Children of Lieutenant Schmidt (Russian: Дети лейтенанта Шмидта) is a fictional secret society of con men that pretended to be children of Lieutenant Schmidt (a Russian revolutionary hero), described in The Little Golden Calf by Ilf and Petrov: Ostap Bender's two sidekicks were hapless former members of the society.
According to the novel, roaming across Russia in the 1920s were numerous fake relatives of Karl Marx, Prince Kropotkin, and other revolutionary figures. Their con tricks were aimed at persuading various Soviet officials into granting them cash. Their numbers grew, and to prevent any unlucky chance of spoiling each other's attempts, they started to "unionize", with Schmidt's Kids being the most difficult to organise. When the latter finally decided to convene, "it turned out that Lieutenant Schmidt had thirty sons, from eighteen to fifty-two years in age, and four daughters, stupid, unattractive and no longer young". They split Russia into 34 agreed territories.
Ostap Bender, being a great improviser, unwittingly decided to play the same trick, and ran into another trickster (Shura Balaganov, who became his accomplice), but managed to get out of the gaffe by pretending Shura was his brother. Later they met yet another "sibling" (Mikhail Panikovsky), who was running for his life (he had ignored the convention, trespassed, and was caught red-handed by victims of yet another "brother").
Since then, the expression "Children of Lieutenant Schmidt" has become a Russian cliché for various con enterprises or persons which use false pretenses, e.g., of being war veterans, Chernobyl liquidators, simply relatives of the targeted victims, etc., in order to extract money from the victims.
A monument to two of the most famous of Schmidt's "sons" (Bender & Balaganov) was erected in Berdiansk in 2002. A statue of Panikovsky, carrying out his favourite trick of pretending to be a blind man, has been erected in Kiev, Ukraine.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Posted by M. Christian