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Nazinsky: Stalin’s Cannibal Island

Nazinsky: Stalin’s Cannibal Island

In the middle of the Ob River in Siberia lies
a forgotten island. Never officially named, it’s known after
the nearest village: the hamlet of Nazino. But people who live in this desolate region
know the island has another, secret name; a name you will never find on Google Maps. Over seventy years ago, dark things happened
on this strip of earth surrounded by icy waters, things so horrifying they were kept hidden
for decades. Things which resulted in this nameless place
becoming known as Cannibal Island. An anonymous piece of marshland less than
600 meters wide, Cannibal Island spent the best part of human history in total obscurity. Then, in 1933, it was abruptly chosen to be
the site of a new kind of Gulag, an agricultural prison where inmates would work the land for
the glory of the Soviet Union. But instead of a pastoral utopia, the 6,000
political prisoners sent there found themselves trapped in a nightmare of starvation, with
only one gruesome way to survive. In today’s video, we’re traveling into
the heart of human darkness, and uncovering the horrors of Joseph Stalin’s worst Gulag. A Prelude to Terror
It was a spring night in 1933 when Feofila Bylina’s parents received their visitor. She walked with fragile, painful movements,
her legs wrapped in filthy rags. Although she said she was forty, she looked
almost twice that age. For young Feofila, it was likely the first
time she’d ever seen a political prisoner. Feofila’s family were Siberian natives,
then known as Ostyaks. They lived in Nazino, a tiny hamlet on the
north bank of the rushing Ob River – exactly the sort of place easily overlooked amid Russia’s
vast wilderness. Recently, though, they’d started to notice
the outside world intruding. There were the boats that kept pulling up
at the nameless island along the river. The screams in the night. The gunshots. And now this. This strange young-old woman being carried
in by guards, in need of a place to rest. They took the woman to a backroom. There, by the candlelight, they removed the
rags from her legs. What she saw next would haunt Feofila for
the rest of her life. “I saw that her calves had been cut off,”
she recalled decades later. “I asked and she said, ‘They did that to
me on the Island of Death – cut them off and cooked them.’ All the meat on her calves was cut away.” The woman had come from the new Gulag in the
Ob River known as Cannibal Island, the latest atrocity Stalin’s Soviet Union had perpetrated
against its own people. But the story of Nazino Island – sometimes
rendered Nazinsky – doesn’t start with Feofila, or with that cold May night in 1933. It started nearly four years earlier, 3,000km
away, in a city Feofila had only seen in her dreams. In the winter of 1929, Joseph Stalin had set
in the Kremlin, pondering his latest decrees. It was now five years since Vladimir Lenin
had died, nearly a year since Leon Trotsky was sent into exile; and twelve whole years
since the Bolshevik Revolution overthrew the Tsar. With a flick of his pen, Stalin was about
to open a whole new, bloody chapter in Soviet history. He called it “Collectivization”. Collectivization was the order that all peasants
in areas such as Ukraine give up their smallholdings and go work on Soviet collective farms. This was Stalin’s anemic carrot. The gigantic stick was Dekulakization, a euphemism
for liquidating the kulaks. Technically, Kulaks were wealthier peasants. In practice, though, Kulaks were any peasants
who disagreed with Collectivization. And, boy, did plenty of people disagree with
Collectivization. In Ukraine, peasants destroyed their tools,
slaughtered their animals, and burned their crops rather than letting them fall into Soviet
hands. So Stalin did what Stalin did best. He had everyone who defied him shot, and everyone
else sent to the Gulags. By 1932, Collectivization had led to famine
across the USSR, and a Gulag system so overcrowded that even Stalin realized he couldn’t just
keep shoving more people in there. What the Soviet dictator needed was someone
who could think outside the box. Someone who could devise a brand new method
of Dekulakization. Luckily for Stalin – and very unluckily for
everyone else – the Soviets already had exactly that sort of man. Guilty Until Proven Innocent
On March 11, 1933, Genrikh Yagoda hit upon an idea that was almost brilliant in its cynicism. A future head of the NKVD, Yagoda is mostly
famous today for being just one in a long line of people Stalin promoted to the top
job, got bored with, and then had shot. In 1933, though, he was part of the team overseeing
the utter mess that was Collectivization, tasked with making Stalin’s decrees somehow
work without starving everyone to death. So Yagoda hit upon an ingenious solution. The USSR needed to both set up collective
farms while also punishing Kulaks, did it? Then why not condemn those Kulaks to work
on collective farms? Yagoda’s plan was to “resettle” 2 million
dissidents in Siberia, give them tools, and make them build their own self-sustaining
farms. All these new farms would solve the Collectivization
famine, while the miserable Siberian weather would provide the punishment part. Yagoda was so pleased with his idea that he
started implementing it even before Stalin agreed, sending out quotas of Kulaks for police
forces to arrest. It’s at this point that everything descended
into terrifying farce. In Stalin’s police, failing to fulfil your
quota meant becoming part of someone else’s quota. So you were extremely incentivized to find
dissidents even where no dissidents existed. That meant if you were living in an urban
area with few Kulaks, you went after those failing the internal passport regime instead. A hated feature of Tsarist Russia, internal
passports had been ditched by the Bolsheviks after they gained power. But Stalin had revived the system the previous
December. Distributed only to those doing useful work,
internal passports effectively made you a legal citizen. Fail to carry one, and you were automatically
a criminal. And, in the cities, there were always enough
people without passports to fulfil police quotas. Kuzma Salnikov, for example, was a married
miner from Novokuznetsk, and a passionate Communist. Then one day, he happened to go to a market
without his internal passport, just as police sealed off the building. He was deported from his home city without
even a chance to inform his wife. He never saw her or his two kids again. Awful as Salnikov’s story is, it’s just
one of many. There was the 12-year old girl left on a station
platform for ten minutes while her mother went to buy bread. When the mother returned, her child was gone,
abducted by policemen trying to hit their quota. There was the 103-year old man who went out
on his street for some air. Or the student who was snatched off his aunt’s
doorstep in Moscow. There was even a pregnant woman deported for
not carrying her passport… despite having it clutched in her hand the entire time. All across the USSR, hundreds of thousands
disappeared this way. As their families struggled to find out what
was happening, Yagoda’s goons loaded those captured onto trains bound for the wilds of
Siberia. Vagrants, common criminals, political prisoners,
kulaks, and ordinary people abducted off the street all became part of an unwilling exodus
into Russia’s frozen interior. The conditions were so bad that scores died
en route. They were the lucky ones. The survivors didn’t know it, but they were
being funneled toward Hell itself. The Island of Death
Given the immense cruelties it inflicted, it can be tempting to think of the Soviet
system as an infernal machine fine-tuned for repression. But that wasn’t the case. In Siberia, officials weren’t even informed
of the thousands of prisoners heading their way until the first trains appeared. When 25,000 people were unloaded in Tomsk
in April, 1933, local party bosses were basically like “well, what the hell do we do now?!” The trouble was that Yagoda’s guys in Moscow
had implemented the repression orders lightning fast, but then let all the logistics get bogged
down in bureaucracy. In crude terms, this is a little bit like
the Fyre Festival guy putting all the advertising in place for a massive party in the Bahamas,
but forgetting to supply any food, staff, or tents. Only, in this analogy, the Bahamas are a snowbound
Siberian wilderness, the missing tents are unbuilt prison compounds, and everyone is
super-terrified that canceling the festival will result in Stalin holding a rival one-man
festival called “Mass Executing all My Siberian officials.” By May, 1933, Tomsk was housing nearly 90,000
prisoners, but had yet to receive a copek for caring for them. So officials finally decided someone else
was gonna have to deal with the problem. Loading the first 5,000 exiles and 50 guards
onto lumber barges, they set them off along the Ob River, bound for the new island settlement
near Nazino village. It was not a pleasant ride. Nazino was roughly 800km away. 800km along a river still choked with ice,
in a part of Siberia ravaged by snowstorms. By the time the barges reached what would
become Cannibal Island on May 18, 27 settlers had already died from exposure. The survivors meanwhile stepped into a nightmare. The island was a low-lying swampland some
3km long and barely 600 meters wide. There was no shelter, just trees the settlers
were meant to cut down and use to build huts. But the officials in Tomsk had forgotten to
give them any tools. And now here they were, standing on a blanket
of snow as night set in, with no way of getting lumber to build shelter. Left with no choice, the prisoners slept out
in the open in the driving snow. By the time May 19, 1933 dawned, another 295
were dead. And so began a fight for survival that would
make the Hunger Games look like the Very Lovely Games. Almost all the unlucky souls sent to Cannibal
Island were city dwellers who’d been caught without their passports. They had none of the agricultural skills real
Kulaks would’ve had, none of the survival skills. And this would soon become a very serious
problem. On the barges, the prisoners had been given
a lump of bread each day to keep them alive. But now the guards could no longer be bothered
to turn the flour they brought with them into bread. Instead, they simply handed each prisoner
200 grams of flour as sustenance – less food than even prisoners in Auschwitz or Cambodia’s
Killing Fields had to live on. Already desperate, many of the settlers mixed
the flour with dirty river water, leading to an outbreak of dysentery. It was only the second day, and already Cannibal
Island was a horrorshow. If all this is a little much for you, best
switch off now. From here on in, things are only gonna get
worse. The Theater of Cruelty
By May 22 – four days after the barges arrived – the prisoners had already reached new depths
of suffering. The freezing rains were killing people nightly,
while those who’d managed to build fires were lying too close to them and burning to
death. On top of that, the guards hadn’t returned
to give out more flour since the meagre 200 grams everyone received on the first day. At this stage, the prisoners were still just
about clinging to enough of their humanity to organize in protest. They started a riot. They made enough noise that the guards eventually
sailed one of the boats over from the opposite bank to see what was up. When the prisoners said they wanted food,
the guards agreed to restart the flour rations. But not on a person by person basis. Instead, all surviving prisoners would have
to self-organize into brigades of 150. Each brigade would have a leader, and that
man would be responsible for distributing the flour quota. It was at this point that any solidarity on
Cannibal Island was lost forever. Among the settlers were a minority of violent
criminals and outright sociopaths. Seeing the key to their survival, they presented
themselves to the guards as brigade leaders. The guards just shrugged and gave them the
flour. And so began the awful process of starving
to death for all but a handful of prisoners on the island. You may be wondering why people didn’t try
to escape. Why they didn’t brave the river and make
a break for it. The answer is that they did. Remember Kuzma Salnikov, the Communist miner
who got arrested at the market? Well, in the early days, when he still had
his strength, he managed to swim across the icy water to the opposite bank and escape
into the wilderness. Miraculously, he eventually found a collective
farm where he was able to live out his days. But Salnikov was an exception. Most prisoners who braved the harsh waters
of the Ob drowned. Those that made it to the bank were shot at
by the guards. Those who escaped, the well-fed guards then
hunted through the wilderness for sport. Which brings us neatly to the cruelty of Cannibal
Island’s guards. From the safety of their barges, they got
drunk, went on deck, and shot prisoners for fun. Other times, they would sail over, take a
hunk of bread, and hurl it into a crowd, enjoying the way the prisoners fought one another for
a scrap of food. Some of them would trade these hunks of bread
for sex with young female prisoners. Yet others would order the criminal elements
to rip the gold teeth out older settlers in exchange for cigarettes. Cannibal Island would’ve been a legendary
nightmare if the guards had just dropped the prisoners and sailed away. By staying, they transformed a disaster into
a deliberate massacre. On May 25 – one week after the barges landed
– the camp doctor made a gruesome discovery. Examining the corpses of five prisoners, he
noticed the first signs of cannibalism among the settlers. When he relayed the message to officials back
in Tomsk, he was told the prisoners were degenerate and obviously “cannibals by habit.” Not two days later, another barge arrived,
carrying an additional 1,000 prisoners to the island. Did these guys come bearing any extra food? Ha. What do you think? Death in Siberia
By late May, the island’s survivors had left their humanity far behind. The stronger prisoners had split into gangs
that roamed the narrow island, terrorizing those weaker then themselves. Murder for food had become commonplace. And still it wasn’t enough. As a cold June dawned in remotest Siberia,
the starving survivors did the only thing they could. With all these bodies lying around, they simply
started eating them. From this point on, things get so gruesome
that there really doesn’t seem any point in us reporting them with our usual mix of
stylistic flourishes and witty asides. Much better to just let those who were there
speak for themselves. One convict was later questioned by authorities
over eating human flesh. His answer survives in the records:
“It was very simple.” He said. “Just like shashlik. We made skewers from willow branches, cut
it (the corpse) into pieces, stuck it on the skewers, and roasted it over the campfire.” “I picked those who were not quite living,
but not yet quite dead. It was obvious that they were about to go
– that in a day or two, they’d give up. So it was easier for them that way. Now. Quickly. Without suffering for another two or three
days.” But the horrors of Cannibal Island didn’t
just with the eating of the dead, or even the nearly-dead. The Donner Party, this was not. This was madness on a deranged scale, like
a painting of Hell by Bruegel the Younger. A 13-year old girl from the local Ostyak population
happened to go to the island to collect bark during the June chaos. She later recalled seeing a female prisoner
being returned by one of the guards she’d been sleeping with for food, a man called
Kostia. In her words:
“People caught the girl. Tied her to a poplar tree, cut off her breasts,
her muscles, everything they could eat, everything, everything…. They were hungry…. they had to eat. When Kostia came back, she was still alive. He tried to save her, but she had lost too
much blood.” It was not long after this that Feofila Bylina’s
parents opened the door of their hut to a 40-year old woman who looked like she was
80, and had her legs wrapped in rags. Not long after that they removed those rags
and saw her calves had been sliced off for food. It seems that the combined effects of extreme
hunger, the active sadism of the guards, and the lack of oversight created something very
dark on Cannibal Island. An place where people didn’t just eat other
humans to survive, but took a perverse pleasure from torturing them beforehand. Luckily, the suffering was now so bad that
not even the Soviets could ignore it. In mid-June, a month after the first barges
landed, the Tomsk authorities abruptly dissolved the settlement. The surviving prisoners were evacuated to
other collective farms, the guards were returned to Tomsk, and Cannibal Island was abandoned. In total, over 6,700 resettlers had spent
time on the island during that horrendous month. Fewer than 2,200 of them survived. The remaining four and a half thousand had
all perished, killed by the elements or murdered for food. By August, the summer grasses had grown so
high that they completely concealed the bodies still rotting there. Only locals like Feofila Bylina had any knowledge
of the nightmare that had unfolded on the island. But the story of Cannibal Island isn’t quite
over yet. We still have to deal with the aftermath. Stories that Can’t be Told
The fact that we know anything about all this is due to one man. Vasily Velichko was a Communist instructor
who lived locally to the collective farms that stretched along the Ob above Tomsk. In July, 1933, he began to hear the first
rumors of the catastrophe that had befallen the Nazino farm. The whispers of cannibalism, of unparalleled
suffering. Without mentioning it to his superiors, he
decided to go investigate. It was a hard trek, and Velichko didn’t
arrive on Cannibal Island until August. At first, nothing looked out of place. There were tall summer grasses, sparse trees,
and a handful of Ostyak people going about their business. It was only when Velichko stepped onto the
island that he found the grasses’ secret: the half-eaten bodies lying out of sight. Over the next few weeks, Velichko interviewed
the Ostyaks, the local villagers, anyone who would speak to him. Slowly, he began to build up a picture of
what had happened. Of the catastrophe Soviet neglect and bad
planning had caused. That fall, Velichko submitted an 11 page report
to Moscow, outlining his findings. Care to guess what happened next? That’s right! Velichko was fired from his job and kicked
out the Party, and his report dropped into the black hole of the state archives. But not before a handful of officials with
a sliver of humanity left had read it, and set certain things in motion intended to make
sure another Cannibal Island never happened again. A moratorium was placed on the resettlement
program, with labor camps instead brought back for dissidents. In Tomsk, the 50 guards who’d overseen this
squalid reign of terror all had their Party memberships revoked and were jailed. While we’d love to tell you they wound up
in a Gulag as bad as Cannibal Island, the sad truth is that they nearly all served a
mere twelve months in regular jails before being released. As for Velichko’s report, it stayed “lost”
in the archives until the collapse of the Soviet Union. It wasn’t uncovered until 1994, and only
then after some Ostyaks who’d been alive at the time had started agitating for a memorial
to be erected on the island. But, grim as the history of Cannibal Island
is, it’s worth remembering that it was just one example in a decade of Soviet terror. At the same time that the starving prisoners
were turning to cannibalism at Nazinsky, a vast famine was sweeping Ukraine and Kazakhstan. In Ukraine – the most fertile republic in
the entire USSR – Stalin set impossible food quotas so high that even where food was grown
it was confiscated and taken to the collective farms. In the ensuing disaster, somewhere between
3 million and 7 million peasants starved to death. As on the Ob River, there were tales of cannibalism. Of families forced to kill their weakest child
for food to survive. Of children who ate their own parents after
they died of starvation. And this was just the beginning. After the horrors of famine, Collectivization,
and Dekulakization receded, the Great Purge got underway. Three quarters of a million denounced and
killed. Then came the deportations of the Tartars,
the internal exiles of dissidents, the expansion of the Gulag system, the doctors’ purge
in Moscow… the list of crimes is almost endless. Cannibal Island may be gruesome, but it’s
worth remembering that it’s just one minor chapter in two decades of suffering unleashed
by Stalin. A suffering still not dealt with properly
even today. We can find stories like this gruesome, even
ghoulish. We can choose to look away, as many did. But the fact remains that disasters like this
happened in recent history, more often than we’d like to admit. It may just be an anonymous stretch of swampland
in the middle of a remote river. But Cannibal Island should be a place that
the world tries its hardest not to forget – a monument to a very human kind inhumanity.

100 thoughts on “Nazinsky: Stalin’s Cannibal Island”

  1. So much of this story is incorrect , disinfo and long-held propaganda tropes, it is hard to watch. Do not call this history.

  2. This reminds me of the Democratic Party running for President or aocotex gang , I don’t know who’s worse warren, or Bernie nah it’s all of them

  3. Excuse all these comments from me but I had to make one more note on how much this story affected you personally. Clearly this is not reporting that you enjoy. Your brand of integrity requires delving into the not-so-nice side of history regardless of its obvious repugnance to you. ty

  4. Going to get worse?
    Good sir, I once listened to 90 seconds of a man dragging his nails along a chalk board…. I can handle just about anything now.

  5. We have a quota system here for speeding tickets. And a nut job in charge who tweets new laws every minute. How long do you think we have before its gulag time.

  6. Same thing was going on with the Aztecs. When Cortez invaded Mexico 500 years ago he said that the Aztecs were selling human meat in the markets. Cortez counted 160,000 human skulls stacked high with their craniums picked clean. Cortez also said that the columns to their temples were made from human skulls and jawbones. Source, Harris cannibalism thesis.

  7. And atheist like to point out all the people killed in the name of religion but they never like to shed light on what happens in atheistic Governments I'm glad i live in one nation under God

  8. This can not be a easy story for you to tell…..But this is just one of many from Russia….Russia is a stain on human kind and still is……Thank for telling it…..The world need to know of thing like this…!

  9. It would love to say I'm shocked at such brutality and cruelty but mankind has a terrible history of atrousities like this. Never the less it's extremely sad what so many people had to endure at the hands of the deranged.

  10. history horror..not just communism..the brits and the americans did horrors like this too 😰 and they call this shit modernism

  11. In addition to the horrible story of human suffering, the layout of the pictures hanging in the background bothers me.

  12. That wasn't just Stalin – communists did that. Communism – just like national socialism – should be condemned… the fact in the Western Europe and US people are openly saying that they are communists is scary… considering the fact extreme left is violent shows that communists never change.

  13. You can see why the far left keep trying to turn nazis into the boogie men.. to draw attention away from the far worse crimes that have been committed in the name of socialism and communism. These stories are very important, to remind people, never vote for socialism.

  14. No wonder it is written in Genesis 6 vs-6;

    “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”

    Throughout history whenever humans gained power over others without fail they prove how evil humans can be; The Inquisition, Chattel Slavery, King Leopold II Of Belgium & what he did in the Congo, so evil God Himself said it repented Him that He ever made humans in this earth.

  15. This is what communism represent pure suffering!

    All the brain washed libertards need to see this and all the other cases sponsored by socialism and if they still insist that "no one actually tried true socialism" then be exterminated before it's truly too late for the western world!

  16. National Socialism or Communism take your pick they both failed and thanks for that! Capitalism is still here and for a very good reason ..It Does

  17. And some in the west think that soviet system was the best and should be implemented in their country, how wrong they are. Venezuela comes to mind in the present, though not as bad, but bad enough.

  18. Scary Stalin Island: fin de siècle era scarcity leads to horrible conditions and tyranny: everyone is confused: communists started the whole thing because they came from planet X, and were the evil scourge that was the devil…and we fought the devil and won…and all was well, except what? they crop up again, those evil globalists…..

    The comments section is filled with the uninformed and lowly.

  19. You know things were going to get dark when the guy (Yagoda) with the "good idea" has a Hitler mustache.

    Never trust those guys…

  20. This piece of history is a small example. Modern communists in the West wonder how you could possibly compare the hammer & sickle to the swastika.

  21. Imagine being some Siberian peasant and then seeing a train load of people being loaded on that one island that no one talks about. And then looking at what's happening in that island and litterly seeing a man eating what looks like to be a rotting body. And the guards, at the other side of the river, just resting, smoking and laughing. But the thing is you can't do anything or you will be the one in the island.

  22. Loved by the left. Interesting how school teaches all the evils of Adolf, but not a wimper about the Jewish Marxist, socialist, and communist atrocities which greatly outnumber the former. Oh and yes all of the founders of those ideologies are in fact jewish

  23. How dare you? Soviet Union was a Utopia. No crime, no famine, no poverty, it was paradise. CAPITALISM destroyed it.

  24. And this is the VERY system of government that the democrats and the liberals want to instill on the American people…..

  25. I recall a story from my father of a German soldier who was sent to a far Siberian gulag where he remained even after the war had ended, after 10 or so years he had have enough and escaped, making a long walk through wilderness till he reached to Finland's lapland. He was allowed to stay in the country where he remained for the rest of his life working as a electrician.

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