Mask of Sorrow | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Mask of Sorrow

Magadan, Magadan Oblast, Russia

Sarah Roller

24 Nov 2020

About Mask of Sorrow

The Mask of Sorrow is a monument in Magadan in Russia dedicated to those who died in Soviet gulags.

History of the Mask of Sorrow

The gulags were prison camps first used by the Bolsheviks and then vastly expanded between 1934 and 1951, particularly under the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin. Notoriously brutal and famously remote, the gulags were forced labour camps used by Stalin to ‘purge’ the Soviet Union of perceived ‘enemies of the people’. Kolyma became particularly infamous for its gulags – the land was incredibly hostile, but gold had been discovered and the USSR needed economic capital to further its development. It’s believed tens of thousands of people died en route to or working at Kolyma, mining gold, building roads or lumbering.

Many of the earlier prisoners at Kolyma were academics or intellectuals. On the return of Soviet POWs in 1946, many more were sent to the gulags for collaborating with the enemy, so the population swelled considerably.

The Mask of Sorrow was unveiled in 1996 as a memorial for all those who suffered and died in gulag camps at Kolyma. Designed by the sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, there is an added poignancy as Neizvestny’s parents were victims of one of Stalin’s purges in the 1930s. The Mask of Sorrow is a vast stone statue of a crying face, the interior of which is a recreation of a gulag cell. Behind the main statue is a smaller monument showing a kneeling woman with her face in her hands.

The Mask of Sorrow overlooks another relic of Soviet Russia, the Road of Bones, which was built by prisoners. Many of them died during its construction and their remains were scattered into the earth around it. Even the nearby town of Magadan was built by prisoners.

The Mask of Sorrow today

It’s a decent climb to the Mask of Sorrow – over a hundred stairs, so it’s not wheelchair friendly. The views from the top are phenomenal, and it’s a moving tribute to the tens of thousands of people who perished here during Stalin’s brutal regime. Allow an hour or two for your visit.

Getting to the Mask of Sorrow

The Mask of Sorrow is a bit out of town – you’ll need to hire a taxi (expect to pay around 200 rubles each way) or drive here. There’s a car park at the base of the hill.

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