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: Alla Tumanova

Seventeen-year-old Alla Yevgenyevna Reyf Tumanova was arrested in 1951 at her parent’s home in Kiev. A student at Lenin State Pedagogical Institute, Tumanova was charged with membership in an anti-Soviet youth group. Of the seventeen students who were arrested, three were executed. Tumanova was sentenced to twenty-five years hard labor in the Gulag, which she spent in the Abez Invalid Camp and Vorkuta. Her task in camp was to lug the waste heaps away from a coal mine. Near the end of her imprisonment she became a member of the “cultural brigade” and traveled to camps to provide entertainment laced with propaganda. Tumanova’s sentence was cut short due to Stalin’s death, and she was released in 1956. Tumanova found work as a laboratory assistant and began the slow process of seeking permission to re-enter school. Tumanova immigrated to Canada in 1974 with her husband and son.

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