European Memories

of the Gulag

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Initial housing for peasants exiled to the North

These photographs are taken from an NKVD propaganda album preserved at the police information centre in Arkhangelsk. This is an exceptional source, because images of the Stalin deportations are few in the archives.

Entitled Labour villages in the North region and Komi ASSR from 1930 to 1937, the album contains more than three hundred photographs taken by the NKVD during two distinct periods; the initial deportation phase (1930-1931) and 1936, the year of Stalin’s Constitution and the assertion of victory over the enemy. They illustrate the eleven topics the book covers: moving in, building the villages, reclaiming the land, livestock, farm buildings, production work, crafts, daily and cultural life, schools, kindergartens and medical services.

In the manner of a Soviet secret report, but in pictures, the NKVD regional hierarchy enthusiastically describes the great progress made in seven years by its departments charged with implementing the special settlement.

Was it a gift-album for the twentieth anniversary of the Revolution, or a back-covering paper trail to protect the jobs of those who produced it? There is no indication of the motives behind this internal propaganda. However, the message conveyed is explicit: the inhospitable lands have been brought under control and the enemies re-educated.

Apart from its propaganda value, the album does not fully succeed in concealing the essential facts: the harshness of the environment, the bareness of the housing, the distress of the deportees forced not only to camp in mid-winter, but also to leave their shelters to pose for the cameras of their persecutors.

The slideshow follows the trajectory of the exiled deportees and shows their initial housing.

The descriptions are based on the facts contained in the album captions.