Here is additional information that I received from the Parks office regarding the exhibit. Julek This PDF file is a digital version of a chapter in the 2005Message 1 of 6 , Jun 19, 2006View Source
Here is additional information that I received from the Parks office regarding the exhibit.
This PDF file is a digital version of a chapter
in the 2005 GWS Conference Proceedings.
Please cite as follows:
Harmon, David, ed. 2006. People, Places, and Parks: Proceedings of the 2005 George Wright
Society Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites. Hancock, Michigan: The
George Wright Society.
© 2006 The George Wright Society, Inc. All rights reserved. This file may be freely copied
and distributed for noncommercial use (including use in classrooms) without obtaining further
permission from the GWS. All commercial uses of this file require prior permission
from the George Wright Society.
The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should
not be interpreted as representing the opinions and policies of the U.S. government, any of
the other co-sponsoring or supporting organizations, or the George Wright Society. Any
mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute an endorsement by the
U.S. government, any of the other co-sponsoring or supporting organizations, or the George
P.O. Box 65
Hancock, Michigan 49930-0065 USA
1-906-487-9722 • fax 1-906-487-9405
What Does the Soviet Gulag Have to Do with the National Park
Louis Hutchins, National Park Service, Northeast Museum Services Center , Charlestown ,
Massachusetts 02129; louis_hutchins@...
For the past four years, I have been working with a dynamic and highly significant museum
deep in the heart of Russia : the Gulag Museum at Perm-36. You might ask, as I do in the
title of my talk today, “What does the Soviet Gulag have to do with the National Park Service?”
It’s a question I get asked often, and so I want to start with a brief discussion of civic
engagement.To expand a little on what Cynthia Macleod said in her introduction to this session,
at its core, civic engagement means creating an ongoing dialogue with visitors about the
stories we tell.We use historic sites to tell powerful stories about the American past, but we
also can and should connect those histories to contemporary issues in American society.
The civic engagement initiative developed out of several impulses, some internal and
some external to the NPS. Today I want to touch on one of those external forces: the International
Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience. In 1999, the Lower East Side
Tenement Museum in New York City , an affiliated site of the NPS, issued an international
call to historic site directors committed to not only preserving the past but also actively
engaging visitors in issues facing society today. Several site directors responded with enthusiasm,
including our own Marie Rust, then the Northeast regional director. The group’s
We hold in common the belief that it is the obligation of historic sites to assist the
public in drawing connections between the history of our site and its contemporary
implications. We view stimulating dialogue on pressing social issues and promoting
humanitarian and democratic values as a primary function.
The founding members included: Lower East Side Tenement Museum , New York City;
Terezin Memorial, Czech Republic ; District Six Museum , South Africa ; Slave House Museum ,
Senegal; Work House Museum , England ; Open Memory , Argentina ; The Liberation
War Museum ; the National Park Service, Northeast Region; and the Gulag Museum , Russia .
In 2003, the Gulag Museum ’s director, Victor Shmyrov, proposed a joint project to collaboratively
develop, design, and bring to the U.S. an exhibit on the history of the Soviet
forced labor camps and the role of the Gulag Museum to educate Russians about their totalitarian
Several National Park Service sites address social injustice in American history and the
relevance of this history to contemporary life. Some of these sites welcomed the opportunity
to host such an exhibit, and they have been actively engaged in developing this project.
These sites include Manzanar National Historic Site, the former Japanese internment camp
in central California ; Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka , Kansas ;
Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site in Atlanta ; Eleanor Roosevelt National His-
The 2005 George Wright Society Conference Proceedings • 119
toric Site in Hyde Park , New York ; the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, New York City;
and Boston National Historical Park.
What was the Gulag? “Gulag” was the acronym for the Soviet bureaucratic institution,
Glavnoe Upravlenie ispravitel‘no-trudovykh Lagerie (Main Administration of Corrective
Labor Camps). This branch of the secret police oversaw the Soviet forced labor camp and
internal exile system. Between the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the fall of the Soviet
Union in 1991, some 25 million people were
held in the Gulag system. At its height under
Stalin in the early 1950s, the system held
over 5 million prisoners.
The former Gulag camp, Perm-36, was
originally set up as a rather typical camp in
the 1940s in the heavily forested region in the
Ural Mountains, not far from the western
edge of Siberia . It housed 1,000 prisoners in
four barracks (Figure 1). Under brutal conditions
(Figure 2) , prisoners cut timber and in
the spring floated it downstream to help the
cities rebuild after the devastation of World
After Stalin’s death in 1953, the new
Soviet leaders drastically reduced the size of
the Gulag, and most labor camps were abandoned.
Perm-36 survived because of its remote location. First it housed convicted Soviet
authorities. Then, in the early 1970s, it was transformed into one of the most notorious facilities
for human rights political prisoners. By the late 1960s, the Soviet Union faced a serious
internal threat: dissidents and human rights activists who publicized their activities when
possible and created serious image problems internationally. The human rights movement
had been growing in the 1960s and it was spurred by opposition to Soviet actions, in particular
the suppression of the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Increasingly the government
had to deal with punishing and isolating these political prisoners. In 1972, during
a period of renewed political repression in the USSR , Perm-36
was converted into a political prison, and for the next 15 years,
the camp, along with two others nearby, held many of the Soviet
Union’s most prominent dissidents.
After the Soviet Union ’s collapse, some Russian historians,
human rights activists, former Gulag prisoners, and others created
civic organizations to help foster remembrance. One of the
most prominent, the Memorial Society, erected small monu-
120 • People, Places, and Parks
Figure 1. Artist’s rendition of the camp in 1946. There were four
barracks of 250 prisoners each, a headquarters building, outhouses,
a hospital, and a punishment block. Courtesy of the Gulag
Museum at Perm-36.
Figure 2. Restored prison cell at the Especially Severe camp barracks. During the prisoner’s term,
he only saw his cell-mate and his guard, who took him to his work cell and to his exercise yard.
Most prisoners spent at least five years in this camp. Several died there as well. Courtesy of the
Gulag Museum at Perm-36.
ments throughout the country to
commemorate victims of totalitarianism.
In 1991, Memorial Society
activists, who wanted to preserve a
forced labor camp to serve as a
memorial to the Gulag victims,
organized to save Perm-36. By the
early 1990s, Perm-36 lay in ruins
(Figure 3). KGB officials had
destroyed much of the facility after
Ukrainian Television crews filmed
and broadcast the facility where
internationally renowned poet
Vasyl Stus had died from neglect in
1985. Thanks to dedicated reconstruction efforts, the museum was able to open in 1996,
and today the former camp is the only surviving complex from the Soviet Gulag system (Figure
Through the offering of tours, exhibits, and workshops, the museum is able to fulfill its
mission statement: “To promote democratic values and civic consciousness in contemporary
Russia through preservation of the
last Soviet political camps as a living
reminder of repression and as
an important historical and cultural
The stories the museum tells
remain highly controversial today.
In a 1993 Russian public opinion
poll, about 8% who responded
believed that Stalin’s role had been
positive. In 2003, on the 50th
anniversary of his death, the positive
response had swelled to over
50%. Many forces in Russia today do not like what the Gulag Museum is doing.
The exhibit that the National Park Service and the Gulag Museum are jointly bringing
to the United States will present the story of the Gulag in three sections. The first section will
explore the Gulag as it developed and grew into a powerful tool of repression under Stalin.
The second section will address the rise of the human rights movement within the Soviet
Union and focus on the history of Perm-36. The final section will look at the legacy of the
Gulag in Russia today (Figure 5).
I want to leave you with one image today, a pair of ordinary objects that will be featured
in the exhibit: the toothbrushes of former dissidents Ivan Kovalev and Tatiana Osipova.
In the late 1970s, Ivan was editor of the outlawed Chronicle of Current Events which
documented human rights abuses within the country. Tatiana, his wife, was active in the
The 2005 George Wright Society Conference Proceedings • 121
Figure 3. The last remaining original barracks in 2001. The museum has been
working to restore the original structures to interpret the entire history of the
camp. Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.
Figure 4. Visitors at Perm-36 Museum. Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.
Helsinki Group, a human rights organization. After she was arrested in 1980, he sent her a
toothbrush. Etched in the plastic is a love message. The authorities never saw it. When he
was arrested in 1981, she sent him, through her mother, a toothbrush which also contained
a love message. Sadly, Ivan never thought to look for a message since it came through
Tatiana’s mother, but when they were reunited in the late 1980s, he still had the toothbrush.
These are treasured objects. And they tell a powerful story of struggle and endurance.
All societies and countries have painful pasts—histories that are difficult to face, stories
some would rather ignore or deny. This traveling exhibit presents an opportunity for the
NPS to share with American visitors a model of how historic sites can play an important role
in the dialogue about a nation’s past and its future. No doubt there will be some visitors surprised
when visiting Ellis Island or Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site to discover
an exhibit on such a seemingly foreign topic. I hope and believe it will spur them also to
think about the history of the site they are visiting and its implications for our society today.
122 • People, Places, and Parks
Figure 5. Traveling exhibition module prototype design. The exhibit will feature full-scale prison cell sections, prisoner
artwork, artifacts, maps, photographs, Soviet propaganda posters, and official Soviet newsreels on the Gulag. Oleg Trushnikov,
exhibit designer. Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.
From: Kresy-Siberia@yahoogroups.com [mailto: Kresy-Siberia@yahoogroups.com ] On Behalf Of Julian Plowy
Sent: Sunday, June 18, 2006 4:19 PM
Subject: RE: [Kresy-Siberia] "Gulags Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom"
You are correct but I noticed that an additional exhibit from the same people about the gulags will be coming in 2007. It might add to this one from the comment section. I assume that they will incorporate and expand the exhibit based on the comments that were made regarding this exhibit. So I would encourage us to make a strong point telling them that the Polish section and history should be expanded.
In the next few weeks I plane to take a few days off and drive 200 plus miles to see this exhibit in central California . This exhibit goes till August in the town of Independence CA.
I am very interested in what it has on display.
From: Kresy-Siberia@yahoogroups.com [mailto: Kresy-Siberia@yahoogroups.com ] On Behalf Of Wit Bogma
Sent: Sunday, June 18, 2006 12:59 PM
Subject: Re: [Kresy-Siberia] "Gulags Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom"
Thank you Julek for finding the link. As far as I can see this exhibit is about the existence of labour/death camps in Russia sort of pictorial reminiscences of " Gulag Archipelago" but it does not refer to Poles being sent there since 1863 or have I missed something. Inquisitively Dziadzius
julek2205 < julian_plowy@... > wrote:
Here is the link to the online exhibit of the Gulag exhibit at Ellis
http://gulaghistory .org/exhibits/ nps/
For those who can't use the above link, go to the subject bar above
and copy it complete with its quotes. Paste it into the google search
bar and the link should come up.
How low will we go? Check out Yahoo! Messenger’s low PC-to-Phone call rates.