From 1929 until Stalin's death in 1953, an estimated 14 million people passed through the Gulag. About 1.6 million people died there. Those in the camps were provided meager food, minimal medical care, inadequate clothing for the often-brutal weather conditions, and a near-total lack of modern tools and machinery.
The Gulag was set up along economic lines, with most camps being assigned specific economic tasks within the framework of the industrialization drive — logging, mining, the construction of industrial projects.
After World War II, more than 1 million Soviet soldiers who had survived Nazi prison-of-war camps were shipped off to the Gulag.
After Stalin's death in March 1953, the communist state began to dismantle the Gulag system. Political prisoners began to be released in 1954, and the system was officially canceled by an Interior Ministry decree on January 25, 1960.
The Soviet Secret Police archives recorded prisoners in camps and colonies on January 1 each year. However, Anne Applebaum notes in “Gulag, a History” that these numbers do not account for high turnover throughout the year. While the Gulag generally continued to grow throughout Stalin's reign, the sharpest increases came during the Great Terror, between 1936 and 1938, and in the period after World War II.