For the past eight years, I have been living in the city of Korolev, which is known for being the unofficial space capital of Russia.
When I was studying the history of Korolev, on one of the web-sites, my attention was drawn to the fact that there has been a special prison of the NKVD ‘Bolshevskaya sharashka’ not far from my house, since the 30s, — created in the midst of repression as a place of detention for technical specialists who worked on the defense of the country.
‘Sharashka’ — ‘sharaga’ is the slang name for a secret research Institute or design Bureau where scientists and engineers work under the control of security agencies, usually convicted of ‘sabotaging the construction of socialism’, ‘undermining the defense power of the USSR’, etc.
Rossi J. Handbook of the Gulag, Moscow, 1991
Its existence became known only in the post-perestroika period. The source of information was the memories of those few scientists who decided to speak out about the terrible events after several decades.
‘Bolshevskaya sharashka’ was a multidisciplinary special prison. In some sources it is called a ‘sorting point’, since, after some time, the prisoners were assigned to other specialised design bureaus subordinate to the NKVD. Mostly in ‘sharashka’, technical specialists charged under article 58 of the criminal code of the RSFSR were arrested, according to fabricated case materials, for sabotage, espionage or anti-Soviet agitation.
All specialists were divided into groups in the following areas: aviation, artillery, marine and gunpowder (engaged in the invention of gunpowder for rocket launchers BM-13 " Katyusha”). Each group was given a task: to develop a project of defense significance. Successful completion of the project was a condition for release, shortening the term as well as the receipt of awards and prizes. However, not all projects were brought to the production stage, with some of the developed designs remaining in one prototype or on paper.
All those released swore an oath “I undertake never to tell anyone, under any circumstances, anything about what I saw and heard myself or learned from other people about what happened in places of detention.” For violation of this obligation, they were threatened with the imposition of a second term. Many former prisoners preferred to remain silent for the rest of their lives.
‘Bolshevskaya sharashka’ lasted until Stalin’s death. According to official data, a total of 316 people worked in the special prison. Later, 6 academicians, 12 professors and doctors of science left it.
The location of the ‘Bolshevskaya sharashka’ is still unknown.