Remembrance (4), “No smoke without fire?”

The OGPU investigation of the Pokrovsky brothers in summer 1932 helps us put faces to four names. Ivan was executed in Moscow, one death in the maelstrom unleashed by the forced industrialisation of the USSR and the dekulakisation of the countryside. Alexander was shot four years later at Sandarmokh, a victim of the Great Terror.

Ivan’s last resting place was uncovered in the early 1990s by researchers from Memorial working in the Central Archives of the FSB (post-Soviet successor of the Cheka, OGPU, NKVD and KGB). In 1994, a memorial was erected by the entrance to the Vagankovskoe cemetery. It reads: “To the victims of political repression, 1927-1937. May they never be forgotten!”

In 1995, Memorial published a list of 733 names of those secretly buried in the cemetery. The list has since been expanded. This was one of several sites in Moscow where the OGPU/NKVD buried those it executed or who died in its prisons — until the late 1930s, that is, when the numbers being shot reached into the hundreds. Then new burial grounds were established at Butovo and Kommunarka.


What happened to Simeon and Sergei Pokrovsky sent to labour camps in Siberia and Mordovia? Did they marry and have children? Like many others, the case against them and their two executed siblings was re-examined in the late 1950s and on 10 September 1960 all four were rehabilitated, i.e., a formal and official statement was issued that there had been no case to answer. Yet the brief period of rehabilitation, associated with the denunciation of Stalin (but not of Lenin or the Communist regime), soon came to an end. For the next twenty-five years the suspicion would linger about those arrested and shot or imprisoned that there was “no smoke without fire”.

Books exposing the horrors of the forced collectivisation of agriculture and ‘dekulakisation’ or of the Great Terror could only be published abroad, most notably Solzhenitsyn’s magisterial Gulag Archipelago (1973). Those who circulated such works in samizdat in the USSR or discussed that history risked prosecution for “anti-Soviet activities” or “defaming the Soviet system” under Articles 70 or 190-1 of the new Criminal Code.

In the 1970s, Josif Dyadkin, a geophysicist based in provincial Kalinin (Tver), attempted to calculate the extent of the demographic disaster suffered by the USSR between 1926 and 1954, working from the available official statistics (see Samizdat Update, item 4). In September 1980, for this and other statements he was punished with 3 years imprisonment in a corrective-labour colony.