GULAG History Museum

Anna Stadinchuk

Deputy Director for Development, Gulag History State Museum

GULAG History Museum

1-y Samotechny pereulok 9/1 127473 Moscow Russia

European Museum Forum / The Council of Europe Museum Prize 2021






The GULAG History Museum is aimed at drawing the attention of as many people in Russia as possible to the history of mass repression, forced labor, and political unfreedom in the USSR. With the support from the state, special grants and philanthropists, at the end of 2018 the Museum opened a new permanent exhibition The GULAG in People’s Lives and National History. The history of the GULAG has never been presented in one museum space as a single and integrated whole, thus making the GULAG History Museum absolutely unique among Russia’s national museums.

In 2021 the GULAG History Museum became the winner of the Council of Europe Museum Prize. Being the winner of this Prize highlights the core principles of the Museum's approach: the promotion of respect for human rights, bridging cultures, broadening visitors' knowledge and understanding of contemporary societal issues.

According to the committee representative for the Museum Prize, Roberto Rampi (Italy, SOC), “the Gulag History Museum tackles with rare honesty some of the very difficult issues about human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the 20th century, while establishing clear links with the challenging democratic and human rights issues we face today in Europe. This museum can serve as a model to other museums in Europe to create a well-documented and moving memory of the past and stimulate reflection on democratic citizenship, particularly for younger generations.”

GULAG History Museum exposition


Re-thinking History: The GULAG in People’s Lives and National History The new permanent exhibition The GULAG in People’s Lives and National History is the first in-depth representation of the history of the repressive system in the USSR between 1918 and 1956, starting from the first concentration camps and covering until the closure of camps after Stalin's death. The exhibition approaches GULAG history through the human perspective. In contrast to the official historical narrative presented in documents, statistics, and chronicles, here one can see the personal lives of people who went through the repression. The interactive multimedia format creates the effect of involvement and enables a visitor to experience what witnesses of the epoch felt and experienced.

Certain halls are dedicated to work, life, and death in camps; they show the everyday life of prisoners and their survival strategies. In addition, the Museum exhibition illuminates issues implicitly related to the GULAG, for instance, the Great Terror and forced deportations. Moreover, it shows the exponential development of the NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs). The exhibition tells about the fates of children during the times of repression – those whose parents were executed by shooting or sent to camps and those who found themselves behind barbed wire got under tremendous pressure from both their peers and staff members in children's institutions.


Implementing Innovations and Technologies: GULAG Interactive Map and VR

Being a part of the exhibition, the GULAG interactive map provides a view on the GULAG’s geography. This map enables a visitor to trace the development of the whole system and each camp in time and space. Regularly updated, Russian and English versions of the Map are available online at

VR-technology is vastly used within the walls of the permanent exhibition. It is not just a tool for the gimmicky information transmission, but the curator’s language. Sound, moving pictures, and light are as important as architecture or graphic design. One can say that without these mediums the representation of the GULAG history would not be possible. The history itself had been hidden for half of the century, and today it is physically represented by corroded parts of machinery and nondescript personal items, but there are hundreds of interviews and testimonies, books and memoirs that require quite elaborate methods of demonstration.

GULAG History Museum exposition_photo Roman Suslov


Preserving Memory: My GULAG

Witnesses of the tragic events of Russian history are fewer in number with each passing year. They rarely share their accounts therefore recording their memories is an extremely important and urgent task. My GULAG is the Museum’s ongoing project aimed at creating an archive of video interviews with people who went through the repression and the GULAG. The Museum’s Visual Anthropology Studio interviews former GULAG prisoners and employees as well as their families and anyone who has access to memories of the GULAG through documents, archive materials, family chronicles, and other artifacts. The Studio creates films based on these recordings which are then screened at the permanent exhibition and Museum's cinema. They become a basis for traveling exhibitions and are also available online.

Each film is a story of a person, or family member of someone, who went through arrests, investigations, and sentencing. However, each film also is a firsthand account of the personal tragedy – sometimes revealed for the very first time. These interviews allow us to preserve the most important pages of family history and view them within the context of national history.


Contributing to Family History: Documentation Centre

Dossiers and investigation files of people convicted during the mass repression are still kept in state archives and archives of different institutions in Russia and other post-Soviet countries. These files contain unique information. Firstly, it helps to understand the real mechanism of repression. Secondly, these documents contain important genealogical data. Archival files or repressed relatives may contain photographs, personal documents, and correspondence. In view of the generation gap left by the Soviet period, this data is invaluable.

In 2018, the Museum established the Documentation Centre, a service providing consultations, regular seminars, and workshops on how to find information about persecuted relatives. The Museum staff consults where to look for information and how to write an archival request, what documents to provide and how to translate them into Russian (for foreign citizens). For the initial search, an applicant should know the full name, date of birth, place of residence at the moment of the repression.


Growing Professional Community: Association of the Memory Museums in Russia

As the GULAG network covered many parts of the USSR, regional museums can also contribute to the history of soviet mass repression. Since 2015, the GULAG History Museum has sought to unite regional museums in the Association of the Memory Museums in Russia to spread the knowledge about the GULAG. The Association engages state, private, and public foundations as well as individuals in supporting the memory preservation, research, and rethinking related to the tragic past of Soviet history.

The mission of the project is to collect evidence of the GULAG system and popularize knowledge on this tragic part of Soviet history all over the country. As a consequence, the Association is aimed at providing public space for museum collaboration as well as advancing modern principles, methods, and technologies of preserving the cultural heritage in the field of memory. In other words, the Association enables the museums to correspond to the modern social agenda. The GULAG History Museum arranges annual meetings for Association members to find new ideas for collaboration and discuss ways of exploring the complicated past. At present, the Association consists of 36 members.


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