Petersburg historians and archivists fill in the blank spots of the Soviet past and restore forgotten names
St. Petersburg Research Center Memorial was created in the late 1980s by a Soviet-era dissident, former political prisoner Veniamin Iofe. Released from a maximum security colony in 1968, he brought with him lists of those with whom he had served time. Later, the lists were expanded, supplemented, refined, and it was they that became the basis of the archival and historical activities of the Memorial Research Center. In April 2002, Benjamin Iofe died suddenly, and since then Irina Flige has been the director of the center..
Recalling the turn of the 80s and 90s, she notes that this was a very interesting time in terms of historical memory. And he explains: There was a consensus in society about the criminality of the Stalinist regime. But the research began very quickly, from what moment the Soviet power became criminal: from collectivization, from “red terror”? And, in the end, the question rested on the date of October 25, 1917. That is, the realization came that this power was originally criminal, not legitimate, and all its methods of governing the country were associated with a chain of crimes..
Then came the turn of events after the Great Terror: deportations on ethnic grounds, exile and settlements, the law on repetitions, persecution of dissidents, political assassinations. Thus, this line reached the end of the Soviet era, sums up the director of the SIC Memorial.
The extensive network of the Memorial is engaged in the investigation of these crimes, filling in the blank spots of Soviet history, returning forgotten names and hushed up events. And the more successful was the work of historians, archivists and publicists who dealt with the times of the communist dictatorship in the USSR, the more negatively the Russian authorities treated the results of this work..
And after the law On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation regarding the regulation of the activities of non-profit organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent was adopted, all organizations with the word Memorial in their names were entered in the register of non-profit foreign agents..
However, despite this, the St. Petersburg Scientific Information Center, according to Irina Flige, is working perfectly fine..
All the money received by the organization is intended for specific projects: publishing books, organizing exhibitions, searching for burial places of victims of the Bolshevik terror and erecting a monument to the repressed. They come to us not from the labor exchange or according to the distribution after the institute, but only because they want to work here. But having come to participate in a specific project, a person, as a rule, does not leave us, – says the director of the research center..
The correspondent of the Russian service of the Voice of America met with several volunteers of the organization.
A touching story about a failed love
Member of the Historical and Archival Commission of the Memorial Nadezhda Kiseleva originally from Ryazan. In the 90s, she went to the circle of a young journalist, under which the School of Human Rights project existed. In addition, there is also a Memorial in Ryazan, and Nadezhda was involved in separate projects there. In 2006, she moved to St. Petersburg and immediately came to the Memorial Research Center. “Here I immediately joined several projects to collect biographies of Ostarbeiters, to describe the burials in Levashovo, according to Sandarmokh, I went to Solovki.
Nadezhda is engaged in photo archiving. Our task was to photograph all individual monuments in the burial places of the victims of terror. First, we made a detailed map of the Levashovsky cemetery, which now exists in electronic form. And in Kaleria, we interviewed the local population, what do they know about Sandarmokh? It was very interesting and instructive, said Kiseleva..
Until now, Nadezhda regrets that she did not write down one story, which seems to her to be very revealing. While collecting biographies “ostarbeiters” I met a woman who was hijacked from Pushkin to work in Germany. And when she began to talk about her personal life, there was one very touching moment when a Frenchman, whom she met in a filtration camp at the end of the war, suggested that she marry him. He was very in love with her, but I was embarrassed by such details, and turned off the recorder. And when our troops began to select Soviet prisoners from these camps and send them to the east, this woman broke up with the young Frenchman. Such is the story, summed up Nadezhda Kiseleva.
One-way ticket from Poland to the USSR to the construction site of socialism
Another interlocutor of the Voice of America archivist Alex Gagarinova came here ten years ago. Then I thought what could I do to realize myself more fully? And after getting to know the work “Memorial”, decided it was mine. After all, the theme of repressions, even during the years of perestroika, did not find proper reflection. There was just a stream of facts without understanding why it all happened, why people agreed with what was happening ”, she says.
Gagarinova is a professional historian, and having learned from friends that SIC Memorial is looking for archivists, she decided to offer her services. Her day-to-day job is to recreate as complete a biography of the repressed as possible on the basis of disparate facts. For thirty years of work, many documents have accumulated here, which require processing, systematization, digitization and subsequent publication on a special website that contains data on the victims of political terror in the USSR. If necessary, we write additional requests to the archives, read the investigative files ourselves, copy them and thus the biography is collected, continues the archivist of the Memorial.
According to Gagarinova, it is impossible to get used to such work. It seems that you have already become a little coarse, read a lot of things, but still sometimes cry over the documents, she admits. As an example, she cited the biography of Moses Burt, who in the 1920s came to the USSR from Poland to build socialism. At first, he made a good party career, started a family, but after Kirov’s murder he was accused of having links with terrorists. He was tortured by the NKVD and named several names. True, he was able to give his family a note asking not to believe what they say about him. Then, he went on a hunger strike, they began to force-feed him, and as a result, he suffocated and died, said an employee of the Memorial.
Already in the 50s, the family of Moses Burt submitted a request for rehabilitation, and investigators who studied the case found out that the people whom he named in his sincere confession simply did not exist. By the way, when Alex Gagarinova recalled this story, tears came to her eyes..
6 years for the inscription Human soul knows no shackles
Historian Dmitry Kozlov calls himself an associate employee of SIC Memorial. He worked at the Solovetsky Museum, where he met with members of the St. Petersburg organization, who invited him to participate in several projects. Having moved to St. Petersburg from Arkhangelsk, Dmitry was actively involved in the work: And for almost ten years now we have been fruitfully cooperating, I participated in projects to study the dissident movement, in the study of the alternative culture of the Khrushchev and Brezhnev periods.
Dmitry is working on the Island of Freedom project. This is an Internet site that lists all unauthorized rallies, meetings, pickets, apartment exhibitions, and underground concerts that have taken place in Petrograd-Leningrad-Petersburg. In our past, there were wonderful stories of brave people, about whom less is known than they deserve it, he explains the general idea of the project..
Currently, work is underway on the Soviet period of the city on the Neva. Dmitry Kozlov assures that many people know about the actions of disobedience in Moscow, be it a demonstration of eight on Red Square in August 1968, or a bulldozer exhibition. Much less is known about what happened in Leningrad. Meanwhile, the so-called protest graffiti was in circulation here. For example, the inscriptions were made on the clodt horses on the Anichkov Bridge “Brezhnev, out of Czechoslovakia”, which the projectionist did “Lenfilm” Igor Boguslavsky. It was August 22, 1968, recalls Dmitry Kozlov. And he continues that 10 years before that, during the period of the persecution of Boris Pasternak, informal poets Vladimir Uflyand and Mikhail Eremin made an inscription in oil paint near the Summer Garden. Long live Pasternak!.
Dmitry Kozlov also showed a page with a more famous episode of 1976, when the artist Rybakov, a dissident, and in the future a deputy of the first three convocations of the State Duma, made an inscription on the wall of the Tsar’s bastion of the Peter and Paul Fortress: You crucify freedom, but the human soul knows no shackles, expressing this way of protest against censorship. For this and a number of other similar actions, Rybakov was arrested under Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code for 6 years.
When asked whether he feels the result of his activities, Kozlov replies: Students of the Higher School of Economics, future historians, cultural scientists, and political scientists, are working with us on this project. I myself was born in 1987, that is, I am the same age “Memorial”. And these are the guys who have lived their entire lives under Putin, and they have to explain some things from the Soviet past. On the other hand, they have a fresh look, it is interesting with them, the historian notes..
They say that you have to live long in Russia
At the end of the conversation with the Memorial staff, the VOA reporter asked if their decision to work here would be influenced by the pressure exerted on the organization by local and federal authorities.?
Alex Gagarinova categorically stated: On the contrary, I understand that we must clench our teeth and continue. Because we have something to work on, and no matter what, the material is still available, it needs to be processed and supplemented. And the times They say that you have to live long in Russia. And even though it is not very hard to believe now that something will change, experience shows that changes are still coming..
Nadezhda Kiseleva, in turn, asked a rhetorical question: Where am I going with this “submarine”? I will continue to participate in what I am interested in, what I consider important. I can’t just get scared and do nothing.
Dmitry Kozlov agrees with his colleagues. I mentally try to find an excuse why I could get out of here, but I can’t find it. It’s much easier to list the things I don’t regret: meeting amazing people, being able to work on interesting topics. Me in “Memorial” captivates interest in a particular person, in his fate. To people who fought for freedom and went to prison for their beliefs. And if I admire people who were much harder than me, what moral right do I have to quit what I’m doing ?, Dmitry Kozlov concludes.