Leningrad: Otdel trudkoloniy UNKVD LO, 1936. 104 pp., 1 front. 17,5x13,5 cm. In original cloth binding with low-relief image on front cover. Slightly soiled, front endpapers slightly detached from blockotherwise very good copy.
First and only edition. One of 3000 copies. Very rare.
The collection of fiction created by 14 teenagers who have stayed at three different labor camps of the NKVD of Leningrad Region in the 1930s. As a result of the WWI and the Civil War that has
followed, in the 1920s in the USSR the number of homeless children was unprecedented. The problem was so significant that it was under the personal control of Lenin and Feliks Dzerzhinsky
(1877-1926). In the early-mid 1920s somewhere between 4 and 6 million children were homeless. As a result a special operation has been conducted by NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal
Affairs, future KGB), police and the army. The task to get minors off the streets by any means was undertaken like a military operation, and that’s why a big percentage of them have ended up in
labor camps by the 1930s, alongside with the juvenile criminals.
The ideological leader of NKVD Dzerzhinsky (to whom several parts in this book are dedicated) famously viewed labor camps as the only institutions for the reclamation. In reality those camps led to the establishment of the GULAG system and the use of prison labor for the sake of fulfilling the unrealistic industrialisation goals. It’s unclear what conditions the authors of this collection had to experience but from one of the poems we learn that 17-year old Nikolay Morschikov participated in Belomorstroy (the construction of The White Sea–Baltic Canal). From another poem we learn about his homeless past and that he expected to become an engineer.
Despite the obvious propaganda-lured topics, poems dedicated to Stalin and to Dzerzhinsky, some pieces are more lyrical and dedicated to the usual kids’ activities, pets or games. No doubt the
book was heavily censored and was not intended for distribution outside of the camps. Some short stories were co-written. Photos of all the authors precede their writings. An important document of the era which gives the insight into what was happening behind the fences of labor camps.
The only copy is located in Princeton University.