A Tree in the Tundra, Vorkuta, Russia

camp

A Tree in the Tundra

At first glance there is nothing special in the tundra wasteland some ten kilometres from the centre of Vorkuta, former Gulag town at the far north of Russia. Then one realizes that there is something too much in the landscape: a tree. Because of the permafrost, nothing but those prickly shrubs grow naturally in the tundra. The tree reveals that there has been something more here. This is the site of the former Rechlag lagpunkt of Vorkutlag camp. Rechlag was in use from 1930s until 1950s, mostly for political prisoners, and after the dismantling of Gulag it was abandoned & destroyed. The rotting wood, scraps of food, human waste & such it left behind during the years have formed an extra layer of soil on top of the frost, and that’s why a tree, stunted but still a tree, can grow there. Thus, it becomes a natural monument to the Gulag camp that once was here. The tree is part of the memory of the landscape.

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