Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Sharashka (sometimes Sharaga or Sharazhka, Russian: шара́шка) was an informal name for secret research and development laboratories in the Soviet Gulag labor camp system. Etymologically, the word sharashka is derived from a Russian slang expression sharashkina kontora ("Sharashka's office"), an ironic, derogative term to denote a poorly organized, impromptu, or bluffing organization.
The scientists and engineers at a sharashka were prisoners picked from other camps and given relatively better conditions in exchange for their slave-like work on scientific and technological problems for the state. The results of this research were usually published under the names of prominent Soviet scientists without credit given to the real authors, whose names frequently have been forgotten. Some sharashka inmates, brilliant scientists and engineers released during and after World War II, continued independent careers and became world-famous.
In 1938, Lavrenty Beria proposed to create "Department of Special Design Bureaus at the NKVD USSR" ("Отдел особых конструкторских бюро НКВД СССР"). In 1939 it was renamed into the "Special Technical Bureau at the NKVD USSR" ("Особое техническое бюро НКВД СССР"). In 1941 it received a secret name, the "4th Special Department of the NKVD USSR" ("4-й спецотдел НКВД СССР"), existed until 1953. Since 1939 the department was headed by general Valentin Kravchenko under Beria's immediate supervision.
In 1949 the scope of sharaskas significantly increased. Previously the work done there was of military and defense character. The MVD Order No 001020 dated November 9 1949 decreed installation of "Special technical and design bureaus" for a wide variety of "civilian" research and development, in particular in the "remote areas of the Union".
Notable sharashka inmates
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a writer. His novel The First Circle is a vivid account of life in sharashka Mavrino.
- Lev Kopelev, a writer, another inmate of Mavrino (a prototype for Rubin from The First Circle)
- Sergey Korolev, the chief of Soviet rocket space program.
- Valentin Glushko, the chief rocket engine designer. (His biography at MN)
- Andrei Tupolev, the chief designer of the aircraft families Tu and ANT.
- Vladimir Petlyakov, the chief designer of the aircraft families Pe and VI (The Petlyakov aircrafts).
- V. M. Myasischev , an aircraft designer.
- Leonid Kerber , an aircraft designer.
- Yuri Kondratyuk, a pioneer of astronautics and spaceflight, the inventor of gravitational slingshot.
- Georgy Langemak , a co-inventor (with Korolev) of the Katyusha rocket launcher.
- Helmut Grotrupp , a German rocket scientist from Peenemunde laboratory. (Its head Wernher von Braun was acquired by the US).
- Group of physicists who produced Soviet nuclear bomb, the project supervised by Lavrenti Beria, the chief of NKVD at the time.
- Nikolai Nikolaevich Polikarpov, aircraft designer; fortunately, for a brief period
- Leon Theremin, a pioneer of electronic music, the inventor of theremin and electronic eavesdropping bug.
- Nikolay Timofeev-Ressovsky , a geneticist and radiobiologist (His biography at genetics.org).
- Leonid Ramzin , the inventor of straight-flow boiler (The Industrial Party affair, His biography in Russian).
- L.L.Kerber, Von Hardesty, Paul Mitchell, Stalin's Aviation Gulag: Memoir of Andrei Tupolev and the Purge Era (Smithsonian History of Aviation & Spaceflight S.), Smithsonian Institution Press, (hardcover, 1996, 396p.), ISBN 1560986409.
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