Vagrant Minors in Post War USSR

Fürst’s article concerning the orphans and those who were living on the streets aims to distinguish the USSR’s claim of trying to save the children, while also subtly hiding this problem and keeping it out of the public eye.

Fürst begins by declaring that the the original ideal of the Soviet Union was to save the children and relieve them of their horrible state.  Fürst claims that this position was most prominent during the 1930’s and the beginning of the war period.  However, the problem became more about solving the issue, rather than the issue itself near the war’s end.  Fürst states the Soviets wanted this “-as a phenomenon- […] to be liquidated” as subtly as possible, as the mere fact that children existed in this state was “an embarrassment to the government” (233).

Fürst first looks at the 1930’s and how children were vital to the USSR, as the new generation that will become productive and helpful members of society.  While education had significant undertones of communism and the Soviet party, students nonetheless excelled in academic and artistic endeavors.  This devotion to the next generation continued until the end of the Second World War.  ‘Saving’ the children was of utmost importance, and those who had their parents killed during the war were to be saved by other members of society.

At the end of the war, it was clear to the Soviet government that the children were going to be a hindrance to the populace.  With tens of thousands of children being orphaned, many resorted to street gangs and criminal activity, which mostly consisted of theft.  Fürst points out that a large number of these children had already been ‘saved’ once and were, in fact, trying to run away from the  orphanages, factory schools or foster places”, where the children had previously been residing.  The Soviet government became increasingly frustrated with its failed efforts, as well as the embarrassment of being unable to uphold one of its core ideologies: that children were one of the most vital part of the USSR.  Fürst describes the decline into ‘liquidation’ of the soviet police, which she equates to “animal hunts” (250).  These raids resulted in a substantial number of arrests made on homeless children, resulting in being sent to their parents, factory schools, and sometimes labor camps.

Do you agree with what the Soviet Union did, in terms or resorting to arresting these vagrant children?

Do you think the Soviet government exaggerated the embarrassment they felt with this ‘black mark’ on both a national and international scale?

3 thoughts on “Vagrant Minors in Post War USSR

  1. I am glad you brought up the point about the state being embarrassed about its attempts to try and celebrate the children as the future. The result of theft and other criminal activity by the orphaned children represented the States failure to think through its policies and ideas. Like many of its other policies such as the introduction of Propaganda on Soviet Society, the state did not see the unintended consequences of certain actions. In retrospect, I don’t think the state should have taken on these children, even if it was for public image. I believe, based on its other goals, that it should have focused on its other projects, such as Magnitogorsk or the Propaganda. Thus, to answer your last question, I do not think they exaggerated their embarrassment with the orphaned children.

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  2. It’s also interesting to note the irony in the approach to portraying children in Soviet wartime and post-war propaganda. By trying to uphold the image of children as the bright future of the Soviet Union, the USSR was trying to highlight the value of collectiveness, by encouraging families to adopt orphans, establishing foster homes/orphanages and other social institutions. On the other hand, Soviet propaganda began to portray homeless children as bad influences and degenerates. These propagandistic messages contradict each other and can reveal the tension of values in the Soviet Union during and after WWII.

    Also, hailing rehabilitation of homeless children as a necessity, Soviet officials seem to discount the reality of the actual rehabilitation – as Furst mentions in footnote 75 on pg. 254, many of these children seemed to have lost their humanity by living for so long in harsh environments where they were required to discard Soviet values in order to fit into gangs, and thus survive. Calling for Soviet citizens to take in these children out of duty to their country seems to ignore the reality of what adopting these children would mean. It also shows the weakness of Soviet values in the face of a harsh reality of post war trauma.

  3. The Fürst reading reminded me of Gladkov’s novel “Cement”, which features a children’s home. Though “Cement” was written in 1925, some of the ideas involving children permeate into your discussion of the reading for class. Gladkov adopts the notion that it takes a village to raise children. The children in his novel are, in a sense, collectivized–they all live together under one room, not with their actual parents (some of who still live in the village).

    Perhaps where the Soviet Union went wrong (and where Gladkov’s idealistic notion of child rearing went wrong) was its failure to address the possibility of the ‘village’ disappearing–whether it be to war, or to help with the war efforts. Some of the children in the Fürst article are parentless, though it seems not by choice. The USSR failed to react to the differences in child rearing during war time.

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