Days and Lives

Listen to the sound or read the movie transcript below.

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: Vladimir Tchernavin

Vladimir Tchernavin was one of the fortunate few to escape the Gulag and reach safety in Finland. Tchernavin was a fisheries expert living in Murmansk, beyond the Arctic Circle, when he was accused of wrecking the Fishing Trust’s Plan. After his arrest he was initially imprisoned at Solovetsky, but was then sent to Karelia to help with the fishing industry. Tchernavin arranged for his wife, Tatiana, and son, Andrei, to come for a visit during which they made plans for their escape. In 1933, they were able to carry out their plan. The family went out for a picnic and got into a boat that Tchernavin had concealed earlier. Each family member carried a backpack with supplies and they camped wherever they could find shelter. After days of walking the family reached safety in Finland and immigrated to England.

Begin the Exhibit