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: Boris Chetverikov

Boris Dmitrievich Chetverikov was born in Ural’sk, Russia in 1896. Prior to his arrest he was a well-known Soviet writer. In April 1945 he was arrested because of a slanderous denunciation by an acquaintance. He spent eleven years in camps from 1945 until 1956. He worked as a doctor, as a designer in a technical office, and as a night watchman. He recalls: “I’ve been in dozens of camps. I was at Izvestkovaia station, on the current BAM highway, where we built a tunnel two kilometers long near the Dusse-Alin’skii passage. I participated in that construction. Then I was at a camp which was located on the railway line Izvestkovaia-Urgal, and also at a transit camp in Urgal. Later I was at the Alexandrovskii central prison in Irkutsk, in the town of Taishet…”

Begin the Exhibit