Days and Lives

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: Dimitri Panin

Dimitri Panin graduated from a technical school in 1928 and worked at a cement works in Podolsk, less than 30 miles from Moscow. In 1940, an engineer who had worked with him for two years informed on him, and he was arrested in July. Four months later he was transferred to Lefortovo Prison and charged with treason under Article 58. Again, four months passed, and he received his sentence of 5 years. He was transported to Butyrki, where he spent another four months. On August 28, 1941 Panin arrived at Vyatlag where he remained several years before being transported to Vorkuta. In 1947, he was taken to the scientific research Gulag camp, the sharashka described in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle, before finally heading off to a hard labor camp, Ekibastuz. Eventually, he made his way to Karaganda where he finished his sentence and was then exiled to Kazakhstan.

Begin the Exhibit