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: Margarete Buber Neumann
Margarete Buber-Neumann and her husband were members of the German Communist Party. They were sent to Moscow to work as translators in 1935. Her husband was arrested in 1937; she never saw him again. In 1938, Buber-Neumann was arrested and charged with “counter-revolutionary organization and agitation against the Soviet state.” After spending two years in the Gulag camp Karlag, Buber-Neuman was handed over to German authorities during the period of the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact. She spent the next five years in a Nazi concentration camp from which she was released at the end of World War II.