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 Kopelev
Lev Kopelev was born in 1912 to a Jewish family in Kiev. He was an idealistic Communist activist in the 1930s and a propaganda officer in the Red Army during the war. Kopelev spoke out against Red Army atrocities against the German civilian population in the latter stages of the war, for which he was arrested and handed a ten-year sentence to the Gulag. Kopelev was released from the Gulag after Stalin’s death and became an active member of the Soviet human rights movement. His Soviet citizenship was revoked in 1980. Kopelev died in Cologne, Germany in 1997.