In 1929–1930, the network of camps, consisted of the prisoners sentenced not only for domestic and criminal crimes but also for political reasons, started to be established in the USSR.
Having lost freedom, rights, and normal living conditions, exhausted prisoners had to develop hard-to-get regions, fell timber, mine coal and gold, build railways, power stations and even whole cities.
Over 20 years of the GULAG, twenty million people passed through the prisons and camps, every tenth stayed in the GULAG forever.
Over the times, the term «GULAG», initially the acronym for "Main Administration of Camps", became an ominous symbol of lawlessness, life on the verge of death, hard labor and human injustice.
The GULAG History Museum represents an approach of memorial museums, dealing with the 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.
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 Museum was established in 2001 by Anton V. Antonov-Ovseenko, prominent historian, publicist and public figure, who endured forced labor camps as a son of an “enemy of the people.” The founder of the Museum is the Moscow Department of Culture. In 2004, the first exposition was presented in the building on Petrovka Street.
In 2012, Roman Vladimirovich Romanov was appointed as a director of the Museum.
In 2015, the Museum was relocated at the new building on the 1st Samotechniy pereulok. This building was constructed in 1906 by the architect Nikolai Ivanovich Zherikhov. For more than a hundred years, there were apartments for rent and communal apartments, dormitory and car repair shop in the building.
In the 1990s, the building appeared to be deserted. In 2012–2014, large-scale reconstruction and re-equipment for the Museum needs were carried out in the abandoned building. The main facade of the building was restored to its former historical appearance. The other three facades are lined with copper, which darkens slowly due to the properties of oxidizing and patinating under the influence of precipitation.
The opening ceremony of the GULAG History Museum in the new building took place on October 30, 2015.
The collections of the GULAG History Museum include an archive of documents, letters, memoirs of former prisoners of the GULAG, personal items and other objects related to the history of imprisonment, works of art created by the artists endured through the GULAG, and contemporary creators, offering their own view on this topic. The Museum collection is regularly renewed by new exhibits, photographs, paintings, documents, camp life artifacts.
The Museum exposition deals with the 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. The permanent exhibition named GULAG in Human Fates and History of the Country is aimed to depict the history of GULAG as a single process with the 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 the GULAG history through the human dimension. The interactive multimedia format enables a visitor to face GULAG survivors, to hear prisoners’ voices.
The museum organizes stationary and mobile exhibitions based on the main collections and in collaboration with other museums, archives, institutes, publishing houses, monasteries, public organizations, cultural and educational centers, centers of modern art, as well as collectors, artists, and photographers.
There are regular sessions, meetings and presentations devoted to new research works on the history of the GULAG in the Museum.
The Museum holds lectures, performances, concerts, film screenings, creative meetings and performances, offering an imaginative interpretation of the repressions. There are the Documentation Centre, the Library and the Social and Volunteer Center in the Museum. A memorial garden will be created on the territory adjacent to the Museum.