European Memories

of the Gulag

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“Sovietisation” in black and white

 

All that is missing in the NKVD album is colour (see photo section “Initial housing for peasants exiled to the North”) to show what the authorities meant by “Sovietisation”.

The caption alone is quite clear, “Labour villages are a school for re-moulding”, and the picture is no less eloquent. In exile as elsewhere, the collective ruled and work could only be done in brigades, whether of women or men. Collective effort and pride in mechanisation are recorded for posterity.

Soviet social values are conveyed by the involvement of “ex-kulaks” in the various integrationist institutions: a group of Pioneers or schoolchildren, a club of busy activists under Stalin’s watchful eye, or a group of amateur musicians.

The image of a family in their Sunday best sitting around a well-decked table is a perfect allegory of social achievement. Less successfully posed are the portraits of individuals raised to the rank of “Stakhanovite” for having learnt a skill during their re-education. Don’t these rare photographs of A.R. Berfort and A.P. Lavrentev, looking like recently arrested prisoners, belie the NKVD’s message?

The captions are taken from the NKVD album.

 

 

The last two captions include the typed citation:

 

12. Stakhanovite Befort A.R. “Pig-breeder in the special artel of Nemetsky labour village, she reared fourteen piglets from a single litter.”

13.Stakhanovite Lavrentev A.P. “Horticultural gardener in Nemetsky labour village. In 1936, he was awarded 75 roubles by the exhibition committee for his results in horticulture.”