Mirror Reflections – French Guiana & Russia

The Truth of the matter

In every culture and country there are things that we must remember as atrocities. These atrocities are reminders of times in the past when those who were in power condemned the guilty and innocent. Do we dwell on these things? Or do we understand the significance of what happened and move into to the future with a hope that these things are not repeated. Germany suffered greatly from what happened in it’s prison camps but made the decision own it’s mistakes and exposed the crimes for all the world to see. I hope through this short expose you will see that this can happen elsewhere as well. They should be reminders just how fragile we are as a people and not condemn what we don’t understand, but try to shed light on the truth so all can see.

Devil’s Island, French Guiana

Alfred Dreyfus home on Devil’s Island

Devil’s Island was once the world’s most notorious penal colony – a place where spirits and bodies were broken, with no thought for redemption or rehabilitation.  This is where Henri Charrière, aka Papillon, author of the best-selling 1968 book of the same name was imprisoned. Charrière, who claimed he had been framed for murder, spent 13 years of his life sentence in the French Guianan penal colony. He finally escaped from Devil’s Island by building a raft made from coconuts.

French Guiana operated as a penal colony from 1852 until 1946. Those transported ranged from political detainees for whom, officially at least, confinement on Devil’s Island was specifically reserved, to people convicted of the most serious “common” crimes such as murder, rape and robbery, as well as habitual petty criminals. Under the policy of doublage, when their terms had been served convicts sentenced to hard labour were forced to stay in French Guiana for a period equal to their original sentence. Anyone receiving more than eight years was exiled for life.

Record has it that of the thousands of prisoners sent to this island, more than 80,000 of them were never seen again. It is a palm-covered rocky island rising 131 feet above sea level. The water surrounding the island was infested with piranhas and beyond that there was a dense jungle. Escape from this island was practically impossible.

Devil's Island

Devil’s Island In Present Time

After 1938 the government of France stopped sending prisoners to Devil’s Island, and later in 1952 this prison was closed down permanently.

At presently, the Salvation Islands (Isles du Salut) of which Devil’s Island is a part is used by Guiana Space Center for studying space launches. More than 50,000 tourists come to this island annually to visit the prison and the Space Center.

Solovki Prison Camp, Solovetsky Islands

During the times of Ivan the Terrible more than 400 persons were exiled to the monastery prison. The name Solovki became terrible in the history of Russia, wrote archimandrite Illarii. A special prison yard was organized near the Korozhnaya tower in 1798. The icon-painting chamber seen below was converted into the prison with 28 cells. By the year 1903 Solovki prison ceases to exist.

Solovki Monastery in winter of 1930, when it was a concentration camp

Then the monastery became a center for the Soviet Gulag system of prison camps in the 20th century. During this time the Prison became more than just a prison. The system have reached the unimaginable level of humiliation of the human dignity. It is believed that over 50,000 lives passed through it’s doors never to be seen again, by some accounts it’s thought the numbers reached up to a million. Those who were in power at the time wanted to eradicate all who opposed them including the monks themselves, believers, intellectuals, and even aristocrats joined them. The were all sent to this icy hell.

The Patriarch’s grandfather, a priest, was a prisoner in the island camp, whose cruelty was immortalized in dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book, “The Gulag Archipelago”.

In 2009 Patriarch Krill called on the Russian government to make this monastery a spiritual center.  Even though Patriarch Krill’s grandfather was imprisoned behind it’s walls, He is quoted as saying, “it was a miracle” that his grandfather, Vasily Gundyayev, had survived.

Even saying this Krill understood, “The Lord himself chose this deserted island, so that his death and resurrection were specially commemorated here, the Lord himself chose this place for people to take incomparable sufferings and torments.”

The Monastery as it stands today


Today  the islands have become a place for pilgrimages. The Solovetsky Kremlin provides protection for the many churches and cathedrals within it, including St. Nicholas Church which has been restored. Regular church services are conducted in St. Nicholas Church and Dormition and Holy Transfiguration Cathedrals.



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