The Gulag Doctors: Life, Death, and Medicine in Stalin’s Labour Camps – LECTURE

Date / time: 29 May, 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm

The Gulag Doctors: Life, Death, and Medicine in Stalin's Labour Camps - LECTURE


Please join Professor Dan Healey for a discussion with Professor Polly Jones about his book, The Gulag Doctors: Life, Death, and Medicine in Stalin’s Labour Camps, which has been shortlisted for the Pushkin House Book Prize 2024.

Of the 18 million people that passed through the gates of the Gulag between 1930 and 1953, at least 2.5 million never emerged. Prisoners were exploited to work harder in hellish conditions for better rations, and those who did not reach their quotas succumbed to exhaustion, emaciation and illness. The camps have become a byword for injustice, suffering and mass mortality, and it seems paradoxical that any medical care was available there. But the Gulag was not simply a penitentiary system – it was a means to drive industrialisation through forced labour and to colonise the remotest regions of the USSR.

For the purpose of productivity rather than wellbeing, healthcare was in fact ubiquitous. By 1939 the Gulag Sanitary Department employed 10,000 doctors, nurses and paramedics, many more per capita than in the civilian medical services. 40 percent of medical staff were themselves prisoners, who faced extremes of repression, supply shortages and isolation, and were caught between their duty as healers and the demands of the camp commandants, medical bureaucrats, and the very essence of the Gulag system. Yet they still created hospitals, re-fed prisoners, treated diseases and “saved” a proportion of their patients, as well as teaching apprentices and conducting research.

In the process of writing his groundbreaking book, Healey visited museums in the furthest corners of Russia where local history intertwines with one of the most brutal episodes of the past. He accessed archives collected by Memorial Society, met curators and activists, and read testimonies of Gulag survivors and the biographies of medical professionals. Since he started his research, the Memorial Society has been closed down by Putin’s regime, and literature about Stalinist Terror and the Gulag are being removed from the Russian school reading lists. In this climate, Healey’s book – which is not just scholarship, but asks a whole set of fundamental questions about humanity, complicity and life – is even more profound.

This event is taking place online and in-person. For more information and to register, please visit:


Image Credit: Pushkin House