The Curious Criminal Case of Iosif Aleksandrovich Schneider

Disclaimer: this post includes nude images

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Various documents confiscated from Iosif A. Schneider

On a recent research trip to Riga, a very helpful archivist suggested that I look at the arrest and personnel files of Iosif Aleksandrovich Schneider. Schneider was a member of the Latvian Communist Party, born in Riga in 1927 and from 1944 had been an active member of the Komsomol. He was 31 years old at the time of his arrest in 1957, working as a photographer at the Rigas Foto photography studio.

He was detained, questioned and arrested by the Latvian KGB under Article 58, Section 10 of the RSFSR Penal Code, for anti-Soviet and counter-revolutionary propaganda and agitation. This article could be widely interpreted, and carried a sentence of anything from six months in prison up to a death sentence. He was also charged under Article 182 in relation to the refusal of a witness to present expert testimony in court.

In the initial reports filed by KGB investigators, Schneider was accused of the following, based on the testimony of S.S. Sergeev (it is unclear who this particular witness was or why he had brought forward allegations against Schneider):

“Systematically listening to the broadcasts of the “Voice of Israel” radio station, making notes of slanderous fabrications against the Soviet Union transmitted by this station, and keeping these records in his apartment. Having established a written connection with his uncle Gribov, who lives in the State of Israel and is the conductor of Israel’s military orchestra. Schneider, in his letters to Gribov, expounded slanderous, anti-Soviet fabrications. Gribov, in turn, sent Schneider clippings from nationalist newspapers and magazines. Schneider sought opportunities for illegal departure from the Soviet Union to Israel.”

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Image 105 from Schneider’s arrest file

After KGB officers conducted their initial questioning, they searched Schneider’s apartment. In doing so, agents uncovered several letters from Gribov, “nationalist” newspaper clippings, three unregistered small caliber rifles, 246 rounds of live ammunition, several medals and decorations from WWII (which were not awarded to Schneider or his relatives), and multiple pornographic photographs.

In subsequent interrogations, Schneider admitted his connections to Israel, stating ultimately that contact with his uncle as well as the opinions articulated by the “Voice of Israel” led him to adopt anti-Soviet sentiments and that, at the time, he believed some of the “slanderous fabrications against the Soviet Union,” though he himself never held “hostile attitudes towards the Soviet Union.” He admitted that he did indeed possess the illegal firearms and ammunition, but the records do not contain any information as to how or why he acquired them. Regarding the medals, Schneider did not reveal how he had obtained them, but insisted they were part of a personal collection and that he never wore them or pretended that he had been the recipient of said awards. Finally, about the “pornographic” photographs Schneider said: “I admit that I photographed my wife and that this is pornography.”

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Image 108 from Schneider’s arrest file
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Image 109 from Schneider’s arrest file

Interestingly, Schneider’s admission about the photographs cannot be entirely truthful (not that one would expect it to be). It appears unlikely that the photographs are only of his wife, based partially on looks and body type. Admittedly, without an accurate account from Schneider himself, unmitigated by the circumstances of interrogation, this is speculative. Weight and body type can change over time, and differences in lighting, whether or not the subject is wearing make-up etc. can alter appearances.  But there are other indicators of difference: the images were clearly taken in two different and distinct settings. Image 109 is of an unnamed woman, and was likely shot in a studio location. It is more formal: akin to glamour shots and reminiscent of photographic pornography from the 1900s-1920s. In contrast, the photographs Schneider took of his wife are amateurish and playful. They are not overtly staged or posed, but rather relaxed and casual. Based on style, the images Schneider took of his wife were personal, whereas the staged aspects of image 109 were more in keeping with nude images intended for distribution. The photographs of Ms. Schneider (images 108 and 110 through 113) were far more graphic than the other nudes included in the confiscated portfolio, suggesting her level of trust, but also intimacy. Even if one were to believe the unlikely scenario where Ms. Schneider (her forename is not listed in the KGB files) is the woman in image 109, the photograph was clearly taken at a different point in time than images 110 through 113, indicating that this was not a single moment of “moral indifference” or “deviance” (from the perspective of law enforcement), but rather a protracted interest that precipitated events on at least two given occasions.

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Image 111 from Schneider’s arrest file

Admittedly, the version of events, as reported in the KGB files, is entirely one-sided and can hardly be interpreted as an accurate or impartial. What is astonishing about the case, however, is that despite Schneider’s possession of these photographs, he was never formally charged with creating pornography. Putting aside moral objections or conceptions of what constitutes pornography, Article 185 of the contemporary Soviet Criminal Code provided no sanction for if pornographic images were published or distributed, as opposed to simple possession. These charges, therefore, could easily have been tacked on to Schneider’s case (along with charges associated with Article 190 regarding violations of “rules concerning the procedure required for the opening and running of printing shops, lithographic, and similar establishments,” based on his employment at Rigas Foto). This changed in 1960, when the Criminal Code was revised to ostensibly cover only those materials that were published or circulated publicly, making the possession of pornography technically legal, though “offenders” could be prosecuted under Articles 70, 75, 228, and, arguably at a stretch, 190, Section 1, depending on the individual case.[1]

Though I continue to parse through this massive file, there is apparently no discernible reason why the Latvian authorities overlooked this infraction. While the photographs were confiscated, and they were worthy of mention in the KGB’s reports, no additional charges were added based on their existence.[2] Thus, the inclusion of the images in the case against Schneider appears to be a bit of a non sequitur. While they were deserving of reference, they ultimately had little impact on the fate of their creator.

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Image 112 from Schneider’s arrest file

*For the sake of decency (i.e. not being kicked off the wordpress platform), I have not included any of Schneider’s graphic pornographic images.

[1] Dietrich A. Loeber, “Samizdat under Soviet Law,” Index on Censorship, vol. 2, 3, (1973), 20.

[2] Though the 1960 Criminal Code states that the distribution of pornographic material was punishable by up to three years in prison and/or a 300-ruble fine, I have been unable to determine the sentence length based on the previous Criminal Code.

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