Russia's Interior Ministry says those missing Gulag archives are being digitized, not destroyed

Meduza
13:41, 13 june 2018

Commenting on the recent confusion surrounding Russia’s rumored destruction of Gulag “registration card” archives, the Russian Interior Ministry told Meduza that officials are digitizing these records.

Government archives are only keeping the original cards when prisoners were sentenced for crimes against the state or in cases when inmates’ documents have special academic or historical significance. The registration cards that don’t fit this description are being removed from paper files and transferred to electronic form for permanent storage, the ministry says.

Earlier this year, researchers claimed to have discovered a confidential interdepartmental memo ordering the destruction of all registration cards issued to convicts in the Soviet prison system who were 80 years old by February 2014. Deputy Interior Minister Igor Zubov later denied that the government has adopted a policy of destroying Gulag registration card records.

So far, there have been two cases (both in the Magadan region) where researchers requested access to registration card archives and were told that the records had been destroyed. Meduza wrote about this scandal last week.

What are these “cards”? When people were sent to the Gulag, the prison system opened a personal case file on each inmate — a folder containing the state’s information about that individual. Prisoners were also assigned registration cards that listed their basic information: full name, year of birth, ethnicity, profession, conviction, sentence, and so on. These registration cards are often the only record of important information about prisoners, and they also catalog what happened to people exiled or caught up in the USSR’s “dekulakization” and mass deportations.