If you use the lens of popular culture (books and especially folk songs), one may come out with the impression that the criminal culture basically ran Odessa around 1920s, with Law Enforcement (GubCheKa) being a boogaboo but largely unimpactful threat to them.

What is the picture like from the point of view of historical documents?

Objectively speaking, how effective was GubCheKa - and law enforcement in general - at fighting crime during its heyday in Odessa? (judging by numbers - crime statistics, convictions, arrests, high level criminal testimony if deemed reliable etc...)

  • 1
    I don't think GubCheKa (which stands for a Regional CheKa headquarters) is the right organization. It was very much feared (because it welded unlimited power over non-member of the Party, but it was political police, not criminal police, and, as such, was not involved in crime fighting.
    – sds
    Jan 27 '17 at 17:38
  • @sds: Up to a point, consider the fate of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mishka_Yaponchik, arguably, the most famous of all Odessa gangsters. Jan 27 '17 at 17:47
  • @sds - it was, according to folclore (e.g. see lyrics to "Murka").
    – DVK
    Jan 27 '17 at 17:47
  • 1
    @sds - agreed. the whole point of the question is, how accurate was the folclore reflecting the actual historical reality.
    – DVK
    Jan 27 '17 at 17:55
  • 1
    You might find Tales of Old Odessa: Crime and Civility in a City of Thieves useful.
    – sds
    Jan 27 '17 at 18:39

There are several Russian-language sources discussing crime (and punishment) in Odessa in the aftermath of the Russian Civil War (early 1920s):

  1. The Wikipedia article Odessa CheKa, Одесская ЧК, part "Ликвидация бандитизма".

  2. The story of "Murka", История «Мурки».

  3. V.V. Shulgin, "The year 1920. Essays." В.В.Шульгин "1920 год. Очерки."

If one trusts these sources, the regular Odessa criminal police as well as CheKa were too corrupt to handle the situation. As the result, special groups from Moscow CheKa were sent to Odessa to arrest (and kill) the most notorious gangsters. According to Shulgin who lived in Odessa at the time:

"... The Bolsheviks managed very quickly. And we must do them justice, as far as regular criminals are concerned, Odessa soon became quite a safe city..."

Shulgin might be a trustworthy source here since he was a committed anticommunist when he wrote his essays.

The prototype of "Murka" song (mentioned in one of your comments) was Maria Klimova, one of the undercover CheKa agents sent from Moscow to Odessa. Unlike the song's main character, she was not killed by gangsters in 1920, but retired (happily or not, hard to tell) from her job in 1952.

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