“Judges” and Executioners [2]

In February 2021 after a visit to Petrozavodsk reporters eagerly repeated [Postscript] a suggestion of DMITRIEV’s 88-year-old acquaintance Alexander Selyutsky that the historian might have upset a local relative or descendant of the “Judges” or Executioners of 1937-1938:

“He not only came across those who were arrested: the executioners were also named in those documents.”

Krasny Bor (September 2012)

Yet, as noted before, the troika members and 47 others who signed execution reports from a dozen sites across Karelia were all publicly named in the 1990s by Dmitriev’s mentor Ivan Chukhin. It was the first time such information was published anywhere in Russia,[R] notes Sergei Krivenko of Memorial.

In his 1999 book, for instance, Chukhin named 16 men who took part in executing 3,778 “near Petrozavodsk” between 9 August 1937 and 22 October 1938 (not just at Krasny Bor, perhaps, but at other still unidentified locations). And he described (Karelia in 1937, [R] p. 119) the three most often in charge of such operations : Travin, NKVD commandant for the Karelian capital; Pushkin, head of the city fire brigade; and Voronkov, seconded from the special section of the NKVD’s 17th rifle division in the Leningrad Region.

Continue reading

“Judges” and Executioners [1]

It has been suggested that Yury DMITRIEV attracted the wrath of the authorities by exposing the members of the troika that issued thousands of death sentences in Karelia during the Great Terror or by naming the NKVD executioners who shot those thousands of men and women.

Ivan Chukhin

These details were established and publicised years earlier, however, by Dmitriev’s mentor Ivan CHUKHIN (1948-1997), as Irina FLIGE describes in the Search for Sandarmokh. Between 1990 and 1995 Chukhin was a deputy of the Supreme Soviet and the Duma; as important perhaps, he was a lieutenant-colonel and senior investigator with the police. By the mid-1990s Chukhin had gained access to the minutes of the three extra-judicial bodies issuing death sentences for Karelia during the Great Terror. Further research in the FSB archives indicated the approximate place of execution; the numbers shot; and the surnames of the NKVD officers who oversaw the executions. In Karelia-1937, posthumously published in 1999, Chukhin went further (p. 118).

Continue reading

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”.

Sandarmokh monument as originally designed with Guardian Angel

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.

Continue reading

Destination unknown

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.

Continue reading

First Discoveries, 1988-1991

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.

Continue reading