The Search for Sandormokh

“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.

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The Kommunarka controversy

On 29 October the annual ceremony of “Restoring the Names” took place in Moscow, despite previous uncertainties. That day and the next, similar events took place in 19 other Russian towns and cities (and in several foreign cities as well).

In many more places, including Sandarmokh and Krasny Bor in Karelia, the 30 October was marked as the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Political Repression. There was no mention of Yury DMITRIEV, his daughter complained, at the Zaretsky churchyard in Petrozavodsk or at Krasny Bor.

He was remembered, that day, when the Memorial Human Rights Centre in Moscow issued its updated List of Political Prisoners in Russia. As the compilers were careful to comment, it contained the minimum verified list of those who had been detained or prosecuted on political grounds or for reason of their religious beliefs. (Yury DMITRIEV was prominent among the political prisoners; museum director Sergei Koltyrin had not yet been added to the list.)

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Wall of Remembrance, Kommunarka (photo, Vlad Dokshin, Novaya gazeta)

The most dramatic event proved to be the opening, a few days earlier, of the Wall of Remembrance at the Kommunarka execution site and burial ground outside Moscow. Within days other organisations (The Immortal Barrack, notably) were accusing Memorial of rehabilitating the executioners.

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In the archives (Golgotha, part 2)

Yury Dmitriev in his own words

“Then I became an aide to Ivan Chukhin, a deputy of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet [and the State Duma, 1990-1995]. He was a lieutenant-colonel in the police, a psychologist.

Ivan Chukhin (1948-1997)

Ivan Chukhin (1948-1997)

“Around that time, it was decided to compile a Book of Remembrance for Karelia. That’s to say, Memorial and Pertti Martelius were already on the job, but Chukhin  wanted to put the work on a sounder footing.

“He brought back a 1938 document from Moscow in which the Karelian People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs reported how many people had been shot in the republic, with lists of names: who, where and how. Memorial in Moscow made Ivan a set of cards with the basic information from that report. “You’re going to sit in the archives”, Chukhin told me, “and fill out these cards, in a form that we shall determine”. That’s how I first encountered that kind of work. Continue reading

“Restoring the Names”, 2017

“From 10 am to 10 pm on Sunday, 29 October, we shall be reading out the names of the victims of political repression here in Moscow,” announces an item on the Restoring the Names page on Facebook. “The Memorial Society has organised this event for ten years, ever since 2007. One after another, people will get up and read from the list. Yet thus far we have barely read half of the names of  the 40,000 people executed in and around Moscow during the pre-war period.”

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