(Part 1, “Where are Our Fathers Buried?”)
From a list to biographies (contd)
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.
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. Thanks to our contacts and friendship with the families of the missing Solovki prisoners, and thanks to memoirs — I found the recollections of Yury Chirkov (1919-1988)* particularly revealing — we also got to know men and women who had died years before. We knew what many of them looked like; we read their letters; we became familiar with their shortcomings and habits: we learned how their widows and children, their sisters and brothers, had lived without them.
Now we had to find the graves — the last resting place of 1,111 people, shot in October-November 1937, of 509 shot in December 1937, and of the 198 who were shot in February 1938.
“Twenty years ago, it seemed to us that Sandormokh as a place and these acts of remembrance divided the present from the past,” said Irina FLIGE in August 2017, at the Day of Remembrance at Sandormokh. “Today, unfortunately, we must recognise that memories of the Great Terror have not become part of our [shared] memory …”
The previous year two historians at Petrozavodsk University had put forward a ‘new hypothesis’ as to who lay buried in the woods outside Medvezhegorsk; in the Karelian capital, Yury Dmitriev was spending his eighth month in jail.
It took years to locate Karelia’s largest killing ground of the late 1930s. Irina Flige’s account of that long, painstaking quest is described in her The Search for Sandormokh, which was launched in Moscow in July 2019. At the same press conference the proposed excavations by the Russian Military History Society were exposed and condemned. Meanwhile, Dmitriev, acquitted in April 2018, was on trial for a second time and once again incarcerated in Petrozavodsk’s Detention Centre No 1.
Acclaimed curator and theatre director from New York Virlana Tkacz and artist Waldemart Klyuzko will give a talk in London tonight about Les KURBAS, Ukraine’s most important theatre director, who radically transformed Ukrainian theatre in the 1920s.
Wednesday, 8 May, 7 pm
Main Hall of the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family,
21 Binney Street, Mayfair, London W1K 5BQ
Kurbas and almost three hundred other representatives of Ukraine’s intelligentsia were shot at Sandarmokh between 27 October and 4 November 1937. They have become known as Ukraine’s “Executed Renaissance”.
In March 2017 Anna Yarovaya wrote a long article about the Dmitriev Affair for the 7×7 news website. Among those whose words she then recorded was Irina FLIGE, director of the Memorial Research Centre in St Petersburg and one of those who, with Yury DMITRIEV, discovered Sandarmokh in July 1997:
“Sandarmokh is a unique and complete investigation. It is enormously to the credit of Yury DMITRIEV that he gathered together all the documentary information and, as a result, we today know who exactly is buried here. <…>
Yury Dmitriev in his own words
“In 1997 I met Veniamin Joffe and Irina Flige from Petersburg Memorial at the FSB archives in Karelia. We agreed to look for the site near Medvezhyegorsk where executions took place.
“Joffe and Flige were on the track of the missing transport from Solovki special prison. They began their search after reading the case file of NKVD Captain Mikhail Matveyev, who oversaw the shooting of the Solovki prisoners in autumn 1937. From reading all the execution reports I knew that an enormous number of people, several thousand in all, had been shot somewhere near Medgora. So, we agreed on a date. If I remember rightly, we arrived there on 1 July and on 2 or 3 July we had already discovered the place [Sandarmokh]. I would be stuck there for ages. The official investigative procedures continued for two whole months.