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GULAGS / SOVIET UNION: Karte der Sowjet-Union 1951 / Die Sklavenprovinzen der Sowjetunion…



A scarce and fascinating work of early American Cold War propaganda, being a map of the Soviet Union depicting its horrific archipelago of gulags, published in Vienna in 1951 by the U.S. Information Service and directed towards the Austrian audience which was supposedly to be technically ‘neutral’ in the Cold War.


Colour printed map, folding into paper covers bearing title and imprint (Very Good, just some light toning), Map: 26 x 42.5 cm (10 x 16.5 inches); Wrapper: 14 x 30 cm, folding down to 14 x 10 cm.


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This fascinating, scarce, ephemeral map was issued by the Vienna office of the U.S. Information Service (the ‘soft propaganda’ arm of the Central Intelligence Agency).  The map meant highlights the massive prison system that Stalin’s Soviet Union constructed across the country, the terrible ‘Gulag Archipelago’ later made famous by the Nobel Prize winning author and former internee Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  The map shows the broad zones of country where the Kremlin sent its political prisoner and other unfortunates, shaded in pink, while the stars mark the locations of the gulags themselves.  The eastern section of the Trans-Siberian Railway is shown, marking the route of the often one-way trip to misery.  As the note on the wrappers remarks, the German-language map was to be distributed gratis to the Austrian people (there is also place for a postage stamp) as a work of propaganda that would hopefully turn the citizens of this technically neutral country against the Soviets (and hopefully towards the West).

The map is a derivative of an original map created by the Polish soldiers Sylvester Mora and Pierre Zwierniak that was include with their book Sprawiedliwość Sowiecka [Soviet Justice] (Rome, 1945).  The map was soon adopted by the CIA and its surrogates for a variety of propaganda publications.  The present work is one the most ephemeral and curious versions of the map.

The U.S. Information Service was established in 1934 by the emerging American intelligence apparatus to create and disseminate ‘soft propaganda’ or ‘public diplomacy’ overseas (i.e. changing hearts and minds, as opposed to coercion).  In its early days it launched impressive public relations campaigns in Latin America and across Europe.  It was revamped in 1948, following the establishment of the CIA the year previous.  It set-up offices all over the world and was given a large budget for its diverse media activities.  Renamed the United States Information Agency in 1953, it notably produced the Voice of America radio programme that pumped pro-Western propaganda across the Iron Curtain.  After playing a major role in the Cold info-War, the Agency was dissolved in 1999.

In the wake of World War II, Austria occupied a strategically vital place in the Cold War, as it geographically protruded deep into Eastern Europe, being a buffer between the Warsaw Pact states and Yugoslavia (and access to the Mediterranean Sea).  In the wake of the conflict, Austria regained its place as a distinct national entity (having been annexed by Nazi Germany in 1936); however, like Germany it was to be occupied by the victorious Allied powers, including the U.S., Britain, France and the Soviet Union.  While Austria could have been divided onto two separate states, one Western-oriented and the other a Communist Soviet Satellite (like West and East Germany), the West and the Kremlin reached a compromise solution: Austria would remain united and be given its independence; however, it must pledge to remain neutral in the Cold War and to be an honest broker.

Undeterred, the United States still endeavoured to make Austria into a de facto Western ally, in part by convincing the Austrian people that the Soviet Union was evil and that life across the Iron Curtain was a nightmare.  While this might seem easier said than done, it must be noted that life in post-war Austria was tough, as the country’s economy had been shattered by the war; many people wondered whether it wound be better to be under as system where the state paid for everything, as opposed to enduring the slow process of recovery under a capitalist model.

The present map was used to vilify the Soviet Union by confronting average Austrians with the spectre of Stalin’s gulags that made thousands of innocent people ‘disappear’ every year.  Indeed, following in the wake of the Third Reich, few Austrians wished to return to life in a totalitarian state.  As it turned out, the Republic of Austria regained its full independence in 1955 and remained technically neutral as agreed, a stance its maintains to the present day.  However, the country rebuilt itself as modern, advanced Western-style democracy with a capitalistic economy, and as such throughout the Cold War it was more oriented towards the West than to the Warsaw Pact – the CIA got most of what it wanted!

References: OCLC: 255255959; Deutsche National Bibliotek (Leipzig): Signatur: 1952 A 2914; ZBW – Leibniz-Informationszentrum Wirtschaft (Kiel): K 103.

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