Sandarmokh: Rewriting History with Shovels

content_IMG_9455“Alternative” excavations at Sandarmokh. Photo by Irina Tumakova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Sifting through History: The “Alternative” Excavations at Sandarmokh Are Meant to Shift the Public’s Attention from Great Terror Victims to WWII Casualties
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
August 20, 2019

The ongoing excavations by the Russian Military History Society (RVIO) at the Sandarmokh site in [Russian] Karelia, where political prisoners were shot during the Great Terror, reflects the desire of Russian officials to switch the public’s attention to the Second World War.

In August, RVIO employees and a Defense Ministry search battalion resumed digging at Sandarmokh. Karelian Culture Minister Alexei Lesonen said the objective was to “separate artifacts having to do with different layers of history and different circumstances.”

It is a matter of words matching deeds. In 1997, local historian Yuri Dmitriev discovered the mass graves of people shot by the NKVD in 1937–1938. Thanks to Dmitriev’s efforts, Sandarmokh became a symbol of the Great Terror.

International Memorial Society board member Sergei Krivenko puts a number on it: archival documents have confirmed that over 6,100 people were shot and buried at Sandarmokh during the Great Terror.

In keeping with the Kremlin’s policy of “inculcating pride in the past,” the authorities have attempted, in recent years, to diminish Sandarmokh’s status as a memorial site. The authorities have tried to discredit Dmitriev and, by his extension, his work by charging him in a notorious “pedophilia” case [in which two men have already been convicted and sentenced, including Sergei Koltyrin, former director of the Medvezhyegorsk Museum and an ally of Dmitriev’s]. They have claimed Memorial’s figures for the number of victims are inflated. They have pushed an alternate account that the Finnish Army shot and buried Soviet POWS at Sandarmokh between 1941 and 1944.

The RVIO’s August–September 2018 expedition turned up the remains of five people. Historian Sergei Verigin said they corroborated the hypothesis about Soviet POWS because the executed people had not been stripped before they were shot and foreign-made shell casings were found next to them. This proves nothing, however. The NKVD used foreign-made weapons when it executed its prisoners [22,000 Polish officers and members of the Polish intelligentsia] at Katyn, nor have the RVIO established when exactly the people whose remains they found were killed.

The Karelian Culture Ministry has asked the RVIO to keep digging. Officials there are convinced that “speculation about events in Sandarmokh […] reinforces in the public’s mind a baseless sense of guilt towards the alleged [Great Terror] victims […] becoming a consolidating factor for anti-government forces in Russia.”

The RVIO did not respond to our request to comment on the claim that the people shot and buried at Sandarmokh were “alleged victims.” They keep digging In early August, the remains of five more people were found.

Memorial has demanded an end to the excavations, fearing the mass graves will be disturbed. Archaeologists have also sounded a warning because the traces of dwelling sites used by prehistoric people have been found at Sandarmokh as well and they could be damaged.

The problem, however, is not that artifacts could get mixed up. The problem is there is no comparison between the maximum possible number of Soviet POWs executed and buried at Sandarmokh, as estimated by the Karelian Culture Ministry, and the confirmed numbers of victims of Stalin’s terror campaign who are buried there: 500 versus over 6,100.

The digs at Sandarmokh are a clumsy attempt by Russian officials to alter the meaning of the memorial site and rewrite the past with shovels. More importantly, officials want to juggle the numbers of victims and thus gaslight the Russian public.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Without Fathers, a video made by Anna Artemieva and Gleb Limansky, and published by Novaya Gazeta on August 7, 2017. The annotation reads, “The orphans of Sandarmokh remember their executed relatives. Historian Yuri Dmitriev did not attend memorial day ceremonies there for the first time in twenty years. He is on trial, charged with ‘manufacturing child pornography.'” 

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Last Address: No. 333

большой пр. пс 70-7270–72 Bolshoi Prospect, Petrograd Side, St. Petersburg (Uteman Tenement House, Dmitry Kryzhanovsky and Alexander Starobovsky, architects, 1912–1913). Photo courtesy of Citywalls.ru

The Last Address team in Petersburg will install its 333rd plaque this coming Sunday, August 18, at 2:00 p.m. The descendants of Anna Alarikovna Bruyak will attach a memorial plaque to the house at 70–72 Bolshoi Prospect, Petrograd Side.

Born Anna Rosa Wilhelmina Tavastscherna in 1861, Bruyak was expelled from Leningrad as a “socially dangerous element” on March 26, 1935, and exiled to Orenburg.

Bruyak died in exile on February 5, 1937. She was exonerated by order of the Presidium of the Leningrad City Court on February 5, 1963.

We invite the public to take part in the ceremony.

Source: Petersburg Last Address electronic mailing list. Translated by the Russian Reader

Last Address: August 3, 2019

черняховского-все таблички

Two Last Address plaques will be installed this Saturday, August 3.

At 12:00 p.m at 43 Sixth Line, Vasilyevsky Island, a plaque commemorating Grigory Gnesin will be installed. Writer, musician, performer, and the youngest son in the renowned Gnesin family of musicians, Grigory Gnesin was shot as a “Latvian spy” on February 4, 1938. He was exonerated in 1956.

At 1:00 p.m., Dmitry Dimitrov’s great-grandson will attach a memorial plaque to the wall at 3 Pionerskaya Ulitsa. Dimitrov was a Slavist, Bulgarian studies specialist, and research fellow at the Institute of Language and Thinking of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Sentenced by a so-called twosome [dvoika] of NKVD officers, he was shot on January 18, 1938. He was exonerated in 1957.

We invite you to attend the installation ceremonies. Please take note that these ceremonies will take place on a Saturday.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Last Address: Yevgeny Barthold

barthold-guideYevgeny Barthold, A Guide to Karelia and the Kola Peninsula (Moscow: OGIZ, 1935)

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
July 20, 2019

Yevgeny Barthold was an artist and traveler. Author of A Guide to Karelia and the Kola Peninsula, Barthold hiked these places up and down on his own feet and drew them with his own hands.

barthold-2

A work by Barthold, currently in the collection of the Murmansk Museum

If you dip into the guide, it is obvious how in love he was with northern landscapes, how he wanted to share their beauty with readers and prepare them for their pitfalls and dangers.

When you read the Guide, published in 1935, and look at the pastels he made in the north in 1936-37, you wonder whether Barthold could have imagined that in 1938 he would travel to his beloved north not as a traveler but as a prisoner of the Oneglag camp, where he would work logging trees and building a narrow-gauge railway, and that in 1942  he would die of “cardiac paralysis.”

barthold-1The Mekhrenga River in Arkhangelsk Region. In 1939, Barthold was transferred to a camp station here.

Barthold’s last address was 75 8th Line, Vasilyevsky Island, Leningrad.

barthold-last address

You can read more about Barthold’s life and death (in Russian) on the Last Address website.

Barthold’s Guide to Karelia and the Kola Peninsula has been digitized and posted online.

Photographs and images courtesy of Jenya Kulakova. Translated by Thomas Campbell

Last Address: Petersburg, June 30, 2019

малмоск 4This Sunday, June 30, we will install Last Address memorial plaques on two more houses in Petersburg.

At 12:00 p.m., a plaque in memory of Alexander Uglov will be hung on the house at 19 Radishchev Street.

An inspector with the forest aviation trust, Mr. Uglov was arrested on March 11, 1939, and shot on July 8, 1938. He was 43 years old. Mr. Uglov was exonerated in 1958.

At 1:00 p.m., a plaque in memory of Lev Beckerman will be attached to the house at 6 Seventh Soviet Street.

A design engineer, Mr. Beckerman was head of the motor group in the design officer at the Voroshilov Tank Factory. He was shot on May 6, 1937, and exonerated in 1957.

The public is invited to join us at the installation ceremonies.

Yours,
The Last Address Team in Petersburg

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

Marta Volkova and Slava Shevelenko: The Transylvania Archive

transylvania archive

Marta Volkova and Slava Shevelenko
The Transylvania Archive: Agent N37 and the Yeti File
Dr. Guislain Museum
Ghent, Belgium
21 June–20 October 2019

Did the Russian secret service for years investigate the Yeti, better known as the Abominable Snowman? Was he found and killed? The Transylvania Archive, a project by the Russian artist duo Marta Volkova and Slava Shevelenko, starts from these questions. Using documents from the KGB archive, yeti body parts, and pieces by the artist and agent N37, they explore the malleability of history. Marta Volkova and Slava Shevelenko play with the notions of original and copy, authenticity and cynicism, art history and political reality.

The Dr. Guislain Museum also presents From the Life of the Beetles, an exhibition on the study of the Tunguska scarabeus, a new kind of bug that can transform into a euro coin.

Last Address: June 16, 2019

la-two plaques-dosto 27Two Last Address plaques at 27 Dostoevsky Street in downtown Petersburg, October 10, 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

This coming Sunday, June 16, at 12 p.m. noon, Last Address will install three new plaques on the residential building at 35 16th Line, Vasilyevsky Island. The plaques commemorate three residents of the house who were shot during the Great Terror.

Mikhail Brandt, the principal of the Moscow District School for Pre-Conscripts, was arrested in 1936 and sentenced to five years of imprisonment for “anti-Soviet propaganda.”

He was serving his sentence in the Solovki prison camp on the Solovetsky Islands when he was taken to Sandarmokh and shot on November 1, 1937. Mr. Brandt was 28 years old.

Viktor Platitsin, the foreman of the steel foundry at the Baltic Shipbuilding Factory, was arrested on August 23, 1937, and shot on January 18, 1938. Mr. Platitsin was 44 years old.

Alexei Aduyevsky, a boatman at the Karakozov Factory, was arrested on March 1, 1938, and shot on April 14, 1938. Mr. Aduyevsky was 35 years old.

Mr. Platitsin and Mr. Aduyevsky were exonerated in the 1950s. Mr. Brandt was exonerated in 1989.

We invite you to take part in the installation ceremony.

Translated by the Russian Reader