Gulag is an acronym for the Russian term “Glavnoye Upravleniye ispravitelno-trudovyh Lagerey”, or “Chief Administration of Corrective Labour Camps”, the bureaucratic name of the governing board of the Soviet labor camp system, and by metonymy, the camp system itself. The book’s original Russian title is The Gulag Archipelago, the rhyme supporting the underlying metaphor deployed throughout the work. The word archipelago compares the labor camps system across the Soviet Union with a vast “chain of islands,” known only to those who were fated to visit them.
The camp system united 53 camp administrations with thousands of camp departments, 425 сorrective labor colonies, and more than 2,000 special commandants’ offices. In total, the Gulag included over 30,000 places of detention.
On January 1, 1939, almost 1.99 million prisoners were held in the camps, colonies, and prisons of the Gulag, and by 1950 the number of prisoners had increased to 2.5 million people.
After Stalin died in 1953, approximately 1,200,000 people were released.
From 1934 to 1953, more than thirty-five million people passed through the colonies and camps of the Gulag system. The map below shows concentration camps, prisons, and psychiatric prisons.
Soviet detention facilities
Finally, there is a fascinating interactive map of the Gulag camp system. Using this interactive map, you can take a virtual trip through a Gulag and learn about prisoners’ daily lives in a correctional labor camp! The virtual tour enables you to visit all of the buildings in a camp; you will encounter authentic items of camp life and learn from survivors what everyday life was like for political prisoners in Stalin’s labor camps.
Soviet Gulag online