The Gulag Collection by former prisoner Nikolai Getman[ oil on canvas, 34.6 x 26.9 inches ]
I was born on December 23, 1917 in the town of Kharkov, Ukraine. My mother died in the typhus epidemic of 1919, before I reached my second birthday. It fell upon my father and my two older brothers, Pyotr and Aleksandr, to care for me and raise me. I remember the 1918 civil war and its consequences—the 1921 famine—from the age of four. Our family did not have an easy life in Kharkov, then the capital of Ukraine. I was saved from starvation by my aunt Masha. From early childhood, for as long as I can remember, I was always drawing; I tried to express the things I felt and observed. My drawings were primitive, of course, but the early sketches were utterly sincere. At school, I would do drawings for the class newspaper, decorate the classroom, and on special occasions the whole school. I lived through the tragic news of the death of my brother Aleksandr, who was accused of committing a "white" terrorist act and shot by firing squad on December 11, 1934. Fearing persecution and repression, my brother Pyotr took refuge for several years in a friend's house in Moscow. My father left in secret one night to live with his sister, my aunt Masha, who moved from her village of Pokrovskoe to Dnepropetrovsk not under her maiden name of Getman, but using the name of her husband, Pavel Epifanovich Sokh. The fates decreed that the repression would not affect me, a second-year student in a technical college, but that was in the 1930s. After graduating in 1937, I entered the Kharkov Art College to become a professional artist. One of the teachers there, Semyon Markovich Prokhorov, was a pupil of Repin's. He often spoke of the great artist and teacher. I have never forgotten the words that were to become my credo: "The most important thing in a picture is color. It is through your use of color that you will make the viewer sense the mood of your canvas. Without color there is no art."