When the West learned about the Gulag

Soviet labor camps were surrounded with walls and barbed wire,
and hidden by a policy of secrecy and enforced silence.
With very few notable exceptions the Soviet media avoided
the topic of the GULAG system. Prisoners, entirely cut off from
their homes and families, were doomed to die in obscurity and
isolation of exhaustion, hunger and cold. Any communication with
relatives was subject to severe limitations and censorship.
However, prisoners tried to send information about
their unhumane state by any means possible

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zapiska_on_road.jpg (5121 bytes) A message found on a road, and then sent to the relatives of the condemned. 1939. 
Barshchevskii, Anatolii Mikhailovich was an economist for the Soviet Union’s Central Executive Committee’s People’s Economic Soviet. Arrested in 1938 (paragraph 58). Sentenced to eight years hard labor in Magadan. Died in the camp in 1943. From collection of the Memorial

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  Image of the
original letter
in Russian

Some letters about labour camps and their prisoners were smuggled out of the Soviet Union and were published as early as in 1925. Letters from Russian Prisons contains over hundred letters and the testimony of political prisoners from the Soviet Union. The authors of this testimony were members of "persecuted revolutionary parties" - Social Democrats, Social Revolutionaries, and Anarchists. The book also includes the first printed maps of the GULAG, excerpts from Soviet legal documents, and material evidence such as GPU forms, labor camp tags, etc.

Before publishing the book, its compilers sent the manuscript
to a group of "celebrated intellectuals". Their responses, which follow,
were published in it.
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Albert Einstein: "They [the Soviet authorities] will lose the last shred of sympathy they now enjoy if they are not able to demonstrate through the great and courageous act of liberation that they do not require this bloody terror in order to put their political ideas in force"
Karl Chapek:"You say that the world’s bourgeoisie is against you; but a greater force than that is opposed to you, the conscience of the world is against you."
Emigre periodicals regularly contained letters and stories about political trials and labor camps
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Sotsialisticheskii vestnik
Sovremennye zapiski
Novyi Zhurnal
Information about the horrible practice of labour camps in the Soviet Union was, if not widely known, yet available long before The Gulag Archipelago was published by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1974.

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