Days and Lives

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Days and Lives takes you inside the brutal system of forced labor concentration camps and the internal exile institution called the Gulag. Soviet authorities found the Gulag to be a useful tool in neutralizing, and often physically destroying, all real or imagined opposition to the Communist Party's dictatorship beginning in 1917. Since it also served as the main Soviet penal system, political prisoners were imprisoned with violent criminals. In the Stalin era, some 18 million people passed through the prisons and camps of the Gulag, and perhaps another 6 or 7 million were sent into exile. More than one and a half million prisoners died in the Gulag at the hands of their government. Even those who survived struggled to rebuild their lives when they were finally released.

In this exhibit, one former Gulag prisoner will accompany you through themed sections. Each section explores one piece of this brutal institution by presenting individual experiences, photographs, documentary films, and historical context to describe life in the Gulag.

Prisoner: John Noble

John Noble was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1923, but his father had been born in Germany. In the 1930s the family returned to Germany and operated a camera factory in Dresden. The years during World War II were difficult for the family but became much worse in early 1945 when the Gestapo denied them permission to leave the country. Air raids devastated most of Dresden on the 13th and 14th of February, 1945. The camera factory survived the bombing with little damage and was soon taken over by the east German government. Noble and his father were arrested to keep them from protesting the takeover. Although he was never charged with any crime, Noble was in the Gulag system until the end of 1954 and spent the last four year at Vorkuta.

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