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: Nina Gagen-Torn

Nina Gagen-Torn was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1901. Her father was Russian Swedish and her mother was Russian. Prior to her arrest Gagen-Torn worked as a researcher in one of the leading Soviet research institutes. She was an ethnographer and held a candidate’s degree in history. Gagen-Torn spent five years, from 1937 until 1942 in Kolyma. In 1947 she was arrested again and sent to the Temnikovskii camp. She was released in 1954.

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