More than one thousand prisoners were shipped from the island prison of Solovki in October 1937.
For their relatives they disappeared even earlier when letters remained unanswered, but they were not forgotten. Their families tried to discover their fate. Many years would pass before it was learned that they had been shot.
For decades, relatives were fobbed off with lies and phoney certificates: the prisoners were sentenced to “ten years without the right to correspondence”; they were being “held in distant camps”; they had “died from a heart attack, from pneumonia.” In the late 1980s truthful information about their deaths finally emerged: when they were sentenced and shot – but not where they were executed and buried.
Their departure from Solovki was remembered and recorded.
“In late October all those held in the Kremlin were unexpectedly driven out for a general roll-call,” recalled ex-prisoner Yury Chirkov. “An enormous list of several hundred names, those due for transfer, was read out. They had two hours to get ready.
“After three transports had left the Kremlin was quite empty. On 9 November, the Northern Lights were particularly intense. That evening it was not the usual multicoloured bands that merged and separated in the sky but purple and red arcs. Some interpreted these as a threatening omen.
“We all waited to see, would there be a fourth transport or not. A terrible rumour circulated that the barges carrying the second transport had been deliberately sunk in the White Sea.”