Someone Else’s War

75

What’s wrong with this sentence?

“The 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s World War II triumph is usually marked with jubilant crowds and a parade showing off the full force of Russia’s military might.”

Nothing’s wrong with that sentence. I’d like to blame the Putin regime, which has cynically colonized and misappropriated the “triumph” and tragedy of hundreds of millions of people in the former Soviet Union for its own dubious ends, for confusing the foreign press about the various meanings of Victory Day for the 144,499,999 Russians not named Vladimir V. Putin, but a recent painful conversation with a relative about the war persuaded me once again that western society mostly wants to be confused and ignorant about it, too.

I am not sure what the caption writer at the Washington Post meant by “jubilant crowds.” I lived almost half my life in Russia and saw no such crowds anywhere on Victory Day. What I did see a lot of was people for whom the war continues to mean something that it almost never meant for the parts of the world that emerged from the war triumphant, ascendant, and more prosperous than when they entered it, and were thus able to shrug off “horrors” most of their inhabitants never witnessed.

It is still very much a matter of debate in Russia, however, what it means to remember a war that ended seventy-years ago, that is, before most people in Russia were born, including its president, and how it should be remembered. In the Soviet Union, no family was untouched by the war, so everyone has a “war story” of some kind, if only the stories told to them by parents and grandparents.

This past weekend, one of my favorite purveyors of humanistic, grassroots journalism, Takie Dela, asked its employees (most of whom are in their twenties and thirties) to share some of these family stories of the war and its aftermath, along with photographs from their family archives. The first such story, “Someone Else’s Wife,” which I have translated, below, was told by Alyona Khoperskova.

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Someone Else’s Wife

The war had started six months earlier, and the death notices were delivered almost simultaneously to Nastya, my great-grandmother, and her girlfriends. The young women, almost girls by today’s standards, clung to each other and howled.

Nastya had two daughters, Alya and Lilya, the oldest of whom had not yet turned three years old. The oldest—Alya, Alenka (short for Albina)—is my grandmother.

Great-Grandmother Nastya at 18, before the war and marriage. Photo from family archive. Courtesy of Takie Dela

Grandmother Albina was two years old when her own father left for the front. She has only one memory of him. Her father had come home tired, washed his hands, and took her on his lap. At first she was embarrassed and scared, but then she grew bolder and reached into his soup plate with her little hands to fish out the fried onions that she adored.

“And he was terribly squeamish!” her mother would later tell my grandmother. “I was frozen, but he was laughing and kissing your hands. How he loved you! It was just something how he doted on you, Alya.”

It was written in that death notice that Nikolai Gorbunov had “died a hero’s death.” He had always put himself in harm’s way. He had always wanted to be first, doing everything conscientiously and thoroughly. Like my grandmother, he was a towhead in childhood, but he had black hair as an adult. My grandmother would learn all this later, after she grew up.

Throughout her childhood she considered another man her father.

Then there were only widows and children left in their large, four-family house. They began living like a single family, and that was how they lasted until the victory in May 1945.

“We four girlfriends,” recalls Grandmother, “had been sitting on the bench from morning like chicks, dressed only in our swimming trunks, looking to see whether Dad would come by. It was raining, but we still sat there, not wanting to leave.”

The soldiers walked by in groups, and only one lagged behind.

“I saw him, jumped off and ran to him, shouting, ‘Dad, Dad!’ I don’t know why— I just saw him and flew. He picked me up, hugged me, and carried me. I still remember how his heart was pounding.”

Grandpa (right) with a war buddy. They each believed the other had been killed and were reunited only fourteen years after the war. Photo from family archive. Courtesy of Takie Dela

My grandmother no longer remembers how her mother reacted when a strange man brought her child to her in his arms. And, of course, she doesn’t know how Nastya felt asshe carried her daughter away screaming and crying, “But it’s Papa. Papa has returned.” She only remembers that the soldier came to that bench every day afterwards to talk, treat her to candy, and read to her aloud.

Vasily was his name, and he stayed in Siberia: his entire family in Ukraine had been murdered by the fascists. He worked at the military garrison with Nastya and must have noticed her: she was strikingly beautiful, as I remember from the photos that my grandmother showed me as a child.

“He liked her very much, but he thought that he was not worthy of her,” my grandmother says. “Everyone knew that she was a widow, that officers of higher rank were ready to marry her. But since we children were attached to him, what could she do?”

All her childhood, my grandmother believed that Vasily was, in fact, her beloved father, who had recognized her on that dusty road. The fact that he was not her real father, she learned only at school. When a schoolteacher was giving her a dressing down, she wounded her by saying, “You are a stranger to him!”

“I don’t even know if I was as happy with my own father as I was with him,” my grandmother says slowly and quietly when I ask her to tell me about Vasily. “He doted on Lily and me: all year long he wore a simple soldier’s uniform, but we girls were dressed, shod, and did well at school. When my mother would chew us out, he always stood up for us: ‘But Nastya, they are just children! When they grow up, they will understand everything.’ He was an extraordinarily soulful man. A man who gave us a second life.”

I’ve heard this story of how my grandmother brought home the soldier who became her father and the best grandfather in the world for my dad hundreds of times since I was a child. But I never thought about what I’m asking now: “Did your mother love him?”

Great-Grandmother Nastya with her eldest daughter Albina. Photo from family archive. Courtesy of Takie Dela

My grandmother is silent for a long time, and I can hear over the phone how she gasps before answering.

“Mom would joke, ‘If Albina chose Vasily, what could we do?’ To be honest, I think Mom just accepted it. Because of how much he loved us children and took care of us. I think we were very lucky.”

This was in Reshoty, a small village in Krasnoyarsk Territory. All my childhood, my grandmother told me there was a military garrison here. She often recalled the chess set and the wardrobe given her to her mother by the prisoners, who, according to my grandmother, were wonderful, intelligent people and scientists. Now Wikipedia tells me that there was an NKVD prison camp in Reshoty, where “political” prisoners were sent, among others.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Last Address: December 8, 2019

черняховского-все таблички

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

Svetlana Bulatova: The Levashovo Barrens

The Barrens of Memory: Place of Burial Unknown
Svetlana Bulatova
Republic
October 30, 2019

The Levashovo Barrens is one of the largest cemeteries in Petersburg. It is the burial place of men and women who died or were killed in Leningrad’s prisons between  1937 and 1954. According to the Petersburg office of the FSB, 19,450 people were buried in the Levashovo Barrens. Their names are unknown, and there are no lists of the people buried there.

Until 1989, the cemetery was a secret site of the Soviet KGB. It was in 1989 that relatives and friends of people killed during the Great Terror began spontaneously beautifying the place by installing memorial plaques and symbolic tombstones. Many of the photographs were nailed right to the trees and have thus been covered by resin over the years, while others have faded in the sun.

Using the inscriptions still preserved on some of the photographs, I found the names of the people depicted in them in the Open List, the largest database of victims of political repression in the USSR. The Open List was compiled by International Memorial.

bulatova-1Name unknown. The need to combat “enemies of the people” was based on the notion that, as the class struggle intensified, new “class enemies” emerged, including so-called counter-revolutionaries, wreckers, spies, and saboteurs. They were punished under Article 58 of the RSFSR Criminal Code. The term “enemy of the people” was not only a cliché of political rhetoric but was also used in official documents.

bulatova-2Karl Davidovich Ozol, died at the age of 42. Born in Wenden (Cēsis) in Livonia Province, Ozol was an ethnic Latvian and a non-member of the Communist Party. He worked as a fireman at the heat and power station in Pskov, where he lived. He was arrested on December 25, 1937. On January 12, 1938, Ozol was found guilty of violating Articles 17.58.8 and 58.6-9, 10-11 of the RSFSR Criminal Code by an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced to death. He was executed in Leningrad on January 18, 1938. His wife, Minna Yakovlevna, and their daughter were expelled from Pskov. His place of burial is unknown. Ozol was exonerated by the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court on September 29, 1956.

bulatova-3Names unknown

bulatova-4Anna Alexandrovna Kolupayeva, died at the age of 33. An ethnic Russian, she was born and lived in Petersburg, and was a member of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) from 1929 to 1937. She worked as an accountant for Eksportles (All-Union Association for Timber Exports). Her home address was 19 Borovaya Street, Apartment 30, Leningrad. Kolupayeva was arrested on September 28, 1937. On December 2, 1937, she was found guilty of violating Article 58.6 of the RSFSR Criminal Code by an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced to death. Kolupayeva was executed in Leningrad on December 8, 1937. Her place of burial is unknown.

bulatova-5Veniamin Ilyich Baraden, died at the age of 46. An ethnic Russian born in Petersburg, he was a non-Party member. He worked as a legal consultant at the Ilyich Plant, and resided at 18 Skorokhodov Street (Bolshaya Monetnaya Street), Apartment 16. Baraden was arrested on October 26, 1937. On November 25, 1937, a special troika of the Leningrad Regional Directorate of the NKVD found him guilty of violating Article 58.10 of the RSFSR Criminal Code and sentenced him to death. Baraden was executed in Leningrad on December 3, 1937. His place of burial is unknown.

bulatova-6Nikolai Mikhailovich Makarov, died at the age of 44. Born in the village of Ivakino in the Rostov District of Yaroslavl Province, he was an ethnic Russian, a member of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), and secretary of the Party committee at the Institute of the Arctic. He resided at 44 Krasnaya Street (Galernaya Street), Apartment 46, in Leningrad. He was arrested on July 16, 1937, on charges of espionage. On January 10, 1938, an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office found him guilty of violating Article 58.6 of the RSFSR Criminal Code and sentenced him to death. Makarov was executed in Leningrad on January 15, 1938. His place of burial is unknown.

bulatova-7Name unknown

bulatova-8Name unknown

bulatova-9Name unknown

bulatova-10Herbert Karlovich Hesse, died at the age of 40. A native and resident of Petersburg, Hesse was an ethnic German who received his higher education at Tomsk University. In 1919, while still a university student, he was drafted into the army of Admiral Alexander Kolchak. He had a non-combat position in an artillery brigade in Tomsk. After returning to Leningrad, he resided at 9 Serpukhovskaya Street, Apartment 2. He worked as an electrical engineer at the Elektrosila Plant and an assistant at the Сommunications Research Institute. In March 1935, Hesse was expelled from Leningrad as a former White Army officer. Arrested on February 25, 1938, he was found guilty of violating Article 58.6-11 of the RSFSR Criminal Code by an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced to death. Hesse was executed in Leningrad on June 28, 1938. His place of burial is unknown. Hesse’s brother Friedrich was executed on September 6, 1938.

bulatova-11August Ernestovich Egleskaln, died at the age of 34. Born in the Berezovo Rural Society (Atheist Collective Farm), Valdai District, Novgorod Province, Egleskaln was an ethnic Latvian who was expelled from the Bolshevik Party in 1935. He worked as head of the cable recovery united of the 2nd Communications Regiment of the Leningrad Military District. Arrested on November 5, 1937, Egleskaln was found guilty of violating Article 58.6 of the RSFSR Criminal Code by an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced to death. He was executed in Leningrad on January 5, 1938. His place of burial is unknown. Egleskaln was exonerated in 1957.

Today, October 30, is the Day of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression in Russia. See the Ioffe Foundation’s website Map of Memory: Levashovo Barrens (in Russian) for more detailed information on the Levashovo Cemetery. See also my posts on the Last Address project. Translated by the Russian Reader

Spooky Knowledge and the Russian Police State

gabyshevOpposition shaman Alexander Gabyshev was detained while walking to Moscow to exorcise Vladimir Putin. Photo courtesy of yakutia.info

Superstitious Democracy
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
September 20, 2019

The arrest and possible criminal prosecution of self-declared shaman Alexander Gabyshev, who was en route to Moscow to exorcise Vladimir Putin, whom the shaman had dubbed a demon, is less a consequence of Gabyshev’s involvement in protest rallies and more the outcome of a serious attitude toward superstitions and occult practices on the part of high government officials and the security forces.

On Thursday, Gabyshev’s traveling companions reported that security services officers, armed with machine guns and billy clubs, had raided their tent camp on the border between Buryatia and Irkutsk region, where the shaman was spending the night. The siloviki detained Gabyshev and spirited him away on a police bus that took off towards Ulan-Ude.

In the afternoon, the Buryatia Interior Ministry reported, without naming a name [sic], that Gabyshev had been detained by order of a police investigator on suspicion of his having committed a crime in Yakutia, and he would be extradited to Yakutsk. According to sources cited by news agencies and TV Rain, Gabyshev could be charged with extremism.

Gabyshev’s trek to Moscow had already been marred by the arrest of his traveling companions, which partly sparked the unrest in Ulan-Ude that led to a protest rally at which protesters demanded a recount of the recent mayoral election in the city and generated a tactical alliance between shamanists and the Communists.

In our age of smartphones and supercomputers, the attempt to exorcise demons from the Kremlin seems like a joke, just like the possible charge of extremism against Gabyshev: it transpires that occult rituals are regarded as real threats to the Russian state.

We should not be surprised by this, however. Many of our fellow Russians have lost faith in the rational foundations of the world order and the state system. The paucity of scientific explanations in Russian society has been compensated by superstitions and conspiracy theories, which are broadcast by national TV channels, among others.

But that is only half the problem. Such explanations of reality and occult methods are widespread among the highest ranks of the security services, that is, among people who have the ear of the country’s leaders. Cheka officers were intensely interested in occultism in the 1920s and 1930s, an interest shared, later, by the NKVD and the Nazi secret services.

In post-Soviet Russia, arcane practices were promoted by the late General Georgy Rogozin, who served as deputy chief of the president’s security service.

“There are powerful techniques that reveal psychotronics. This is the science of controlling the brain. […] In order to see the trajectory of a person’s life, their ups and downs, it is enough to know when they were born,” Rogozin told Komsomolskaya Pravda in an interview.

In December 2006, General Boris Ratnikov of the Federal Protective Service (FSO) told Rossiiskaya Gazeta that the secret services had tapped into the subconscious of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and detected a “pathological hatred of Slavs” and dreams of controlling Russia. In 2015, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev reproduced this as Albright’s “statement” that Siberia and the Far East did not belong to Russia.

We can only guess what threats the current security forces were able to “scan” (concoct, that is) in Gabyshev’s subconscious.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Death to Traitors!

536635Visitors to the Dnieper Line Military History Festival in Shipunovo, Altai Territory, interacting with a “German soldier,” August 24, 2019. Photo courtesy of Altapress

“Traitor to the Motherland” Mock-Executed at Military History Festival in Altai Territory
News.ru.com
August 26, 2019

On August 24, the Dnieper Line Military History Festival was held in the village of Shipunovo in the Altai Territory. Its main event was a reconstruction of the Battle of the Dnieper in 1943. Clubs from the Altai Territory, Berdsk, Krasnoyarsk,  Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tomsk, and Tyumen took part in the reenactment.

One hundred thirty people took part in the staged battle, thirty of them playing German soldiers. According to the scenario, a group of German invaders was burning part of a Ukrainian farmstead that had been helping pro-Soviet guerrillas right when a detachment of Red Army soldiers arrived at the farm.

Festivalgoers were also treated to a mock “execution of a traitor to the Motherland.” His sentence was read aloud by a “Red Army officer” on stage and carried out, despite promises by the “traitor” to redeem himself and his pleas not to shoot “one of your own.”

The military history festival in Shipunovo was held for the second time. Organizers estimated 9,000 people attended the event, writes Altapress.

Festivalgoers enjoyed an exhibition of vintage military equipment as well as musical performances and reenactments. Altapress noted visitors were especially keen to have their pictures taken with the reenactors dressed in Wehrmacht uniforms and asked them to say something in German.

In May, Novaya Gazeta wrote that 157,593 people were sentenced to death by Soviet military tribunals and executed during the Second World war. This number is the equivalent of approximately fifteen Red Army divisions, but it does not take into account people executed on the orders of regular courts and the NKVD’s Special Councils, as well as extrajudicial executions by SMERSH.

Among the “traitors to the Motherland” who were executed, according to Novaya Gazeta, were Red Army servicemen who spoke approvingly to their comrades of the German Messerschmitt fighter plane, gossiped about news that had arrived from nearby battalions or picked up German propaganda leaflets and put them in their pockets to use latter as rolling paper for homemade cigarettes.

During the Second World War, British military tribunals sentenced 40 British servicemen to death, while the French executed 102 of their soldiers, and the Americans, 146, added Novaya Gazeta. Between September 1, 1939, and September 1, 1944, 7,810 people were executed on the orders of German military tribunals.

In December 2018, after an air-rifle shooting competition, schoolchildren in Yekaterinburg were given the chance to shoot at a photograph of retired US Army General Robert Scales, whom the event’s organizers had identified as an “enemy of the Russian people.”*

A few months earlier, Russian National Guardsmen and members of the Cossack Watch movement held a “patriot” quest outside of Yekaterinburg. One part of the event was a reenactment of the September 2004 Beslan school siege.  Cossack Watch later claimed  it had actually been a “staged special forces operation to free hostages,” and that “idle, unscrupulous people on the internet” had dubbed it a staging of the Beslan tragedy.

* “On 10 March 2015, Robert Scales told in an interview with Lou Dobbs Tonight at Fox News about the War in Donbass: ‘The only way the United States can have any effect in this region and turn the tide is to start killing Russians—killing so many Russians that even Putin’s media can’t hide the fact that Russians are returning to the motherland in body bags”. The Moscow Times wrote that the context of his statement suggested that his words were rhetoric, rather than a call to arms. [] On 12 March 2015, Investigative Committee of Russia launched a criminal case, describing Scales’ words as a call to the U.S. political and military leadership and the American citizens to ‘conduct military operations on the Ukrainian territory and to kill Russian citizens, as well as Russian-speaking people.’ The case was launched under the article of Russia’s Criminal Code that prohibits ‘public calls to unleash an aggressive warfare, made with the use of media outlets.’ If arrested and convicted by a Russian court, Scales could theoretically be faced up to five years in prison.”

Source: Wikipedia. I hope I do not need to point out to readers that the slightly off-kilter language of this passage suggests strongly who might have written it. TRR

Thanks to Jukka Mallinen for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Last Address in Petersburg: January 13, 2019

нев 111полтав 3-3.jpgA Last Address memorial plaque near the corner of Poltava Street and Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg, October 11, 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

This coming Sunday, January 13, 2019, Last Address in Petersburg and relatives of three men executed during the Great Terror will install memorial plaques on the Petrograd Side and Vasilyevsky Island.

At 12 p.m., a plaque will be hung at Kronverskaya Street 29/37 in memory of Andrei Aro. Aro taught at the Communist University of Ethnic Minorities of the West until 1937. When he was arrested in April 1938, he was working as a welder in the workshop of the district housing management company. He was sentenced to death by a so-called Dvoika [a commission of the NKVD and Soviet Prosecutor’s Office] and shot on August 3, 1938. He was 48 years old.

At 12:45 p.m., a third plaque will be installed on Building 7, Kamennoostrovsky Prospect 64. Until his arrest on July 22, 1937, it was the home of Shahno Krasilshchik, a dispatcher at Furniture Factory No. 162, located nearby. Krasilshchik was shot on November 24, 1937. 719 people were executed in Leningrad that day.

At 1:30 p..m., a plaque will be erected at Bolshoi Prospect 72 in memory of Boleslav Misnik, a design engineer who worked for fourteen years at the Baltic Plant. He was shot on October 6, 1937. His wife was exiled from Leningrad, while his son and daughter were left in the care of their grandfather.

A Finn, a Belarusian Jew, and Pole: all three men were shot after they had been sentenced by an extrajudicial authority, a joint commission of the NKVD and Soviet Prosecutor’s Office.  Victims of the Great Terror’s ethnic purges [“national operations”], they were subsequently rehabilitated.

UPDATE (January 8, 2019). In order to accommodate the number of relatives wishing to attend, the installation of the plaque commemorating Boleslav Misnik has been postponed to a later date TBA.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Mercy

clean

I’m really surprised by people who think it’s an important development that Lev Ponomaryov, the veteran Russian human rights activist who was sentenced to 25 days in jail the other day for, essentially, no particular reason, had his sentence reduced to 16 days in jail.

This is not a meaningful distinction. He shouldn’t have been detained, hauled into a kangaroo court, and jailed in the first place.

Don’t let the Putinist vampires fool you with their little acts of “mercy.” They don’t mean well—ever. And if push comes to shove, God forbid, the judges amongst them will hand out death sentence after death sentence just like in the 1930s. And the FSB will carry out the executions as happily as their esteemed predecessors in the NKVD did in the 1930s.

It’s hard for any society to learn anything from its past and arrange things in the present so the past doesn’t repeat itself, so to speak, but Russian society has every chance of showing us, in the very near future, that it has learned nothing from its past.

The Putin regime has spent the last twenty years doing absolutely nothing but priming the populace for a wholesale bloodbath against the Motherland’s numerous enemies. Let’s keep hoping it has just been “kidding” all this time. {TRR}

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Mikola Dziadok: When You Are Scared, It Is Better to Remain Silent

vera zasulich street, 46-permVera Zasulich Street, 46, in Perm, hardly seems a fitting monument to the fearless Russian revolutionary, but the street is, apparently, the only Vera Zasulich Street in Russia. Photo courtesy of perm.vsedomarossii.ru

Mikola Dziadok
Facebook
November 3, 2018

When You Are Scared, It Is Better to Remain Silent

Ever since the events in Arkhangelsk, I have been waiting for the decent Russian media to publish a sensible portrait-cum-analysis of the new would-be member of the People’s Will, Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who blew himself up at the local FSB office. My wait is over. Novaya Gazeta has published an article about him. It is a vile, shameful article, which I might have expected from anyone else, but not from Novaya Gazeta. Every quotation you can pull from the article, not to mention the conclusion, is a specimen of feeblemindeness compounded by fear.

“Unfortunately, now many people could come to regard [Zhlobitsky] as an icon, a martyr, a hero.”

That “unfortunately” tipped me off to the fact that nothing good lay ahead.

“Perovskaya and Zasulich: their forgotten names still grace street signs marking alleys.* Strictly speaking, nearly every municipality [in Russia] is thus guilty of excusing terrorism. Their ‘heroic deeds’ have never been duly judged. So, they have returned: a second-year student at a vocational college assembles a bomb at home in the evenings from available materials.”

Thanks to Sophia Perovskaya, Vera Zasulich, and people like them, people whom Novaya Gazeta‘s reporter [Tatyana Britskaya] considers reprehensible, Russia overthrew the tsarist autocracy, a realm in which the reporter’s great-grandfathers were whipped for not doffing their hats in the presence of their masters and were dispatched as cannon fodder to distant lands for the Empire’s glory. That was only a small fraction of the woes visited upon the heads of the common folk. The reporter, however, is still sad that streets are named after these heroines and heroes, and she brackets their heroic deeds in quotation marks.

“However, the three Arkhangelsk Chekists [sic] wounded by shrapnel were unlikely to be directly involved in the torture about which Mikhail Zh. wrote [in his farewell message on Telegram].”

This is really a masterpiece. According to the reporter, only a tiny group of FSB officers, a group that exists only in her head, has been involved in torture. All other FSB officers wear white gloves, compose poems, dance at balls, and have preventive discussions with schoolchildren, urging them not to become “extremists.” They also catch drug barons and ISIS fighters, interrogating them solely by looking at them sternly. Apparently, the reporter has forgotten about “repeat interrogations using an electrical memory aid” and the complaints by cops (!) accused of corruption that they were tortured by FSB officers.  The reporter must think that Zhlobitsky should have first approached [the three FSB officers he wounded] and asked them, “Do you torture people by any chance? No? Well, okay, then, I’ll go blow up somebody else.”

“Apparently, we never were able to assess or correct mistakes, and now history is taking us back for another go-round. This is facilitated quite readily by the fact that adults notice unhappy, confused children only when the latter perish while activating homemade infernal machines.”

What mistakes is she talking about? She is not condemning the butchers of the NKVD or the enslavement of entire nations, first by Imperial Russia, then by the Soviet empire. No, the “mistakes” were the members of the nobility who were among the organizers of the People’s Will and the members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, people who died martyrs’ deaths to liberate their own people from bondage.

Because reading it only provokes disgust, there is not pointing in parsing this libel any further. I would only note that the reporter is Novaya Gazeta‘s [Arctic Circle] correspondent, meaning she is a local reporter. This, apparently, is the reason for her condescending, judgmental tone and her attempt to turn a hero into a “confused child.” If you write too bluntly, you have unexploded FSB officers to deal with, as well as their colleagues and relatives. But she has keep working and get comments from the security service when she needs them. So, she will continuing putting a good face on a bad game, denouncing “violence of any kind.” My ass.

It is true what they say: scratch a Russian liberal and, deep down, you will find a statist and conservative. You want to live in a just society, but you think it can be achieved by pickets and petitions. You want the regime to respect you, but you condemn people who force it to respect them. You want freedom, but you are afraid to take it. You condemn the bravest people, thus projecting an image of victims, not fighters. In today’s stinking Russia, ninety-nine percent of you will end up hightailing it abroad. But not everyone has the opportunity, you know?

So, if you are scared, it is better to remain silent than to yap encouragingly at the butchers, who, for a change, suffered for their crimes.

I would like to emphasize I do not consider individual insurgency an acceptable or proper means of political militancy, nor would I advise anyone to engage in it. I believe everyone has the right to live, even a fucking FSB officer. But not everyone can adhere to the same beliefs I do while living amidst a terrorist dictatorship. I understand such people perfectly well, too.

* Translator’s Note. While there are a couple of dozen Sophia Perovskaya Streets extant in post-Soviet Russia, there seems to be only one Vera Zasulich Street—in Perm.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Special thanks to Mikola Dziadok for his kind permission to translate and publish his comments on this website.

Last Address: Vladimir Nagly

DSCN1867Here lived Vladimir Naumovich Nagly, theater director. Born 1903. Arrested 21 October 1938. Died 6 October 1940 in a prison camp in Kolyma. Exonerated in 1956.” Last Address memorial plaque at 38 Kolomenskaya Street in Petersburg’s Central District. Photo by the Russian Reader

Last Address
26 February 2016

House No. 38 on Kolomenskaya Street in St. Petersburg was erected in 1880 during the heyday of historicism in architecture. The building’s architect, Alexander Ivanov, was inspired by the French and Italian Renaissance.

The Tver Charitable Society was housed in the building in the early twentieth century. It provided social support and financial assistance to needy people from Tver who lived in St. Petersburg.

Vladimir Naumovich Nagly lived in the building in the 1930s.

Vladimir Nagly was born in 1903 in Petersburg to the family of a watchmaker. He was a supporter of the October Revolution, joining the the Red Army in 1919, and the Bolshevik Party in 1921. However, he devoted all of his short life to the theater.

In his indictment, dated 26 July 1939, Vladimir Nagly, former director of the Theater of Comedy and Satire (1930–1933), former director of the First Five-Year Plan Park of Culture and Rest (summer 1931), former director of the Central Park of Culture and Rest (summer 1932), former director of the Philarmonic (1932), former deputy director of the Pushkin Academic Drama Theater (1933–1936), former deputy director of Lenfilm Studios (1936–1938) and, at the time of his arrest on 20 October 1938, director of the Theater of Drama and Comedy (now the Theater on Liteiny), was identified as a “guerillla” in a group that was, allegedly, planning to murder Andrei Zhdanov, who at the time was First Secretary of the Leningrad Regional Party Committee and the Municipal Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks).

“It was agreed to invite ZHDANOV to view the pictures during the October Days. This time SMIRNOV [director of Lenfilm] had positioned the guerillas in advance: NAGLY was in a narrow corridor that lead from Smirnov’s office to the screening room. […] The plan was that, after the shooting, the lights would be shut off, panic would ensue in the dark, and [the conspirators] would escape.”

The main point in the indictments ends with praise for the NKVD officers who prevented the “terrorist attack.”

“Turning off the lights after the shooting was envisaged [in all the alleged plans to murder Zhdanov]. On this occasion, however, NKVD officers set up heightened surveillance […] and NAGLY was asked to withdraw from the positions they had taken up. When ZHDANOV arrived at the factory [i.e., Lenfilm] for the film screening, he went through the main entrance. NKVD officers had been positioned from there to the screening room. So, in this case [the conspirators] were unable to commit the heinous deed.”

Vladimir Nagly, who was thirty-six years old, was sentenced to eight years in the camps for involvement in a “right-wing counterrevolutionary Trotskyist-Zinovievist organization.” Although he suffered from a stomach ulcer and had undergone a ten-month-long investigation, prison doctors concluded he was fit for manual labor and the long, gruelling transport to the camps. In his memoirs, Georgy Zzhonov, who would go on to become a famous actor of screen and stage, accidentally recognized Nagly during his own transport to the camps in Kolyma. He described Nagly as “unhealthy.”

Nagly’s death certificate, dated 6 October 1940, and drawn up by officials at the Sevvostlag, listed the cause of death: “He froze to death on the way [to the camp]. There are no other indications.”

The regime admitted the case was a complete frame-up only in 1956, when Nagly was posthumously exonerated.

Vladimir Nagly’s son Mikhail (1926–2012), who was himself a well-known theater director, recalled that, before his father was arrested, the actors Nikolay Cherkasov, Vasili Merkuryev, Yuri Lavrov, and Yekaterina Karchagina-Alexandrovskaya were frequent guests in their spacious flat, and that his father had taken him to a see a rehearsal by the world-famous avant-garde theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold. The family avoided talking about Vladimir Nagly’s plight, and his relatives only recently learned the circumstances of his criminal case and his death.

A plaque in memory of Vladimir Nagly was mounted on the building at 38 Kolomenskaya Street on 28 February 2016.

Thanks to Jenya Kulakova of Last Address for the information about Vladimir Nagly. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Historical Amnesia in Chelyabinsk

AKG1423992Exhumation of a mass grave in the area of Pit No. 5 aka Zolotaya Gorka (Golden Hill), which was supposed to be transformed into a memorial cemetery for victims of Stalinism in the 1930s. The mass graves are located in Shershni, a suburb of Chelyabinsk. The photo was taken in 1990. Courtesy of the Elizaveta Becker Collection, Gulag Museum, International Memorial Society

The Security Services Don’t Like Plaques: Chelyabinsk Officials Say Plaque Commemorating Executions Would Discredit Police
Yulia Garipova
Kommersant
August 31, 2018

Chelyabinsk city hall has refused to assist community activists who have been trying to mount a plaque, commemorating the victims of political terror, on the walls of the city’s Interior Ministry [i.e., police] building. The site used to be the home of a building in which executions were carried out in the 1930s. According to officials, the inscription on the plaque could cause people to have “unwarranted associations about the work of the police” and undermine its authority in the eyes of the populace.

In 1932, a building was erected from the bricks of the demolished Christ’s Nativity Cathedral on Vasenko Street in Chelyabinsk. It was handed over to the OGPU (Joint State Political Directorate), later known as the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs). Historians claim that, during the Great Terror, the building contained an execution room.  In 1937–1938, nine Chelyabinsk priests were murdered in the room. In 1995, a memorial plaque was mounted in the courtyard of the building at 39 Vasenko Street.

The inscription on the plaque read, “During the period of mass repressions in the 1930s and 1940s, innocent people convicted of political crimes were executed in this building.”

In the early 2000s, however, the plaque vanished.

This year, Yuri Latyshev, coordinator of the local history group Arkhistrazh, launched a campaign to restore the memorial plaque. He asked Yevgeny Golitsyn, deputy governor of Chelyabinsk Region and chair of the regional commission for restoring the rights of victims of political repression, for help. Chelyabinsk city hall’s culture department sent him a reply.

Mr. Latyshev was informed the building that had once housed the secret police had been completely dismantled due to dilapidation. The land plot was handed over to the Interior Ministry’s Chelyabinsk Regional Office. A new building had been erected on the plot, and a new plaque mounted on the building. It reads, “In memory of the victims of the 30 and 40 years [sic]. Their memory will be preserved as long as we remain human beings.”

Citing the local Interior Ministry office as its source, the Chelyabinsk city culture department explained in its letter to Mr. Latyshev that the whereabouts of the old plaque were unknown. Restoring a commemorative plaque that claimed people were executed in the building during the period of mass repressions in the 1930s and 1940s  would be a distortion of historical reality, the officials argued.

“There have not been any repressive actions of a physical nature [sic] carried out in the buildings used by the [local Interior Ministry office],” they wrote to Mr. Latyshev.

Chelyabinsk culture officials also stressed the inscription on the previous plaque could “provoke unwarranted associations about the work of the police in the minds of people, even as the Russian federal government has made considerable efforts to strengthen the police’s reputation.”

Mr. Latyshev, however, is convinced part of the old building survived the reconstruction.

“The [old] plaque was absolutely fair, correct, and decent, but someone clearly did not like it. It would be fair to hang it on the street side of the building,” says Mr. Latyshev.

He claims he has sent inquiries to the FSB and Interior Ministry, but has only been given the runaround.

“I’m surprised by the wording used by city hall officials—’unwarranted associations’—and how they immediately project these ideas into the minds of the people of Chelyabinsk,” Ivan Slobodenyuk, coordinator for the project Last Address in Chelyabinsk Region, told Kommersant.

Mr. Slobodenyuk stressed that restoring the memorial plaque would be consistent with the state policy for commemorating victims of political repression, as adopted by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in 2015.

“Regional authorities have so far neglected this topic. The memorial on Golden Hill has virtually been abandoned. Part of the area containing mass graves has been redeveloped, and another section has been slated for redevelopment. Now the story with this memorial plaque comes to light,” said Slobodenyuk. “In my opinion, putting up a memorial plaque that begins with the phrase, ‘This was the site of a building in which, during the period,” and so on, in keeping with the wording on the original plaque, would not damage the police’s reputation. On the contrary, it would be a manifestation of courage and would make people respect law enforcement.”

Translated by the Russian Reader