April 22, 2004

The Tattoos of the Gulag

Posted by Ed

A recent review in The Telegraph discusses a "rare and astonishing book": The Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia. Here's a quick description:

The main section of the book is made up of Danzig Baldaev's drawings and interpretations of tattoos collected during his life as a prison attendant. The son of an eminent Buryat ethnographer who was imprisoned twice and finally died in Stalin's labour camps, Baldaev grew up in an NKVD orphanage for children of "enemies of the people". On reaching adulthood he was sent to work in the camps himself. This was a common practice: the heavily indoctrinated orphans made loyal prison guards.

Baldaev, however, saw his father again before his death and showed him some of his tattoo pictures. "My son," his father told him, "collect the tattoos, the convicts' folklore, or it will all go to the grave with them."

The convicts whose tattoos Baldaev documents are generally not dissidents, but anti-regime outcasts who detest the political authorities and make their views obvious on their bodies. Baldaev's book sounds fascinating.

Posted by Ed at April 22, 2004 07:24 PM


Can you recomend other books on the subject? (preferably in english.)

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