As it says in the story, Ivan got a right to write 2 letters to anyone. At this time it was as if jews were in their concentration camps. There were some Germans in their before they turned into gulag camps. At that time there was a war so many people in the concentration camp had to go. Some came back as soldiers, and some never came back. I had a friend who's grandparent went into the concentration camp and came back as a warrior of the Russian Army. He was probably lucky, as if some people went to war and was dissolved into the blizzards and trampled by blood smelling soldiers. They were mostly the victims of the war.
Also many people cheated on someone who was not a squad leader to live. The person who got cheated was either executed if it was bad, or had to do more work, or they got tortured. So anyone in camp thought if they made some die they could be safe, but Stalin said you also did that too, before you came here. Sometimes Stalin would also kill the person who "cheated" themselves and the people who listened to that, too. So it was just repeating what the jews did to themselves. Just another tragedy which happened because people didn't get to remember the jews, or didn't know or, just didn't care and never thought it would happen.
In gulag camps there were bad furniture and lots of work to do in the harsh weather. It was as if it was impossible to live through it. Some people did die because of frostbites. Some were killed and some were tortured to death. With the bad conditions of Russia people had to still work like 12 hours non stop sometimes. If superman was there he wouldn't have made it back to his normal life. They got to sleep something about 4 to 5.5 hours. They were the real supermen!