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: Danylo Shumuk
Danylo Shumuk was born into a peasant family in 1914 in Boremshchyna, Volhynia region. Between the two World Wars, this region with its large Ukrainian population was part of Poland. After 1939, it was annexed to the Soviet Union. Shumuk’s involvement in underground Communist activity in interwar Poland led to repeated arrests, and he spent over five years in Polish prisons. He was sent to the front during World War II and became a German prisoner of war. He escaped and became a political instructor for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), a nationalist group that fought against both the Nazis and the Soviets in the cause of an independent Ukraine. In December of 1944, he was captured by the NKVD, and sent to the Gulag camps at Norilsk, where he would play a leadership role in the famed 1953 prisoner uprising. He was freed in August of 1956. Just one year later he was arrested again and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. He was released in 1967, but was arrested again in 1972 for dissident activities in the cause of human and Ukrainian rights and spent yet another ten year term—this time including a stay in Perm 36—followed by five years of exile before finally being allowed to emigrate from the Soviet Union in 1987. He returned to independent Ukraine in 2002 and died there in 2004.