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: Lev Razgon

Lev Razgon moved to Moscow in the early 1920s where he worked as a writer. Sympathetic to those being arrested, Razgon himself was soon arrested for allegedly “spreading slanderous rumors.” In the Gulag, he worked as a norm-setter, deciding how much work prisoners had to do to receive full ration. This “trusty” position put him in a complicated, and controversial, middle ground between camp officials and the other prisoners who did not have such privileged work. Razgon believed that having a trusty job was necessary, as he would not have been able to survive the hard labor of felling timber. After his release from the Gulag in 1956, he returned to Moscow and authored children’s literature.

Begin the Exhibit