The camp which came to be known as Perm-36 was established in 1942 as one of many thousands of ordinary GULAG camps but turned out to have extraordinary history and fate…
It came into being on a hard tipping point when millions of lives and fates were wrecked. One more (and one of the most brutal) waves of repression, the so-called Great Terror had just come to its end. Battles of the Great Patriotic War and World War II were thundering in their rampant and mad fervor.
At first, it was a typical GULAG camp which had a typical and even not the most political population. After the ‘father of all nations’ died, enforcement higher-ups were imprisoned there, most of them having been involved in the repression or even served in the GULAG system.
In the 1970s, the camp on the bank of Chusovaya River became one of the cruelest and the best-known political camps of the Soviet Union. ‘Supermax’ prisoners of state were kept there. Many of them, both the survivors and the non-survivors, became the conscience and pride of former Soviet republics.
GULAG is broadly and commonly interpreted as an extremely cruel repressive machine which functioned in Russia and USSR for seventy years, from 1917 through 1987, with tens of millions of victims who were sent to camps or to forced settlements, shot or starved to death, deported or exiled, sentenced to forced labor, deprived of their civil rights, or repressed somehow else.
Literally, GULAG (ГУЛАГ) is the Chief Administration of Camps (Главное Управление ЛАГерей) which had a vast lot of camp divisions throughout the country, from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean, from the Arctic Ocean to Pamir and Hindu Kush, it existed for a quarter of century, from 1930 through 1956. The number of its prisoners has so far not been counted. When preparing his well-known speech ‘On Stalin’s Personality Cult’, Nikita Khrushchev asked this question to the Ministry of Justice of USSR, and it responded that about 20% of the country’s entire male population were sentenced to imprisonment throughout those years.
Perm-36 is the name the Soviet-era underground press and the subsequent journalism applied to the political camp (ВС-389/36 correctional facility) for the Perm Regional Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of USSR where men convicted of especially dangerous political crimes, most of them being prisoners of state, were kept in 1972 through 1987.
Perm-36 is a memorial museum of history of political repression, it was established in the former Perm-36 political camp by Perm-36, the Memorial Center of the History of Political Repression, Autonomous Non-for-Profit Organization, its numerous assistants, volunteers, friends and partners with active support from the government of Perm Territory.
The camp this museum is dedicated to survived several evolutions during its 45-year existence. During the war, it was very small, and accommodated several hundreds of prisoners, men, women, and teenagers who were typically sentenced to short (five years maximum) terms for minor crimes: hooliganism, bootlegging, unauthorized leave of workplace, scalping; however, supermax, ‘counterrevolutionary’ convicts were also kept there. All prisoners were engaged in logging; the camp was relocated several times, the prisoners not always being able to build huts and oftentimes living in cabins, dugouts, old canvas tents, even in winter.
In 1946, the camp was moved to where it remained until the end of its existence. Logged huts surrounded by fence with watchtowers at its corners, the camp guardhouse and headquarters were built there.
In the years following, the camp was divided into several separate logging facilities which were situated in woods, near felling plots, and rafting facilities, on the banks of Chusovaya. The rafting facilities included rafting grounds to stack logs which were to be rafted during spring flood.
Camp storages used to receive and store cargos which were sent to the camp were set up at railway stations in Chusovoy and Kalino. In the late 1940s, electric saws with power generators, trucks and tractors were brought to the camp which was extremely uncommon for camps of that time. The camp became one of the largest logging camps of the region.
In 1953, after Stalin’s death, over one million people were release from camps under amnesty, most of them convicted of common crimes. Many camps were closed down and abandoned.
This camp, however, was too useful to be abandoned so it received a new kind of prisoners in autumn of that year. These were former enforcement officials, most of them senior MIA officers, higher-ups of judicial bodies, public prosecution offices and courts. All of them were convicted of crimes but most of them had, one way or another, been involved in political repression or even served in the GULAG system.
In 1972, the camp was once again drastically repopulated, this time by ‘supermax’ prisoners of state, mainly dissidents who were convicted of ‘anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda’; ‘nationalists’: citizens of Ukraine and the Baltic republics of USSR who were charged with fighting against the Soviet regime and sentenced to twenty-five-year imprisonment; citizens of USSR who tried to flee the country and even succeeded but came or were deported back for some reason. Some were collaborators of World War II who were convicted many years after it ended.
The camp existed till 1988, and became one of the main and the cruelest political camps in USSR.
In early 1990s, an enthusiast team of the Perm Memorial undertook to restore the half-ruined last political prison of the Soviet Union. The camp’s huts and other buildings were then found out to be a miraculously spared GULAG complex which virtually survived throughout the former Soviet Union. Such memory could not be cast into oblivion, buried, and bulldozed away как as it was attempted to do when the camp was closed down.
On September 5th, 1995, a memorial museum of political repression was established on the former Perm-36 site. During incomplete 20 years of its existence, while run by social activists, the museum became an unmatched place throughout Russia, not only in Perm Territory.
In 2012 through 2014, the new authorities of Perm Territory headed by the governor newly appointed by Moscow destroyed the Perm-36 Memorial Museum of History of Political Repression. The former camp buildings which had been restored by the Memorial Center were handed over to a clapped-up public institution which also took over all of the Memorial Center’s property: the museum collections and specimens, archives and library, exhibits and exhibitions. The new institution situated on the premises of the former Perm-36 camp jogged over to turning the museum of history of political repression to a museum of the penal system.