The website "Learning from History" is a publication platform
for educational projects (realized in schools
and in out-of-school, youth education)
dedicated to the history of Poland and its neighbors in the 20th century and human rights
Children and Soviet repression policy in 1930s
Location / Region: Moscow
Institution: KARTA Center
Patron / Project supervision: KARTA Center
Project authors: KARTA Center
Age group: Students
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KARTA Center,, tel. 0048 22 844 10 55.

Introductory remarks

History of childhood in Stalin’s times and history of children’s rights are equally important for this educational module and allow to see the process of recognition of children as an object of protection against abuse, as a historical subject. History of childhood is interesting and emotionally appealing for young people. It is a great framework for them to see a historical epoch through the eyes of his or her peers and understand that childhood is an inherently valued period of life – not just preparation for adulthood. 

Soviet policy regarding children was extremely progressive for its times due to developments in “ideology of upbringing”, childcare institutions and infrastructure, child-oriented state policies that contributed to the construction of the “happy Soviet childhood”. However, this construction did not include children of “socially alien elements” whose numbers were rapidly increasing in the times of massive reinvention of the Soviet state and society which included collectivization, dekulakization, the Great Terror, deportations, etc.

That is why the concept of the rights of the child (and human rights) is a useful tool for the study of Soviet history in general and Stalinism in particular. At the same time, history of Soviet childhood provides interesting, emotionally charged and diverse materials for the study of the history and presents of human rights. This approach allows us to see children as historical subjects and legal subjects, see the continuity in the human rights issues in Soviet and contemporary Russia, touch on the topic of historical memory about repressions in contemporary Russian society and state politics of memory. 


In popular consciousness the times of Stalin often appear to be the times of unprecedented changes for the sake of the state and a great idea. This way all victims seem justifiable – it is commonly argued that were either came from the “elites” or were real “enemies of the people” who sabotaged the transformative activities of the Bolsheviks. Even though many historians have debunked those myths, Stalin and the system he created inspire wonder and respect. Very few people remember that repressive state policies also affected children, who either became enemies in their own right (the child is responsible for his or her parents) or suffered from their consequences. 

An important aspect of combining these two areas is the transition from the state level in observance and protection of the rights to the interpersonal level. Historical documents selected for the module, including personal documents, facilitate understanding need to respect the rights of the child in everyday life, in the relations between children and adults and among children. 

The seminar has a specific timeframe. It is intended for one school day but can be extended or shortened. For example, in the final session the class can watch the full movie or a selection of episodes. 


Rehabilitation of Stalin and Stalinism are in full swing in Russia. Under these conditions state repressions are presented as necessary and justified and all victims as real or potential enemies. A conversation about childhood in the times of repressions shows that terror touched different social groups, including children. 

The most appropriate audience for this module are high school and college students. It would be easy for this age group to relate to history of childhood emotionally. They would be interested in learning about and getting a feel for how their peers lived in the past. I suppose that this module could be transformed for the needs of teachers and other professionals working with children, including public officials.

Each of the abovementioned groups possesses different kinds of knowledge and skills. The teachers should select the literature and sources and determine the complexity of the issues discussed based on the students’ level of maturity. This module is developed for bachelor students in history who are relatively familiar with Russian history in the XX century and with the academic discussion on human rights. On the one hand, this module is a teaching tool its goal being to introduce a rarely taught topic of children rights under Stalin to students. On the other hand, it is a methodological project that shows the students how to use these materials for teaching during their internship as high school teachers. During the workshop, I will help them take on roles of both participants and moderators. 


Brainstorming is an opportunity to share your ideas and knowledge about what a happy childhood is like. It will show cultural stereotypes and myths about childhood that students have appropriated. 

Group work with cards will stimulate a competitive atmosphere and curiosity when working with historical documents. 

Screening of a documentary and its discussion helps visualize historical materials students have worked with during the workshop. Witnesses of the epoch – “children of the Gulag” talk about their childhood, trajectories of their lives and the worries today. It is an important moment because it bridges the past and the present and facilitates a discussion about this socio-age group in contemporary Russia, their legal status among other victims of political repressions. 

The teaching methods should be diverse according to the interests of different student groups. 


Materials used for the module should be approached as primary historical sources (and critiqued as such). At the same time, they should be analyzed within the framework of protection or violation of children’s rights.


A starting point for the module can be a field trip to the Museum of political repressions Perm-36. The exposition on the history of the Gulag contains a photo of children’s cemetery in the women’s camp Elgen (Kolyma). It can generate a discussion about children and repressions, reasons for state violence against family members of repressed individuals and forms of discrimination against them.

Photo: 1944, Isfahan, Iran. Polish youth refugees. NN, Archive of KARTA Center, photo of Adela Dusza, from Halina Guść.

Didactic text


- Learn about positive, modern, universal ideas of “happy Soviet childhood”; show how early ideas about protection of and support for children appeared in the Soviet state and society.

- Know about different kinds of historical sources in the field of human rights history

- Know strategies and goals of repressions against children;

- Learn ...

Interpreting historical documents
Interpreting photographs
Concluding a discussion
Totalitarian regimes
Human rights