Since the late 1980s volunteers all over Russia and other former Soviet republics have compiled lists naming the men and women arrested, imprisoned and shot during Stalin’s time, and published regional Books of Remembrance about them.
In the past 15 years national databases of those “repressed” by the Bolshevik regime have been created by combining information from Books of Remembrance and other sources. Again this was the work of volunteers at organisations like the Memorial Society and, more recently, those behind the Open List database. The State has played no role in this extraordinary enterprise.
At present, over three million men and women have been named and identified. This, it is estimated, is a quarter of all those who fell victim to political repression: those sent to the Gulag during dekulakisation, or deported to distant, inhospitable regions; those shot during the Great Terror and the many other waves of violence and repression before and after World War Two.
Over sixteen months (August 1937-November 1938), more than one and a half million people were arrested in the USSR and sentenced in their absence by regional tribunals — the extra-judicial troika (“three-member commissions”), dvoika (“two-member commissions”), and Special Board — or came briefly before the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court in Moscow. No defence was offered.
Half of those arrested were sentenced to death. They were shot and buried all over the Soviet Union in killing fields like those discovered and investigated in Karelia by Yury DMITRIEV (Krasny Bor and Sandarmokh), or like Kommunarka and Butovo near Moscow. The other detainees were sent to the Gulag for up to ten years of forced labour.
For a long while the concurrent Show Trials of leading Old Bolsheviks (1936-1938) led many in the Soviet Union and abroad to believe that this unprecedented bloodshed was linked to a “purge” within the Communist Party. Archival research since the late 1980s has shown that the vast majority arrested and shot or imprisoned were picked up in accordance with regional quotas issued by the NKVD in Moscow, and were not Party members.
On Wednesday, 5 August, people marked the annual Day of Remembrance in over 80 towns and cities all over the world (in Bulgaria, Latvia, Ukraine, Scotland and Brittany among others) by reading out the names of those shot at Sandarmokh in 1937 and 1938, during the Great Terror.
Due to the Corona virus epidemic no gathering was held this year at the memorial complex near Medvezhegorsk.
At present 6,241 victims have been identified. Over five thousand were inhabitants of Karelia or prisoners of the BelBaltlag (White Sea Canal) labour camp system; a further 1,111 were brought there to be shot from the Solovki Special Prison in the White Sea.
This website has already published two excerpts from Irina Flige’s 2019 book about Sandarmokh: the Search for Sandarmokh, parts One and Part Two. What follows is the opening of a review in the January 2020 issue of Novy mir, the literary magazine (Moscow).
“Two themes run through Irina Flige’s book,” writes Tatyana Bonch-Osmolovskaya. “One is the quest, pursued across many years, for the ‘lost transport’, a search to locate 1,111 inmates of the Solovki Special Prison who vanished in October 1937.”
The other theme, which “embraces and deepens the first”, describes Sandarmokh today, as a place of commemoration and remembrance.
The lost transport
For years researchers, among them Flige herself, sought documents explaining where the “lost transport” had gone and identifying the place where those victims of the Great Terror were buried. In a small clearing in the Karelian forest is a place where executions were regularly carried out. Not just the “lost transport” died there, but also prisoners of the BelBaltlag Camp complex, forced settlers and inhabitants of Karelia. Working with records in closed archives the researchers — Irina Flige, Veniamin Joffe and Yury Dmitriev, among others — restored the names of the victims.