Danzig Baldaev: “Drawings from the Gulag”
Short biography of the artist, Danzig Baldaev, at fuel-design.com
The artist, Danzig Baldaev. He worked as a prison guard in an infamous Leningrad prison for the NKVD, and then in various prison camps in the gulags, over a span of 38 years. Born in 1925 in Ulan-Ude, in east-central Russia, Baldaev was the son of an ethnographer (a person who studies and records the history of an ethnic group) who was arrested as an “enemy of the people”. He grew up in an orphanage for the children of “enemies”, and following his service in the second world war, was forced by the NKVD (a forerunner of the KGB) to work as a warder at Kresty prison in Leningrad, now St Petersburg. His employment in the Soviet penal system took him all over the USSR, but in private, he became an “ethnographer”, recording the horror and grim reality of the Soviet gulags and NKVD detention centers as an insider, in a collection of drawings, accompanied by captions heavily laced with irony and sardonic commentary, which demonstrated his full awareness of how the system operated and the politics of the situation. In 1988, he dedicated the work to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the former gulag inmate and author of The Gulag Archipelago and Russia and the Jews: 200 Years Together.
VIDEO: Danzig Baldaev Talks About His Gulag Drawings Youtube
There were three kinds of prisoners. The common criminals: thugs, thieves, murderers, prostitutes, pimps, and drug smugglers. The “enemies of the revolution,” the political criminals: academics, artists, radicals, conservatives, and people who ended up on the wrong side of the Communist party, some by no more than an anonymous phone call. The third were the prisoners of the nation: these prisoners weren’t held in gulags, they weren’t beaten or physically tortured. Their lives were spent in a long tunnel of conscience, and their suffering was that of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, who had lost their dearest loved ones. Russia, in the throes of Joseph Stalin’s purges and famines, lost 20 to 40 million people, according to Russian historian Roy Medvedev. In mass murder, Stalin is second only to Mao Ze-Dong.
Danzig Baldaev (1925–2005) was the third kind of prisoner—a prisoner of tyranny. As a child, he was brought up in an orphanage for the children of political criminals. As a man, he was a warden of the State. After World War II, the 23-year-old Baldaev was enlisted to direct St. Petersburg’s Kresty Prison, an institution known for its brutality. In the service of the NKVD (the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs), Baldaev observed the tattoos of the prisoners, and replicated them in illustrations. Baldaev was reported for his activities, but the KGB immediately saw a usefulness to a catalogue of the tattoos, a complicated series of symbols and images employed by the Russian underworld as identification, rank, and dossier of deeds. For 50 years, Baldaev traveled the Russian penal system, archiving the tattoos and their meanings. The works are available in the three volumes that comprise the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia.
Baldaev’s other archive, of the horrors visited upon political criminals, was necessarily more secret. Political criminals, reviled, were victimized by the authorities and the common criminals who were the aristocracy of the gulag. With deft simplicity, Baldaev illustrated scenes indicative of common practices—tortures, rapes, murders.
—John Reed’s Tales of Woe is newly available from MTV Press.
Note: ITL: “Ispravitelno-trudovoi lager'”, or, literally, “corrective labor camp“.
A prisoner who went on hunger strike is being forcefully fed through his nostril. According to laws of Soviet humanism, only those who had normal body temperature (36.6…37 C) could be shot.
“I am… English, French, American, Japanese, Italian, German and other spy…”
Preparations for freezing to death a thug who had lost his own life in card game.
“Sprinkle ‘im with holy water for a better afterlife. I’ll give him snow so bulls won’t walk into him too soon!”
In the Gulag, kingpins were privileged similarly to modern bureaucrats.
Repeatedly convicted felons were about 3 steps higher than “enemies of the people” in criminal hierarchy. They usually weren’t working, having small-time thieves as servants and work results from common inmates. Those felons helped to eliminate “enemies of the people”…
“Crushing the skull” of “enemy of the nation” who didn’t agree to give away his daily work results to thugs.
Somewhere inside one of the NKVD torture catacombs
By the order of the prosecutor general Vyshinsky, any methods were considered “good” to get the confession. NKVD staff used brutal tortures with pump, soldering iron, bottle (shoved into vagina and anus), rats (placed in the heated bucket under victim’s bare buttocks) etc.
Execution by the “court of thieves” sentence in one of ITL’s (Gulag abbreviation for labor penitentiary camps)
By administration’s connivance in Stalin’s camps thugs were murdering inmates with electrocuting, stabbing, hanging, decapitating, inserting red-hot crowbar into anus etc. Many of thugs had 10 and more so-called “tups” at their account.
“Sanitary shooting” of party and other staff by NKVD in national republics
During the epoch of Stalin, such mass executions were common. Party staff, political and other activists, artists were executed by center’s orders, which were issued like hunting licenses by species of animals – moose, saigas, arkhars, argali, bears… This was made regularly to prevent the rise of national dignity in distant parts of the USSR.
“After we’ll fuck this scoundrel’s ass through, he’ll be quick to remember how to make sabotage against Soviet regime and party in university with his cybernetics!”
“Now it will be a lot easier for this Jewish Zionist to remember his global Yid-Mason plot membership!”
ITL administration is picking sex slaves from arrested family members of “enemies”.
Women “enemies of the people” were inspected naked before being sent to certain labor. Those who agreed to become sex slaves of administration were assigned to easy work. Others were either sent for logging and other heavy labor or put into cells and tortured with hunger.
A traditional Gulag joke for new arrivals – “give’em steam”
New arrivals who were waiting in so-called “septic” were watered with fire hose from guard tower, while the outdoor temperature was -30…-40 C. After several hours of more waiting, covered with ice, they were finally let inside – when the administration wanted to.
Wolf pits for “enemies of the people”.
During initial construction of the Gulag, political prisoners often were embarked in the middle of nowhere (-40…-50 C) and ordered to build the prison camp right at the spot. They did so at the daytime sleeping in such pits at nights. Hardly a quarter of those people managed to survive until spring…
Such mass murders had begun in 1920s in USLON (Solovetsk Special Camps Command) – the predecessor of Gulag. “Intelligentsia” always was an enemy of the stalinism. During 1930s, groups of “enemies” (mostly that “intelligentsia”) were deceitfully forced to go (or were transported) to the middle of wild steppe or tundra where they were shot with machineguns. Survivors were finished at the spot.
“Doctor, those inmates ain’t following the plan! Zero diet for ’em!”
(Slogan at the wall: “Women are the great power!” – I. Stalin)
In ITLs (corrective labor camps), “enemies of the people” were forced to do the hardest work – digging and logging. Most of exhausted women suffered the vaginal prolapse as a result of strain and starvation. Weakened and ill ones were finished off by deprivation of food.
With a purpose to inflict psychic trauma, “enemy” women and girls were stripped naked at interrogations.
Some perverts from NKVD loved to do this with young women and especially girls from “enemies” and “enemy family members” (“family member of the enemy” was an official reason for imprisonment – NvS). Neither oral nor written complaints had been reviewed by officials. Honest and principled State Attorney staff members were exterminated. The NKVD had unlimited right to take away any citizen’s life, while State Attorney Office became a puppet accomplice of NKVD with no own rights.
Inside the one of many NKVD prisons. “Enemy of the nation” is being dragged back to his cell after another 3rd grade interrogation.
With the most brutal and horrible medieval tortures, the NKVD was beating out of innocents completely absurd confessions like “spying for capitalist Antrantide”. Most of NKVD officers were just sadists – that was highly valued as “activism in fight against enemies”.
The order “Face the corner, arms at sides!” was often used at interrogations.
Interrogated “enemies” were standing at their feet for days without rest, food, water and sleep, suffering feet swelling. When the victims were falling down unconscious, they were swilled, beaten and forced to stand again. For their “efforts”, butchers were awarded and afterwards honorably retired at ages 50-60.
9 grammes – a communist ticket to “happy childhood”.
Because of overpopulation in special orphanages for “traitors of the motherland family members”, “enemy” childeren were executed in Tomsk, Mariinsk and Shimanovskaya railroad station, Central Isolation Cell of BAM prison camp. It was considered that after reaching the age of majority, they would become a threat to existing system.
In addition to 3rd grade interrogation, women were put into thug cells where they were brutally humiliated and gang raped. Afterwards most of victims committed suicide (hanged themselves, cut their veins, ate soil etc.)…
With hunger, diseases and slave labor, millions of “enemy” and “kulak” women were murdered by communists – diehard enemies of freedom, democracy and the entire humankind.
“Sending stiff to permanent Arctic Ocean settlement” – drowning of frozen inmate corpses in river ice holes (to avoid grave digging in permafrost).
Corpses of “enemies” are being thrown into “ammonal pits”.
“Ammonal pits” were dug out in permafrost soil with dynamite, toluene and ammonal explosions in different areas of USSR. Such pits housed up to several hundred corpses.
Bowl of slumgullion and 300 g. of bread were all the man could hope after working the entire day outside in the cold. Trying to get a fake satiety, prisoners boiled the bread in salted water. Swelling, tag on the foot and prison graveyard were the result. The inmates were saying that Gulag was worse than Nazi concentration camps.
“We have a plan to arrest 12 enemies! With this old goat professor, engineer and doctor woman we have only 10, so arrest two more from apartments on the 1st floor. Anyone, workers or kolkhozniks – that doesn’t matter, we have a number of 12. Go!”
The NKVD covered up the entire country with a thick web of informers called “stukach” (slang derogatory name) and “seksot” (official abbreviation for “secret employee”).
Secret web of delators was keeping the entire country in fear. Driven by envy, self-interest and other low instincts “stukachs” had no slightest conscience, shame or dignity. In their delations, they were falsely accusing everyone (family members, friends, co-workers, cell mates) of espionage, plots, anti-soviet propaganda and other crimes. The NKVD did no checks of those denunciations. Indeed, it promoted any perverted lie to forge good statistics and showoff trials upon “enemies”. So, the elite of nation was destroyed to achieve the stupidity and meanness.
Interrogation of “enemy children” about counter-revolutionary activity of their families.
The NKVD supported delation of parents by their own children. Collaborators were praised like heroes, but some of them were forced to cooperation through beatings. In the entire country there were a campaign of public parent renunciations. Children were forced to give public confessions for the mass media and condemn “spies” on meetings. Some teachers forced their pupils to write essays like “What do you (yourself, your father and mother) think about the arrest of Marshals: Tukhachevsky, Blukher, Egorov and others”. After giving such an essay for check, many pupils were deprived of their parents and sent to special orphanage camps.
Thugs are drowning “enemy of the people” in the barrel with feces “parasha”. This was made by unofficial order of ITL administration to scare other political prisoners.
For humiliation, this “intelligentsia” man was chained, provided with “pravda” newspaper and forced to defecate in his own bowl. Poster at the wall: “under the wise commandments of our party, soviet people will reach the peak of human happiness – the communism!”
One of brutal methods of beating out the confession from “enemy” was “cut off the oxygen”.
During interrogations, special NKVD goons called “hammers” and “axes” as well as investigators themselves often were wrapping victim’s head with a rubber bag. After a few times, victim suffered mouth, nose, ear bleeding…
Interrogating “enemies”, NKVD staff was using old russian strappado torture…
Legislated by Stalin and USSR Prosecutor General Vyshinsky, the interrogation of 3rd grade allowed to beat any confessions (about themselves and others) out of imprisoned “enemies of the people”. To stop the further tortures, many of prisoners were “confessing” the espionage, plots and diversions, or intentionally were choosing execution in the NKVD UFU slaughterhouse.
In Solovetsk special camp, prisoners were punished for “misbehaving” by sitting at the roost mounted in desecrated church. This was going on for hours and days. Those who fall down suffered so-called “fun” – brutal beatings with a noose around the neck. Such tortures were used in other Gulag prisons also.
Prison guards are selling “live goods” to thugs during the transportation. Women from Germany, Poland and Baltic states were “valued” especially and gang raped. Some kingpins had a “property” of 2-3 such women.
“Enemy” women are working out their “guilt” before “party and soviet people” in ITL.
Inmates are gathered for the roll call. Even dead and ill ones must present. Plan at any cost…
“Brigades, line up! Take each other’s hands! Warning – one step aside is considered an escape, guards open fire without warning! Band – play the march! First squad, onwards! Supervisor, come to me!”
A prison war between the “true thieves” and “bitches”.
After the government order that determined the punishments for theft and robbery up to 20-25 years, criminal world had been broken on two. To survive and get the sooner release some of felons agreed to work, while other “thieves in law” refused and continued following their old traditions, calling the collaborationists “bitches”- traitors of “thieves’ law”, thus starting a bloody feud. There were fights with 50 and more thugs killed, while Gulag administration was taking no serious actions about that.
“Hey you, jackals, slackers and goners, have your meal!”
Mad from hunger, some prisoners were scavenging the kitchen waste for food. But commies were still unable to break the humanity of priests, nobility, White officers and officials as well as those of “intelligentsia”, workers and peasants with a strong willpower and Faith.
Elimination of prisoners convicted with §.58 p.3 USSR criminal code (“enemy of the nation”), by UFU (Physical Elimination Command) NKVD.
UFU was a successor of the ChON (State CheKa Political Command Special Formations), with a purpose of eliminating the prisoners – ill, exhausted, resisting ones etc. and execution of capital punishments. In Northern regions, corpses were drowned in swamps or buried in “ammonal pits”.
-Lay down! Get up! Lay down! Get up! Lay down! I’ll teach you all to love our order and the soviet regime!
This was one of the most widespread methods of humiliation for “enemies of the people”. Prisoners were forced to lay down wherever the guards wanted – to snow, mud, or dirt. For disobedience, people were shot at the spot.
-Tighten my stump and I’ll haul ass for bandaging!
Thugs (mostly thieves) were practicing self-injury to avoid heavy labor. They chopped off their own fingers and hands, swallowed spoons, nails etc. therefore getting nicknames like “self-chopper” etc.
During the cult years, some brutes had “fun” with throwing “enemy” women to ant hills for “misbehaving”.
Young women that refused to have sex with Gulag butchers were thrown to ant hills or tied to trees “for ants and mosquitoes”. To let ants eat the victim from the inside, sometimes a pipe made of birch bark or hollow stem was inserted into vagina and legs tied spread. Often, female thugs were helping butchers to do this…
“Now tell me you educated bitch, how you were teaching this capitalist genetics pseudoscience in your academic department! Speak or you’ll breathe through your arsehole!”
Murder of a “calf” by thug during the escape from ITL.
Having no possibility to stock up on food in distant northern camps, getaway thugs often were taking inexperienced inmates with them – to kill and eat them on the way. In prison slang such victims were called “calf”. Even the approximate number of eaten “calves” is unknown.
Wives, sisters and daughters of “enemies” whose work results didn’t met the plan, were getting reduced rations.
Featuring over 130 drawings and texts by Danzig Baldaev – author of the acclaimed Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Volume I, II, III – this book describes the history, horror and peculiarities of the Gulag system from its inception in 1918.
Baldaev’s work as a prison guard allowed him to travel across the former USSR where he witnessed scenes of everyday life in the Gulag first-hand, chronicling this previously closed world from both sides of the wire. The drawings, made during the Communist period, form a devastating document, a haunting echo of the works of Varlam Shalamov and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.
With every vignette, Baldaev brings his characters to vivid life: from the lowest zek (inmate) to the most violent tattooed vor (thief), the practises and inhabitants of the Gulag system are revealed in incredible and shocking detail. He documents the contempt shown by the authorities to those imprisoned, and the transformation of these citizens into survivors or victims. This graphic depiction exposes the systematic methods of torture and mass murder of millions undertaken by the administration, as well as the atrocities committed by criminals on their fellow inmates.
The following is reproduced from fuel-design.com: Drawings from the Gulag
Biography of Danzig Baldaev
Danzig Baldaev was born in 1925 in Ulan-Ude, Buryatiya, Russia. The son of an ‘enemy of the people’, he was subject to repression in communist Russia and sent to an orphanage for children of political prisoners. After serving in the army in World War II, he came to Leningrad in 1948 and was ordered by the NKVD to work as a warden in ‘Kresty’ – an infamous Leningrad prison – where he started drawing the tattoos of criminals. His collection of tattoos were recorded in different reformatory settlements across the former USSR between 1948–2000. Danzig Baldaev died in 2005.
The first Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia was published in his lifetime (2004), the second and third volumes posthumously (2006 and 2008). A further volume of work Drawings from the Gulag was published in 2010. His drawings have been exhibited internationally as part of the Russian Criminal Tattoo Exhibition.
JANE BROWN | DATE 10/4/2010
INTERVIEW: Damon Murray & Stephen Sorrell on Danzig Baldaev and Drawings from the Gulag
D.A.P. Vice President and National Accounts Director Jane Brown queries Damon Murray & Stephen Sorrell, publishers of Fuel, on their new book of drawings by the late Danzig Baldaev, a Russian prison guard who made unique chronicles of the infamous gulags.
Caption to drawing above: “Tell me now, you educated animal, about how you preached genetics, that bourgeois anti-Soviet ersatz science, in your university department, or you’ll be breathing through your arsehole!”
JB: Is there a Baldaev archive? If so, is the archive in Russia? Who discovered the archive? How did Fuel get access to all of these drawings – the tattoo drawings and these gulag drawings?
FUEL: The archive is actually with us. Danzig Baldaev died in 2005 leaving his drawings to his wife. In 2002 a friend of ours who knew of his work showed us some of the tattoo drawings and we knew immediately they would make a fascinating book. From this we put together the first Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia. Following the success of this book we traveled to St. Petersburg and met with his widow, who kept all the drawings in bin bags and boxes secreted around her tiny flat. We made a further edit and gathered enough material for the next two volumes. Unfortunately a number of the original drawings had been lost over the years and Mrs Baldaev was concerned about the rest. We were keen the show the originals to a wider audience so she allowed us to buy all the remaining original tattoo drawings (around 600 sheets, some with just a single image, some with up to 10 or 12). We are currently looking for suitable gallery space, both in the UK and the US in which to exhibit this amazing collection.
Above: A selection Russian criminal tattoos
During our last visit she showed us the images that make up the Drawings from the Gulag book (unfortunately most were copies, the originals had been lost). We saw the potential to make a book about the Gulag system, told from the perspective of a guard, someone who is inside that system and is privy to its workings, as far as we are aware there are no other visual books telling this history from this perspective. Our aim was also to bring knowledge of this terrible suffering to a wider audience. Because of the success of Danzig’s tattoo books we knew there would be an interest in this subject from anyone who owned them. This book forms the perfect accompaniment to that series, explaining the extreme conditions in which the Russian criminal was able to thrive. Mrs Baldaev also gave us a number of files containing Danzig’s notes and essays on the system itself including: Forms of Humiliation, Torture and Murder; Terms Used to Describe Prisoners; an interview with an ‘authoritative’ thief comparing Communist Party and Criminal Power Structures. These documents have been translated and are published here for the first time.
JB: Clearly Baldaev had to keep the Gulag drawings separate and secretive—how did he do that? In other words, how did he keep his gulag drawings from the Russian authorities?
FUEL: Because Danzig Baldaev is now dead the only details we have about this are from his widow. We know that his tattoo drawings had been reported to the KGB, and that surprisingly they had supported him in his work, realizing the value of being able to tell the history and status of a criminal from the images on his body. So we can establish that he had the ‘trust’ of the authorities. It is also important to remember that (despite his obvious hatred of the actions of the authorities which is clear from his depictions and their commentaries), he was also one of them – working for the NKVD – so he was an insider. His widow informed us that he was only able to make quick sketches and brief notes about the tattoos (and the Gulag) while he was at work, as he still had to fulfill his job as a guard. He would then take these roughs home to his flat, where he would work on them in great detail using pen and ink, often late into the night. We can assume that these drawings were made alongside his ‘officially sanctioned’ works and kept hidden in his flat until the end of the Communist era.
Caption to image above: “Sealing in concrete.’ A worker prisoner is drowned in liquid concrete by criminal inmates during the construction of a hydroelectric power plant. There is now way of knowing how many victims the concrete structures of power plants hold.”
JB: Baldaev didn’t start working as a prison guard until 1948, how did he create the depictions of the Gulag prior to ’48 (from 1917 to 1947)?
FUEL: Obviously no one could be present at all the events shown in this book. Baldaev’s widow has explained how around a fifth of the drawings are from first-hand experience. The rest of the images are the result of the artist’s meticulous research. Some of this history would have been common knowledge, but as a guard in the biggest prison in Leningrad (Kresty – ‘the Crosses’), he was able to speak with other guards and prisoners to establish an accurate history. A significant number of the tattoos in the RCTE series date from before 1948; Baldaev would have spoken with all the owners of these tattoos, asking them their meanings as well as other details. It’s clear (from the documents reproduced in Drawings from the Gulag too), that he must have been able to converse in an amicable way and gather information from both sides of the wire.
Caption to image above: “Force-feeding a prisoner on a hunger strike with a nutrient solution through the nostril. According to the most ‘humane’ Soviet laws, only a healthful individual with a body temperature of 36.6 – 37 degrees Celsius could be shot in the head.”
JB: Was his original intention to create a chronology of the history of the prison labor camps, or did he randomly document sequences it the history of the gulag?
FUEL: This is difficult to answer. He might have started with a clear chronology, but as the book progresses it concentrates on elements of the system that he was obviously interested in and outraged by: the methods of torture of suspects before they were sent to the Gulag; the power of the criminals within the Gulag; etc.
JB: Have these gulag images been published in Russia? If so, what was the reaction there?
FUEL: No, not as far as we are aware. To date (ie, before publication) the Russian response to this work has been an interesting one. It is still a delicate subject; these events are not as well known as they should be. Perhaps that has something to do with survival – which in its own way carries a particular sense of guilt. Generally people seemed to have focused on the more disturbing scenes and reacted with disbelief. When we were putting the book together we were determined to establish the drawings as ‘fact’ by adding footnotes taken from the considerable amount of historical documentation. We felt that because they were drawings they were too easily dismissed as figments of the author’s imagination or simply misinformation. We did a lot of research, mainly using first-hand accounts from survivors’ memoirs, to establish the drawings as accurate representations of techniques, events and atrocities.
Tales from the Gulag