First Discoveries

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.

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Remembrance (4), “No smoke without fire?”

The OGPU investigation of the Pokrovsky brothers in summer 1932 helps us put faces to four names. Ivan was executed in Moscow, one death in the maelstrom unleashed by the forced industrialisation of the USSR and the dekulakisation of the countryside. Alexander was shot four years later at Sandarmokh, a victim of the Great Terror.

Ivan’s last resting place was uncovered in the early 1990s by researchers from Memorial working in the Central Archives of the FSB (post-Soviet successor of the Cheka, OGPU, NKVD and KGB). In 1994, a memorial was erected by the entrance to the Vagankovskoe cemetery. It reads: “To the victims of political repression, 1927-1937. May they never be forgotten!”

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Remembrance (3): Four brothers

Alexander Pokrovsky and his three brothers were born in a village in what today is Russia’s Oryol Region. By the early 1930s, they had moved to Moscow.

There in summer 1932 the OGPU (predecessor of the NKVD) arrested them and by October that year all four were convicted of Counter-Revolutionary Crimes under Article 58, specifically espionage and terrorism.They were, it is said, attempting to create an underground anti-Soviet organisation; they wanted to spy for France and rob the Soviet State; worst of all, they were preparing to assassinate Stalin, Voroshilov, Kaganovich and OGPU chief Yagoda.

With the exception of Ivan Pokrovsky, the eldest, they had each found work: Alexander at a factory; Sergei at a workshop; and Simeon building the new airport at Monino. This reflected the opportunities provided by the forced tempo of industrialisation during the First Five Year Plan; the city also offered them a welcome anonymity, perhaps, because their father Nikolai was an Orthodox priest.

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