Kelly Hignett – The Evolution of Forced Labour Camps in Czechoslovakia, 1945-1961

 

Event Dates: 13 – 16 September 2015
College Court Conference Centre
Knighton Road,
Leicester LE2 3UF

The Carceral Archipelago: Transnational Circulations in Global Perspective, 1415-1960

Kelly Hignett (Leeds Beckett University) – The Evolution of Forced Labour Camps in Czechoslovakia, 1945-1961

Studies of carceral confinement and forced labour in the communist bloc have traditionally tended to focus on the Soviet Gulag camps. Although labour camps were also established throughout Eastern Europe after 1945, these countries tend to be under-represented in the existing historiography. This paper will consider the evolution of the forced labour system in Czechoslovakia from its post-WWII origins through the peak of 1950s Stalinist repression and post-Stalinist decline.

Following WWII a number of Tábory Nucených Praci (TNP – Forced Labour Camps) were established in Czechoslovakia. These camps were initially populated by prisoners of war, ethnic Germans ‘awaiting repatriation’, and later, following the communist takeover in 1948, by opponents of the new regime and those identified as ‘counter-revolutionaries’. Like all of the East bloc countries, Czechoslovakia experienced a ‘wave of terror’ during the 1950s, when it is estimated that around 90,000 Czechoslovak citizens were prosecuted for political crimes, over 22,000 of whom were deemed to be muž určený k likvidaci (‘selected for liquidation’) and sentenced to lengthy periods in penal institutions and labour camps, leading to a massive expansion and reorganisation of the internment system. During this time, around half of all TNP inmates were assigned to life-threatening work in the Czechoslovakian Uranium mines, but forced labour also played an important part in developing a range of economic sectors, including agriculture, mining, construction, and various industrial enterprises. Whilst most ‘heavy labour’ was undertaken by male prisoners, around 5000 female prisoners were also assigned to ‘lighter duties’. Testimonies from both male and female prisoners have described the poor treatment, hunger, deprivation, cruelty and medical negligence they experienced during their confinement.

This paper will explore the ways in which the TNP evolved to play a dual purpose in Czechoslovakia 1945-1961: functioning as a central means of political coercion and punishment, while also playing a significant role in post-war economic reconstruction and development. In addition to their domestic significance, wider transnational links, the integration of TNP within economics, labour, migration and the evolution of a carceral archipelago across the communist bloc more generally will also be considered.

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