The Bolshevik

The Bolshevik
A painting from 1920 by Russian artist Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev (1878–1927) currently in the possession of The Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

08 March 2011

NKVD Honored Employee Badges and Documents

Before leaving The Great Patriotic War and moving on to the development of the new security agencies such as the NKGB (People's Commissariat of State Security), MGB (Ministry of State Security), the return of the MVD and disbandment of the NKVD - or at least reshuffling duties and personnel, there are some awards that are essential to understanding the system of rewarding merit within these agencies. After all, one of the main objectives of this website is to show examples of security service and other awards.

The first and by far the most famous security service award is the so-called "egg" badge of the NKVD. These were awarded to top officers and service personnel for outstanding accomplishments or completion of extremely important/dangerous assignments. The basic design of the badge is not new. The oval with the sword and the hammer and sickle and the ribbon/banner were used from the beginning of the Cheka and the GPU with anniversary badges awarded for the fifth, tenth and fifteenth years of its existence.

The "sword and shield" symbol of the Cheka, NKVD, MVD and KGB in various
forms as it was carried in parade along with a portrait of founder Felix Dzerzhinsky.
Click on YouTube link: for
complete color footage of the above parade from 1938. 

The design of this early badge became famous throughout the Soviet Union as representing far more than the simple motif of an oval "shield" with a red enamel scallop shell design in the background and a sword pointing downward laid across the top of the shield. On top of the sword was a hammer and sickle (H&S) making the whole badge engaging to the eye because of the multiple-level three dimensional effect. There was also a flowing "ribbon" filled with red enamel and the letters "NKVD" rising up through the enamel of the horizontal portion of that ribbon.

When the NKVD was broken back up after the war into the MVD and MGB, the former kept the badge design with the use of "MVD" in place of "NKVD" and picked up the serial numbers from where they left off so that serial numbers on these badges - which continued to be awarded until 1991 and a few "catch-up" awards well into the mid 1990s.

This document is somewhat suspect as to authenticity even though it is from Robert Pandis' CD-ROM book discussing the history of the awards system of every security agency that existed throughout the lifespan of the Soviet Union. It is also noteworthy that Beria's "autopen" signature is on this document. This badge design became known to collectors as the "egg" badge which stayed with the MVD until the end of the Soviet Union, while the KGB adopted a  riveted shield, sword and instead of just an H&S and a star was added  with the H&S inside (see photo in right sidebar "Honored KGB Badge 1." For the most part, the KGB badges were only awarded to a very deserving operative and/or a high-ranking officer (politics have always had a role in the award system in every branch of service) .

Though the quality of this photo is poor, these images of the NKVD "egg" and the award booklet are most certainly real and also come from the Pandis CD-Rom. An interesting feature of both this booklet and later MVD versions is the relief image of the badge itself in the leather cover. The lettering is done in gold and the cover itself is a deep red color. Note that in the above example, the photo of the recipient is in place and one of the two circular stamps seals the photo in place.

A closeup of the obverse of the badge itself shows the detail of workmanship and the exquisite
and fragile enamel work in the form of sun rays spreading upward from just above the "NKVD"
in the ribbon above that section. The same design was used by the MVD. In fact, there was a certain amount of "overlap" when the NKVD became the MVD again in March of 1946 and officers scheduled to receive the award badge were often given one with the "NKVD" lettering still at the base rather than waste the stock of badges that had already been made. Considering the amount of labor necessary to make them, it is not surprising that none were simply thrown out because of the name change. The badges were originally made from brass with silver plating, then were made from solid silver and later back to silver plating with at least a shiny sword blade and gold plating on the hilt and hand guard of the sword. Though the basic design continued to be used throughout the history of the USSR mostly with the NKVD and the MVD, there is evidence that at least one badge - a prototype, perhaps - was made for the MGB and had the words "Honored Chekist" in Russian on the upward running arms of the ribbon on each side of the badge.

* * * * * * * *

The NKVD advanced a culture of fear begun by the Cheka that had only been enhanced by the fear and propaganda campaign launched by Stalin's regime to frighten the citizens and/or foreigners (always potential spies) even as the Germans retreated together with anyone who thought, and rightly so, that they might be persecuted and/or executed by the members of the NKVD, SMERSH or the newly formed, post-war MGB. One of the most famous images and only one of many posters warning against the dangers of idle gossip eventually became synonymous with a warning from the KGB, though it was originally created as propaganda against speaking carelessly when foreign (especially German and later American) spies were thought to be everywhere. The text roughly translates to: "Be quiet! Watch that what you say isn't treasonous." [Literally, не болтай means "Do not talk" but in the sense of spreading idle rumors. "No gossiping" is often used as the translation.] Modern T-shirt designers for tourists often put this poster image on the reverse of shirts with a KGB sword and shield motif. With people "disappearing" in the night after NKVD agents would show up at an apartment door, and later when resistance groups in Ukraine and the Baltic States, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and just about any place where there was a Soviet "Sphere of Influence," an entire generation of people were made to feel afraid in their own homes. This often justified paranoia was passed from one generation to the next so that remnants of it are still present in Russia and Former Soviet Union (FSU) republics and socialist regions. Many people who emigrate from one of these areas to Western countries, especially the US, find it difficult to let go of the notion that they are being watched and their actions being recorded.

"Be quiet! Always be careful what you say."

No comments:

Post a Comment