On the official Day in Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression, up to fifty people gathered outside Severodvinsk to commemorate those who worked and died in the Yagrinlag camp complex, building what is now the second largest city in the Arkhangelsk Region.Continue reading
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.Continue reading
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.
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.
[…] 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.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