July 27, 2013

1943. Red Justice

Red Justice
"Prisoners mine gold at Kolyma, the most notorious Gulag camp in extreme northeastern Siberia.
From the 1934 documentary film Kolyma. Courtesy of the Central Russian Film and Photo Archive" (source)
From Newsweek, June 7, 1943, pp. 56-57:

Red Justice

How Russians Handle Crime, Increased There Also by War

by Bill Downs
Even as in capitalist Britain and the United States, war has brought Russia special problems in crime. The following cable from Bill Downs, Newsweek's Moscow correspondent, describes Russian treatment of the problems.
I visited the People's Court in the Leningrad district of Moscow the other day. It is comparable to a police court or city court in the United States. A woman judge and two civilian representatives were sitting on the bench hearing cases not unlike those that could be heard in any city in the United States or Britain. One case involved the investigation of a gang of eleven boys charged with robbing evacuated flats in Moscow and selling the stolen goods to waitresses in the trades-school restaurant where they ate. Eighteen girls ranging in age from 18 to 25 also were in court under various charges. The boys ranged from 14 to 18 years of age.

The trial was very involved. The boys and girls had legal representatives who pleaded the cases with the same intensity and determination of any lawyer I have seen in a dozen American police courts. The boys were subject to sentences, upon conviction, of up to five years in one of the juvenile reform colonies. The girls were subject to minimum sentences of one year in a prison colony. The Soviet also has a system of conditional sentencing whereby a person convicted of a minor crime is sentenced to contribute up to 20 per cent of his salary each week until the sentence is served. In addition there are conditional sentences which enforce a curfew on the offender and require him to report to the local militia or remain at home when he is not working. Legal experts say the system has worked exceedingly well, particularly in a wartime when the government by confining the offender would have lost his useful war work.
 
Courts of War

There is another type of court in the Leningrad district of Moscow. It is a court which tries crimes classified as coming under martial law. With the German attack of 1941 a decree was promulgated reclassifying murder, attempted murder, highway robbery, resistance to representatives of the government, and refusal to join the labor front as crimes subject to martial law. On Dec. 26, 1941, another decree made it a martial crime for any worker in a war industry to quit his job without proper permission.

Judge Taissia Yachudina, a middle-aged, school-teacherish, kindly looking woman and head of the juvenile section of this People's Court said there was a more or less "natural" increase in crime in wartime. She explained that broken families, bombed-out évacués, and transferred war workers all created personal crises which brought about conditions conducive to crime and produced the small gang of boys who robbed the flats.

Also the general emergency condition in Russian life with the lack of the very necessities of life has prompted people to crime. However, Yachudina assured me there was no such thing as a crime wave in Moscow where the situation never was out of control.

Fighting Felons

The martial law section of the People's Court handles another special type of procedure instigated since the outbreak of the war. A prisoner convicted of a crime such as embezzlement, work stoppage, or any other lawbreaking decree which calls for a sentence of usually not more than three years is given the choice of going to the front with the army pending final decision as to whether he shall serve his sentence.

Vladimir Diakonoff, a 35-year-old assistant procurator of the U.S.S.R. in the Moscow region told me this system began when inmates of the Soviet's prison colonies asked for the privilege of shedding their blood for their country. Diakonoff, a dark-haired man, said: "After the German attack we began to receive letters from prisoners such as one saying: 'I had a disagreement and I am serving my sentence. However, that was an international affair between me and my government. Now the Germans are in our country. I plead to be released to help oust them. After that I will return to finish my sentence whereby I will settle the differences between myself and the authorities'."

The Camps

The Soviet has two types of camps, unlike the walled prisons of other countries. The first are "correction colonies"camps for persons serving up to three years of a comparatively mild type of confinement during which prisoners are made to feel they can again become useful citizens after serving terms. These are mostly agricultural camps, brick factories, or such industries.

The second type, the "correction labor camps," are for the more serious criminals serving more than three years. The regime in these camps is more severe. They are often in remote sections of the country. However, the same system of rehabilitation is aimed at Many camps have theaters, libraries, hospitals, and industrial shops. Some even have newspapers, the latter an innovation introduced by Maxim Gorky. In both cases the prisoners are paid, and if they work hard and honestly they get additional privileges and food and clothing quarters, more freedom and more opportunities to see their families. It is not uncommon for a hard-working prisoner to be given a few days to live with his family as a reward for good conduct and work.

Notes

The article is briefly mentioned by the controversial historian James J. Martin in his penultimate book The Man Who Invented 'Genocide' The Public Career and Consequences of Raphael Lemkin. The book is associated with Holocaust denialism and was published in 1984 by the anti-Semitic Institute for Historical Review. He writes on page 76: "One might have remembered the preposterous column filed from Russia by Bill Downs, Newsweek's Moscow correspondent ('Red Justice,' June 7, 1943, pp. 57-58), with its incredible commentary on the prison labor camps, which made them almost sound as though they might be fun to be in."