In 1937 Joseph Stalin’s “reign of terror” or “great purge” and subsequent “show trials” marked when the official repression began. His secret police, the NKVD, began rounding up so-called “counter-revolutionaries” and “enemies of the people,” many of who were loyal communists and Soviet leaders. Hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of victims were accused of political crimes, misdeeds and careless speech. Often those on the lists of the arrested, detained, tortured, tried, sent to labor camps or into exile and often shot or worked to death, were found through telephone directories. Roundups occurred late at night or early in the morning. Many unsuspecting patriots were called on the phone to determine whether or not they were at home. After 1937 and for the duration of the purges, telephone directories served the NKVD well as manifests for apprehension.
The visual style of Moscow telephone directories reflect the joyful pre-purge period and the somber and deadly post-terror times. My friends at Productive Arts! have acquired and are offering some of these incredible artifacts. Who would have thought a telephone book could be so lethal?
Productive Arts! notes: “Rich with useful data, these books provide addresses and phone numbers, including those of well-known figures of art, culture and politics as well as information and ads about government institutions, party, business and professional organizations, societies, clubs, cultural and educational institutions, financial and credit institutions for industry and trade.”
“Rarely found individually, much less in groups, this collection of 12 telephone and directory books- -all but one from Moscow (plus one from Leningrad) offers insights into the early Soviet era that are unavailable from other sources.”