Wednesday, September 28, 2016

GULAG History Museum

In college I dual majored in history and social studies education. I have a terrible memory, so I will not brag about how many dates I can remember because, let's be honest, the only date I can remember is December 7, 1941. I was a little obsessed with Pearl Harbor when I was a middle schooler. I was so disappointed when my eighth grade history teacher told me we wouldn't learn about it that year. Anyways, what I liked about my history classes in college was learning how events impacted one another. I had an amazing professor who used three quarters of our intro to American history class to have us look at historical evidence and decide whether or not the USA is following the ideals set about in the Declaration of Independence. During this time I also took a million other history classes and learned more about Soviet history, which is where I learned about the GULAGs. When I saw that a GULAG History Museum existed I knew I had to go.

GULAG is the acronym for the Russian word meaning "main camp administration." It was not the place where prisoners were sent but the center of administration for the camps. In this post I will refer to the camps as GULAGs because it's just easier for my train of thought and comparison to Nazi concentration camps.  The GULAG system was not invented by Stalin. It actually existed before the Russian Revolution for those who were against the Czar. However, it took its modern, more well-known form during Stalin's reign. Do not be mistaken, the GULAG system was a corrective labor camp through forced labor, similar to the concentration camps in Nazi Germany. You should also know that concentration camps, are not extermination camps, although the former didn't really care about protecting the lives of those behind its bars. Anyone could be sent to the forced labor camps in the Soviet Union whether there was evidence of your guilt or not. There were videos shown in the museum of survivors who were tortured into admitting their guilt even if they were innocent. More people were killed under Stalin's rule than Hitler's, almost 10-20 million more people.
I remember A telling me that his grandmother cried when she learned of Stalin's death. My immediate thought was, "WHAT? She cried?! Do you have any idea how many people he killed?" He answered, "Yes, but he also did many good things for the country." Immediately I flashed back to my grandma telling me she cried when John F Kennedy was shot and learning about how FDR pulled the United States out of the Great Depression in school. Can we even compare the USA to the Soviet Union? Maybe we can. America has done some horrible things in it's history, but maybe you can't compare two completely different events. I also began to think about how we create Hitler to be a demon (which he is), but what about Stalin? In my opinion he was much more ruthless than Hitler so why don't we consider him to be on the same level? A while ago I looked into this and I found that Hitler is considered worse because he lost the war. Stalin was one of the winners so we tend to brush his brutality aside. Also, Hitler's Germany killed civilians almost exclusively for the ethnic cleansing while opponents of Stalin were sent to the GULAGs for the modernization of the Soviet Union. Those found guilty were mostly charged as standing in the way of modernization.
The GULAG History Museum, like Holocaust Museum in Washington DC or the S-21 Museum in Cambodia, was a very somber place. It's free to enter on the third Sunday of every month, which happened to be the day we went. I was surprised how empty it was considering it was free to enter. The museum itself was remarkable. I was amazed how much thought was put into the planning of this museum and it's very clear they want the history to be known. The museum was very interactive. As you can see in some of the pictures you can move the displays around. Unfortunately, like most museums in Russia, almost everything is in Russian. There are some displays in both Russian and English, but for the most part everything you want to read is in Russian. However, there are giant touch screens that show the same displays in English, but they are also shown in Russian so you might have to wait for someone to move from the display in order to read about the objects in the museum.
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday 11am-7pm (Thursdays 12-7) and is closed on the last Friday of every month. Like I mentioned above admission is free every third Sunday of the month.

I think it's important for everyone to go to such museums and historical sites in order to educate yourself and prevent history from repeating itself. No one actually believes mass extermination and forced labor camps will exist until they actually do. Also, I recommend the book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which I read in college, and the movie The Way Back. They are both about prisoners in the GULAGs.

How do you feel about visiting such places? Have you ever done so? Which historical sites or museums have you visited?

12 comments

  1. I love this post! I love seeing your history lovin self come out.

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  2. Interesting - looks like they've added some stuff since I went. I visited when they first opened and I was pretty disappointed by how lackluster it was. For such a fascinating/terrible part of history, I felt like they didn't really do it justice. Hopefully it's gotten better!

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    1. It was still kind of bare, but it was obvious they are constantly adding to it. We went on a free day so I guess I couldn't complain.

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  3. I really enjoyed reading your post Jasilyn! Great information and history you've shared! I would love to visit that museum one day! :)

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    1. You should definitely visit Russia! Moscow is amazing!

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  4. This was a great read, I know almost nothing about Russian history but it sounds really interesting! I have to admit, I try not to visit museums like this. I just find them too upsetting and I'm not sure what reaction I could have that would be appropriate. You don't want to get too upset, but at the same time, it feels wrong not to. I've been to the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, and I have friends who have been to Auschwitz and consider it the most harrowing experience of their lives.

    Jessthetics xx

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    1. Yes, I understand! I guess it's better not visit it but for the reason that you know it was a horrible experience and not because you want to deny it ever happened! I feel like the Anne Frank museum would be very sad to visit as well.

      Russian history is very interesting, but I like hearing about it rather than just reading about it on my own. It's so long and complicated like British history.

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  5. Looks fascinating! I'm guessing it's not in Ufa...

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  6. Don't believe the lies that Stalin killed more than Hitler. It's not true. Scholars who claim this are Capitalist propagandists. Stalin killed far fewer. I could give you lots of sources but he's a recent quick video.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6GO_GxdtZQ

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    1. Stalin killed more indirectly through starvation and policies. Hitler might have killed more with the systematic extermination of Jews. It's a difference based on how you look at the evidence.

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