Half those shot in 1937-1938 …

lie buried at Sandarmokh?

During the Great Terror almost 11,000 men and women were executed in Karelia. In his database Yury DMITRIEV followed NKVD reports and noted that during those months the death sentence was carried out 4,975 times “at the Medvezhya gora rail station”.

This is not surprising. The headquarters of the enormous Belbaltlag camp complex, created to build and maintain the White Sea Canal, was located nearby in what became the town of Medvezhegorsk. It seems quite probable that the Sandarmokh Clearing, as it is known today, was used as a killing field for Belbaltlag and its prisoners before the Great Terror.

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The Great Terror in Karelia

On 31 July 1937 NKVD head Yezhov’s Secret Order 00447 (“the Kulak operation”) allocated the Karelian troika a quota of 300 to be shot and 700 sent to the camps. This marked the beginning of the Great Terror.

By the end of the Terror in November 1938 at least 10,779 people had been shot and buried in Karelia. (This total does not include the 1,111 prisoners from Solovki, shot at Sandarmokh between 27 October and 4 November 1937.) A further 1,410 were sent to the camps.

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Sandarmokh, 5 August 2021

Today an extraordinary resource, “Russia’s Necropolis of Terror and the Gulag“, compiled by Petersburg Memorial’s Research & Information Centre (and released in 2016), has been launched in an English version. What follows is an excerpt from that website’s account of Sandarmokh.

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[…] Historians believe that a considerable proportion of those executed in Karelia were shot at Sandarmokh. A transport of 1,111 prisoners from the Solovki Special Prison were brought from the White Sea to the clearing and shot there between 27 October and 4 November 1937.

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The Search for Sandormokh (contd)

SOLOVKI

From a list to biographies

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.

Solovetsky Islands (map)

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.

An excerpt from Irina Flige‘s The Search for Sandormokh (2019)

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