Rewriting Sandarmokh: Discussion

On 26 December 2017, Karelian journalists described their new investigation, “Rewriting Sandarmokh”, at a discussion held at the Agrikalch Art Gallery in Petrozavodsk.

ANNA YAROVAYA told how the idea of conducting the investigation first arose. It was hard to find out who was trying to alter the history of the executions and burials at Sandarmokh, and why, she said. 

Anna Yarovaya at 26 December discussion

Anna Yarovaya (26 December 2017)

Yarovaya noted that the new “hypothesis” about the burials had arisen only now, twenty years after the memorial at Sandarmokh was opened, and questioned whether this was due to political developments or simply to the curiosity of researchers.

“A proposal was made to erect a monument to slain Soviet POWs at Sandarmokh,” said Yarovaya at the end of her introduction: “That, in my view, was the main idea.

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘Well, there isn’t anything in Karelia to commemorate the POWs who died during the [Finnish] occupation.’

‘Why at Sandarmokh?’

‘It’s possible they were shot there.’

Sandarmokh and Katyn (1940)

“The second thing that astonished me”, Yarovaya told the audience, “was the mention of Katyn, during my conversation with Professor Sergei Verigin [Dean of Social Sciences at Petrozavodsk University].

“He told me:

‘We’re not rejecting the subject of Sandarmokh, but, as you know, it’s like Katyn: first the NKVD shot people there, then the Germans. In the same place. And they were buried in the same place’.”

Archaeologist ANATOLY RAZUMOV explained to the audience the confusion between Katyn, where the NKVD shot Polish POWs [about 20,000 victims, April-May 1940], and the village of Khatyn in Belarus, where all the inhabitants were murdered by the Germans [156 victims, 22 March 1943], and suggested how that subject related to the new discussion about Sandarmokh.

Anatoly Razumov at 26 December discussion

Anatoly Razumov (26 December 2017)

Mr Razumov heads the “Their Names Restored” centre, which deals with Russia’s various Books of Remembrance, at the Russian National Library (St Petersburg). He is also a member of the city’s Commission for Restoring the Rights of Rehabilitated Victims of Political Repression.

Others attending the discussion were experts in military history, journalists and members of the public.

An anniversary publication

“Rewriting Sandarmokh” was published on 13 December 2017, the anniversary of Yury Dmitriev’s arrest. It was he who in 1997 discovered the mass burials of the victims of political repression in Karelia. More than 7,000 were shot at Sandarmokh in 1937-1938 during the Great Terror.

Almost twenty years after the killing fields were discovered certain Petrozavodsk historians announced that, together with those executed in the 1930s, Soviet POWs might also have been shot and buried during the Great Patriotic War [1941-1945]. The proposal led to a big discussion among historians and drew the attention of both Russian and Finnish media.

Map of Karelia, White Sea (NRC)

KARELIA (a map from Steven Derix’s November 2017 article)

Historians, public figures and those who hunted for such sites were curious about the mysterious declassified documents that formed the basis for this hypothesis, but those responsible for this sensation are in no hurry to publish their sources. Anna Yarovaya has gathered numerous facts and opinions from Russian and Finnish historians to verify how far this hypothesis of new shootings at Sandarmokh can be substantiated.

Sergei Markelov
7×7 – Horizontal Russia, 27 December 2017

(All photos by the author)