To Remember: Last Address Returns to Petersburg

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To Remember
Natalya Shkurenok
June 27, 2015
Novaya Gazeta Saint Petersburg

Last Address’s installation of memorial plaques brings us back to real history, to understanding the past and the present, without which the future is impossible.

In Petersburg this past weekend, memorial plaques appeared on six more houses, memorializing nine more people and reminding the living about the terrible turns Russian history has taken. It would be no exaggeration to call these people the cream of the crop, the salt of the earth: academics, engineers, artists, teachers, and physicians. Without people like them, no society can survive, but these people do not even have graves.  But there are relatives, friends, and kindred spirits whose hearts are moved by the ashes of the innocent victims.

On the Basis of Ethnicity

“I am attending my father’s funeral after seventy-eight years,” says a tall elderly man holding a bouquet of red roses and barely hold backing his tears.

Then he falls silent, places the flowers on the pavement next to the wall of house No. 1 on Maly Prospect, Petrograd Side, and steps away, covering his face with his hands.

When Stanislaw Kozlowski, an engineer at the Plastics Factory, was arrested in the summer of 1937, his son had been born only a month earlier. Two weeks later, his father was shot. His mother’s sister, who took him in, saved little Henryk from life in the camps. His mother was released only in 1947, followed by the 101st kilometer, a ban on living in Leningrad, and a life in Volkhov, an industrial town 122 kilometers east of Leningrad. During Khrushchev’s Thaw, as former victims of political repression, they were given a room in Leningrad, but by that time Henryk had already graduated from the Polytechnic Institute, and sharing a room with his mother was uncomfortable. He first worked at Krasnoyarsk, Bratsk, and Ust-Ilim hydroelectric stations, then in Syria.

“My father was a Pole. He went to the Polish school at Saint Catherine’s Church on Nevsky,” Henryk Kozlowski told Novaya Gazeta. “Eight of them were shot dead all at once. They had gone to school together and maintained relations. They were declared spies, just like everyone else then. But if it had only been them! Do you see that stadium over there? Imagine that in just two years, 1937 and 1938, two such stadiums of people were shot, nearly 42,000 people.”

Before the war, the well-known Leningrad artist Bronislaw Malachowski had lived in the same building. He was the same Malachowski who conceived and drew Smart Masha, the heroine of very popular children’s comics strip. The prototype of Smart Masha was the artist’s own daughter Katya. Malachowski also modeled Malvina and Buratino, for Alexei Tolstoy’s new book, on his own children, Katya and Dima.

On Saturday, the corner house, Maly Prospect, Petrograd Side, 1/3 (at the intersection with Zhdanovka Embankment), looked like a street exhibition on opening day, complete with stands containing photos, original graphic works on easels or simply propped against the wall, and a dense ring of viewers, perusing photos and works that few of them had seen before.

“That is my grandpa, and that is Nappelbaum, and here is my grandmother,” says Vasily Malachowski, Bronislaw’s grandson, pointing to the photographs. “Leningrad artists, actors, and writers often gathered at their house, and Grandpa was friends with Alexei Tolstoy.”

In the summer of 1937, when parents and children were vacationing in the Pushkin Hills, Bronislaw was taken, never to be seen again by his family.  His wife, Maria, and son and daughter were deported from Leningrad, first to Kazakhstan. Later, they moved to the Perm Region. Soon Malachowski was shot. His descendants never returned to the apartment on the Petrograd Side. The NKVD confiscated the artist’s entire archive, including his artworks, sketches, and architectural designs. What happened to the archive is still unknown. Maria died in 1948. She was back in prison again for violating passport regulations.

The children were adopted by the famous artist Natan Altman and his wife, who was the aunt of the Malachowski children. Katya studied at a ballet school in Moscow, while Dima stayed with the Altmans. A graduate of the geography department, he defended his doctoral dissertation. His son, Vasily, the artist’s grandson, studied at the Leningrad State University geology department. But his daughter Stanislava has followed in her great-grandfather’s footsteps. A graduate of the Stieglitz Art and Industry Academy, she has collected a huge amount of material on her family’s history and its Polish roots.

“Grandfather and grandmother were innocent victims,” argues Vasily. “Unfortunately, their lives were short and tragic. But now people who never knew them have taken an interest in them and begun to love them, and this is an instance of immortality. If the soul is kind and good, it always manifests itself and will go on living in kind hearts.”

Science? Kill It!

Perhaps only a few people now remember the name of Arkady Borodin, a professor of history and law. Scant records of his life have been preserved in the archives of the Library of the Academy of Sciences (BAN), where he worked in his final years, and in the case files of the so-called Academic Affair, a tragic page in the history of Russian scholarship. Between 1929 and 1931, the OGPU fabricated a criminal case against a group of scholars in Leningrad. In 1924, Borodin was dismissed from the university as a hereditary nobleman, and from 1925 to 1929 he was in charge of the alphabetical card catalogue at the BAN. In 1931, Borodin was sentenced to ten years in prison. He served part of his sentence in the Solovki prison camp before being transferred to construction of the White Sea Canal. He died near Medvezhyegorsk in 1932. Borodin’s last address was Bolshaya Pushkarskaya, 1. Now, at the behest of his granddaughter, a memorial plaque has been erected there.

A memorial plaque has also appeared on the 11th Line of Vasilyevsky Island, No. 44, whence the famous mathematician and meteorologist Boris Izvekov set out on his final journey.

“I saw my father for the last time from way over there, on the 10th Line,” says Tatyana Bulakh-Izvekova, the scientist’s daughter, pointing. “We left the house, and Dad saw us off, gazing out the window. We never saw each other again. This was his last address. He was arrested here. The two windows on the third floor were his study.”

Case No. 555 is a terrible testimony to the destruction of scientists in Leningrad at the very beginning of the war. This story began in the late 1930s, however. In the mid 1990s, the famous Russian writer Yaroslav Golovanov published an article entitled “Executioners and Victims: Case No. 555” in the magazine Ogonyok. The article discusses NKVD staff informant Yevgeny Merkulov, also known as TV. In the late 1930s, his insinuations led to the arrests and imprisonment of over thirty scientists. But at the beginning of the war, in late 1941, the Leningrad NKVD launched a massive case against the “counterrevolutionary activity” of corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences Ignatovsky and his “group” in order to prove its need to stay in the rear. Based on TV’s denunciations, between the fall of 1941 and the winter of 1942, over 130 scientists, professors, and lecturers (physicists, mathematicians, and geophysicists) were arrested, shot, tortured, and sent to labor camps.

“I don’t know where father died. Golovanov wrote that it happened during transportation to the camps, but I never have found out where and when,” says Tatyana. “Most likely, he died in an internal NKVD prison. I am so glad that I have at least some memorial in place of a grave.”

Rereading Him Again

Grigory Gukovsky, a prominent Soviet literary scholar, university lecturer, and Pushkin House fellow also has no grave. Gukovsky was arrested twice: in 1941, for “counterrevolutionary propaganda” (but was soon released for lack of evidence), and in July 1949, as part of the fight against “cosmopolitanism.”

“There was an arrest and search,” recounts Gukovsky’s great-granddaughter Kira Dolinina, a well-known Petersburg art historian, critic, and lecturer at the European University. “The case was closed due to his death. All this papers were destroyed, including manuscripts of articles and books he was working on. Our family doesn’t have a single document about the family. The man was left to rot, the documents went missing.”

Dolinina and her mother read Gukovsky’s case file in the FSB archives. The telling interrogation reports produced a terrible impression: the interrogation lasted eight hours, but the minutes take up only two pages.

“What were they doing the rest of the time? Torturing him, beating him?” asks Dolinina. “What we were able to read confirmed our guess: my great-grandfather and his brother Matvei Gukovsky were arrested as part of the Leningrad Affair. Hence the investigator for special affairs, and the fact the case was investigated in Moscow. All the case material makes it clear the NKVD was interested in Alexander Voznesensky, rector of the university. So it was not a matter of ‘combating cosmopolitanism.’”

Yuri Lotman, Georgy Makogonenko, and Grigory Byaly were Gukovsky’s students. When information spread on the internet that a memorial plaque to Gukovsky would appear on the house that now stands at 13th Line, 56, his relatives began receiving poignant letters.

“Hello, Kira! My name is Nelly Venskaya. I am eighty-seven years old and studied with your renowned great-grandfather. […] It was not easy to get into Gukovsky’s lectures in 1949. Places in the auditorium were occupied in advance, because, in addition to Leningrad University students, students from all the institutes of higher learning tried to cram in, students from the construction institute, the medical schools, the pedagogical institute, and the polytechnic. They sat on the windowsills, the floor, and the piano, under the piano. The lectures were broadcast in the corridors and the lobby. […] The last cycle that we were lucky enough to hear were his brilliant lectures on Pushkin. The next subject was Gogol, and we were looking forward to the explosion of wit, unexpected comparisons, and profound revelations. […] But no one ever heard that cycle.”

“In Russian literature studies Gukovsky was the principal researcher of eighteenth-century literature,” says Andrei Kostin, academic secretary at Pushkin House. “He got the collected works of Radishchev published, and was a brilliant researcher. Gukovsky shaped the Soviet view of the entire eighteenth century. His death and the loss of his manuscripts are an enormous tragedy for Russian scholarship.”

Family Saves the World

The Belenky-Bogdanov family has preserved the memory of their forebears, who lived at Bolshaya Pushkarskaya, 39, on the Petrograd Side, in the late 1930s. One summer morning in 1937, first the father, Pavel Belenky, a bookkeeper, was taken away from their small room in a communal flat, then the mother, Lydia Bogdanova, a housewife. Their son Vladimir survived. He is is now eighty-five years and lives in Moscow. Because of poor health Vladimir was unable to attend the installation of the commerorative plaque. Instead, his grandson Arseny, great-grandson of the murdered Lydia Bogdanov and Pavel Belenky, came to Petersburg for the ceremony.

“I remember this. I think it is impossible to forget,” said Arseny Belenky during the installation ceremony. “I have a son, whom I will definitely bring to Petersburg and show him the house where his ancestors once lived.”

Almost the entire Dauman family gathered in Petersburg for the first time since 1937 for the installation of a plaque commemorating their forebears. Abram Dauman, who received his education as a surgeon in Germany, operated on the wounded on the front during the First World War. For this he received personal nobility and personal arms, and was awarded the Orders of Saint Stanislaus and Saint George. Learning about the awards, his colleagues commissioned the orders from respected jewelers at their own expense and presented them to Dauman as a token of their profound respect.

Ilya Dauman practiced shorthand. He had his own technique on which he wrote a textbook.

The Dauman brothers moved to Nekrasov Street, 6, in 1924. The whirlwinds of the revolution had brought them from Harbin.

“From my father’s stories I know that when they came to arrest grandfather, my father, who was still little, was told, ‘And you, boy, go to sleep,’” recounts Alexei, grandson of the murdered Abram Dauman. “My dad was taken in by his aunt’s family, although her husband was also arrested, interrogated, and tortured. They cut off four of his fingers, but he did not confess to anything, signed no papers, and was ultimately released.”

First, the older brother, Abram, was arrested. The younger brother, Ilya, was on a business trip in Yekaterinburg at the time.

“His relatives wrote to him not to come back, that his brother had been arrested,” recounts William Rozenson, nephew of the murdered men. “But he replied that he hadn’t done anything and he came back. He was arrested immediately. His wife, although she had divorced him, did not abandon her husband and was also exiled.”

Descendants of the family live in different Russian cities and different countries. One of them could not make the trip to Petersburg from Brazil. But for all of them this house on Nekrasov Street is one of the most important places on earth.

Photos by Yelena Lukyanova

Translated by The Russian Reader. You can read about the Last Address project’s first visit to Petersburg, in the spring of this year, here.

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