Labor camp

Last updated

The White Sea-Baltic Canal opened on 2 August 1933 was the first major industrial project constructed in the Soviet Union using only forced labor. Canal Mer Blanche.jpg
The White Sea–Baltic Canal opened on 2 August 1933 was the first major industrial project constructed in the Soviet Union using only forced labor.

A labor camp (or labour camp, see spelling differences) or work camp is a detention facility where inmates are forced to engage in penal labor as a form of punishment. Labor camps have many common aspects with slavery and with prisons (especially prison farms). Conditions at labor camps vary widely depending on the operators. Convention no. 105 of the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO), adopted internationally on 27 June 1957, abolished camps of forced labor. [1]


In the 20th century, a new category of labor camps developed for the imprisonment of millions of people who were not criminals per se, but political opponents (real or imagined) and various so-called undesirables under communist and fascist regimes, both totalitarian. Some of those camps were dubbed "reeducation facilities" for political coercion, but most others served as backbones of industry and agriculture for the benefit of the state, especially in times of war.[ citation needed ]


Early-modern states could exploit condemned dissidents and those of suspect political or religious ideology by combining prison and useful work in manning their galleys. [2] This became the sentence of many Christian captives in the Ottoman Empire [3] and of Calvinists (Huguenots) in pre-Revolutionary France. [4]

Labor camps in the 20th century

The Allies of World War II operated a number of work camps after the war. At the Yalta Conference in 1945, it was agreed that German forced labor was to be utilized as reparations. The majority of the camps were in the Soviet Union, but more than one million Germans were forced to work in French coal-mines and British agriculture, as well as 500,000 in US-run Military Labor Service Units in occupied Germany itself. [5] See Forced labor of Germans after World War II.
According to the New Statesman , Burmese military government operated, from 1962 to 2011, about 91 labour camps for political prisoners. [6]
The anti-communist Kuomintang operated various camps between 1938 and 1949, including the Northwestern Youth Labor Camp for young activists and students. [7]
The Chinese Communist Party has operated many labor camps for some crimes at least since taking power in 1949. Many leaders of China were put into labor camps after purges, including Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi. May Seventh Cadre Schools are an example of Cultural Revolution-era labor camps.
Xinjiang internment camps
Beginning in November 1965, people classified as "against the government" were summoned to work camps referred to as "Military Units to Aid Production" (UMAP). [8]
After the communists took over Czechoslovakia in 1948, many forced labor camps were created.[ citation needed ] The inmates included political prisoners, clergy, kulaks, Boy Scout leaders and many other groups of people that were considered enemies of the state.[ citation needed ] About half of the prisoners worked in the uranium mines. [9] These camps lasted until 1961.[ citation needed ]
Also between 1950 and 1954 many men were considered "politically unreliable" for compulsory military service, and were conscripted to labour battalions (Czech: Pomocné technické prapory (PTP)) instead.[ citation needed ]
During the colonisation of Libya the Italians deported most of the Libyan population in Cyrenaica to concentration camps and used the survivors to build in semi-slave conditions the coastal road and new agricultural projects. [10]
Polish Jews are lined up by German soldiers to do forced labour, September 1939, Nazi-occupied Poland Bundesarchiv Bild 183-E10855, Polen, Juden zur Zwangsarbeit befohlen.jpg
Polish Jews are lined up by German soldiers to do forced labour, September 1939, Nazi-occupied Poland
Registration of Jews by Nazis for forced labor, 1941 Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-185-0112-12, Belgrad, Erfassung von Juden.jpg
Registration of Jews by Nazis for forced labor, 1941
During World War II the Nazis operated several categories of Arbeitslager (Labor Camps) for different categories of inmates. The largest number of them held Jewish civilians forcibly abducted in the occupied countries (see Łapanka) to provide labor in the German war industry, repair bombed railroads and bridges or work on farms. By 1944, 19.9% of all workers were foreigners, either civilians or prisoners of war. [11]
The Nazis employed many slave laborers. They also operated concentration camps, some of which provided free forced labor for industrial and other jobs while others existed purely for the extermination of their inmates. A notable example is the Mittelbau-Dora labor camp complex that serviced the production of the V-2 rocket. See List of German concentration camps for more.
The Nazi camps played a key role in the extermination of millions.
During the early 20th century, the Empire of Japan used the forced labor of millions of civilians from conquered countries and prisoners of war, especially during the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War, on projects such as the Death Railway. Hundreds of thousands of people died as a direct result of the overwork, malnutrition, preventable disease and violence which were commonplace on these projects.
North Korea is known to operate six camps with prison-labor colonies in remote mountain valleys. The total number of prisoners in the Kwan-li-so is 150,000 to 200,000. Once condemned as a political criminal in North Korea, the defendant and his family are incarcerated for life in one of the camps without trial and cut off from all outside contact. [12]
See also: North Korean prison system
Imperial Russia operated a system of remote Siberian forced labor camps as part of its regular judicial system, called katorga.
The Soviet Union took over the already extensive katorga system and expanded it immensely, eventually organizing the Gulag to run the camps. In 1954, a year after Stalin's death, the new Soviet government of Nikita Khrushchev began to release political prisoners and close down the camps. By the end of the 1950s, virtually all "corrective labor camps" were reorganized, mostly into the system of corrective labor colonies. Officially, the Gulag was terminated by the MVD order 20 of January 25, 1960. [13]
During the period of Stalinism, the Gulag labor camps in the Soviet Union were officially called "Corrective labor camps". The term "labor colony"; more exactly, "Corrective labor colony", (Russian : исправительно-трудовая колония, abbr. ИТК), was also in use, most notably the ones for underaged (16 years or younger) convicts and captured besprizorniki (street children, literally, "children without family care"). After the reformation of the camps into the Gulag, the term "corrective labor colony" essentially encompassed labor camps[ citation needed ].
Corrective labor colony
14 labor camps were operated by the Swedish state during World War II. The majority of internees were communists, but radical social democrats, syndicalists, anarchists, trade unionists, anti-fascists and other "unreliable elements" of Swedish society, as well as German dissidents and deserters from the Wehrmacht, were also interned. The internees were placed in the labor camps indefinitely, without trial, and without being informed of the accusations made against them. Officially, the camps were called "labor companies" (Swedish: arbetskompanier). The system was established by the Royal Board of Social Affairs and sanctioned by the third cabinet of Per Albin Hansson, a grand coalition which included all parties represented in the Swedish Riksdag, with the notable exception of the Communist Party of Sweden.
A painter's impression of a convict ploughing team breaking up new ground at a farm in Port Arthur, Tasmania in the early 20th century Convict labourers in Australia in the early 20th century.jpg
A painter's impression of a convict ploughing team breaking up new ground at a farm in Port Arthur, Tasmania in the early 20th century
After the war, many former camp inmates had difficulty finding a job, since they had been branded as "subversive elements". [14]

[15] [16] [17] [18] [19]

The Goli Otok prison camp for political opponents ran from 1946 to 1956.

Labor camps in the 21st century

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of the People’s Republic of China, which closed on December 28, 2013, passed a decision on abolishing the legal provisions on reeducation through labor. However, penal labor allegedly continues to exist in Xinjiang re-education camps according to Radio Free Asia. [20]
North Korea is known to operate six camps with prison-labor colonies in remote mountain valleys. The total number of prisoners in the Kwan-li-so is 150,000 – 200,000. Once condemned as a political criminal in North Korea, the defendant and his family are incarcerated for lifetime in one of the camps without trial, and are cut off from all outside contact. [12]
In 2005, The United States Army declassified a document that "provides guidance on establishing prison camps on [US] Army installations." [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

Gulag Government agency in charge of the Soviet forced penal labour camp system

The Gulag or GULAG was the government agency in charge of the Soviet network of forced labor camps set up by order of Vladimir Lenin, reaching its peak during Joseph Stalin's rule from the 1930s to the early 1950s. English-language speakers also use the word gulag to refer to all forced-labor camps that existed in the Soviet Union, including camps that existed in the post-Lenin era.

<i>The Gulag Archipelago</i> Non-fiction book by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The Gulag Archipelago: An Experiment in Literary Investigation is a three-volume non-fiction text written between 1958 and 1968 by Russian writer and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It was first published in 1973, and translated into English, and French, the following year. It covers life in what is often known as the Gulag, the Soviet forced labour camp system, through a narrative constructed from various sources including reports, interviews, statements, diaries, legal documents, and Solzhenitsyn's own experience as a Gulag prisoner. In Russian, the term GULAG (ГУЛАГ) is an acronym for Main Directorate of Camps.

<i>Laogai</i> Forced labor for political prisoners in China

Laogai, the abbreviation for Láodòng Gǎizào (劳动改造), which means reform through labor, is a criminal justice system involving the use of penal labour and prison farms in the People's Republic of China (PRC) and North Korea (DPRK). Láogǎi is different from láojiào, or re-education through labor, which was the abolished administrative detention system for people who were not criminals but had committed minor offenses, and was intended to "reform offenders into law-abiding citizens". Persons who were detained in the laojiao were detained in facilities that were separate from those which comprised the general prison system of the laogai. Both systems, however, were based on penal labour.

Penal colony Remote settlement used to house convicts from the general population

A penal colony or exile colony is a settlement used to exile prisoners and separate them from the general population by placing them in a remote location, often an island or distant colonial territory. Although the term can be used to refer to a correctional facility located in a remote location it is more commonly used to refer to communities of prisoners overseen by wardens or governors having absolute authority.

Internment Imprisonment or confinement of groups of people without trial

Internment is the imprisonment of people, commonly in large groups, without charges or intent to file charges. The term is especially used for the confinement "of enemy citizens in wartime or of terrorism suspects". Thus, while it can simply mean imprisonment, it tends to refer to preventive confinement rather than confinement after having been convicted of some crime. Use of these terms is subject to debate and political sensitivities. Internment is also occasionally used to describe a neutral country's practice of detaining belligerent armed forces and equipment on its territory during times of war, under the Hague Convention of 1907.


Katorga was a system of penal labor in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Prisoners were sent to remote penal colonies in vast uninhabited areas of Siberia and Russian Far East where voluntary settlers and workers were never available in sufficient numbers. The prisoners had to perform forced labor under harsh conditions.

Hoeryong concentration camp was a prison camp in North Korea that was reported to have been closed in 2012. The official name was KwallisoNo. 22. The camp was a maximum security area, completely isolated from the outside world.


Kolyma is a region located in the Russian Far East. It is bounded to the north by the East Siberian Sea and the Arctic Ocean, and by the Sea of Okhotsk to the south. The region gets its name from the Kolyma River and mountain range, parts of which were not discovered by Russians until 1926. Today the region consists roughly of the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug and the Magadan Oblast.

Penal labour

Penal labour is a generic term for various kinds of unfree labour which prisoners are required to perform, typically manual labour. The work may be light or hard, depending on the context. Forms of sentence involving penal labour have included involuntary servitude, penal servitude, and imprisonment with hard labour. The term may refer to several related scenarios: labour as a form of punishment, the prison system used as a means to secure labour, and labour as providing occupation for convicts. These scenarios can be applied to those imprisoned for political, religious, war, or other reasons as well as to criminal convicts.

Extermination through labour Killing prisoners by means of forced labour

Extermination through labour was the practice in concentration camps in Nazi Germany of killing prisoners by means of forced labour. As part of the Holocaust, forced labour served a dual purpose: providing useful work to the Nazis, and killing prisoners who would otherwise have to be killed by other methods. It was a cruel twist of the phrase Arbeit macht frei "Work sets you free", which was emblazoned on the gates of multiple concentration camps. The work was designed to be absolutely destroying. Concentration camp inmates worked up to 12 hours a day with very little food, clothing, or medical care; the average labourer died after 4 months.

Forced labor was used extensively in the Soviet Union as a means of controlling Soviet citizens and foreigners. Forced labor also provided manpower for government projects and for reconstruction after the war. It began before the Gulag and Kolkhoz systems were established, although through these institutions, its scope and severity were increased. The conditions that accompanied forced labor were often harsh and could be deadly.

Corrective labor colony prisons in post-Soviet states

A corrective colony is the most common type of prison in Russia and some post-Soviet states. Such colonies combine penal detention with compulsory work. The system of labor colonies originated in 1929 alongside the Gulag labor camps, and after 1953 the corrective penal colonies in the Soviet Union developed as a post-Stalin replacement of the Gulag labor-camp system.

Hwasong concentration camp is a labor camp in North Korea for political prisoners. The official name is Kwan-li-so No. 16.

Vorkutlag Soviet-era prison/labor camp

The Vorkuta Corrective Labor Camp, commonly known as the Vorkuta Gulag or Vorkutlag (Воркутлаг), was a major GULAG labor camp of the Soviet Union located in Vorkuta from 1932 to 1962.

North Korea's political penal labour colonies, transliterated kwalliso or kwan-li-so, constitute one of three forms of political imprisonment in the country, the other two being what Hawk translated as "short-term detention/forced-labor centers" and "long-term prison labor camps", for misdemeanour and felony offenses respectively. In total, there are an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners.

Federal Penitentiary Service Russian federal prison authority

The Federal Penitentiary Service is a federal agency of the Ministry of Justice of Russia responsible for correctional services.


The Dubravny Camp, Special Camp No.3, commonly known as the Dubravlag, was a Gulag labor camp of the Soviet Union located in Yavas, Mordovia from 1948 to 2005.

Avraham Shifrin was a Soviet-born human rights activist, Zionist, author, lawyer, and Israeli politician who spent a decade in Soviet prisons for allegedly spying for the US and Israel. Avraham Shifrin was one of the world’s top authorities on the Soviet system of prisons and slave labor camps. Shifrin's testimonies before Internal Security Subcommittee of the Senate and other congressional committee, provided the world with the major listing of Soviet slave labor camps.

<i>Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir</i>

Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir is a 2011 memoir by Fyodor Vasilevich Mochulsky (1918–1999), a Soviet Engineer and eventual Head of numerous Gulag camps in the northern Russian region of Pechorlag, Pechora, from 1940 to 1946. Under the orders of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), Mochulsky oversaw the construction of a 500 km-long rail line from the Pechorlag camps, bordering the Arctic Circle, to central Russia, with a goal to connect "remote Pechora Camps to the outside world". The book was published posthumously by the Oxford University Press in 2011. It is introduced as well as translated and edited by sociology scholar, Deborah A. Kaple.


  1. Edmund Jan Osmańczyk & Anthony Mango (2003). Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements: G to M. International relations: Volume 2. Taylor & Francis. p. 1248. ISBN   0415939224 via Google Books.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  2. Gibson, Mary; Poerio, Ilaria (2018). "Modern Europe, 1750-1950". In Anderson, Clare (ed.). A Global History of Convicts and Penal Colonies. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN   9781350000698 . Retrieved 2019-10-07. A second early modern form of punishment, the galleys, constituted a more direct precedent to the earliest hard labour camps. [...] Galley rowing offered no promise of rehabilitation and, in fact, often led to disease and death. However, it shared with the prison workhouses of northern Europe a new aspiration to integrate hard labour into punishment for the eeconomic benefit of the state.
  3. Magocsi, Paul Robert (1996). A History of Ukraine: The Land and Its Peoples (2 ed.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press (published 2010). p. 185. ISBN   9781442698796 . Retrieved 2019-10-07. And what happened to the captives from Ukraine [...]? The slaves functioned at all levels of Ottoman society [...]. At the lowest end of the social scale were galley slaves conscripted into the imperial naval fleet and field hands who labored on Ottoman landed estates.
  4. van Ruymbeke, Bertrand (2005). "'A Dominion of True Believers Not a Republic for Heretics': French Colonial Religious Policy and the Settlement of Early louisiana, 1699-1730". In Bond, Bradley G. (ed.). French Colonial Louisiana and the Atlantic World. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. p. 90. ISBN   9780807130353 . Retrieved 2019-10-07. Andre Zysberg's study shows that [...] nearly 1,500 Huguenots were sentenced to the galleys between 1680 and 1716 [...].
  5. John Dietrich, The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy (2002) ISBN   1-892941-90-2
  6. "Burma's forced labour".
  7. Mühlhahn, Klaus (2009). Criminal Justice in China: A History . Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press ISBN   978-0-674-03323-8. pp. 132-133.
  8. "A book sheds light on a dark chapter in Cuban history" Archived 2009-11-03 at the Wayback Machine , El Nuevo Herald , January 19, 2003. (in Spanish)
  9. Sivoš, Jerguš. "Tábory Nucených Prací (TNP) v Československu" (in Czech). Retrieved 2013-03-12.
  10. General History of Africa, Albert Adu Boahen, Unesco. International Scientific Committee for the Drafting of a General History of Africa, page 196, 1990
  11. Herbert, Ulrich (2000). "Forced Laborers in the Third Reich: An Overview (Part One)" (PDF). International Labor and Working-Class History. 58. doi:10.1017/S0147547900003677. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-05-09. (offprint)
  12. 1 2 "The Hidden Gulag – Part Two: Kwan-li-so Political Panel Labor Colonies (page 25 – 82)" (PDF). The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Retrieved September 20, 2012.
  13. "Система исправительно-трудовых лагерей в СССР".
  14. Berglund, Tobias; Sennerteg, Niclas (2008). Svenska koncentrationsläger i Tredje rikets skugga. Stockholm: Natur & Kultur. ISBN   9789127026957.
  15. (Non-Muslims who couldn't pay the taxes were sent to Labor Camps) Nowill, Sidney E. P. (December 2011). Constantinople and Istanbul: 72 Years of Life in Turkey. Matador. p. 77. ISBN   978-1848767911."... and those unable to pay were packed off to a camp at Askale, near Erzerum - an area cooler than Moscow in the winter - where they were put to work breaking stones."
  16. Nowill, Sidney E. P. (December 2011). Constantinople and Istanbul: 72 Years of Life in Turkey. Matador. p. 77. ISBN   978-1848767911."The Askale victims were later sent south to a camp in the Tigris Valley."
  17. Peretz, Don (January 1994). The Middle East Today. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 179. ISBN   9780275945756."... and if the sale failed to produce the required amount, the owners were sent to forced labor camps run by the Ministry of Public Works."
  18. Ince, Basak (April 2012). Citizenship and Identity in Turkey: From Atatürk's Republic to the Present Day. I. B. Tauris. pp. 74–75. ISBN   978-1780760261."Those unable to pay had to work off their debt in labour camps in Askale, in eastern Turkey."
  19. Ince, Basak (April 2012). Citizenship and Identity in Turkey: From Atatürk's Republic to the Present Day. I. B. Tauris. p. 75. ISBN   978-1780760261."Out of 40,000 tax debtors, about 5,000 were sent to these camps, and all of these were members of non-Muslim communities."
  20. Lipes, Joshua (November 12, 2019). "Expert Estimates China Has More Than 1,000 Internment Camps For Xinjiang Uyghurs". Radio Free Asia . Retrieved November 13, 2019.
  21. "US Army Civilian Inmate Labor Program" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2003-04-03.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)