Homeless Children of the 1920s


Waifs of the 1920s – children of the first world war and the revolution, terror and hunger victims. According to different versions, in the early 1920s Russia had from 4 to 7 million children deprived of home and parents.

The former Museum of the Revolution now begins to open its photo archives to show portraits of kids who saw two wars, suffered from poverty and starvation.

This collection has existed since the 1920s, it numbers at least 180 thousand photos and 160 thousand negatives. The new Soviet government announced its struggle against homelessness as a political task and in 1935 they officially declared the total liquidation of homelessness and neglect. Maybe it’s one of the reasons why the museum archive devoted to this topic is rather small and its latest photos are dated by the year 1930.


5 thoughts on “Homeless Children of the 1920s”

  1. In 2019 there are still many problems we see in the last century. One is a plague of lice. Even last year an adult friend of mine was living with families with kids in a Moscow shared home and got head lice.

    • so, are you telling us that there are lice just in Russia? how about bad bugs in the US? and lice and scabies in Canada? get lost!

      • In case you didn’t know it, there is suffering everywhere. Next time I’ll list all of it. This blog is about Russia in case you didn’t notice.

    • When I grew up during the 50s and 60s, head lice and other such infestations were something one only knew about from old b/w documentaries of the depression, the war and the poverty of the first few post-war years. I never had head lice and I don’t know anyone of my generation who had. So, it came as a big surprise, when sometime in the early 80s my little nephew, then maybe 3 or 4 years old, came home one day from kindergarten with head lice. My sister panicked! (lol) But it turned out that more or less his entire kindergarten group was infested, something I wouldn’t have expected in this clean and modern kindergarten with competent and very caring staff. They then handed out little bottles with some special shampoo and the problem was gone within days. One of the girls working at the kindergarten later told me that they are very careful not to openly identify the child they suspect first brought the lice into the place, which is understandable, but that they get in touch with the parents and see what they can do to help … and of course, it’s never ignorance or neglect, but always poverty that causes such problems.

  2. In 1917 Russia was far below what today we’d refer to as “3rd world”. In fact, the country was starving and neither the Tsar nor the short-lived bourgeois government gave a damn about it. They were only interested in fighting an absolutely pointless war, conscripting ever larger numbers of urgently needed farm hands and sending them, poorly trained, poorly equipped to fight the Germans, while the country’s harvest was rotting in the fields. No wonder there were demonstrations and strikes in the cities and insurrections, rebellions and thousands of desertions at Russia’s western front. Ultimately, all of this led to the 2nd revolution that year. The Bolsheviks instantly negotiated a peace treaty, (temporarily) ceding territories to the German, Habsburg and Ottoman Empires. But although the fighting on Russia’s western front ceased for a while thereafter, the war was far from over. The western imperialists and the entire global capitalist class were horrified by the successful workers and peasants revolution, and while Russia’s aristocrats and capitalists were leaving the country in droves, taking everything of value that wasn’t nailed to the floor with them, landed aristocrats, reactionary tsarist officers and other domestic riff-raff collaborated with foreign financiers and organized the so-called “Civil War” (employing lots of foreign hirelings), which devastated the country even more and starved countless Russians. But when it became clear that even this would not bring down the Bolsheviks, the global capitalists decided on a full-scale invasion of Russia and ordered their governments to organize what came to be known as the “Allied War of Intervention”. During 1918 tens of thousands of American, British, Canadian, Czech, French, Italian, Polish and Romanian troops (all in all from more than a dozen countries) invaded Russia from its western borders to Arkhangelsk in the north to Vladivostok in the east. They fought within Russia for the next six years, causing great harm to the country and even more suffering for the Russian people, but failed to displace the Bolsheviks.

    There’s a very interesting article on CounterPunch about a memorial in San Fransico’s Golden Gate Park, commemorating WW1 soldiers who died between 1917-1921, three years after WW1 had officially ended (!) …

    San Francisco’s Hidden Monument to World War I Veterans

    I think, all of this goes a long way to explaining the many homeless, half-starved street urchins in Russia during this period. There must have been many orphans after so much fighting and destruction. Of course, we’ve all read Dickens and we all know early Chaplin films depicting young children trying to make a living in the streets. But in Russia this must have been particularly grisly experience owing to the country’s geography and its deadly cold winters. Thankfully, there were some, like the excellent Anton Makarenko, who set up self-governing orphanages and collectives for children …



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