(Part 1, “Where are Our Fathers Buried?”)
From a list to biographies (contd)
To compile biographical profiles and confirm the information they contained we sent questionnaires to those regions in the USSR where the prisoners on Solovki had been arrested and sentenced.
Meanwhile, we engaged in more active communication with the family members who took a keen and constant interest in our work – they longed to find out more about their relatives. They themselves began to draw up questionnaires and study the case files, bringing copies of the documents and photos to our archive at Memorial. Sometimes, on the contrary, we became acquainted with the children of executed prisoners from Solovki as a result of studying the case files of their relatives.
Veniamin Joffe and I were establishing what had happened not to abstract victims of the Great Terror but to real people, we were uncovering the circumstances in which they had met their end. Thanks to our contacts and friendship with the families of the missing Solovki prisoners, and thanks to memoirs — I found the recollections of Yury Chirkov (1919-1988)* particularly revealing — we also got to know men and women who had died years before. We knew what many of them looked like; we read their letters; we became familiar with their shortcomings and habits: we learned how their widows and children, their sisters and brothers, had lived without them.
Now we had to find the graves — the last resting place of 1,111 people, shot in October-November 1937, of 509 shot in December 1937, and of the 198 who were shot in February 1938.
“Twenty years ago, it seemed to us that Sandormokh as a place and these acts of remembrance divided the present from the past,” said Irina FLIGE in August 2017, at the Day of Remembrance at Sandormokh. “Today, unfortunately, we must recognise that memories of the Great Terror have not become part of our [shared] memory …”
The previous year two historians at Petrozavodsk University had put forward a ‘new hypothesis’ as to who lay buried in the woods outside Medvezhegorsk; in the Karelian capital, Yury Dmitriev was spending his eighth month in jail.
It took years to locate Karelia’s largest killing ground of the late 1930s. Irina Flige’s account of that long, painstaking quest is described in her The Search for Sandormokh, which was launched in Moscow in July 2019. At the same press conference the proposed excavations by the Russian Military History Society were exposed and condemned. Meanwhile, Dmitriev, acquitted in April 2018, was on trial for a second time and once again incarcerated in Petrozavodsk’s Detention Centre No 1.
Soviet prisoners of war were not buried in Sandarmokh, according to information held by Finland’s National Archive.
Recently it has been asserted in Russia that hundreds of Soviet POWs, executed by the Finns during the Continuation War (1941-1944), were buried at Sandarmokh in eastern Karelia (the Republic of Karelia in the Russian Federation). The Russian Military-Historical Society has been trying to confirm these assertions by carrying out excavations there.
The National Archive of Finland has issued the following statement on Twitter:
“Finland has opened up its materials concerning [Soviet] POWs. These archival sources indicate that Soviet POWs were not buried at Sandarmokh”.
In 2007, the archive comments, information about more than 19,000 Soviet POWs was added to its database. Access to this information is available at http://kronos.narc.fi/index.html
Sandarmokh was a secret execution site during Stalin’s Great Terror. In total, 9,500 innocent victims of the political purges in 1937-1938 were shot there, at least 800 of them Finns. In an earlier article the Internet news channel Verkkouutiset described the attention paid to the mass killing of Finns.
Kasperi Summanen, verkkouutiset.fi,
Thursday, 29 August 2019
reads the placard to the left …
17 August 2019 (photo, Alina Shevchenko)
“This is our cenotaph,” (reads the placard on the right).
A protest by the “Party of the Dead” against renewed excavations at Sandarmokh by the Russian Military History Society.
Observers from Memorial monitor the behaviour of Russian Military History Society as it excavates a site at the very centre of Sandarmokh
I can’t look calmly at this photo. In the very heart of Sandarmokh, between commemorative stones and plaques on the trees, they are now digging up the graves.
I have one question.
If someone came along and started digging up a memorial to the soldiers of the Great Patriotic War [1941-1945] would everyone accept it so easily? Or would people pause for thought and decide that you cannot do such things?
The photo was taken by girls from Memorial who have been monitoring this lawless behaviour for four days now at Sandarmokh. [They can be seen to the left of the uniformed Military History excavators.]
Facebook post by the former 7×7 website correspondent who today lives in Finland.