by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In the heart of Washington, D.C., behind the doors of a building not unlike the others with which it shares a block, lies a most visceral testament to the horrors of communism—a political ideology still all too dominant in the world today.
The new museum, from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, has been in the works for many years. It opened to the public on Monday.
Entering it is like walking into a vault. Or possibly a tomb. Passing by a wall with large, embossed words reading, “REMEMBERING the victims of Communism,” the space quickly darkens and narrows.
Pictures and small video screens containing images of regimes and victims alike emblazon it, evoking a somber tone. Beyond those images, on a larger screen, a six-minute film lays out the rise of Vladimir Lenin and the Soviet Union as a communist power.
The room then funnels visitors into the world of the gulag. Here, there are artifacts from the notorious Soviet prison camps, physical remnants of the millions of Russians who passed through them. In one case sits a teddy bear and next to it a “valenki”—a felt boot that shod gulag prisoners.
There’s also a replica of “black bread,” an oblong, charcoal-colored loaf that gulag prisoners relied on for sustenance. Small measurements show how much of a loaf would be doled out as rations to each prisoner, depending on their docility or misbehavior.
From 1934 to 1947, an estimated 10 million were sent to the camps. Another estimate puts fatalities between 1.2 million and 1.7 million from 1918 to 1956.
An informational panel explains how Josef Stalin, the longest reigning leader of the Soviet Union, intentionally used a famine to starve more than 3 million Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933. Some estimate the death toll reached 7 million.
In total, the museum estimates, more than 100 million have been killed under communist regimes in the past 100 years.