First Discoveries

The first time Yury DMITRIEV came across the unmarked remains of those shot during the Great Terror was in 1988, as he describes in My Path to Golgotha (pt 2). The immediate reaction since the 1950s was to cover up these bones and skulls with their tell-tale bullet holes. Now activists and relatives of those arrested and shot resisted such wilful and enforced amnesia.

As the Map of Memory compiled by St Petersburg Memorial’s Research & Information Centre records, the remains found on the outskirts of Petrozavodsk were gathered and reburied in one of the city’s no longer used graveyards.

The Zaretskoe Graveyard, Petrozavodsk

“… human remains were discovered during excavations near the Sulazhgorsky brickworks on the outskirts of Petrozavodsk,” says the Map of Memory. “With the help of the Karelian Memorial Society, the pits were opened and the remains of between 200 and 700 people — reports vary — were uncovered. It was established that those executed by the NKVD during the Great Terror (1937-1938) were buried here. “Soon a similar burial was discovered near the Besovets settlement, not far from Petrozavodsk. The remains of more than 200 people were found there … . They were reburied in the Zaretskoe cemetery in Petrozavodsk which had been closed for further burial. The reburial took place on 30 October 1991.”

Remains of this kind lay scattered and concealed across the Soviet Union: at least 740,000 were executed between August 1937 and October 1938. It was also a subject avoided in many families. In My Path to Golgotha Dmitriev tells how and when he discovered more about the past of his own (adoptive) family. While his mother’s father was shot during the Terror, his paternal grandfather was arrested in 1938 and died in the camps. “Papa only confessed this to me in 1991 when we were coming back from the first funeral I organised for the victims of repression.” That funeral was the reburial at the Zaretskoe Graveyard late in 1991.

The Map of Memory goes on to describe how the Zaretskoe reburial evolved over the next quarter century.

“In February 1992 Memorial in Petrozavodsk created a commemorative site at the common grave with funds provided by the city administration. A slab of black granite stands at the centre of the memorial, bearing the words ‘Here the victims of political repression in 1937-1938 have found rest’. Three other stones carry the names of those shot during the night of 27 November 1937. To the left stands a pillar of grey granite and two blocks of stone transported from the White Sea Canal, with the remnants of metal attachments. Nearby are several personal memorials: granite plaques on the ground and enamel medallions on the trees.”