Chelyabmetallurgstroy of the NKVD of the
USSR -- The Largest Forced Labor Camp for German-Russians
Subtitle: Genesis, Purpose and Assignments, Structure
by Dr. Viktor Krieger
Tscheljabmetallurgstroj des NKVD der UdSSR -- das groesste
Zwangsarbeitslager fuer Russlanddeutsche Untertitel: Entstehung,
von Dr. Viktor Krieger
Volk auf dem Weg, Landsmannschaft der Deutschen
aus Russland, Stuttgart, Germany, June, 2006, page 20-22
Translation from the original German-language text
to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
The rich iron ore fields at Bakal in today's Chelyabinsk/South
Ural area had served for centuries for harvesting iron. Not until
August of 1940, did the Soviet government and the Central Committee
of the Bolshevik Party decide to build the Bakal iron and steel
works. Still, construction activity remained at a low level until
the beginning of the war.
|Entry gate to the camp
following the fencing in of its main zone Pershino, 1942
Hitler-Germany's attack on the Soviet Union led to decisive losses
in metal production in the European part of the country, but countered
by a rise in demand for quality steel. The People's Commissariat
(The Ministry) for Black Metallurgy was ordered to design an iron
and steel production complex, that would encompass various production
phases and would thereby be equipped to function on a largely self-sufficient
basis. The new project included construction of blast furnaces and
"Martin-ovens," a coke/chemical operation, electro-steel
and rolling mills, as well as its own heating and power facility.
Given the lack of sufficient mechanization, this project called
for a highly productive construction organization with access to
large numbers of laborers for the heavy work.
Only the People's Commissariat for Interior Matters (NKVD), with
the GUlag system under its control, had the relevant experience
in organizing such a massive effort. Thus it was a natural consequence
to entrust the NKVD with this construction project. A decree dated
January 25, 1942, signed by Beriya, documented detailed measures
toward the construction of the camp and the support of the construction
activities. The overall project was given the code name "Bakalstroy"
in August of 1942 was renamed "Chelyabmetallurgstroy (Construction
Project for the Erection of the Chelyabinsk Iron and Steel Works)
of the NKVD of the USSR."
The large land area called Pershino, measuring 4,400 hectares [over
13 million acres], linked to the railroad depot, Shagol, and located
immediately next to the provincial metropolis of Chelyabinsk, was
designated as the main site for the project. In addition to the
administrative center and headquarters, the penal and work camp
included numerous branches and camp sites that supplied the construction
site and, later on, the iron and steel works; further, several tree
felling sites scattered throughout, two lime production sites, a
large tile manufacturing site, a pit for producing fireproof aluminum
oxide, a cement factory, and various other operations. Under the
control of the camps were several coal mines in the cities of Kopeysk
and Korkino as well.
The Camp Population
of the chief (1942 - 1944) of the Chelyabimetallurgstroy camp,
Major General Alexander Komarovski
From various directives it is apparent that only GUlag prisoners
and independent workers were used for the construction at first.
However, the massive call-ups to the war front, which affected those
prisoners as well, and the plethora of construction projects resulted
in a huge demand for workers. This explains in part the decision
made at that time to make use of the German "contingent."
Officially the ordering of Germans into the work camp was called
"Worker Mobilization," and the police officers at the
various sites and, later, various other authorities, gave the work
camp the deceptive name of trudamiya or Work-Army, and the workers
themselves were dubbed "Trudarmyists." However, their
forcible recruitment would, as the chief of the camp administration
GUlag, Lieutenant General Viktor Nasedkin readily admitted, also
facilitate, in a not so minor measure, their repression and punishment.
By February 1, 1942, the construction site already housed 4,237
forced laborers. Barely warmed up, German-Russians began to take
their places: as early as by the end of March of 1942 Their number,
13,125 men, comprised by far the largest number of the work force.
During that year alone, further mobilizations doubled this number.
The card index of the Chelyabmetallurgstroy camp provides information
more than 38,000 forced laborers, the by far largest number being
German-Russians. As of 1943, there were among them 3,500 Finns,
other Soviet "citizens of nationalities whose home countries
are at war with
the Soviet Union," as described by NKVD jargon.
Arriving workers were distributed into so-called Construction Troops
(stroyotryady), which consisted of columns of up to a thousand men,
broken down into brigades of various sizes -- usually between 15
to 25 members. The "Troops," numbering 16 in all, were
assigned to the construction projects as well as other areas: for
example, Construction Troop 1 was mainly used for construction of
quarters, Number 3 in the building of the heating and power station,
etc. Inside the completely blocked-off site of Pershino (the main
zone), there were as many as nine Construction Troops. Each had
its fenced-in living zone, the only area where the workers were
allowed to move about freely. In the actual main zone, they were
allowed to be without a guard only with special permission or if
they had been issued a personal pass.
Contemporary Witnesses Report
Rudolf Romberg remembers the completely unsatisfactory preparation
camp before the arrival of tens of thousands of workers, and the
living and working conditions:
The first German
forced laborers arriving at the construction site, spring
On March 18, 1942 I was taken from the Marinovka settlement in
the Kustanay region and assigned to Construction Troop Number 10
in the Chelyabmetallurgstroy of the NKVD. During early morning,
we found ourselves in front of the entry gate of the camp, which
was enclosed with barbed wire and secured by guard towers and dogs.
Ordered into 4-men rows, we were counted like sheep and crammed
into camp for a full four years lasting until May 1, 1946. The grounds
of our group held 14 barracks holding 180 men each. These barracks
in reality were construction pits covered with a gabled roof. Inside,
in the center, there were two-tiered wooden-plank bedsteads, and
simple rows next to the walls, under which the snow was visible.
This "shelter" was heated by two ovens, which were not
capable of heating the entire, huge room. There was no bedding and,
for about two months, no bathing facility. Water for drinking and
for the kitchen came in kegs. Lice wandered around on us in large
numbers. Out Troop Number 10 was constructing a rolling mill. Using
spades, crowbars, picks, chisels, and mallets, we dug out of the
frozen ground huge pits intended for the foundation of the millworks.
We slaved twelve hours a day. Our [daily] provisions were as follows:
if one fulfilled one's norm ["quota"], one received 600
grams dark bread, watery soup (sup-balanda) three times, and an
additional 100 to 150 grams of oat or millet porridge for the noon
meal. Those who did not fill their work quota received only 400
grams of dark bread and the watery soup. There was practically no
meat or fat. The spring of 1942 lasted long and was frosty, and
digging out the pits for the foundation demanded all the strength
of the mobilized workforce. As early as September, most were barely
able to move due to loss of weight and illnesses from lack of vitamins.
The great wave of dying was beginning.
A Massive Wave of Deaths
In 1942 alone, camp statistics indicated the deaths of 2,727 trud-armyists,
and at 840, the month of December provided the year's highest number
outright dead and those dying of the cold. During 1943, of the 27,430
laborers, 8,013 (or 29.2%) were in barracks for the sick, and 1,512
become invalids. The camp administrators were forced to "de-mobilize"
thousands of famished and nearly dying (dochodyagi) workers. It
is not known
how many of these actually were able to return to their families
In view of alarming statistics - the plan for the first quarter
of 1943 was
not filled even by half - central party and government officials,
as well as
the local authorities, began to realize that the given speed of
wear and tear
on the workers would make the high goals impossible to attain. Parallel
its increasing acts of terrorizing the workers, the administration
take other measures toward minimizing the collapse of production
More attention was paid to the physical condition of the mobilized
"contingent." For example, an increase in provisions and
a higher differences between
food rations were introduced as greater incentives toward overfilling
quotas. Furthermore, some especially tough "German-hating"
issued warnings by the camp administration - as stated in flowery
wording - for
"grave misuse of the directives issued by the administration
This particular work camp would go down in the history of the Trudarmiya,
as the site with the numerically largest use of mobilized Germans.
Only as of the second half of 1943 would there be an increase in
other nationalities from the corps of GUlag prisoners and oriental
workers (Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tadzhiks, etc.); they were intended to
compensate for the strong numerical reductions in the workforce.
By January 1, 1944, besides the free personnel, the Chelyabmetallurgstroy
camp numbered 35,462 forced laborers, of whom 20,648 came from the
"mobilized German contingent," plus 12,482 prisoners and
some 3,332 workers recruited from central Asia.
By February, 1946, the worker columns were dissolved, and Geman
forced laborers were transformed into the natural workforce of the
operations and construction organizations. However, they were not
given the rights of normal Soviet citizens, but instead were assigned
the status of Special Resettlers. They were placed under the supervision
of a so-called "Commandature," a reporting [military]
command structure created especially for them by the Ministry of
the Interior, and they were not allowed to leave their places of
residence without express permission of the Commandature. They thereby
comprised by far the majority of the residents of the metallurgical
rayon of the city of Chelyabinsk. Only with the agreement of the
factory administration and its commandant were these German-Russians
allowed to go back to their originally and forcibly assigned resettlement
locations, or as far as the local dwelling situation permitted,
to their families. The actual process of reunification of families
that had been torn apart would last until the mid-Fifites.
A few thousand Trudarmyists, however, were transferred to the city
Kyshtym (construction project 859) and continued to be used until
1948 in the
construction of various parts of the atomic industry.
The Camp Leadership
Between January of 1942 and April of 1944, brigade-engineer and
(later) general, Alexander Komarovski was at the helm of the camp
administration. Born in Odessa May of 1906, he concluded studies
at the Moscow Institute for Transport Engineering in 1928. Early
on, he gathered "experience" in dealing with forced laborers
during the building of the Moscow-Volga Canal. This is where he
held various positions beginning in November, 1931. The bloodletting
during the "Great Terror" actually created the conditions
for and the rapid rise of a new technical intelligentsia of cadres
dedicated to Stalin -- at the age of 32. Komarovski was named vice-commissar
for the navy with responsibility for constructing harbor installations.
Following the outbreak of the German-Russian war, he directed the
construction of defensive lines in Ukraine and in the region of
Stalingrad. With complete disregard for any losses, he then laid
the basis at Chelyabmettalurgstroy for one of the largest iron and
steel complexes in the entire USSR.
In May, he began to lead the "Central Administartion of Camps
Construction" of the NKVD of the USSR. Under his direction,
and prisoners would continue to be employed after the war in the
construction of specific parts of the atomic industry, the building
University, and construction of other military and civilian projects.
He was able to
survive without problems Chrushchev's "Reestablishment of the
of Laws." In fact, in 1963 he was promoted to Deputy Defense
responsible for construction and for maintaining quarters for army
units. In 1972
he was given the rank of Army General. Loaded with State honors
of Merit, he died in Moscow in 1973 and was buried in the cemetery
"Novodevich" reserved for honorifics. To commemorate his
achievements, a street was
named in his honor in the city of Chelyabinsk, that is, in the part
city containing the original site of the work camp.
His successor [as camp commander], Major General of the Engineering-Technical
Service, Jakob Rapoport (1898 - 1962), possessed no less "experience"
in handling GUlag prisoners and forced laborers. He commanded Chelyabmetallurgstroy
from May, 1944 until its removal from the system controlled by the
Ministry of the Interior. During the subsequent year and half, particularly
as chief of the forced-labor and penal camp in the city of Nishny
Tagil (Tagillag), he was responsible for thousands of innocent victims.
Just like Komarovski, he was never held accountable for his "activities."
Terror, Persecution, Discrimination
Naturally, catastrophic living and working conditions did evoke
protests and refusals from those effected, but these were met with
ruthless countermeasures by the members of State security at the
construction sites. A massive wave of repression began to be directed
at the forced laborers. In 1942 alone, 1,403 Germans were arrested
and sentenced for attempts to flee, for self-mutilation and deliberate
loss of weight (!). Large posters containing the names of those
who had been shot or had been sentenced to multiple years of prison,
also public announcements by the camp commander Komarovski, put
fear and panic into the mobilized workers, a feeling that remains
palpable to this day in contemporary witnesses.
|A memorial for the starved
and deceased forced laborers, erected in the early 1990's of
the former cemetery grounds of the camp, meanwhile having fallen
victim to vandlism and neglect
The number of State security people at the Chelyabmetatllurgstroy
camp by the end of May, 1944, had doubled from its beginning, reaching
as many as 55 persons. The names of the director of State security,
Konstantin Pupas, and of "expertly knowledgeable" secret
police members such as Vikenyi Lobanov, Meir Ufland and Fedor Glaskov,
aroused fear and horror in the inmates of the camp. Terrorization
of the workers served several purposes. On the one hand, it was
an important tool for intimidation and submissiveness. On the other
hand, the sharpened application of penal policies against intellectuals,
specialists, former functionaries and business leaders was served
to remove the entire elite of the Germans and to debase them to
a mere mass of applicable resources. Not the least reason might
be that the sheer numbers of those sentenced or the "discovery"
of counterrevolutionary organizations was used in justifying the
existence of each Tcheckist and the reasons for allowing his absence
from the war front.
All camp personnel and Russian employees were forbidden any contact
with the Germans beyond the absolute required minimum. This is apparent
from many orders that critically publicized all-too-close contacts
with the forced laborers and from the tough punishments of the violators.
For example, in an order issued by the camp command structure, a
Russian female doctor of Construction Troop 11, was accused of having
had several meetings with a worker in her own quarters, to wit,
"counter to strict regulations for administrative personnel,
which forbid personnel exempt from contractual status to form any
contact of any kind with mobilized Germans." The doctor received
a first warning for this violation of discipline.
Other cases, however, did not end up in such a mild manner. A one-night
stay by F. Haffner and E. Teolani with friendly Russian physician's
cost the latter their jobs. For the two Trudarmyists, who had been
by the guards at 6 o'clock in the morning, it resulted in a three-month
of the heaviest work in a penal brigade.
The first steel smelting procedure following the beginning of operations
the first phase of the electro-steel works took place on April 19,
is considered the birth of the metallurgical operation. Overall,
years 1943 and 1944, the Chelyabmetallurgstroy complex produced
fraction of overall Soviet production: 2.3% of raw iron, 0.7% of
steel, and 0.8 of
rolled metal. It is extremely doubtful whether the untold number
victims, particularly those of the years 1942-1943, during the building
complex, were justified by such a modest level of production. A
significantly higher usefulness would have been achieved in using
German farmers and other forced laborers in the very needy Soviet
However, for the Stalin regime, the interests and welfare of its
were always of the least concern.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this article.