State Museum of History of GULAG

Anna Stadinchuk

Deputy Director for Development, Gulag History State Museum

GULAG History Museum

1-y Samotechny pereulok 9/1 127473 Moscow Russia

Moscow, Russia

Intermuseum Grand-Prix 2018


Commemorating the Memory of Political Repression




The GULAG History State Museum represents an approach of memory museums, dealing with history of the corrective forced labor camp system that served as an instrument of state repressive policy in the Soviet Union between the 1930s and the 1950s. For the more than 20 years of the existence of the GULAG system , about twenty million people passed through the camps, colonies and prisons, and a tenth of these stayed in the GULAG forever. Eventually, the word GULAG, originally the acronym for Head office of the camps, became an ominous symbol of lawlessness, life on the verge of death, forced labor and human injustice. The Museum's major mission is to redefine and to preserve the historical past for future generations. Notably, the Museum provides a public space for presentation, exploration and discussion of the most relevant aspects of forced labor and political unfreedom in the USSR.

The permanent exhibition, named GULAG in Human Fates and History of the Country, aims to depict the history of GULAG as a single process with an inherent logic. In particular, the exhibition narrates a story starting from the foundation of a huge industrial corporation of forced labor economics to the liquidation of the system after Stalin's death. The exhibition approaches GULAG history through the human dimension. The interactive multimedia format enables a visitor to face GULAG survivors, to hear prisoners' voices.

In 2018 the GULAG History Museum was awarded by the Grand Prix of International Intermuseum Festival devoted to the issue of Museums and Society. At the end of the Festival three projects of the GULAG History Museum were shortlisted, while two of them won in the nominations.

The Evidence – the winner in The Best scientific-research Museum project category

The Evidence is a series of exhibitions consisting of one object, reflecting the Stalinist repression. The first exhibition - Evidence: Little Book - presents a handwritten book with drawings and verses created by the GULAG prisoner Olga Ranitskaia for her son Sasha in 19411942.

During Stalin's Great Purge, in 1937, Ranitskaia was accused of spying for Poland and sentenced to five years in a Karlag labor camp in Kazakhstan. In the camp she worked at the meteorological station. While she was in the camp, her son Sasha stayed with his grandmother. Olga created a handwritten diary for him entitled Weather-Devil: Works and Days. It looks like a graphic novel and consists of 116 pages of drawings and witty verses on how the main character, Little Weather-Devil, the author's alter ego, endures in the camp. The bookbinding is made of leather ornamented with a piece of snakeskin on the front cover. In 1942, sixteen year old Sasha, unabled to endure the bullying of his schoolmates due to his mother's imprisonment, committed suicide. He had never seen his mother's diary. Probably, several empty but numbered pages at the end of the diary evidence Olga's grief about the death of her son.

Journalist of the Novaia Gazeta newspaper Zoia Eroshok discovered this diary only about 70 years after its creation.  It was sent to the newspaper by a woman from Siberia, whose mother saved this book from the camp in 1946. The only thing known was that this diary ha d been created by a woman named Olga, who probably worked at the meteorological station in Karlag. Zoia started her investigation to identify the author and to reconstruct her biography. In 2014 she donated this unique artifact to the GULAG History Museum. Based upon preliminary results of Zoia Eroshok's research, the museum's staff requested information on the diary's author from the archives of different secret police agencies, courts, and other organizations in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. I t took seven years to collect all elements into the whole narrative and to present it in the frame of the exhibition.

The Museum also published a copy of the diary in a small handbook format including archival documents, notably the record of Ranitskaia's interrogation, and the memoirs, documents and poetry created by Ranitskaia later.


Social and Volunteer Center – the winner in the category The Best Project Aimed at Social Interaction

The GULAG History Museum provides support to people who have suffered from political repression ; most of them are at an advanced age. As a result, established in 2014 the Social and Volunteer center aims to make the life of the victims of Stalinist repression better and help them share their experience with the next generations.

Volunteers of the Museum take care of 135 elderly victims of the Stalinist persecutions by helping them with the housework, accompanying them to medical appointments, congratulating them on holidays and arranging their leisure. For example, during 2018 the Center's employees and volunteers made over 5000 phone calls to people who needed help.

The Museum holds regular tea-parties where these people communicate with each other, the Museum staff and volunteers, participate in poetry readings and watch performances of children's music and dancing teams.

The Museum also organizes visits to Moscow museums and exhibitions and even holds Beauty Days when women can get a facial treatment.

The other part of volunteers' activity is to collect archival documents, to translate texts and to organize museum events. Moreover volunteers participate in describing the items brought from the expeditions to the former GULAG camps locations.


Association for Russian Museums of Memory – winner of the category The Best Project Aimed at Interregional Interaction

As the GULAG network covered many parts of the USSR, regional museums can also contribute to the history of Stalinist repression. Since 2015 the GULAG History Museum has sought to join regional museums in the Association for Russian Museums of Memory to spread out the knowledge about the GULAG in modern Russia. The Association engages state, private and public foundations, as well as individuals to support the activity on memory preservation, research and reconsidering of the tragic past of Soviet history.

The mission of the project is to collect evidence of the GULAG system and to popularize knowledge on this tragic part of Soviet history all over the country. As a consequence, the Association aims to provide a public space for museum collaboration, to advance modern principles, methods, and technologies on preserving the cultural heritage in the field of memory. In other words, the Association enables the museums to correspond to modern social agendas.

The GULAG History Museum arranges annual meetings for Association members to find new ideas for collaboration, to discuss how the complicated past should be explored. At present the Association consists of 32 members.



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