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1944 the tide of the Second World War(WWII) had changed on the Eastern Front, the Soviet Union had to dedicate all of its assets and delegate all of its human resources in order to commit to the biggest offensive attack of WWII. It was time to push back the Axis and bring the fight to their doorstep, but for this to happen the Soviet Union would require an enormous armament for all of its ten million soldiers. All of the men capable to fight were sent to the front. It is imperative to mention that the Soviet Union was the only nation that allowed women to fight in the Second World War (direct combat).

This meant that the only human resources which could contribute to the war production of the Soviet Union were children. How old you may ask? Old enough for them to screw a bolt, from the research done by some Soviet historians from the Cold War era the average age for a child working in a weapon factory during the Second World War was around ten years of age. You may also ask if these children were forced into child labor and to that, I say that it is the predicament that was forcing them rather than any specific person. If they worked, they got food, if they didn’t then they would have starved to death.

The Red Army in 1944

After the battle of Stalingrad where the tide of the war had changed, many had volunteered to join the Red Army in order to stop the fascists once and for all. In fact, so many people volunteered that the Soviet Union simply did not have enough weapons to supply to all the soldiers. Until late 1944, many battles led to a soldier being offered a rifle and a second soldier being offered bullets for the rifle. The orders were simple, follow the soldier with the rifle until he dies, and upon his death take his rifle and continue fighting.

Red Army marching out of Stalingrad in 1944 (Source: Rare Historical Photos)

Some historians refer to the Red Army from 1944 as the “unarmed army” for the lack of weapon supplies. With so many volunteers for the Red Army, weapon production had slowed down and there were not many viable solutions rather than having all the children work to produce and assemble weapons. Most of the weapons of the Soviet Union such as the Mosin Nagant rifle and the PPD-40 submachine gun were easy to assemble, some may say as easy as a child’s play.

Production of weapons and ammunition

A big majority of the child labor in war production was occupied with the assembly of weapons and the production of ammunition (mainly packaging the ammunition). They were treated just like any other factory worker at the time. They would enter their first day, be offered an induction on how to work on a certain point from the production line, and from there it was just intensive labor. War had taken away everything for some of these children, their homes, families, and even parents, therefore, this was the only way that they could fight against the fascists.

Old worker checking the weapons produced by children in Leningrad factory 1944 (Source: Rare Historical Photos)

Child labor in the war industry had begun in 1943, due to the lack of personal it became mainstream in 1944. Surprisingly, these children had become quite efficient at their jobs, so efficient that you can argue that they contributed to the abundance of weapon supplies at the end of the war. The children would not be given a wage but they were offered food and shelter (especially those that had lost their families in the war).

You need to realize that most children in the Soviet Union did not have an easy upbringing because of the poor conditions, therefore, they were in a way built for hard labor. During the famine before the Second World War, these same children were forced to work in the fields for the same reason which is their predicament, it was either work for food or death due to starvation. But for the children doing hard labor in the war industry during the Second World War, it was much more than that.

A soviet child working on mechanic steel drill during WWII (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

It was a way for these children to have revenge for all that they had lost. Indeed, some of them were too young to understand exactly what was going on, still, they weren’t stupid. It is within our human nature to tell friends from foes.

Children of War

These are what we call children of war, this is the true meaning of an unfair life, having everything taken away from you at a young age and forced (by circumstances) to work hard labor when you should be playing. At the same time, these children were well educated in the sense that they would not refuse work but accept it for what it was, they knew that they were contributing to the Allied victory of the Second World War.

Homeless Children Sleeping (1920) (Source: Russian State Film & Photo Archive at Krasnogorsk)

This was not the first time that the children of the Soviet Union had to suffer from hard labor or other living predicaments. The Great War (WWI) left some children in a grim life where they had lost everything and the Soviet communist government had no mercy on them. Just take a look at this image of homeless children sleeping on the cold streets with no possessions or families. All they had was working for a piece of bread that they would praise more than anything in this world.

Little would these children know that when they were older they would have children of their own who would experience a similar fate. A senseless war that is mostly impactful on children.

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