Naftaly Frenkel

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Naftaly Aronovich Frenkel (1883 – 1960) was a Soviet Communist known for his role in organizing atrocities in the Gulag system.

Wikipedia claims that his origins are uncertain, but ackowledges that the given name Naftaly is of Hebrew origin.


Of all those who helped devise and perfect the slave labor system of the Gulag, special mention must be made of Naftaly Aronovich Frenkel. Frenkel, a Jew born in Turkey in 1883, had been a prosperous merchant there, but after the Bolshevik revolution he moved – as did an appreciable number of Jews – to the Soviet Union. Based in Odessa as an agent of the State Political Administration, Frenkel was responsible for the acquisition and confiscation of gold from the wealthier classes. The unscrupulous Frenkel was unable to resist this temptation, however, and in 1927 was arrested, on orders of the Moscow central office, for skimming off too much gold for himself. Convicted of economic crimes, he was sent to the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp (or SLON, as it was designated by the Soviet bureaucracy), a bleak Arctic penal colony. Frenkel’s special talent for improving inmate work efficiency was quickly noticed by the camp officials there, and it was not long before he was ordered to explain his ideas and methods to Stalin personally. His main proposal was to link a prisoner’s food ration, especially hot food, to his production, essentially substituting hunger for the knout as the main work incentive. Frenkel had also observed that a prisoner’s most productive work is usually done in the first three months of his captivity, after which he or she was in so debilitated a state that the output of the inmate population could be kept high only by removing (killing off) the exhausted prisoners and replacing them with fresh inmates. Another method of stimulating enthusiasm for work among prisoners – and at the same time culling the camp population by killing off the weak – was quite simple. When the prisoners were called out on a work detail, they fell into line. The last man in to line up would be shot as a laggard (“dokhodyaga”), one weakened enough to be useless for work. These policies would ensure a constant inflow of new prisoners, providing fresh labor while weeding out opposition to Stalin and his party.

So pleased was Stalin with Frenkel’s ideas on the efficient exploitation of inmate labor that he made him construction chief of the White Sea Canal project, and later of the BAM railroad project. In 1937 Stalin appointed Frenkel head of the newly founded Main Administration of Railroad Construction Camps (GULZhDS). In that capacity, Frenkel was called upon to provide railroad transport facilities to the Red Army in the 1939–40 “Winter War” against Finland, and for the duration of Soviet participation in the Second World War. He was eventually awarded the Order of Lenin three times, named a Hero of Socialist Labor, and promoted to the rank of general in the NKVD. The methods instituted by Frenkel in building the White Sea-Baltic Sea Canal became the standard operating procedures for most subsequent labor camps".


Solzhenitsyn wrote of Frenkel in "The Gulag Archipelago: Two": "have the feeling that he really hated this country!"[1]

See also