HomeAdventure TravelAdventure Travel Destination: Gulag Prison Camp Perm-36

Adventure Travel Destination: Gulag Prison Camp Perm-36

The Gulag penal system went down in history as the most inhuman and barbaric method used by Russian authorities to punish Soviet criminals and dissidents. Millions of desperate souls were transported to the desolate Siberia and placed in rudimentary work camps strewn across the permafrost, never to be heard again. Nothing is more notorious or inspires more fear among the proletariat than Perm-36 Gulag Prison Camp.

Reminiscent of a Nazi concentration camp, Perm-36 was the harshest work camp Soviet officials could design, specifically to house powerful political dissidents, outspoken writers, abstract artists, and any other perceived communist touts against Russia Ideally, people who pose a direct threat to the government. Once considered a death sentence, it is now a carefully preserved monument reminding the world of what governments are capable of doing in the face of open opposition to their regime.


After World War II, Stalin was faced with the arduous task of reconstruction. Russian cities along the western border (known to the Nazis as the Eastern Front during the war) were badly damaged and in dire need of repair. Stalin, thinking he could kill two birds with one stone, ordered the construction of logging camps in the Perm region, some 1,400 kilometers east of Moscow, on the border of the Siberian hinterland. Here, 150,000 undesirables are scattered across 150 work camps and assigned the task of supplying much-needed lumber to western cities.

The infamous Perm-36, officially known as the ITK-6 camp, soon filled up with a thousand “worst of the worst” criminals. The prisoners were divided into four uninhabitable sleeping barracks, where they were allowed to sleep seven hours a night, spending the freezing time under thin blankets as arctic winds blew through wide cracks in the wooden walls. In addition to the barracks, the concentration camp has a headquarters building, a humble hospital and a horrific corrections area where the authorities send dissidents if they feel their winter break is going a little too far.

Among the Perm work camps, the probationary camp had the strictest work arrangements. The prisoners were woken every morning at exactly six o’clock, had a modest breakfast, and marched quickly for an hour and a half into the forest to start logging. There, they were forced to cut down large quantities of aspen and oak trees with hand saws, and then transported the timber to the Chusovaya and Kama rivers, where it drifted southwest to the Volga. After nine hours of uninterrupted toil, the dissidents were sent back to the camp, where they had dinner and were sent to the barracks. Rinse and repeat. It’s unclear whether this strict schedule actually helped transform anyone, as the vast majority ended up dying and the rest were permanently damaged, both mentally and physically.

On the other hand, the Soviet government was very satisfied with the results. Feeling like they were really making a difference here, they officially named Perm-36 the official residence of the worst Soviet political prisoners and converted the Gulag into a fully functioning, modern prison camp in 1972. Enemies of the state continued to be sent here to work and rot until it was finally closed in 1987.

The most famous dissident sentenced to the gulag prison system is the author Alexander Solzhenitsyn. After being arrested for writing critical comments about Joseph Stalin, he was sentenced to eight years of hard labor.This horrific experience set the stage for his critically acclaimed work A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich and gulag islandshis searing description of Soviet labor camps.

area today

Shortly after the reforms of the 1980s, the labor camps were systematically dismantled, and the doors quietly closed during this dark period in Russian history. One remaining camp is Perm-36, which human rights activists in the former Soviet Union chose to protect because of its particularly diabolical nature. The site is now the Political Repression Historical Memorial Center Museum, with all original fences and buildings intact. Time froze, and it was a vivid reminder that the government would do everything in its power to suppress the human spirit.

Ironically, the nearby city of Perm has become a mecca for Soviet artists thanks to the Russian government sending their best and brightest writers and artists to work camps. Along with prisoners, several theater companies also moved to the area during World War II to escape Soviet repression. The influx of creatives made Perm a major art center, with museums and galleries rivaling Moscow and St. Petersburg.

travel information

You need to book an international flight to Moscow, Russia (DME) or Nizhny Novgorod, Russia (GOJ). From there, you’ll take a 90-minute flight to the Greater Savino Airport in Perm, Russia (PEE).

Car travel is the most convenient way to get to Perm-36. After your flight, you can rent a car at Perm Airport. Perm has modern hotel chains (such as the Hilton) that allow you to enjoy a comfortable stay between your day-to-day trips. The Political Oppression Historical Memorial Center Museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and closed on Mondays.

I’d love to hear about your experiences after the tour, so please feel free to contact me via the website below and email me.


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