In 1929–1930, on the territory of USSR began to form a network of camps, in which the convicts were serving their sentences - not only for domestic and criminal crimes, but also for political reasons.
Having been deprived of freedom, rights and normal living conditions, emaciated prisoners were forced to develop hard-to-reach lands, cut wood, mine coal and gold, build railways, canals, power stations and even whole cities.
For more than 20 years of the GULAG existence, about twenty million people passed through the camps, every tenth stayed in the GULAG forever.
Eventually, the word «GULAG», originally the acronym for "Head office of the camps", became an ominous symbol of lawlessness, life on the verge of death, hard labor and human injustice.
GULAG History Museum in its subject, mission, history of occurrence is included in the category of memory museums, each of which is based on a painful event that is difficult to comprehend.
The mission of the Museum is the retention of historical memory, the comprehension of the past in the name of the future. The museum is intended to become a public space for public presentation, study and updating the problems of the history of mass repressions, forced labor and political lack of freedom in the USSR.
The museum was founded in 2001 by Anton Vladimirovich Antonov-Ovseenko, a famous historian, journalist, public figure who at his time passed through the Stalin’s camps as a son of an "enemy of the people." The constitutor of the Museum is the Moscow Department of Culture. The first exhibition was opened in 2004 on the premises of the building on Petrovka Street.
In 2012, Roman Vladimirovich Romanov was appointed as a director of the Museum.
In 2015, the Museum moved to a new building in the 1st Samotechny lane. The house was built in 1906 by the architect Nikolai Ivanovich Zherikhov. For more than a hundred years, there were apartments for rent and communal apartments, a hostel and a car repair shop in its walls. Bombs fell in front of its windows, the subway was built and entire generations of Moscow families grew.
In the 1990s, the building was deserted. In 2012–2014, a large-scale reconstruction and re-equipment for museum needs were carried out in the abandoned building. The main facade of the house, facing the 1st Samotechny lane, 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 GULAG History Museum in the new building took place on October 30, 2015.
The collection of GULAG History Museum includes an archive of documents, letters, memoirs of former prisoners of the GULAG; a collection of personal belongings of prisoners and other objects related to the history of imprisonment; a collection of works of art created by artists who have passed through the GULAG, and modern creators, offering their own understanding of this topic. The Museum collection is regularly replenished with new exhibits - photographs, paintings, documents, camp life artifacts.
The Museum exposition is dedicated to the history of the occurrence, development and decline of the system of corrective labor camps, the most important component of the state machine in the 1930s – 50s; its political, administrative and economic role. In the halls of the Museum are also presented fates of various people, victims of repressive policies, who were imprisoned. One of the main tasks of the permanent exposition of the Museum is to highlight the topic of preserving of historical memory, to pay attention not only to the understanding the past but also to the understanding the tasks of tomorrow.
The museum organizes stationary and mobile exhibitions based on the main collection and in cooperating 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 and the problems associated with its understanding.
The Museum hosts lectures, performances, concerts, film screenings, creative meetings and performances, offering figurative interpretation of the topic of repressions. There are a Documentation Center, a library and a social and volunteer center. A memorial garden is going to be created on the territory adjacent to the Museum.