hard Arctic winter breaks at last and the melting snows wash them from the site of what some people here — but certainly not many — call this city’s Golgotha.

The bones are the remains of thousands of prisoners sent to the camps in this frozen island of the Gulag Archipelago. To this day, no one knows exactly how many labored here in penal servitude. To this day, no one knows exactly how many died. The bones are an uncomfortable reminder of a dark past that most would rather forget.

”Here it is generally thought that the history of the camps is an awful secret in the family,” said Vladislav A. Tolstov, a journalist and historian who has lived in Norilsk all his life. ”We all know about it, but we try not to think about it.”

Norilsk is inseparable from its grim history, but people here remain deeply ambivalent about that. It has no monument to the victims, even though the gulag’s survivors have waged a frustrated campaign to build one.

Norilsk Nickel, the private mining and metallurgical company that emerged from the vast state enterprise that has always dominated the city, has erected placards extolling the history of its factories, without noting that the builders shown in black-and-white photographs were slaves.

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