The Leonid Slutsky Collection: A Rare Window On Life In Soviet Penal Colonies

Monday, March 18, 2019

Newspaper titled "Trudovaia zhizn."

The Leonid Slutsky collection contains a number of personal documents relating to Profesor Slutsky’s ancestors’s careers in the USSR, such as a government-issued certificate dated December 19, 1962, showing that “Red partisan Petr Kharitonovich Slutskii is considered verified (proverennyi)”, as well as several rare and unique items relating to Soviet penal colonies. A single issue of Trudovaia zhizn’ dated October 29, 1974, represents a very rare example of a Soviet penal colony newspaper. Its photographs and articles, often signed only by impersonal tags such as “political officer of colony X,” are particularly curious and invite further research. The articles extol the value of labor in reforming criminals and the virtues of the re-education process ongoing in the camps. The newspaper’s slogan reads: “Labor in the USSR is the responsibility and the deed of honor of every capable citizen.”

Photograph from "Trudovaia zhizn
Photograph from "Trudovaia zhizn'" captioned "The feeling of the motherland lives in the soul of every person. If he is not a renegade. If he has even a drop of honor and conscience... Convicts listen intently to the welcome of veterans."

In addition, the collection contains four photographic prints of the Russian town of Labytnangi, taken in July 1978. Three of these prints depict an unidentified labor camp or penal colony on the edge of the town while the fourth shows a list of penalties for illegal fishing. Labytnangi is in the far north of Siberia, near the mouth of the Ob’ River as it flows into the Gulf of Ob, off the Arctic Ocean.

Even today there are three high-security camps around Labytnangi, one of which holds Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, jailed for terrorism by the authorities of the Russian Federation (he was allegedly behind a plot to blow up a statue of Lenin in Crimea). Photographing the camp is still forbidden, which makes these prints from 1978 particularly valuable.

Anatol Shmelev

Anatol Shmelev PhD

Robert Conquest Curator for Russia and Eurasia / Research Fellow

Anatol Shmelev is a research fellow, Robert Conquest curator of the Russia and Eurasia Collection, and the project archivist for the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Collection, all at the Hoover Institution.