Gulags – Frenkel’s “efficiency” system

Naftaly_Aronovich_Frenkel_(1883_–1960).jpg

Naftaly Frenkel, architect of gulag prison system

Biography

Naftaly Aronovich Frenkel was born in Haifa (back then part of the Ottoman Empire; now part of Israel) in 1883, and died in 1960 in Moscow at age 77.
He was a Jewish Russian businessman and member of the Soviet secret police.
Frenkel is best known for his role in the organisation of work in the Gulag, starting from the forced labor camp of the Solovetsky Islands, which is recognised as one of the earliest sites of the Gulag. One of Frenkel’s innovations in the labor camps is the “you-eat-as-you-work” system or the “nourishment scale”. This system resulted in a high death toll in the camps.

Frenkel’s labor camp reforms:

Linking of a prisoner’s food ration to production. Less hunger if worked more.

Getting rid of prisoners after 3 months as prisoners were most productive only in the first 3 months. After this, they were too weak. This was done by killing the last person to join the line at work at a work detail. This person was called a laggard and taken out and shot.

These reforms pleased Stalin greatly as it made the camps more “efficient”.

Frenkel’s reward for making the labor camps more “efficient”:

• Made chief of construction of the White Sea Canal project

• Became chief of construction of BAM (Baltic-Amur Magistral) railroad project.

• Appointed head of the Main Administration of Railroad Construction Camps. This was for providing transport facilities to the Red Army in the war against Finland in 1939-1940.

• Awarded the Order of Lenin three times.

• Named a Hero of Socialist Labor.

• Promoted to the rank of general in the NKVD (Secret Police).

Frenkel’s system became standard operating system in the gulag camps

Frenkel’s system was used as the standard operating system for most of the labor camps thereafter, including the worst ones such as Kolyma, Far East Construction and Vorkuta.

The West gave Stalin support during this time. Many of the rails were marked “Made in Canada”. Canada provided rails to help Stalin’s building effort.

 

The following is from Institute for Historical Review ihr

The Gulag: Communism’s Penal Colonies Revisited

Dan Michaels

Of all those who helped devise and perfect the slave labor system of the Gulag, special mention must be made of Naftaly Aronovich Frenkel. Frenkel, a Jew born in Turkey in 1883, had been a prosperous merchant there, but after the Bolshevik revolution he moved — as did an appreciable number of Jews — to the Soviet Union. Based in Odessa as an agent of the State Political Administration, Frenkel was responsible for the acquisition and confiscation of gold from the wealthier classes. The unscrupulous Frenkel was unable to resist this temptation, however, and in 1927 was arrested, on orders of the Moscow central office, for skimming off too much gold for himself. Convicted of economic crimes, he was sent to the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp (or SLON, as it was designated by the Soviet bureaucracy), a bleak Arctic penal colony. Frenkel’s special talent for improving inmate work efficiency was quickly noticed by the camp officials there, and it was not long before he was ordered to explain his ideas and methods to Stalin personally. His main proposal was to link a prisoner’s food ration, especially hot food, to his production, essentially substituting hunger for the knout* as the main work incentive. Frenkel had also observed that a prisoner’s most productive work is usually done in the first three months of his captivity, after which he or she was in so debilitated a state that the output of the inmate population could be kept high only by removing (killing off) the exhausted prisoners and replacing them with fresh inmates. Another method of stimulating enthusiasm for work among prisoners — and at the same time culling the camp population by killing off the weak — was quite simple. When the prisoners were called out on a work detail, they fell into line. The last man in to line up would be shot as a laggard (“dokhodyaga”), one weakened enough to be useless for work. These policies would ensure a constant inflow of new prisoners, providing fresh labor while weeding out opposition to Stalin and his party.

So pleased was Stalin with Frenkel’s ideas on the efficient exploitation of inmate labor that he made him construction chief of the White Sea Canal project, and later of the BAM railroad project. In 1937 Stalin appointed Frenkel head of the newly founded Main Administration of Railroad Construction Camps (GULZhDS). In that capacity, Frenkel was called upon to provide railroad transport facilities to the Red Army in the 1939-40 “Winter War” against Finland, and for the duration of Soviet participation in the Second World War. He was eventually awarded the Order of Lenin three times, named a Hero of Socialist Labor, and promoted to the rank of general in the NKVD.

The methods instituted by Frenkel in building the White Sea-Baltic Sea Canal became the standard operating procedures for most subsequent labor camps, including the BAM (Baltic-Amur Magistral) railroad project, the Dalstroy (Far East Construction), Vorkuta, Kolyma, Magadan, and countless other hell holes. Working on the BAM project after the war, the inmates noted that many of the rails were marked “made in Canada” — a reminder of the aid given by the Western powers to support the Soviet war effort.

More from Institute for Historical Review

*knout
nout/
noun
 1.  (in imperial Russia) a whip used to inflict punishment, often causing death.

 

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