Cover Osteuropa 6/2007

In Osteuropa 6/2007

The Lords of the Camp
Professional Criminals in the Gulag

Manuela Putz

Deutsche Fassung


Under Stalin, criminals were sentenced to prison in “correctional labour camps.” There professional criminals encountered prisoners from other cultural and social backgrounds. They found in them prey for their games, feuds, and excesses. Officials and prisoners alike perceived them as a hierarchical organised community of criminals, so-called vory v zakone. Cloaked in prison folklore and a certain code of honour, “honourable thieves,” gangs, and criminal groups could assert themselves in the camps by means of violence. They undermined the official structures of camp life. This opened up a new room for manoeuvre in a realm of life which was allegedly strictly regulated – not only for the community of thieves but also for their fellow inmates and guards.

(Osteuropa 6/2007, pp. 341–352)