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: Alexander Dolgun
Alexander Dolgun was a U.S. citizen working as a junior employee of the American Embassy in Moscow when he was arrested in 1948 and charged with being a socially dangerous element. Dolgun was initially incarcerated at Lefortovo and Lubyanka prisons in Moscow until he was sent to Steplag in Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. He was released from the Gulag in 1956 but was not allowed to leave the country until 1972 and only then because of the continual efforts of his sister, an official at the United Nations.