In the archives (Golgotha, part 2)

Yury Dmitriev in his own words

“Then I became an aide to Ivan Chukhin, a deputy of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet [and the State Duma, 1990-1995]. He was a lieutenant-colonel in the police, a psychologist.

Ivan Chukhin (1948-1997)

Ivan Chukhin (1948-1997)

“Around that time, it was decided to compile a Book of Remembrance for Karelia. That’s to say, Memorial and Pertti Martelius were already on the job, but Chukhin  wanted to put the work on a sounder footing.

“He brought back a 1938 document from Moscow in which the Karelian People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs reported how many people had been shot in the republic, with lists of names: who, where and how. Memorial in Moscow made Ivan a set of cards with the basic information from that report. “You’re going to sit in the archives”, Chukhin told me, “and fill out these cards, in a form that we shall determine”. That’s how I first encountered that kind of work.

I sat in the FSB archives, filling out all the cards – several thousands of them – entering date of arrest, and every other detail. Then I spent several months at the Karelian prosecutor’s office, adding notes about rehabilitation. (The prosecutor’s office had then been instructed to rehabilitate individuals without waiting for a formal request from NGOs or relatives.) When I reached the end of these cards, I realised there were enormous gaps in the lists. People wrote to us, asking for information, but we couldn’t see their relatives in our index. What we were doing was useless, I decided. We needed a different approach. I went back to the FSB. “I don’t need the case files,” I told them: “Give me the records of the troika sessions and the execution reports.” That was when things really started moving.

The Commissar’s report, it turned out, did not cover several later sessions of the Karelian troika. It was dated February. Before May 1938 the troika met again and from August onwards, the special troika of the Karelian NKVD was in session. The commission materials sent to Moscow for confirmation were also missing.

Working with the execution reports was quite something … They wouldn’t allow me to make photocopies, only to write as much as I could in eight hours. They didn’t permit photographs either. So, I took a dictaphone with me, and read out the records and attached execution reports from beginning to end, word for word, letter for letter. I then spent half the night transcribing the texts, comparing the execution reports with the lists we already had. Day after day I went back and recorded more. That’s how we put together a database that is just about reliable.

Even then it proved incomplete. Everything that moved along the railway came under the NKVD’s transport department, and those materials were not in the archive. Exactly how many they arrested we do not know. Say, they picked up 10-15 people at every station. There are a great many stations up to the Arctic Circle. Roughly one thousand people had escaped our attention. And for some reason the comrades in Leningrad very much liked travelling to the Olonetsk district in south Karelia … They arrested people there, and took them back to Leningrad where they were convicted. No documentation remained in Petrozavodsk.

Anatoly Razumov helped us out. It so happened, he was working on the records of the Leningrad troikas. When people from our area turned up there he forwarded the information to us. He came across their names and could track down their case files, and we then added them to the Book of Remembrance.

In 1997 Ivan Chukhin and I put together this book, Karelia’s Lists of Remembrance: The Great Terror, 1937-1938.* Ivan wrote a marvellous introduction, providing the background; I was responsible for the lists.

***

This took several years of work in the archives, but when the chance arose, I also went out to look at different sites. In the execution reports (in some of them, at least) the place where the shootings took place was described or indicated. It was possible, in other words, to try and find something. What it would look like and how it all lay in the earth I already knew.

  • The printed version of Karelia’s Lists of Remembrance, published in 2002, contains over 14,000 names and is 1,088 pages long. The lists are also available online.

Excerpt from “My Path to Golgotha“,
an interview with Irina Galkova (Memorial)