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Criminals in the Soviet Union 1917-1938

A public lecture by MARC JUNGE, University of Bochum, History

Tuesday, December 02, 2008
12:00 PM - 2:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095

From a Socially Near Element to a Social Danger to be Exterminated

The number of criminals eliminated in Nazi Germany exceeded that of the people persecuted for political and racist reasons. The Nazis applied biologistic theories to legitimize convictions of criminals and socially discriminated groups. Supposedly uncorrectable physical and mental disorders were used to classify notorious repeat offenders and habitual criminals. Also in the Soviet Union towards the end of the 1930s many ordinary criminals and other social "deviants" like beggars, prostitutes, gamblers, pickpockets, thugs, drunkards and gypsies received death penalties and labor camp sentences. But how was this justified in a country where, contrary to Germany, sociological theories had predominated since the turn of the century? In the 1920s, socialist theorists had adopted these ideas and reinterpreted them to mean that criminals were considered to be "socially near elements" related to the working class. It was believed that through re-education and an alteration of the circumstances they would automatically become part of society again. The enlightenment optimism of socialist theoreticians led to the vision of a future crime free society brought about by socialism and classlessness.

Sponsor(s): Center for European and Eurasian Studies, Department of History

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