Situated in the center of Kazakhstan, ALZHIR (Акмолинский лагерь жен изменников родины, “the Akmola camp of wives of traitors to the homeland”) was a notorious prison for thousands of women during its nearly two decades of operation. Behind the barbed wire, the women had to renounce their family and loved ones in order to submit to the will of the “leader of all nations.” But they remained unconquered, and they maintained spirits of love and loyalty that are still visible in the expositions of the Alzhir Museum in today’s Kazakhstan.
Alzhir and its daily life
Over 18,000 women were sent here in various years, and approximately 8,000 women served a full sentence at ALZHIR. These women’s only “crime” was that they were merely the wives of victims of the purges—executed “enemies of the people.” Very often, these were the wives of famous statesmen, political and public figures, and talented women themselves, such as singers, artists, actors, and writers. Among the most prominent names were women from the family of Stalin’s executed general, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the mother of poet Bulat Okudzhava, and the mother of ballerina Maya Plisetskaya.
The camp’s establishment dates back to August 15, 1937, when Order No. 00486 of the USSR’s People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) marked the beginning of mass repressions against the members of families of traitors to the motherland. This document enabled arrests without proof of guilt and started detentions in the camps for wives of men who were primarily persecuted for political reasons. In fall 1937, many women got sentenced to 5-8 years in prison. For reading the complete feature, click here.