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: Thomas Sgovio

Thomas Sgovio was the son of an Italian immigrant to the United States and grew up in Buffalo, New York. After his father was deported for his involvement in the Communist Party the family moved to Moscow. Thomas Sgovio was arrested in 1938 because he had applied at the embassy to return to the United States. He was held at Kolyma until his release in 1954. After spending some time in Italy, he returned to the United States. An artist, Sgovio completed a series of drawings and paintings on his experiences in the Gulag. He died in Arizona in 1997.

Begin the Exhibit