This coming Sunday, December 4, new Last Address plaques will be installed in St. Petersburg.
At 12:00 p.m. a plaque in memory of Pavel Markovich Tsesinsky, an accountant at the Red Triangle factory, will be mounted at 47 Bolshoi Prospekt, Petrograd Side. Tsesinsky was arrested on September 21, 1937 and shot less than a month later, on October 15, 1937. His wife Bella and five-year-old son Volodar were exiled to the Arkhangelsk region, where his wife was arrested and died, and his son was sent to an orphanage. Another son, Ernest, who was only six months old, was adopted by relatives. The brothers were reunited only eighteen years later. Pavel Markovich’s eldest son is now ninety years old.
At 1:00 p.m., at 15 Tchaikovsky Street, relatives will install a plaque memorializing Solomon Borisovich Davidson, head of procurement at the Bolshevik factory. He was first arrested in 1935, but released a year later, and the case was dismissed. He was re-arrested on July 26, 1938, and shot on October 8, 1938, on charges of espionage. His wife Elizabeth died in 1942 in the Siege of Leningrad, but their daughters Irina and Mariana were evacuated and were able to return to Leningrad after the war.
Pavel Tselinsky was exonerated in 1957, while Solomon Davidson was exonerated in 1964.
We invite you to join the installation ceremonies.
The Last Address Team in St. Petersburg
Source: Last Address in Petersburg email newsletter, 27 November 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
Sometimes a picture is worth more than a thousand words, as when a whole time and a place is captured in a single snapshot, as in this one taken in Petersburg by the fantastic photographer, anthropologist, photo archivist, and frequent TRR contributor Vadim F. Lurie, who posted it on his Facebook page on 3 June 2015.
On 3 June 2019, I posted this announcement from Last Address in Petersburg: “Next Thursday, June 6, at 12 p.m., a Last Address plaque will be installed at 12th Line, No. 9, on Vasilievsky Island in Petersburg, in memory of Konstantin Andreyevich Poplavsky, who served as a seaman on the battleship Marat and worked at the Bolshevik Factory. A father of two children, he was shot by order of an NKVD troika on 28 October 1938, a few days after his 28th birthday. His great-granddaughter will install the plaque for him.”
But by way of illustrating this announcement I used a snapshot I had taken in 2018 during an inventory of Last Address plaques in my neighborhood to check on their condition. (The inventory was a citywide affair performed by numerous volunteers.) The plaque pictured above memorializes Andrian Nikolayevich Paparigopulo, whose story is told on the Last Address Foundation’s website (and duplicated on the Open List project’s website):
Andrian Nikolayevich Paparigopulo was born in Narva in 1903 to a family of hereditary nobles. His father was a retired major general who died in 1915. Andrian Nikolayevich and his mother presumably moved to Petrograd in the early 1920s. His investigative file in the archives records that in 1922 they traveled to Estonia to sell a dacha located near Narva that belonged to his mother. After the sale, they went back to Petrograd without having their passports checked at the Soviet Consulate in Reval. This was regarded as an illegal border crossing, for which Andrian Nikolayevich was consequently sentenced to three months of forced labor.
After moving to the city on the Neva, Andrian enrolled at the Institute of Technology, but failed to finish his studies. On 23 March 1935, he was arrested, and later, along with his mother Vera Nikolayevna, he was exiled to Kuibyshev for five years as a “family member of a socially dangerous element.” However, a year later, the Special Council of the NKVD canceled the expulsion order, and the family returned to Leningrad.
Andrian got a job at the Krasnyi Rabochii [Red Worker] plant as a planning technician. The Great Terror did not spare him: on 23 May 1937, he was arrested for the third time. For nine months, NKVD officers cooked up a case against him that was based on two interrogations that took place in May and September 1937. During the May interrogation, Paparigopulo denies his involvement in counter-revolutionary and espionage work. The September 28th interrogation begins on the same note. But there soon appears in the interrogation record a reference to the testimony of Georgy Kirillovich Kolychev (whom Andrian Nikolayevich mentions as an artist friend in the 1935 case file): “There is a group of artists bonded by their common counter-revolutionary beliefs who organized their c-r gatherings at Paparigopulo’s apartment.” Later in the record, Andrian Nikolayevich admits his guilt: “I have to admit that Kolychev is telling the truth… Indeed, I have been an active member of the c-r fascist group and its leader since 1933.“
According to the fabricated evidence, the group’s members included Viktor Konstantinovich Lavrovsky, Georgy Kirillovich Kolychev, Ivan Ivanovich Bogdanov, Mikhail Vasilyevich Ivanov, and Terenty Romanovich Romanov.
On 20 February 1938, a military collegium sentenced Paparigopulo to death in a closed court hearing for involvement in a “terrorist organization.” Andrian Nikolayevich did not admit his guilt at the trial, nor did he corroborate the testimony he had given, allegedly, during the preliminary investigation, calling it phony. He was shot on the day of his sentencing. He was thirty-four years old.
The list of items seized from Paparigopulo during the search of his home includes letters and photographs, as well as four tickets to the Hermitage. The confiscated correspondence was destroyed in its entirety on 13 March 1938, after Andrian Nikolayevich’s execution. His wife (whose name, like his mother’s, was Vera Nikolayevna) was sentenced to eight years in correctional labor camps as a “family member of a traitor to the Motherland.” She served her sentence in Karlag.
Andrian Paparigopulo was fully exonerated only twenty years later, in 1958.
If you’re looking for something that binds the Russian people, it is, perhaps, the cult of the dead. I’m coming back now from the cemetery where my grandfather is buried. The number of bright plastic flowers, pots, baskets, and wreaths per square meter there is off the charts. As long as a person is alive, you can torment them, shout obscenities at them, and even get good and drunk and beat them up. But as soon as he or she is gone, a competition breaks out to make the most solemn graveside speeches and sumptuous graves. In a way, this is the underside of human life’s insecurity and lack of value. Death is a stable condition. As my grandfather’s widow told my father, “You can sit on the bench by a grave. The owners are unlikely to object.”
There is also a lot of ground for indulging in superstition. Should the cross on a gravestone be on the left or on the right? Can you visit a cemetery after two in the afternoon? Should a temporary cross be thrown in the trash or should it be burned? Can you drink vodka in remembrance of the dead and leave them sweets? These customs are mostly pagan, partly Soviet, and they are widespread. Nobody wants to die, and superstitions give us firm ground to stand on. They are like rules and magical charms.
And death is a serious business, of course. Less than ten minutes after I arrived, a cemetery employee drove up on a bicycle and offered his services.
Source: Alexei Sergeyev, Facebook, 21 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
In March, the Krasnoyarsk photographer Maria Minina got a phone call from an unknown woman. She did not give her name — she only said that she had suffered two strokes. Minina’s caller asked her to do a “Vogue-style photo shoot,” only the woman needed the pictures for her own tombstone. So Maria began providing a new service — photographing people for their gravestones. Takie Dela talked to the photographer and her clients about how they feel during such shoots and why they do them.
“I’m afraid that every day might be my last” This past winter, Minina dreamed that she died. In her dream, she found out about her death from a work chat in which money was raised for her funeral. The dream made a huge impression on Maria, and she began thinking about what she would leave behind when she was gone. Just then she got a call from her first client who asked to take a picture of her for a future tombstone. She asked her to take the pictures in the Vogue style in which Minina works.
“I came to Masha’s photo shoot after having two strokes,” says Minina’s client Anna R., whose name we have changed at her request. “I wanted to memorialize myself as beautiful in life, I wanted to have glossy-style photos. I’m afraid that every day may be my last, so I’m doing everything to live to the fullest.”
Anna asked Minina to do a photo shoot of her for her gravestone. Firstly, she wanted to have a photo of her ready in case she died. Secondly, she decided to “train [her] psyche.”
“I thought that I would be sad, that I would feel my imminent departure, but Masha did not let me think about death for a second. During the photo shoot, I felt like a model and a woman being photographed on the red carpet. The feelings were quite strange, but I liked them.”
“They will bury me, and everything will be fine” After Anna’s photo shoot, Minina told her subscribers on social media that she could do a similar shoot for anyone else.
“In fact, many relatives of people who have passed away ask this question: where can I find decent photos?” Maria explains. “About four months ago, my uncle’s sister passed away, and relatives could not find good photos of her, although she had lived for over sixty years. That is, there were no high-quality photos of just her.”
Maria wants to use the photo shoots to ease some of the burden experienced by the relatives of deceased people. Relatives who are preparing for a funeral will, at least, not have to look for a suitable picture, she hopes.
One of Maria’s clients is the well-known Krasnoyarsk blogger Rustam Umarov, whose Instagram account has 370,000 subscribers. He has stage four cancer, and the doctors told him that he had six months to live. That was six months ago. The diagnosis and prognoses shocked Rustam. When he got over the shock, he decided to take care of his own funeral to relieve his beloved wife of the hardship of having to organize it.
“I have already made arrangements with a funeral service. So that if something happens to me, my wife doesn’t panic and go into hysterics. So that they call her and say, ‘Anna Igorevna, we will take care of everything. We don’t need anything from you — no money, no worries.’ They will bury me, and everything will be fine,” says Rustam.
Having set about organizing his future funeral, Umarov thought about a photo for his tombstone. He says that when he buried his mother three years ago, he could not find a single good picture of her. Because of his diagnosis, Rustam decided to do a photo shoot.
“I don’t want people to cry at my funeral. I want people to dance and smile at my funeral. I’m not going to the worms in hell, I’m going somewhere that is maybe a million times better, so why worry?” says Rustam. “Everyone has their own time on this earth. I have talked to my children and my wife. They know that I have a terminal illness, that I can die at any moment, and for them, at least, it will not be a shock. Even at the photo shoot, they knew that it was partly being done for my funeral, and partly for my family, for memory’s sake.”
“Each of our days is unique“ Maria herself is certain “there is a calm acceptance of death” in the tombstone photo shoots. But, in her opinion, a person begins to work out their attitude to life’s finiteness even before meeting with the photographer, not during the shoot.
“I always try to make the shoot itself a celebration — no matter what we are getting photographed for. It is a mood-lifting therapy, a means of working out that each of our days is unique. No one in this world is immortal — the wheel of fortune can break, and life can turn abruptly in the other direction,” Minina notes.
According to her, such shoots provide psychological relief to people with incurable diseases. But among Minina’s clients there are also people who are not getting ready to die, but working through psychological problems, for example. This was why Elena D. signed up for a photo shoot with Maria. (Elena’s name has been changed at her request.)
“I asked Maria to do a Vogue magazine-style photo shoot of me for a tombstone,” says the client. “Before that, I had had a nervous breakdown. I decided to let it all hang out. I wouldn’t go to a spa or a club, but to a photo shoot with Masha! By pure chance I came across her advertisement and called her. To be honest, I don’t regret it at all.”
Maria believes that such photo shoots can interest different people for different reasons. According to her, some people really are preparing for death in advance or want to overcome psychological difficulties in this way, while others are trying to shock the people in their lives.
“Perhaps Insta divas will want to look on their tombstones the way they do now. They will want everything to be clear and beautiful. Or some will want to update their content and shock people. A blogger gets their picture taken and tells [subscribers] that it’s going to be on their tombstone, and their account goes viral,” the photographer says.
Maria is also using her new service to work through her own fear of death.
“Gradually, I began to accept that sooner or later we all find ourselves on the other side of life, but we don’t know when and how it will happen. Perhaps I will help people with the service I provide.”
“It can be important and thrillingly reconciling” Psychotherapist Lisa Zaslavskaya deals with subject of dealing with death. The specialist notes that techniques involving photographs can actually be used in psychotherapy. These can be photos from a family archive, self-portraits or just pictures of clients taken by another person. Psychologists use such photos during therapy to treat various conditions. Zaslavskaya notes that taking pictures for a tombstone can be a therapeutic process. It can help people to realize that “death is near, that perhaps it will come soon,” and to live through it.
“It is one of the ways of abiding in the real world. And it can be useful for loved ones. After all, if this issue is talked through, if it is discussed that I am doing a photo shoot for a tombstone, it may be important for relationships — within the family, with loved ones. It can be another occasion to tell each other about your feelings and desires. It can be important and thrillingly reconciling,” the specialist argues.
When a person is photographed for their tombstone, they touch on the various fears evoked by death. Because of this, it can be difficult for others to accept the process.
“It is also important to take into account the modern context. The topic of death is taboo, and if in the past, theoretically, people saw other people dying and died at home, nowadays there are specialized institutions for this and people often die in hospitals, ambulances, or hospices. Even if a person dies at home, they are taken away. They are not left in the home after they die, as used to be the case. So, death scares us, of course. It is tabooed and concealed in everyday life,” the psychotherapist argues.
Zaslavskaya notes that there are different ways of coming to terms with death, and not all of them suit a particular person. In her opinion, the most important thing about the process is a sensitive attitude towards oneself and others.
“We need to somehow measure [how much a person is able to] withstand this confrontation with death,” she argues. “A photo shoot like this is suitable for some people, but not for others — everyone decides for themselves. There is no universal [way of making peace] with death. If it is matters for someone to be remembered in this way, in this style, it is their right.”
Source: Sabina Babayeva, “‘I don’t want people to cry at my funeral’: How Russians order glossy photo shoots for their tombstones,” Takie Dela, 17 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
On Sunday, May 22, four new Last Address plaques will be installed in downtown Petersburg.
At 11 a.m., residents of Zagorodny Prospekt, 24, will install three plaques memorializing people who lived in their house and were shot during the Great Terror.
35-year-old Elizaveta Ivanovna Mullo, an ethnic Finn and at teacher at School No. 16 in Leningrad’s Volodarsky District of Leningrad, was arrested on September 5, 1937. She was shot on November 15, 1937, after being sentenced to death by a “twosome” [an NKVD officer and a prosecutor]. Her three-year-old Albert was left motherless.
Iosif Abramovich Dorner, a 45-year-old Jew, was head of the sales office at the Printing House. He was arrested on November 2, 1937, and shot on May 5, 1938. He was survived by his wife Sarra and four-year-old daughter Larisa.
Yakov Venediktovich Adamchik, a 55-year-old Pole and train conductor, was arrested on January 18, 1938, and shot on April 2, 1938. He was survived by his wife Feodosia and their four children — Olga, Mikhail, Lydia, and Nina.
All three victims were later officially exonerated for lack of evidence of a crime — Yakov Adamchik and Iosif Dorner, in 1957 and 1958, respectively; and Elizaveta Mullo, in 1989.
At 12 noon at Kuznechny Lane, 8, next to the plaque installed in 2016 for Nikolai Ivanovich Konyaev, a memorial plaque for his relative Boris Petrovich Matskevich will be installed. They lived in the same apartment and were arrested on the same day (March 11, 1935) as “socially dangerous elements.” A technician at an enterprise and a former Tsarist army colonel, Boris Petrovich was exiled to Kazakhstan for five years. In 1938, he was arrested in Atbasar and sentenced to death by firing squad. He was exonerated in both cases in 1959 and 1960, respectively. His granddaughter will be installing the plaque in his memory.
We invite you to join the installation ceremonies.
Source: Last Address in Petersburg email newsletter, 17 May 2022. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader
A plaque memorializing Isaak Moiseyevich Mechik will be installed at 3 Dnepropetrovsk Street in St. Petersburg on Sunday, February 13, at 12 p.m. At the time of his arrest, 56-year-old Isaak Mechik worked as the manager of the workers’ dormitory of the Leningrad mirror factory, but during his life he had had many different occupations: he was involved in winemaking, had worked on the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway, had fought in the First World War, and had laid tram rails. He was arrested in October 1937. He was shot on charges of espionage and counter-revolutionary activities in January 1938.
More than twenty years later, my father, after a long effort, had Grandpa’s name rehabilitated “for lack of corpus delicti.” For me the question is, just what was going on back then? For the sake of what, exactly, was that delightfully senseless and amusing life cut off?
We invite you to join the plaque installation ceremony. We ask you to maintain social distancing and wear a mask to avoid exposing yourself and others to the risk of coronavirus infection. Thank you, and be healthy!
Photo courtesy of Fontanka.ru via bessmertnybarak.ru. Source of text: Last Address in St. Petersburg email newsletter, February 6, 2022; translated by the Russian Reader. Source of Dovlatov quotation: Harper’s Magazine, May 1989, p. 26; translated by Anne Frydman.
Ginza Project opens food park with more than 20 corners at Mercury Shopping Mall near Begovaya subway station 🍲🥤 Bumaga
September 26, 2021
Ginza Project restaurant group has launched its first food hall in Petersburg. This week, a food park was opened in the Mercury shopping and entertainment complex near the Begovaya subway station. It is a joint project of Ginza Project and Adamant, according to the restaurant group’s website.
The gastronomic space occupies 3,000 square meters. In addition to restaurant concepts [sic], there is a grocery market and a children’s entertainment center.
There are more than 20 corners with food and drinks in the food park. Among the residents are Koreana Light, Bo and Bao Mochi, Easy Hummus, Pa Pa Power, British Bakeries, Buro and Salad Bar. You can try the French grill at The Vixen Has Come, smoothies at Simple Blend and French baked potatoes at Potato Papa.
In addition, Ginza Project has opened three of its own corners in the food park: I Want Kharcho and Khachapuri, featuring Georgian cuisine; Ginza Small, featuring Japanese food; and Pancake and Dumpling, feature Russian fare.
The food park is located on the third floor of the Mercury Shopping Mall. You can learn more about it on the project’s website and its group page on VKontakte.
The image, above, is a screenshot of Ginza Project’s promo video for Food Park Mercury on VKontakte. All underlined words are in Rusglish or Latin characters in the original. Translated by the Russian Reader
At 12 p.m. on Sunday, October 3, a Last Address plaque in memory of the schoolboy Boris Bumagin, who died in exile, will be installed at 20 English Embankment in Petersburg.
Boris Grigoryevich Bumagin was born in 1935, the son of the Leningrad Communist Party leader Grigory Kharitonovich Bumagin, who led guerrilla forces in the occupied areas of the Leningrad Region during the Second World War. In October 1949, Grigory Kharitonovich was arrested as part of the Leningrad Affair and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Fifteen-year-old eighth-grader Boris Bumagin was arrested on 14 March 1951 as the “son of a convicted member of the G.Kh. Bumagin anti-Soviet wreckers group.” Boris and his sister were exiled for five years to Krasnoyarsk Territory, where their mother was already in exile. In August 1952, Boris tragically drowned in the Taseyeva River. His father, who was in prison, learned about his son’s death a year later in a letter from his wife.
Two years after his death, Boris Bumagin was exonerated for lack of evidence of a crime. His father was released at the same time, in 1954, and exonerated in 1956. A plaque in memory of Grigory Bumagin was installed at 20 English Embankment in 1985. Now a memorial plaque for his son Boris will be installed at the same house. Boris’s great-niece Alina Tukkalo has arranged for the installation.
We invite you to attend the installation ceremony and remind you of the need to practice social distancing and to wear masks when socializing. Stay healthy!
Source: Last Address Petersburg email newsletter, 27 September 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader
Suddenly, I realized that five years ago, when I started doing this, the charges of espionage and terrorist propaganda [made against many victims of the Great Terror] seemed to be the distant past, a clear marker of Stalin’s hysterical spy mania. It seemed, well, unreal, hard to believe. What must have it been like to live in such darkness, huh?
The years have gone by, but, people have asked, does it still seem unreal?
This is Natalia Totskaya, a graduate of an Institute for Noble Maidens. She was a teacher of foreign languages and translator. She corresponded with her sister, who had emigrated.
A plaque bearing her name and four dates — of her birth, arrest, execution and exoneration — will be installed and dedicated tomorrow, Sunday, 3:00 p.m, at 1/2 Solyanka Street, bldg. 1 [in Moscow].
Please come and join us!
Thanks to Marina Bobrik for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader
Until recently, a plaque memorializing the Leningrad artist Vera Ermolaeva, executed in the Gulag during the Great Terror, hung here. Photo: MR7.ru
Last Address Plaque for Artist Vera Ermolaeva Removed in Petersburg
Galina Artemenko MR7.ru
December 8, 2020
The Last Address plaque memorializing artist Vera Ermolaeva has been removed in Petersburg. The news was broken by the Moscow publisher Kirill Zakharov on his social media page after visiting the city.
“[This is] the house on whose first floor Vera Ermolaeva lived. A couple of years ago, a memorial plaque was installed here, but now it has been conveniently removed,” he wrote.
The initiator of the Last Address project, Sergei Parkhomenko, is already aware of the incident and is waiting for information from his colleagues in Petersburg.
“Sometimes it happens that [the plaques] are removed for repairs, then returned. Sometimes it’s different,” he said.
МR7.ruwrote on March 25, 2018, about the installation of a Last Address plaque in memory of Vera Ermolaeva at house no. 13 on the 10th Line of Vasilyevsky Island in Petersburg.
Ermolaeva was arrested on December 25, 1934, as part of the so-called Kirov cohort. As an “anti-Soviet element,” she was sentenced to three years in the camps and sent to Karlag in Kazakhstan. On September 20, 1937, three months before her scheduled release, an NKVD troika sentenced the 43-year-old Ermolaeva to death. She was executed on September 27, 1937 [sic]. She has no grave. We know only the place where the prisoners who died or were murdered in the camp were buried: the village of Dolinka in the Karaganda Region. Ermolaeva had no relatives, so when the 20th Party Congress was held, there was no one who could apply to have her exonerated. She was finally exonerated 1989, due to “lack of evidence of a crime.”
Now you can find everything or almost everything on the internet, including the weather report for December 25, 1934. It was a frosty and clear day in Leningrad— minus 12 degrees centigrade—and the night was cold, too. Ermolaeva’s apartment was probably heated when she left the warm house forever. She lived on the first floor, in apartment number two. She had always lived on ground floors, including at her previous apartment in Baskov Lane, which her father, a landowner and liberal publisher, had bought for her before the revolution. Ermolaeva fell off a horse as a child and could only walk on crutches, so the apartment was purchased because it was next door to her high school and on the first floor. For many years, Ermolaeva lived abroad, studying and getting medical treatment there.
Ermolaeva was a brilliant artist. A member of the Futurist group Bloodless Murder in 1915-16, she was interested in history and graduated from the Archaeological Institute. She was a pioneer of the genre now known as the artist’s book: she designed children’s books as cohesive entities. Her illustrations for the works of Daniil Kharms and Yevgeny Schwartz, and Ivan Krylov’s fables are admired and studied. The famous book written and illustrated by Ermolaeva in 1929—Dogs—has recently been published as a reprint.
The cover of Ermolaeva’s 1929 book Dogs. Courtesy of MR7.ru
Antonina Zainchkovskaya, Ermolaeva’s biographer and the author of a dissertation about her, said during the plaque installation ceremony that it was very important for Russians not to forget about the Last Address plaques. She said that when she was writing her dissertation and studying the relevant NKVD documents, she became psychologically ill. It is impossible to imagine the last three years of Ermolaeva’s life (in the camp, on crutches), nor the last six days, between her verdict and her execution.
Vera Ermolaeva’s Last Address plaque in 2018. Photo: Galina Artemenko/MR7.ru
The person who initiated the installation of the Last Address plaque on the house where Ermolaeva lieved was Ekaterina Yevseyeva, art historian, granddaughter of the collector and Great Terror victim Iosif Rybakov, and wife of the artist Alexei Gostintsev, who was a student of Vladimir Sterligov. Sterligov and Ermolaeva were part of a group of artists pursuing “pictorial and plastic realism.” It was in Ermolaeva’s apartment on Vasilevsky that they met, talked, drank tea, and organized exhibitions. Someone denounced them, and they became part of the Kirov cohort. Sterligov, a student of Malevich, was also arrested, but survived his sentence Karlag and lived until 1975. Gostintsev recalls that it was at the apartment of Sterligov and his wife, the artist Tatyana Glebova, in Peterhof, that he heard from Glebova that Anna Akhmatova had informed her about Ermolaeva’s arrest the very next day.
In mid-October, a property management company decided to remove fifteen Last Address plaques from the wall of a residential building on Rubinstein street. The plaques were found by Petersburg legislator Boris Vishnevsky at the management company’s offices. He was promised that the plaques would be reinstalled after the wall was repaired, but they were not put back in place when the wall was painted.
1989 saw the publication of the well-known art album and anthology of articles An Avant-Garde Stopped on the Run. The book’s dustcover bore the caption “A book about how the artist Vera Ermolaeva went missing on the shores of the Aral Sea, and then the sea disappeared, too.” If Kazakhstan has been currently tackling the problem of restoring the Aral Sea, along with its salty waves, a truth that was hushed for many years has been reemerging in society, albeit little by little, a truth that should be openly accessible in the history of all countries that have gone through dictatorships and are seeking to go forward democratically, a truth, however, that should include the actual story of what happened to Ermolaeva. The truth is often not as intriguing and mysterious as the caption on a book’s dustcover.
Researchers at the Karaganda Regional Fine Arts Museum established in the same year, 1989, that Ermolaeva, a colleague and comrade of Marc Chagall and Kazimir Malevich, co-founder of UNOVIS (Champions of the New Art), and Ginkhuk faculty member, had been shot on September 26, 1937, in a labor camp in the village of Dolinka, the headquarters of the Karlag (Karaganda Corrective Labor Camp). How did Ermolaeva end up in Kazakhstan? Why was she shot?
The Karaganda Corrective Labor Camp was established in the Kazakh steppes. It was the largest camp in the NKVD’s Gulag. It was based on the Giant State Farm, and its mission was rural and industrial development. Large-scale arrests in the Soviet Union and forced deportation of whole peoples to Kazakhstan were underway. To this end, the indigenous Kazakh population was driven from their native lands, which caused a famine in 1932–1933 that killed fifty percent of the Kazakh people. Only camp staff, their families, and inmates—an unpaid labor force—lived in the camp. The first inmates were peasant families, accused of being kulaks in Russia, and clergymen. They built the first barracks and railways. They were followed by political prisoners, people convicted of “counterrevolutionary” crimes.
People were left to live in the Karlag in perpetuity, stripped of their right to move elsewhere, which was tantamount to exile, and it was they who built the first labor settlements in the Karlag. The flow of political prisoners and exiles was so overwhelming that so-called troikas—groups of three officials who decided in lieu of the courts whether prisoners would live or die—were set up nationwide.
The murder of the popular Communist Party leader Sergei Kirov, in 1934, sparked a huge wave of arrests. Artists were caught up in this wave, including Ermolaeva, who hosted exhibitions and gatherings of artists in her flat, a fact noted by the NKVD. Everything about Ermolaeva worked against her: her aristocratic pedigree, her education and free thinking, her trips to Paris and Berlin, and her links to Malevich, who had been arrested twice, jailed a year for “espionage,” and was dying of cancer. By order of the Leningrad NKVD, on December 25, 1934, Ermolaeva was denounced as a purveyor of anti-Soviet propaganda and member of a counterrevolutionary group that had tried to establish illegal communications channels with foreigners. She was charged under Articles 58-10 (“anti-Soviet agitation”) and 58-11 (“organizing anti-Soviet activity”) of the Soviet Criminal Code. Article 58 had a total of fourteen clauses, and the first of these dealt with crimes punishable by death. On March 29, 1935, Ermolaeva was convicted by an NKVD Special Council as a “socially dangerous element.” Although her exact crime was not specified, she was sentenced to three years in a labor camp and dispatched to the Karlag. Her sentence went into effect on March 27, 1935, rather than retroactively on the day she was arrested. She was arrested, convicted, and transported to Dolinka along with Vladimir Sterligov, who later founded a painterly system derived from Suprematism, and several other of Malevich’s disciples.
During interrogations, the NKVD staged one-on-one confrontations between Ermolaeva and Sterligov. When they were sent to Kazakhstan, they were assigned to the same train car. Disabled since childhood and paralyzed in both legs, Ermolaeva walked on crutches. She found the trip to Kazakhstan quite agonizing, especially when the guards ordered the convicts to lie down and get up during stops and when exiting the train in the steppes. Emaciated after his spell in prison, Sterligov would help Ermolaeva get up from the ground, scarcely able to lift the tall, stout, heavy woman.
After arriving in Dolinka in April, Ermolaeva was immediately assigned to work as an artist in the Karlag’s agitprop and cultural education unit. Ermolaeva worked a great deal, designed posters, and showed her work at exhibitions in the camp. Her pieces were even sent to a show in Moscow. In Dolinka, she lived among the exiles at 56 First Street. She was noted for her politeness, discipline, and ability to get things done. She attended political education classes, was generally enthusiastic about everything and interested in everything, and was involved in clubs, amateur art activities, and theatrical productions, which she staged along with Sterligov and fellow avant-gardist Pyotr Sokolov, productions in which other convicts performed. She worked overtime, earning the title of “shock worker,” which meant that more workdays were added to her record and, consequently, were supposed to lead to her early release.
The reasons why Ermolaeva was shot and the circumstances of her final days in the camp have been ascertained. On September 14, 1937, Ermolaeva was issued a release warrant, but on the evening of the same day she was indicted under Criminal Code Articles 58-10 and 58-11. She was interrogated, searched, and accused of associating with four counterrevolutionaries, members of anti-Soviet political parties who were convicts in the camp. She had, allegedly, allowed them to use her apartment for secret meetings and sent illegal letters to other sections of the Karlag. Ermolaeva made a huge mistake by pleading partly guilty to the charges, claiming she was merely acquainted with the convicts in question and had conversed with them only about literature, art, and their families. Although her partial conviction was sufficient, eyewitness testimony was also included in the case against her. Thus, on September 17, 1937, Ermolaeva was indicted along with eight other people.
On September 18, due to a bureaucratic mix-up, Ermolaeva was told her release papers were being drafted, and she would be sent under armed escort to Karabas, where her case file (No. 3744/37) was being processed. On September 20, Ermolaeva successfully applied for release from Dolinka and left for Karabas. The very same day, she was retried in absentia by a NKVD troika and sentenced to death. Meanwhile, her case file did not turn up in Karabas, and her name was not on the lists of convicts scheduled for release. Ermolaeva was held in a remand prison in Karabas until September 25, when she was sent back to Dolinka. Upon arrival, she submitted a written explanation of where she had been the past several days. The next day, September 26, 1937, she was shot.
Ermolaeva was exonerated posthumously, due to a lack of evidence, by the Karaganda Regional Prosecutor on November 21, 1989.
Ermolaeva’s life came to a tragic end during the height of the Great Terror of 1937–1938. During this period, Stalin’s totalitarian regime destroyed the pride of the Soviet people, mainly members of the intelligentsia—scholars, educators, artists, and cultural workers—sparing neither women nor children.
David Lewis’s recent book Russia’s New Authoritarianism: Putin and the Politics of Order takes a new conceptual approach to understanding the nature of the Putinist regime in Russia. The book explores how illiberal ideas have shaped Russia’s political debates and influenced both domestic and foreign policy. It highlights the affinity of many aspects of Russian illiberalism with the ideas of the controversial jurist and Nazi supporter Carl Schmitt, particularly the ideas of sovereignty and exceptionality, which are illustrated in the book by case-studies of Russia’s judicial system and the annexation of Crimea. In foreign policy, the book discusses the importance of spheres of influence in Russia’s worldview, and explores the messianic elements involved in Russian policy in Syria. It concludes with a discussion of how Russia’s authoritarian turn fits within a wider global trend towards illiberal politics and authoritarianism.
David G. Lewis is Associate Professor of International Relations in the Department of Politics at the University of Exeter. Before joining the University of Exeter, David held academic posts in the Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, and worked for the International Crisis Group in Central Asia and in Sri Lanka. He has written extensively on politics and security in Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus, and on different aspects of international relations and peace and conflict studies. His books include The Temptations of Tyranny in Central Asia (Hurst, 2008) and Russia’s New Authoritarianism: Putin and the Politics of Order (Edinburgh University Press, 2020). His recent research has been on the rise of illiberal ideas and authoritarian practices in global politics, particularly in relation to conflict management and peace-making. He is currently (2019-2021) on part-time secondment as an ESRC-AHRC Research Fellow at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.
The Name and the Number of the Dead in Memory Activism in Moscow
Every fortnight, anti-Stalinist activists in Moscow install name plaques on the façades of houses where someone was arrested in the period between 1937 and the early 1950s. On October 29, on the eve of the official day of commemoration of victims of political repressions, thousands of Muscovites participate in the annual name reading ceremony at the Solovetsky stone, a monument to the victims of political repressions, placed outside the Federal Security Services headquarters (previously, NKVD and KGB) on Lubyanka square. Daily, memory activists and volunteers rake through archives and attics in a relentless quest for forgotten names and diaries, and record these names in memory books and catalogues, as well as copy, multiply, digitise and publish them in online archives.
The impetus for my key argument is an ethnographic observation that the memory activists I met in today’s Moscow give primacy to the singular names of each victim over the final total number of people executed during Stalin’s reign. Such activities reflect a familiar but largely unacknowledged and undertheorized propensity to document, catalogue and speak out the names of victims of atrocities, be it a military conflict or acts of political terror. Arranged as an alphabetical or random sequence, the names are guarded against statistical reason, or the “mania for exact numbers” (Merridale 2000:5) of the official national historiography in Russia. Importantly, the lists of names do not differentiate between a victim and an executioner, between an atheist and a devout priest, or between a Russian and a Jew. This way, the names do not contribute to boundary-policing of sovereignties, national mourning, and aspirations to national unity. Instead, the activists simultaneously assign each name a value of singularity and collect the names into infinitely long registers that establish an undifferentiated, nonnumerical kind of totality: a multitude of the living and the dead. I will argue that the practices of collecting and monumentalizing names of the dead afford an understanding of how the relationship to an unwitnessed historical mass murder and its absent subjects is instituted.
The CEES Seminar Series is kindly supported by the Macfie Bequest.
Thanks to Gabriel Levy and CISR for the heads-up. || TRR
On August 9, three new Last Address plaques will be installed in Petersburg.
At 12:00 p.m., relatives will install a plaque in memory of Anatoly Viktorovich Abramson at 77 Chaykovsky Street. Educated as a lawyer, Abramson worked an economic planner. In 1935, as a “socially dangerous element,” he was exiled to Saratov along with his family. He was arrested there in December 1937 and shot on January 6, 1938, after being convicted by an NKVD troika.
At 1:00 p.m., a plaque in memory of Artemy Markovich Markov, a mechanic with the Kirov Railway, will be installed in the courtyard of the house at 44 Ligovsky Prospect. Markov was shot on December 10, 1937, as a member of an alleged “Polish counter-revolutionary sabotage group” of railway workers. The grandson of one of the men shot as part of the case has been installing memorial plaques for all of his grandfather’s co-defendants.
At 2:00 p.m., a plaque in memory of Iosif Kazimorovich Kazanovsky will be installed at 1 Dzhambul Lane. A 38-year-old technician at the Plastics Factory, he was arrested on September 16, 1937, and shot on September 28, 1937, along with classmates from the Polish High School. The plaque is being installed at the behest of the son of one of the executed men.
All three men were exonerated in the 1950s.
We invite you to join us for the installation ceremonies, while asking you to assess the risks and observe safety measures in connection with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (such as wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance).
Courtesy of the Last Address Petersburg mailing list. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader
This Sunday, December 8, 2019, three new Last Address plaques will be installed in Petersburg.
At 12:00 p.m, a plaque in memory of Nikolai Fabianovich Pavlovsky will be mounted on the house at 6 Kirochnaya Street. An ethnic Pole and driver for the Leningrad Fur Procurement Organization (Lenzagotpushniny), Pavlovsky was executed on October 7, 1937, the same day as his brother Pyotr, who has already been memorialized with a plaque on the same house.
At 1:00 p.m., a plaque in memory of Vladislav Stanislavovich Voronovich will be attached to the house at 147 Nevsky Prospect. Before his arrest, Voronovich worked as head of the thermoelectrical block at the Bolshevik Factory. Voronovich was shot on September 28, 1937.
At 2:00 p.m., a plaque in memory of Anton Filippovich Gribovsky, foreman of the conductors on the Polar Star train, will be installed on the house at 72 Ligovsky Prospect. Gribovsky was shot on November 15, 1937.
All three men were exonerated in 1957–1958.
The installation of all three plaques was initiated not by relatives of the executed men, but by people who cherish their memory. The first plaque will thus be installed by a friend of the family, while the second two will be attached by the descendants of people who were part of the same criminal case as the executed men.
We invite you to join us for the installation ceremonies.
Courtesy of the Last Address Petersburg mailing list. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader