For over forty years, Gulag Perm-36 was used to house some of the Soviet Union’s most vocal opponents. The camp first opened its doors in 1946. The inmates, known as ‘zeks’ were forced to cut down trees and ship them down river to help rebuild towns and villages destroyed during World War II. At its height, the camp could accommodate a thousand prisoners, who toiled in appalling conditions for up to sixteen hours every day. Any dissent was crushed and prisoners were often beaten, placed in solitary confinement, or strip searched in the freezing cold. The unremitting brutality of the camp took its toll and many people perished there, where they were often buried in a grave marked only by a numbered post in the ground.
In 1972, the camp was converted into the main place of imprisonment for political prisoners. Perhaps the most famous inmate was Ukrainian poet and dissident Vasyl Stus, who was nominated for the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature. He died while on a hunger strike on September 4, 1985, having spent nearly half of his life imprisoned in various gulags around the country.
It was not until December 1987 that the gulag finally closed its doors. All other camps were destroyed, but a coalition of former inmates, human rights activists, and Russian historians were able to save it. In 1996, the Memorial Center for the History of Political Repressions was opened. Featuring many exhibits on the prisoners’ daily lives, it serves as a permanent reminder of the cruelty and violence of the Soviet era.
Know Before You Go
The museum is about 10 kilometers from the town Chusovoy, which is 100 km east of Perm.