Historical memory of the Gulag (2): Memorials, maps and other memory projects

Mikhail Chemiakin's controversial memorial to the victims of political repression in Petersburg. Author's photograph

Mikhail Chemiakin’s controversial memorial to the victims of political repression in Petersburg. Author’s photograph

Since the final years of the Soviet Union, memorializing the victims of the political repressions – in itself a curious formulation that indicates some of the problems associated with this subject – has remained a significant and, to a large extent, unresolved question. Historical memory projects can obviously have all sorts of different aims: the educational and the ritual; establishing the narrative of historical events; finding and marking locations associated with those events; gathering or recovering individual and collective memories; and shaping collective identity, to name but a few. It is not surprising, therefore, that these various dimensions have been expressed in many different types of project, from the memory books I listed in my previous post to museums and monuments across the former soviet states.

Alexander Etkind’s article ‘Hard and Soft in Cultural Memory: Political Mourning in Russia and Germany’, Grey Room, No. 16 (2004), 36-59, divides memorialization, as his title suggests, into the ‘hard’ (primarily monuments) and the ‘soft’ (texts). He argues that in Russia the latter has succeeded – with projects such as memory books as well as individual memoirs becoming important sites of memory – whereas the former remains problematic. Although there are multiple monuments to the victims of the Gulag and the terror throughout the former USSR, the absence of a single central memorial points to a lack of unity, and with the failure of earlier attempts to reach agreement on the form or location of a monument, it seems unlikely now that such a thing will ever be built.

As I have been researching memory projects of different types for these posts, a couple of features of the form memorialization has taken have stood out. The first is the rejection of top-down approaches. The absence of consultation is one of the main reasons why Chemiakhin’s memorial in Petersburg pictured above and Neizvestnyi’s ‘Mask of Sorrow’ in Magadan with which I illustrated my previous post have not been universally embraced, to say the least (see Kathleen Smith’s article ‘Conflict over Designing a Monument to Stalin’s Victims’, in J. Cracraft and D. Rowland, eds, Architectures of Russian Identity, Cornell University Press, 2003, pp. 193-203). In a more positive sense, initiatives such as the ‘Last Address’ project I mention below celebrate their collaborative basis through crowd-funding and stress the absence of government support or (so far) interference.

Solovetsky_Stone_-_Moscow (1)

Solovetsky Stone, Moscow (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The other aspect that seems important is the way that the temporary has become permanent. The most striking example of this is the Solovetsky stone in Lubyanka Square in Moscow, which was installed by Memorial in 1990 as a temporary monument but, in the absence of agreement about a more permanent (and larger scale) memorial, has come to represent a focal point for memory; it is the location, for example, for the annual ‘Return of the Names’ ceremony detailed below. But this also seems to be what is happening on a wider scale as the supposedly soft products of memory solidify to stand in the place of the missing hard memory. Classic works such as The Gulag Archipelago already have that monumentalizing aim, but this is now magnified by the sheer size of the Sakharov Center’s digital archive of Gulag memoirs, and the access it enables to so many otherwise elusive texts.

In a sense many of the projects I list here are exist on the intersection of soft and hard memory, as their digital presence often transforms one into the other. The online cataloguing of memorials by the Virtual Gulag Museum and the Sakharov Center, and the use of interactive maps by the Last Address project and others, create soft versions of the hard products of memory, while perhaps the most ephemeral form of witnessing – oral testimony – acquires more solidity through its digital form.

My aim here is to create an overview of the different types of memory project relating to the Gulag, including both the primarily digital and those that have some digital dimension. As with my previous post, it has no pretension to completeness; I will update it whenever I have new information, and will be grateful for details of any other projects. In my next post I will discuss the question of contested memory.

Archives, memoirs and virtual museums

Memorial St Petersburg’s Archive is quite well organized with good selection of complete documents.

The most recent version of Memorial’s main website has all sorts of information, but some of the material seems to have got rather lost amidst the reorganization. See the old version of the history page for more usable links to the virtual museum, archives and writing on the repressions.

The Sakharov Center’s archive Vospominaniia o GULAGe [Memoirs of the Gulag] remains one of my most important resources – though how I wish my Zotero button functioned with these, it would make my bibliography compiling so much easier…

I have discussed Gulag: Many days many lives and Virtual’nyi muzei Gulaga [Virtual Museum of the Gulag] in a previous post, so won’t dwell on those now. Other virtual exhibitions worth visiting (and still live) include Tvorchestvo i byt Gulaga on the Memorial website, and the Open Society Archive’s Forced Labor Camps online exhibit.

Vladimir Bukovsky’s Soviet archives are not directly concerned with the Gulag, but contain a significant number of documents about the persecution of dissidents from the 1960s onwards, and the use of psychiatry as a punitive political tool.

Memory and oral history projects

Poslednie svideteli [Last witnesses], developed by Memorial Moscow and Berlin, consists of 26 videos, including individual testimonies and thematic videos covering questions such as women in the camps and transport to Magadan. The testimonies are very moving but at the same time the interviewees are incredibly matter of fact about their experiences.

St Petersburg Memorial’s Gulag: Liudi i sud’by [People and Fates] project has five short videos about the lives of its subjects, including interviews with former prisoners and their children. The videos can also be accessed directly through YouTube.

Sound archives: European memories of the Gulag focuses on citizens from European territories deported to the Gulag from 1939 to 1953 and has some fascinating interviews and other material, organized thematically as well as by individual testimony.

Amnesia Gulag in Europe could have a better title, but this is a solid research and educational project, with a particular focus on visual memory, based at the University of Macerata. The ebook Remembering the Gulag: Images and Imagination, ed. by Natascia Mattucci, has some interesting ideas and articles, but feels a bit like a work in progress.

For oral testimony I would also still recommend Vlast’ Solovetskaia [Solovki Power] as a remarkable piece of film-making with some some extraordinary interviewees, including Dmitry Likhachev – I don’t think it’s been bettered by any other film about the Gulag, documentary or otherwise.

Memorials and memory events

The Virtual Gulag museum’s list of Pamiatniki (587 memorials) and Nekropoli (592 burial grounds) gives copious details for a good many of its entries. I confess I’m slightly mystified by the criteria for inclusion – the Pamiatniki list includes some individual graves, but there are some odd (and obvious) omissions.

The Sakharov Center’s list and map of memorials has 1224 items, but does not include individual graves: Pamiatki zhertvam politicheskikh represii na territorii byvshego SSSR [Memorials to the victims of political repressions in the territory of the former USSR].

Perm Memorial’s list of 101 monuments, memorials and plaques in the Perm region gives an indication of quite how many such memorials there are to victims of the repressions.

Poslednii adres [Last Address], which began in 2014, aims to mark the final addresses where victims of the Soviet repressions lived before their arrest. A crowd-funded project inspired by Gunter Demnig’s Stolpersteine project to commemorate the victims of Nazism, so far 50 of the small metal plaques have been installed on buildings in Moscow and St Petersburg, and a map on the main page of the website shows how many more are currently in preparation. Read more about the Last Address project in the Calvert Journal.

Vozvrashchenie imen [Return of the Names] is an annual event, on 29 October in which people gather around the Solovetski stone in Lubyanka Square in Moscow to read out the names of victims of the repressions. Read Tanya Zaharchenko’s moving account of the ceremony in 2014.

Last address plaque to Ekaterina Mihkailovna Zhelvatykh, Moscow, ul. Mashkova 16. Photograph by Mlarisa CC-BY-SA-4.0

Last address plaque to Ekaterina Mihkailovna Zhelvatykh, Moscow, ul. Mashkova 16. Photograph by Mlarisa CC-BY-SA-4.0

Interactive maps of memory

Topografiia terrora [Topography of Terror] on the Vozvrashchenie imen [Return of the names] website is very good map of area around Lubyanka, where Return of the names ceremony is held every year, showing the number of people from different buildings that died, and with clear outlines of those buildings. It uses data from Moscow Memorial’s Rastreliannye v Moskve [Executed in Moscow] database, and would be very good to see this version expanded.

A larger-scale map of Moscow using the same data can be found at Mapping the Great Terror in Moscow, with links to the Google Fusion Tables used for both this map and an earlier version, Rivers of Blood in Moscow.

Karta pamiati: Nekropol’ terrora i gulaga [Map of memory: Place of burial of terror and the Gulag] is St Petersburg Memorial’s project to map places of executions and secret & mass burials, camp and prison cemeteries, graves of exiles, which has 407 entries at present. It’s well presented, easier to use & more searchable than the original source of much of the information it contains, the Virtual Gulag museum’s list of Nekropoli.

Karta GULAGa [Gulag Map]: special settlements and camps of the Gulag in the Perm region (former Molotov oblast) 1930s-1950s. Related to Perm Memorial’s recently published Memory book, Gody terrora [The Years of Terror].

Mapping the Gulag is an ESRC-funded research project led by Judith Pallot, Laura Piacentini and Dominque Moran as part of a wider project on Russia’s penal geography. See my previous post.

Other historical memory sites

The Sakharov Center’s Programma Pamiat’ o bespravii [Memory of lawlessness] is basically an online part of the museum, and has 4 sections: Mythology and ideology of the Soviet regime; political repressions in the USSR; through the Gulag; opposition to unfreedom in the USSR.

Istoricheskaia pamiat’: XX vek: Gosudarstvennyi terror i politicheskie repressii v SSSR [Historical memory of the 20th Century: State Terror and political repression in the USSR] The State Museum of history of the Gulag and the Sakharov Center are among the partners. The website has sections on repressions, memorial places, resources, discussion, people and their fates, including some memoirs.
There is also a reasonable list of museums devoted to the Gulag and the repressions.

There are some interesting materials on Uroki istorii XX vek [Lessons of 20th century history], which is supported by Moscow Memorial and the German foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future (Erinnerung. Verantwortung. Zukunft).

The website Rossiiskie sotsialiisty i anarkhisty posle Oktiabria 1917 goda [Russian socialists and anarchists after October 1917] has a section on Socialists and anarchists in Soviet prisons, labour camps and exile with some interesting resources.

Historical memory of the Gulag (1): Memory books

Mask of Sorrow. Monument to the victims of the Gulag, Magadan

Mask of Sorrow. Monument to the victims of the Gulag, Magadan, by Alglus (CC BY-SA 3.0)

I’ve been thinking about historical memory of the Gulag and the Stalinist repressions recently whilst working on my book, and have decided to put together a few posts of links relating to the subject. This is partly from my own need to organize the material coherently, and partly because an up-to-date list would, I hope, be useful to other people as well.

I’ll say a bit more about the question of historical memory itself in a subsequent post, because there is already quite enough material for this one, on memory books. Memory books (knigi pamiati), listing the names of victims of the political repressions in the Soviet Union, began to appear in the mid 1990s. The bibliography A. Ia. Razumov et al, eds, Knigi pamiati zhertv politicheskikh repressii v SSSR: Annotirovannyi ukazatel’ (St Petersburg: RNB, Mezhdunarodnyi proekt “Vozvrashchennye imena”, 2004)  (pdf version also here) shows just how many of these books there are – and this includes material only up to 2003. They are still appearing, albeit at a much slower rate – some recent ones are listed on the Vozvrashchennye imena (Recovered names) website. A significant number of memory books and databases have also been put on line, primarily, although not solely, through the auspices of Memorial and the Vozvrashchennye imena project, which ultimately aims (I hope it is not too optimistic to continue to use the present tense) to build a single database of all the victims of the Soviet repressions. That is clearly no small task, and the long gestation of the project should perhaps come as no surprise. In the mean time it is part of the nature of the internet that sites get moved and links decay, and even the links sections on the Memorial and Vozvrashchennye imena websites are full of broken links, making it difficult to find some of those memory books that are currently available.

My starting point for compiling this list was the following sites:

Возвращенные имена [ebooks by the Recovered Names project] and other links.

Мемориал: СПИСОК КНИГ ПАМЯТИ: Книги, составленные по региональному признаку [Memorial’s List of memory books compiled by region] and СПИСКИ ЖЕРТВ ПОЛИТИЧЕСКИХ РЕПРЕССИЙ [lists of victims of political repressions].

Возвращенные имена-списки ссылок [A further list of references based on the Vozvrashchennye imena materials].

I have updated numerous links from these lists, removed those that are broken when I haven’t been able to find replacements (those that were part of the Okrytaia russkaia elektronnaia biblioteka – OREL – seem to have disappeared altogether with the demise of that project), and added a couple of extra ones I found whilst compiling the list. I make no claims to completeness – the list is very much a work in progress, and any information about other memory book sites that can be added will be gratefully received. The material is ordered thus:

1) General lists and databases
2) Lists of victims by location:
a) Moscow
b) Leningrad
c) other cities and regions of the Russian Federation
d) other former Soviet republics
e) other countries and peoples
3) Lists devoted to specific groups of victims

I have translated titles and essential details about contents. In places I have included notes about sources, usage, limitations, etc, based on my own observations, but overall I have tried to keep details to a minimum, given the number of links.

1) General lists and databases

ЭЛЕКТРОННАЯ КНИГА ПАМЯТИ “ВОЗВРАЩЕННЫЕ ИМЕНА”: “Жертвы политического террора в СССР”: списки [Electronic memory book Recovered Names: Victims of political terror in the USSR]. Includes the names of victims who do not appear in other memory books, based on materials received from relatives and taken from archival sources in the ‘Vozvrashchennye imena’ Centre at the Russian National Library (RNB). Contains around 2,700,000 names. Browsable lists by surname.

Общероссийская общественная благотворительная организация инвалидов — жертв политрепрессий: РОССИЙСКАЯ АССОЦИАЦИЯ ЖЕРТВ НЕЗАКОННЫХ ПОЛИТИЧЕСКИХ РЕПРЕССИЙ [All-Russian social charitable organization for invalids and victims of political repression: Russian Association for the victims of the illegal political repressions]. Database.

Сталинские расстрельные списки [Stalin’s execution lists] Lists of citizens sentenced by Stalin and his closest circle. From the CD “Stalinskie rassstrelnye spiski” (Moscow: Zven’ia, 2002). Browsable lists by name and place.

Объединенная база данных по Москве, Твери, Туле и Карелии [Combined database for Moscow, Tver, Tula and Karelia] C. 48,000 names.

2) Lists of victims by location

a) MOSCOW

МОСКОВСКИЙ МАРТИРОЛОГ: Списки расстрелянных по политическим обвинениям в годы советской власти [Moscow Martyrology: Lists of people executed on political charges in the years of Soviet power] Compiled by Memorial. Also has information on Sentencing organs; sources of information and preparation of the list; places of mass burial of the victims of political repressions; principles of publication. Organized by place of burial and year of execution:
Яузская больница (Yauzskaya hospital)
Ваганьковское кладбище (Vaganskoe cemetery)
Донское кладбище (Donskoe cemetery)
Бутово (Butovo firing range) From the publication: Мартиролог расстрелянных и захороненных на полигоне НКВД “Объект Бутово”. 08.08.1937–19.10.1938. М.; Бутово, 1997 [Martyrology of people shot and buried in the NKVD Butovo firing range]
Коммунарка (Kommunarka).

Мартиролог жертв политических репрессий, расстрелянных и захороненных в Москве и Московской области в 1918-1953 гг. [Martyrology of victims of the political repressions, shot and buried in Moscow and the Moscow oblast, 1918-1953]. The Sakharov Center’s Martyrology, browsable by surname.

Расстрелы в Москве [Shot in Moscow]. Memorial’s list, organized street by street. A map of the victims by address can be found here.

b) LENINGRAD

Ленинградский мартиролог: Списки граждан, расстрелянных в Ленинграде, вне Ленинграда и впоследствии реабилитированных [Leningrad martyrology: lists of citizen shot in and around Leningrad and subsequently rehabilitated, 1937-1938]. Some interesting statistics related to this list can be found here, which give the lie, among other things, to the persistent notion that it was mainly party members who were arrested during the Great Terror.

c) RUSSIAN FEDERATION (alphabetical order by city/region)

ALTAI: Memorial Алтайский край
From the publication: Жертвы политических репрессий в Алтайском крае. Т. 1: 1919–1930. (Барнаул, 1998) [Victims of political repression in the Altai krai, vol. 1, 1919-1930].

AMUR: site of the Amur oblast’s administration:
Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Амурской области. Т. 1–2.— Благовещенск, 2001–2003. [Book of memory of the victims of political repressions in Amur oblast, Vols. 1-2].

ARKHANGELSK: Мартиролог Соловецких узников [Martyrology of Solovki prisoners, on the Solovki Encyclopedia website].

See also Репрессии в Архангельске: 1937–1938. Документы и материалы.— Архангельск, 1999. [Repressions in Arkhangelsk: 1937-1938. Documents and materials] Downloadable pdf, also available here.

ASTRAKHAN: site of the Astrakhan oblast’s administration:
Из тьмы забвения: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий: Российская Федерация. Астраханская область. Комис. по восстановлению прав реабилитир. жертв полит. репрессий Астрах. обл.; Рабочая группа: Ю. С. Смирнов (отв. ред.), В. В. Волков и др.— Астрахань: Волга. [From the darkness of oblivion: Book of memory of the victims of political repression: Russian Federation. Astrakhan oblast/Commission for the restoration of rights of the rehabilitated victims of political repression in the Astrakhan oblast].
Т. 1: 1918–1954: А-Я.— 2000.
Т. 2: 1918–1986: А-Я.— 2003.
10,955 names.
NB: The original page containing this memory book seems to have disappeared but it is available on the internet archive.

BASHKORTOSTAN: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Республики Башкортостан. Т. 1, 2. (Уфа, 1997–1999). [Memory book of the victims of political repressions in the Republic of Bashkortostan].

VLADIMIR: site of the Vladimir oblast’s administration: Боль и память: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Владимирской области. [Pain and Memory: Memory Book of the victims of political repressions from the Vladimir oblast]
Т. 1 [г. Владимир; р-ны Александровский—Кольчугинский].— 2001. [Vol. 1: Vladimir city; Aleksansdrovskii-Kol’chuginskii regions]
Т. 2 [р-ны Меленковский—Юрьев-Польский и дополнительные списки по Александровскому—Кольчугинскому р-нам].— 2003 [Melekovskii-Iur’ev-Pol’skii and additional lists for the Aleksansdrovskii-Kol’chuginskii regions]
11,205 biographical notes in all. Searchable by surname, name and patronymic]. Downloadable documents – also available here.

VOLOGDA: Official portal of the Government of Vologda oblast: Книга памяти [Memory book].

VORONEZH: Воронежская область
From information provided to Voronezh Memorial by the directorate of the Voronezh FSB.

IRKUTSK: Site of the Irkutsk Association for the victims of political repressions: Памяти жертв политических репрессий [Memory book of victims of political repressions] The database corresponds to part of the first volume of the Memory book Zhertvy politicheskikh repressii Irkutskoi oblasti: Pamiat’ i preduprezhdenie budushchemu. More than 1500 biographical entries (from Abagaev Aleksandr Toktoevich to Bashkuev Lazar’ Sharaevich). Search by alphabet.

KEMEROVO: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Кемеровской области. Т. 2.– Кемерово, 1996. [Memory book of the victims of political repressions in Kemerovo oblast].
NB: this is a downloadable .rar file.

KOMI REPUBLIC: Memorial Республика Коми
From the publication: Покаяние: Коми республиканский мартиролог жертв массовых политических репрессий. Т. 1. (Сыктывкар, 1998) [Redemption: the Komi Republic’s martyrology of the victims of mass political repressions]

KRASNODARSK: on Krasnodarsk Memorial Society’s site: интернет-проект “Трагические судьбы — возвращенные имена” Книга памяти Кубани [Internet project ‘Tragic Fates: Recovered names’: A Book of memory of the Kuban]. More than 26,000 names.

KRASNOYARSK: Krasnoyarsk Memorial Society’s site Сайт Красноярского общества “Мемориал”. Мартиролог (биографические справки, фото). Доступ по алфавиту имен. Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Красноярского края [Martyrology (biographical entries, photos). Access via alphabetized names. Memory book of political repressions in Krasnoyarsk krai]. Covers letters А – К.
Кн. 1: [А – Б]
Кн. 2: [В – Г]
Кн. 3: [Д – И]
Кн. 4: [К].

KURGAN: Memorial Курганская область
From the publication: Осуждены по 58-й: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Курганской области. Т. 1. (Курган, 2002) [Sentenced under article 58: Memory book of political repressions in Kurgan oblast]

KURSK: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Курской области. Т. 3.— Курск, 2000. [Memory book of political repressions in Kursk oblast].

LIPETSK: Memorial Липецкая область
From the publication: Помнить поименно: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Липецкого края с ноября 1917 года. Т. 1.— (Липецк, 1997). [To remember by name: Memory book of political repressions in Lipetsk krai from November 1917. Volume 1-].

MAGADAN: Memorial Магаданская область
From the publication За нами придут корабли: Список реабилитированных лиц, смертные приговоры в отношении которых приведены в исполнение на территории Магаданской области. (Магадан, 1999) [Ships came for us. Lists of rehabilitated people whose death sentences were carried out in the territory of Magadan oblast] Biographical details of 7,546 repressed people.

MARI EL REPUBLIC: Memorial Республика Марий Эл
From the publication Трагедия народа: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Республики Марий Эл. В 2 томах. (Йошкар-Ола, 1996–1997) [The Tragedy of a People: Memory book of the victims of political repression in the Mari El Republic].

NIZHNY TAGIL: Memorial Нижний Тагил
From the publication: Жертвы репрессий. Нижний Тагил. 1920–1980-е годы. (Екатеринбург, 1999) [Victims of Repression: Nizhny Tagil, 1920s-1980s].

OMSK: Забвению не подлежит: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Омской области. Т. 1: А—Б.— (Омск, 2000). [Not to be forgotten: Memory book of victims of political repression in Omsk oblast]
NB: The downloadable pdf on this page is corrupted, but it is just about readable online, albeit not in the most convenient form.

ORENBURG: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий в Оренбургской области.— Калуга, 1998. [Memory book of victims of political repressions in Orenburg oblast].

ORLOV: Реквием: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий на Орловщине. Т. 1–4. Орел, 1994–1998. [Requiem: Memory book of victims of political repressions in the Orlovshchina]
NB: the encoding of this page needs to be set to Cyrillic-1251.

PENZA: Site of the Penza “Memorial” Society: Список реабилитированных жертв репрессий в разделе Книга памяти. [List of rehabilitated victims of repressions from the Memory book].

new: PERM: Пермский край / Пермская область: Годы террора: электронная Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий [Years of Terror: electronic memory book of victims of the political repressions] on Perm Memorial’s website. This is a very impressive recently published site with a great deal of information about the terror and its victims, as well as a martyology with biographical details of victims, searchable indexes by name and geographical area and much more besides.
See also: Картотека репрессированных на сайте Пермского Государственного архива. [Card index of the repressed on website of the Perm State archive].

RYAZAN: На сайте Рязанского общества защиты прав человека. [Site of the Ryazan Society for the Defence of Human Rights]. Searchable by place as well as name; useful site with information also on cemeteries, memorials, etc.

SAMARA: Memorial Самарская область
From the publication: Белая книга о жертвах политических репрессий. Самарская область. Т. 1–7. (Самара, 1997–1998) [The White book of victims of political repressions: Samara oblast]
See also the Index of Samara families, which covers letters А-Л.

SARATOV: Memorial Саратовская область
From information made available by the Saratov FSB directorate.

SVERDLOVSK: Memorial Свердловская область
From the publication: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий. Свердловская область. Т. 1. (Екатеринбург, 1999) [Memory book of the victims of political repressions.] Covers letters А-Б only; vols 2-3, covering В-Д and Е-И not yet online.

SMOLENSK: website of the Administration of Smolensk oblast: Электронная картотека жертв политических репрессий Смоленской области, 1917–1953 гг. [Electronic card index of the victims of political repression in Smolensk oblast]
29,508 entries. Search via database only, no browsing of lists. A significant number of duplicates. Part of the database is based on the publication: По праву памяти: Книга памяти жертв незаконных политических репрессий: А — Я. (Смоленский мартиролог; Т. 1); Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий: А — С. (Смоленский мартиролог; Т. 2–5). [By right of memory: Memory book of the victims of illegal political repressions: А—Я (Smolensk martyrology vol. 1); Memory book of the victims of political repressions, А—С (Smolensk martyrology vols 2-5)].

TATARSTAN: Memorial Республика Татарстан
Electronic version of the publication: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий. Республика Татарстан. Т. 1–5.— Казань, 2000–2002) [Memory book of victims of political repressions]. Vols 1-5 of the print edition cover letters А-З; the electronic version so far covers letters А-Е only.

TOMSK: Memorial museum “NKVD Investigative prison”: Томский мартиролог 
Книга Памяти (Банк данных жертв политических репрессий Томской области). [Tomsk martyrology: Memory book (data base of victims of political repression in the Tomsk oblast)].
List of 31,989 people deprived of electoral rights and dekulakized in the 1920s-1930s, from materials in the Tomsk oblast state archives. References to archive file numbers. List of 34,000 families (around 190,000 individuals) of special settlers [spetspereselentsev] – dekulakized peasants and members of deported ethnic groups sent to Tomsk oblast in the 1930s-1950s, and rehabilitated in the 1990s. From data of the Information Centre of the Tomsk oblast Directorate of Internal Affairs. List of 20,806 rehabilitated inhabitants of Tomsk oblast (repressed under article 58 of criminal code of the RSFSR). From data of the administration of the Tomsk oblast KBG-FSK-FSB. This list, but with less information on each of the repressed, was first set down in the publication Боль людская: Книга памяти томичей, репрессированных в 30–40-е и нач. 50-х гг. Т. 1–5.— Томск, 1991–1999 [Human Pain: Memory book of Tomsk residents repressed in the 1930s-1940s and beginning of the 1850s].

See also: На сайте Института экономики и организации промышленного производства СО РАН: Список репрессированных жителей рабочего поселка Могочино Томской области (по книге Боль людская) Site of the Institute of Economics and Industrial Engineering, Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences: List of repressed inhabitants of Mogochino workers’ settlement in Tomsk oblast (from Bol’ liudskaia).

TVER: Memorial Тверская область
From the database, an earlier version of which was set down in the publication: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Калининской области. Т. 1: Мартиролог. 1937–1938. (Тверь, 2000) [Memory book of victims of political repression in Kalinin oblast].

TULA: Memorial Тульская область
From the database, an earlier version of which was set down in the publication: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий в Тульской области. 1917–1987 гг. Т. 1.— (Тула, 1999) [Memory book of victims of political repression in Tula oblast].

TYUMEN: Memorial Тюменская область. Ханты-Мансийский округ [Khanti-Mansiikii district]. Ямало-Ненецкий (б. Остяко-Вогульский) округ [Iamalo-Nenetskii (Bolshoi Ostriako-Vogul’skii) district].
From the publication: Книга расстрелянных: Мартиролог погибших от руки НКВД в годы большого террора (Тюменская область): В 2 томах. (Тюмень, 1999) [Book of the executed: Martyrology of those who died at the hands of the NKVD in the years of the Great Terror (Tyumen oblast)] [Tyumen, Ishimskii, Iamalo-Nenetskii, Ostriako-Vogul’skii, Tolbolsk operational sectors of the NKVD].

UDMURT REPUBLIC: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий: Удмуртская республика. Ижевск, 2001. [Memory book of the victims of political repressions: Udmurt Republic].

ULYANOVSK: Ульяновская область
From the publication: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий. Ульяновская область. Т. 1. (Ульяновск, 1996) [Memory book of victims of political repression].

New: VOLGOGRAD (Stalingrad): Волгоград (Сталинград)
Петля 2: воспоминания, очерки, документы (Noose-2: memoirs, sketches, documents), ed. Iu. Beledin (Volgograd, 2000), pp. 367-398. A list of more than 700 names of those repressed from the Stalingrad oblast. A scanned copy, so not the most usable format, but at least it’s available.

YAROSLAVL: Ярославская область
Не предать забвению [Not to be consigned to oblivion: website of the Yaroslavl Memorial Society and regional Commission for the restitution of right of the victims of political repressions]. List of more than 1800 victims executed during the political repressions.

d) FORMER SOVIET REPUBLICS

BELARUS: Индекс уроженцев Беларуси, репрессированных в 1920-1950-е гг. в Западной-Сибири [Index of natives of Belarus repressed 1920s-1950s in western Siberia].

KAZAKHSTAN: Memorial Казахстан. Алма-Ата
From the publication: Книга скорби = Азалы кiтап. Расстрельные списки. Вып. 1: Алма-Ата, Алма-Атинская область (Алматы, 1996) [Book of Sorrow. Execution lists. Issue 1: Alma-Ata & Alma-Ata oblast].

See also: Музейно-мемориальный комплекс жертв политических репрессий и тоталитаризма “АЛЖИР”: Список узниц АЛЖИРа в порядке алфавита по национальностям [ALZHIR Museum-Memorial Complex of the victims of political repressions and totalitarianism: list of ALZHIR prisoners in alphabetical order by nationality], and список женщин-узниц лагеря «алжир» [list of female prisoners at the ALZHIR camp].

UKRAINE: Національний банк даних жертв політичних репресій радянської доби в Україні [National database of victims of political repressions of the Soviet era in Ukraine]
Реабілітовані історією [Rehabilitated History. Database. Alphabetical search. More than 41,000 names].

Memory books by region (not updated since recent geopolitical upheavals):
Автономна Республіка Крим Autonomous Republic of Crimea
Вінницька область Vinnytsia oblast
Дніпропетровська область Dnipropetrovsk oblast
Донецька область Donetsk oblast
Житомирська область Zhytomyr oblast
Закарпатська область Zakarpattia oblast
Київська область Kyiv oblast
Львівська область Lviv oblast
Миколаївська область Mykolaiv oblast
Рівненська область Rivne oblast
Тернопільська область Ternopil oblast
Харківська область Kharkiv oblast
Херсонська область Kherson oblast
Хмельницька область Khmelnytskyi oblast
Чернівецька область Chernivtsi oblast
Чернігівська область Chernihiv oblast

Lviv society “Poshuk”: Список расстрелянных в 1940–1941 гг. [Lists of the executed, 1940-41] Жертвы львовской тюрьмы №3 (г. Золочев) [Victims of Lviv prison no. 3 (Zolochev)] From the publication: Романів О. М., Федущак І. В. Західноукраїнська трагедія, 1941. Наукове товариство ім. Шевченка, Фундація Українського вільного ун-ту в США.— Львiв; Нью Йорк, 2002. [Romaniv O., Fedushchak I., A Western Ukrainian tragedy, 1941. Shevchenko scientific society, Foundation of the Ukrainian Free University in the USA].

ESTONIAСайт Фонда Кистлер-Ритсо ЭЭСТИ (КРЭС). [Site of the Kistler-Ritso EESTI (KRES) Society] In Estonian and Russian. Virtual version of the Museum of Occupation in the period between 1940 and 1991. Lists of the repressed in Estonia. 35,165 names, from the publication: Politilised arreteerimised Eestis, 1940–1988. Koide 1–2. Tallinn, 1996, 1998. [Political arrests in Estonia, 1940–1988], with links to further editions.

e) OTHER COUNTRIES AND PEOPLES

GERMANY: На сайте российских эмигрантов в Нюрнберге: “Советские немцы — узники Тагиллага”. [Website of Russian emigrants in Nuremberg: Soviet Germans – prisoners of Tagillag] Electronic database (6500 names) by the laboratory of historical information technology of the Nizhny Tagil state social pedagogical academy. Created from a card index of labour army workers at Tagillag.

POLAND: Центр “Карта” | Ośrodek KARTA: Information on Polish citizens repressed in the USSR, including executed prisoners of war. Search by database. Information on the multi-volume publication “Indeks Represjonowanych”. In Polish.

Списки репрессированных поляков Lists of Poles incarcerated in the camps at Borovich and Stalinogorsk, plus some statistics and analytical articles.

Katyn massacre: Мемориальный комплекс “Катынь” [Katyn Memorial Complex].

CHINESE VICTIMS: Perm
список граждан китайской национальности, репрессированных по политическим мотивам в Пермской области в 1930-1950 гг. (по документам Государственного общественно-политического архива Пермской области, переданным из РУ ФСБ РФ по Пермской области) [List of citizens of Chinese nationality repressed for political reasons in Perm oblast in 1930-1950].

3) GROUPS OF VICTIMS

PRIESTS AND OTHER RELIGIOUS VICTIMS

Православный Свято-Тихоновский гуманитарный Университет: Канонизированные новомученики и исповедники Русской Православной Церкви. Orthodox Humanities University of St Tikhon: Canonized new martyrs and confessors of the Russian Orthodox Church. More than 28,000 entries. Biographies, photos, information about repressions, links to sources. Search by name, place of service etc. Also statistics of repression by city/region and date.
NB: Both pages need the encoding set to Cyrillic (Windows-1251).

Книги игумена Дамаскина (Орловского) “Мученики, исповедники и подвижники благочестия Русской Православной Церкви ХХ столетия: Жизнеописания и материалы к ним”; (Тверь: Булат): [The book of Igumen Damaskin (Orlovskii) Martyrs, confessors and persons of faith and devotion of the Russian Orthodox Church of the 20th Century: Biographies and Materials] Details of over 900 martyrs and repressed religious figures from all over Russia.

Lipetsk: Алфавитный список репрессированных в годы Советской власти священно- и церковнослужителей [Alphabetical list of religious figures and clerics repressed in the years of Soviet power].

Moscow – Butovo: Список священно- и церковнослужителей, пострадавших за веру и Церковь Христову в Бутово [List of religious figures and clerics who suffered for the faith and the Church of Christ at Butovo firing range].

Primorskii krai: Пострадавшие за Христа в Приморье. Вып. 1 / Владивосток. и Примор. епархия; Сост. Г. В. Прозорова.— Владивосток: Изд-во ДВГТУ, 2000. [Those who suffered for Christ in Primor’e. Issue 1] 53 names of repressed clerics, cloistered and lay people.

St Petersburg and Leningrad oblast: Санкт-Петербургский мартиролог (2002) [The St Petersburg Martyrology] – 3062 people who suffered for their faith, by denomination, with references to sources.

ACADEMICS

Scientists and academicians: Социальная история отечественной науки [The social history of Russian science] Including repressed honorary, actual and corresponding members of the Academy of Sciences, including scholars elected to the Academy after their repression. Repressed geologists (968 individual biographies). Directors, deputy directors and learned secretaries of institutes executed in Moscow (71 individual biographies). Professors and doctors of science executed in Moscow (104 individual biographies). Academics shot in Moscow (458 individual biographies). Repression of members of the Leningrad Institute of Physics and Engineering (43 individual biographies).

Vostokovedy (Far-Eastern specialists): Люди и судьбы: Биобиблиографический словарь востоковедов — жертв политического террора в советский период (1917–1991) [People and Fates: Bio-bibliographical dictionary of Far-Eastern specialists who fell victim to the political terror in the Soviet period (1917-1991). 750 names.

Artists and art historians: On the Sakharov Center’s site.

ARMY COMMANDERS PURGED IN THE 1930S

Персональный состав и репрессии командного состава РККА и КФ в 1930-е гг. (с указанием званий и должностей в 1935–36 гг.) [Personnel and repression of commanding officers of the Red Army and Red Navy in the 1930s, with indications of ranks and duties in 1935-36].

Next time: Memorials and other memory projects

The Russian Museum in Málaga

Last week I visited the new Spanish outpost of the State Russian Museum, Collección del Museo Ruso in Málaga. I’d read about the plans for it last year, so was delighted that its opening coincided with my stay in Granada, where I’ve been hiding away on research leave and writing my book since early January (yes – lucky me! my thanks to my wonderful colleagues in the Departamento de Filología Griega y Filología Eslava at the Universidad de Granada for hosting me as a visiting researcher).

The Tobacco Factory, Málaga

The Tobacco Factory, Málaga

Málaga was already home to some excellent art museums, notably the Museo Picasso and the Museo Carmen Thyssen, and the Collección del Museo Ruso is a great addition to these. Located a little way from the old town centre in an industrial suburb, it’s worth walking there to see some interesting workers’ housing and a normal, non-touristy part of the Costa del Sol. The former tobacco factory that houses the museum, alongside the Museo Automovilístico, is beautiful, and has been carefully converted to create a stunning – and very large – exhibition space.

Russian Art from Icons to the 20th Century

Russian Art from Icons to the 20th Century

There are currently two exhibitions being shown, Russian Art from Icons to the 20th Century, and The Age of Diaghilev. I was impressed by both. The Russian Art exhibit, as the name suggests, is a sweep through 500 years of painting, and the works are very well chosen to convey the development of Russian art. The icons were perhaps a little disappointing, but realistically they were never going to send their best works by Rublev and Dionysius, and the six or seven that are there serve as solid illustrations of different styles and types of icon painting. As for the rest, pretty much every well known Russian artist from the 18th to the 20th centuries is represented, along with works by lesser known figures. Portraits of the great and good and Petersburg vistas give way to Romanticism, genre paintings, the Peredvizhniki, modern art and, finally, socialist realism. There are some absolute gems, including a beautiful little Levitan landscape, Perov’s ‘Head of a Kirghiz Convict‘, and couple of surprisingly good factory scenes from the 1920s. There’s also some real trash – Aleksandr Deineka’s ‘Tractor Driver‘ with absurdly short legs particularly sticks in the mind – but good on them for not glossing over the socialist realist period completely. Overall it works very well as an introduction for visitors who don’t know a great deal about Russian art (my travelling companion confirmed it was very effective in this regard), but also had plenty to interest more seasoned observers.

The Age of Diaghilev

The Age of Diaghilev

I was initially slightly disappointed to learn that the temporary exhibition was devoted to Diaghilev, not because I’m not interested in him – rather the opposite, my interest means I’ve seen more Diaghilev/Ballets Russes/ Silver Age exhibitions than you can shake a stick at. But in fact it was a pleasant surprise, as it concentrated much more on the artists involved with Mir iskusstva, whilst avoiding the tweeness that could occasionally assail that movement (yes, Somov, I’m looking at you). Some of the paintings were very familiar and much loved, such as Bakst’s ‘Supper‘, and Malyavin’s ‘Peasant Women‘. Others, like Natan Altman’s ‘Self Portrait‘ were a real revelation. Again, the exhibition was very effectively curated to tell the story of the art that led to the Ballets Russes, a selection of costumes and designs for which also appear in the final room.

Occasionally in both exhibitions I felt that, despite the explanatory texts accompanying different sections, there was a slight lack of context about specific works, and would have liked more details than the titles and dates given in the captions. The audio guides (available in Spanish, Russian and English) doubtless provide additional information, but I really can’t bear them (am I the only one?). Fortunately the very thorough catalogues (in the same three languages) are also much more expansive, so (oh no!) I had to buy both.

The Age of Diaghilev exhibition is on until July, and Russian Art from Icons to the 20th Century until at least October, although different parts of the website and the museum’s leaflets give different dates for the latter. This was one of a few minor organizational glitches (the cafe wasn’t yet open, the bookshop gave the impression of being half-ready, with no prices on anything, and the reading room and virtual museum space were visible but locked), which I’m sure will soon be ironed out. Great culture may not be most people’s first association with the Costa del Sol, but the Collección del Museo Ruso makes a significant contribution to Málaga’s increasingly good reputation for art and museums, and is well worth a visit. And while you’re there, go to Atarazanas market for lunch – the seafood is just fabulous.

Modern Languages Open

This week has seen the launch of Modern Languages Open, an open access publishing platform for scholarly research in all modern languages and their cultures – one of the most exciting aspects of the project is that it brings a more global perspective to a field that has traditionally defined itself in relation to Europe and its diasporas. As Gerda Wielander’s commentary argues, modern languages as a discipline has been under threat for some years, and in the face of this we need to articulate more clearly the significant contribution we make to the global understanding of peoples and cultures. MLO enables us to do this by offering an innovative forum in which to bring researchers together in new ways and advance knowledge. The range of articles published for the launch is an indication of the scope MLO will achieve.

I’m proud to be involved with MLO as section editor for Russian and East European languages and very pleased to present three articles showcasing new research in nineteenth-century Russian literature as part of the launch material. My thanks to authors Benjamin Morgan, Muireann Maguire and Elizabeth Harrison for their hard (and speedy!) work on the articles; to Katherine Bowers for organizing the symposium at Darwin College in February 2014, Cambridge, at which earlier versions of the papers were given, for her help with the editing and for writing the introduction to the cluster; and to Clare Whitehead for her careful reviews of the articles.

I would like to encourage readers to register as reviewers – the more people who contribute their expertise to MLO the better it will be – and, of course, to submit articles. All languages and cultures of the Russian and East European area are covered, and we are still looking to add a few new members to the section’s editorial board, particularly to cover the Baltics and parts of Central and Southern Europe, so if you are interested, or know someone who might be suitable, please get in touch.

 

Katorga and exile illustrated

Whilst planning a section of my chapter on pre-revolutionary works on Siberian prison and exile, I’ve been considering the role of images as well as the words, as many of the books I’ve been reading – at least most of those published after around 1880 in the UK and the States, and after around 1900 in Russia – are extensively illustrated. Partly to make my own examination of these images easier, and partly as a general resource, I’ve created a flickr album of the ones I’ve collected so far. A list of the books from which they’re taken is given at the bottom of this post, and I will continue to add to it. The one notable absence at the moment is Vlas Doroshevich’s Sakhalin: Katorga (1903), which I’m still downloading (most – although not all – of the images are on the wikisource version, and can be viewed on wikimedia: part 1 | part 1 mugshots | part 2), but in any case Doroshevich’s book is the subject of a different chapter, so it’s not so relevant to my work at the moment.

Convict branded 'SKA', Simpson, Side-Lights, p. 222

Convict branded ‘SKA’, Simpson, Side-Lights on Siberia, p. 222

The images are of varying quality – in both senses – and for practical reasons I’ve so far only included ones that are directly related to the question of the penal and exile system, even though this means omitting some stunning illustrations, particularly from George Kennan’s Siberia and the Exile System (1891; his encounter with Buriat buddhists is an especially rich source of pictures). In some cases the mixture of images included is significant in itself. It’s notable, for example, that of the 36 illustrations in Henry Lansdell’s Through Siberia (1882), only six are of the penal system, supposedly the special subject of his visit, and one of these is of a place he didn’t visit. A transition from illustrations to photographs takes place around the mid-1890s. Some of the photos are very interesting, but there are a lot of repetitions of the same images in different books, probably because many (most? all?) of them are official government photographs (Harry de Windt, The New Siberia, p. 24), which were undoubtedly the most readily available. There were evidently two sets, one relating to Sakhalin, including the mugshots Doroshevich uses (it was apparently obligatory to include at least one of two pictures of the infamous convict Sophia Bliuvshtein in all books on Sakhalin), and another of more general views of convicts, prison and mine complexes – mostly taken at a distance. But even amidst the standard and recurring images, one still occasionally comes as a surprise, as did the above picture of a branded convict from James Young Simpson’s Side-Lights on Siberia (1898). It made me realize how rare it is to see evidence of that practice, which was largely eradicated before the era of official photographs.

But it’s the earlier illustrations that interest me most – perhaps because they were more tendentious. I’ll just highlight a few that have particularly caught my attention. I’ve mentioned Harry de Windt’s absurd illustrations of convicts – who look like anything but – in his Siberia As It Is (1892) in a previous post. I view those as part of the author’s strategy to obscure the question of who the real inhabitants of the penal system actually were (i.e., the criminal convicts, overwhelmingly from the peasantry). One other illustration – used as the frontispiece to the book – relates to the same device:

'Political Prisoners in Siberia', de Windt, Siberia As It Is

‘Political Prisoners in Siberia’, de Windt, Siberia As It Is, Frontispiece

Clearly the figures in the cart are not political prisoners at all, they are exiles, which was quite a different matter (moreover the effete chap in the centre is probably much better dressed than the average political exile). It’s part of De Windt’s tendency to blur the categories and treat prison and exile as if they were the same thing, which has an insidious effect. He constantly represents such ‘prisoners’ as leading the life of riley, free to do what they want and live where they want, apparently giving the lie to Kennan’s depiction of hard labour convicts and filthy, overcrowded prisons. The prominent positioning of this picture initiates that process, which is a pity, as if it were in a different context, with a more honest caption, I think I’d rather like it. I can’t say the same of the next picture, but it does interest me:

'Criminal Kamera', De Windt, Siberia As It Is, p. 409

‘Criminal Kamera’, De Windt, Siberia As It Is, p. 409

This scene of a criminal kamera (communal cell) at Tiumen forwarding prison from the same book is quite a curiosity. At a glance it looks more like a market square or tavern than a cell (and yes, one could go on about the prison as a carnivalized space, blah blah), but more noticeable to me is the treatment of everything that marks out these figures as prisoners. The chains look more like fashionable accoutrements than any sort of encumbrance, the diamonds on the backs of coats appear to be design details, and the two figures with half their head shaved more closely resemble Ukrainian cossacks than convicts. It’s as though there’s something else going on altogether – what Prince Myshkin might have described as ‘ne to’ (‘not that’; talking about the wrong thing). But what then to make of the hunched, bearded figure in the foreground? Strangely, the more I look at it, the more I think of Dostoevsky’s eternal Russian peasant – the Muzhik Marei himself, perhaps. And I begin to wonder if the figure with the hooked nose sat in the centre is Isai Fomich. This is nonsense, of course – de Windt does mention House of the Dead (or Buried Alive, as the first English translation was known), but I don’t think it’s doing him too much of a disservice to suggest that neither he nor his anonymous illustrator was sufficiently tuned into it to incorporate such references.

De Windt (or rather, his illustrator) does at least in these two images depict scenes and characters that look vaguely as though they might belong somewhere in the expanses of the Russian empire. The same cannot be said for James Buel’s Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia (1883), whose title page promises an exposé of ‘Exile Life in Its True and Horrifying Phases’ illustrated with ‘over 200 splendid engravings’. ‘True’ it most certainly isn’t, and ‘splendid’ is stretching it a bit. Rather, it’s a concoction of hearsay and the lurid workings of the author’s imagination, with illustrations to match. Here is the remarkable engraving that accompanies the description of flogging with the knout, a method of punishment, Buel says, which ‘though ostensibly abolished, is inflicted on some poor convict at the Tobolsk prisons every day, as several citizens assured me’ (pp. 280-1):

'Administering the Knout', Buel, Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia, p. 281

‘Administering the Knout’, Buel, Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia, p. 281

This picture in fact quite faithfully illustrates the use of the knout as reported by Buel, described to him by ‘a gentleman who had witnessed several such floggings’ (p. 281). But it bears no resemblance to the actual punishment, in which the victim was strapped to a horizontal ‘mare’ (kobyla – there’s a picture of one in Charles Hawes’ In the Uttermost East, p. 341) – and the reality of the punishment was terrible enough that one wonders why anyone would find it necessary to resort to such medieval fantasies. But in many ways it’s the style of the picture that is most startling – it resembles a religious scene (but Catholic rather than Orthodox), while the contrast of the victim’s whiteness and the dark-skinned executioners imparts a racial dimension for no apparent reason.

The religious element returns at the end of Buel’s examination of Siberian exile life, when he tells us matters have recently improved, and that ‘Formerly, and not many years ago either, there were ecclesiastical courts in Siberia; self-constituted though they were, their decrees contained all the poisonous germs of that church policy which taught, during the middle ages, that it was proper to torture heretics to the end that their souls might be saved. These courts sat in judgment upon those accused of sacrilege, heresy, and witchcraft, which latter offence was, strange enough, more common than the others.’ (p. 341) And this is the illustration:

'Branding a woman convicted of witchcraft', Buel, Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia, p. 432

‘Branding a woman convicted of witchcraft’, Buel, Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia, p. 432

… which looks like a scene from a Gothic novel set in the Spanish Inquisition, complete with titillation in the form of the virginal whiteness of the victim. It might all mean something if Buel was trying to advance some sort of argument, and when he then turns his attention to the pogroms, it looks for a moment as though he is going to say something that – however bizarrely – might justify this stuff. But nothing is forthcoming. It’s just a collection of outrages embellished at will to cause maximum outrage, and his text makes it clear (as do many of the other pictures) that he was actually far more interesting in bear hunting anyway.

But this does raise the question of whom such works were written for, and whether they gained a substantial readership. There was a good deal of interest in the ‘Siberian question’, and certainly Kennan’s Siberia and the Exile System was widely read. A book like Buel’s, I suspect, had the potential to discredit the campaign against Russian prison conditions far more than those that simply denied any faults in the penal system, but was there really a market for this sort of trash? I’d never seen a reference to it until it came up in a search on archive.org, whereas Lansdell’s and de Windt’s books, whatever their shortcomings, are mentioned regularly – not least because these authors all refer to each others books – so perhaps it really did sink without trace. In which case, has digitizing it given it a status it never had, or deserved? And am I now now giving it more attention than it’s ever had? Probably, but it won’t get more than a few lines in my chapter.

Returning to the question of illustrations, it is also worth mentioning Kennan’s books, illustrated by his travelling companion, the artist George Frost, mainly, it seems, from photographs the latter took during the trip. There’s nothing extreme or horrific about the pictures – throughout they seem to be balanced and in fact quite muted in comparison with the often harsh descriptions. There are some rather good portraits of political exiles – including both those they met and others they did not – and very evocative group scenes that look far more natural than the one from de Windt I discuss above.

'Family kamera in Tomsk forwarding prison', Kennan, Siberia and the Exile System, vol. 1, p. 313

‘Family kamera in Tomsk forwarding prison’, Kennan, Siberia and the Exile System, vol. 1, p. 313

I think this is also a good example of one way in which illustrations can work better than photographs, as the few photos extant of convicts in cells (e.g. this one in Deutsch’s Sixteen Years in Siberia)  look very posed and empty compared to all descriptions. Frost was also extremely skilled at depicting the weather – there are a number of excellent pictures of convicts and guards struggling in snowstorms, such as this one, which again is something photographs at the time were unable to capture. Finally I must include quite a simple portrait, because it seems to me to have the most extraordinary humanity:

'Old hard-labor convict', Kennan, Siberia and the Exile System, vol. 2, p. 155

‘Old hard-labor convict’, Kennan, Siberia and the Exile System, vol. 2, p. 155

In the original article (open access) that forms the basis of my chapter, I argue that in Siberia and the Exile System, the peasant convicts are hidden from view. I still stand by that in relation to Kennan’s words, but Frost’s pictures, as these two examples show, tell quite a different story.

References:

James W. BuelRussian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia (Philadelphia: West Philadelphia Publishing Co., 1883)

Lev DeutschSixteen Years in Siberia, trans. Helen Chisholm (New York: Dutton, 1905)

Vlas DoroshevichSakhalin (katorga) (Moscow: Tip. Tovarishchestvo I.D. Sytina, 1903)

Charles Henry HawesIn the Uttermost East: Being an account of investigations among the natives and Russian convicts of the island of Sakhalin, with notes of travel in Korea, Siberia, and Manchuria (London and New York: Harper & Brothers, 1904)

Benjamin Douglas HowardPrisoners of Russia: a personal study of convict life in Sakhalin and Siberia (New York: Appleton and Co., 1902)

George KennanSiberia and the Exile System (New York: The Century Company, 1891), vol. 1 and vol. 2.

Henry LansdellThrough Siberia (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1882)

James Young SimpsonSidelights on Siberia: some account of the Great Siberian Railroad, the Prisons and Exile System (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1898)

Harry de WindtSiberia as it is (London: Chapman & Hall, 1892)

Harry de WindtThe New Siberia: Being an account of a visit to the penal island of Sakhalin, and political prison and mines of the Trans-Baikal district, Eastern Siberia (London: Chapman & Hall, 1896)

Note: All the pictures on the flickr album are in the public domain. However, flickr does not offer a public domain license to individual users, so I have attached all the images to the public domain group and tagged them “public domain.”

Convicts and serfs: two books on Russian penal reform

I’m currently reading and re-reading material for a chapter of my book on narratives of prison, exile and hard labour, and have a few thoughts to put in order in relation to two books on Russian penal reform:

Bruce F. AdamsThe Politics of Punishment: Prison Reform in Russia 1863-1917 (DeKalb: North Illinois University Press, 1996)

Abby M. SchraderLanguages of the Lash: Corporal Punishment and Identity in Imperial Russia (DeKalb: North Illinois University Press, 2002)

Adams coverI’ve been putting off reading Bruce Adams’ The Politics of Punishment for quite a long time, having flicked through it at some point and gained the impression that it looked incredibly dry. I was right: the work of various commissions and government departments in imperial Russia, while undoubtedly important, is perhaps not the most exciting topic in its own right, but the treatment it receives here really does not help. The book is so acronym-heavy it becomes painful to follow at times, whilst reference to the people involved only by initials and surnames and occasionally departmental affiliations (more acronyms!) with no additional information (the book as a whole suffers from being largely divorced from a wider historical context) means that even recurring characters such as the marvellously named Konstantin Karlovich Grot never remotely come to life, and we gain absolutely no impression of what motivates them.

This becomes important for another reason, to which I shall return below, but that ultimately relates to a more serious problem. The Politics of Punishment is worthwhile as a study of how the imperial bureaucracy functioned – or failed to – but regarding its central claim that there was substantial reform to the Russian penal system in the half-century before the revolution, it falls down in several respects. Most significantly, it downplays the large-scale failure to implement reform and, as Schrader notes, ‘mistake[s] the rhetoric of reform for its reality’ (Languages of the Lash, p. 188). As a result, the picture of the penal system that emerges is so different to that we read about in memoirs and eye-witness accounts that, as UEA PhD student Mark Vincent commented in a recent Twitter conversation, one wonders if Adams is actually talking about the same system. Having one’s usual perspective challenged in this way is normally a good thing, but Adams makes no attempt to account for this difference (the tendency to examine the reforms in a vacuum is particularly apparent here). He simply dismisses books such as Kennan’s Siberia and the Exile System (vol. 1 | vol. 2) as only being interested in political prisoners (Politics of Punishment, p. 5), and makes no further reference to any counter-evidence. In my recent article in Europe-Asia Studies, ‘Knowing Russia’s Convicts‘ (now open access), which forms the basis of the chapter I’m writing, I argue that the peasant convicts were in fact central to katorga and exile narratives, and it’s through thinking about why (and how) they become so important that I have come to question various of Adams’ premises.

The gap between policy and implementation seems to be the result mainly of the chronic shortage of money which appears to have afflicted the Russian government – or was it simply that the finance ministry was unwilling to release funds to pay for reforms? Either way, if the financial question had such an impact at one end of the reform process, would it not make sense to consider its role elsewhere in that process? But Adams rejects any such possibility:

Historians seeking economic motivations for human behavior may prefer to believe that fiscal considerations provided the basic motivation for organizing convict labor, but they would find no evidence to support such a claim in this case. Economic considerations may well have given rise to and/or reinforced other justifications for prison labor. It may well be that it was less acceptable to talk about making prisoners work for their keep than about the hope that work rehabilitated them. All such conclusions, however, would be entirely speculative. (Politics of Punishment, p. 138)

Let’s leave aside the fact that Adams is perfectly happy to draw speculative conclusions in other areas, for example in his willingness to ascribe humane motives to the reformers (although one might well question how humane reforms that envisaged building 75 prisons on the model of Pentonville –  a byword for the inhumanity of prison regimes at the time – would be), or in the idea that this originated in the need to keep up with the European neighbours (pp. 140-1). Beyond this, one might suggest that the frequency and vigour with which both Adams and his champions of prison reform deny the primacy of economic motives may well in fact be an indication of their significance. This pertains particularly to the question of penal labour – touted primarily as a means of reform (thereby creating a link between katorga labour and the Stalinist concept of perekovka or reforging, a question I shall explore elsewhere in my book), and with the financial benefits hidden in the small print, so to speak.

But in the context of the Great Reforms and the recent emancipation of the serfs, how significant is it that prisoners and exiles were considered a source of free labour, and to what extent was the Russian economy – accustomed to serfdom – reliant on the existence of sources of free labour? These questions are increasingly important to my work, so various books on the peasant question and on Russian economic history beckon. Any recommendations for good readings on these topics will be very gratefully received.

Schrader coverSo The Politics of Punishment, because of what its deficiencies reveal rather than despite them, has raised an important question for me. Abby Schrader’s Languages of the Lash has proved extremely valuable in my thinking about the answer to that question as well as raising others, but for much more positive reasons. I first read this not long after it was published, but it’s only on this reading that I have realized quite how impressive it is, and that is partly because of the contrast of Schrader’s approach to Adams’. While The Politics of Punishment focuses solely on the question of penal reform, and as a result suffers greatly from the absence of a wider context, Schrader does not address corporal punishment as an isolated question. Rather, she uses it as a prism through which to explore wider questions about social structures and identities in imperial Russia, and to show how contradictions in legislation and rhetorical inconsistencies reveal the limits of the reforming agenda more generally. There is a great deal worth discussing about this book, but I shall just address a couple of key points that are particularly illuminating for my own work.

Above all, I was struck by Schrader’s examination of the ways in which social identity and the relative privileges (or burdens) of membership of particular estates (sosloviia) were, at least after 1785, related to exemption from – or liability to – flogging. Clearly the application of varying degrees of punishment to offenders of different social status was not unique to Russia, but the fact that this was enshrined in law (once there was a proper legal code rather than a jumble of contradictory ukazy) and in itself was used as a means of social engineering, must have been much more unusual. This is significant for me because of the correlation that arises following the Great Reforms between (male) peasants – no longer enserfed but being kept determinedly at the bottom of the social heap – and convicts (of both sexes), as they remained the only two groups that were still subjected to corporal punishment. In essence, the system treated peasants, both during and after serfdom, as if they were already criminals, regardless of whether any crime or misdemeanour had been committed, and convicts as if they were serfs. This is important not only from the point of view of writers’ inscription of the identity of convicts in nineteenth-century narratives – the central focus of my chapter – but also in relation to the question I raise above about the use of prison labour and the economy’s reliance on free labour.

A second significant parallel that emerges, which Schrader explores in some detail in her final chapter, is that of punishment to crime, as reformers posited a connection between flogging and domestic violence: one Privy Councillor ‘correlated the prevalence of corporal punishment with wife beating, implying that the brutality of both state and home reinforced Russian society’s moral depravity.’ (Languages of the Lash, p. 164) Schrader shows that this becomes a serious issue that threatens to ‘infect’ all those involved in the flogging, and by extension, all of Russian society (p. 77) – again this is something my article addresses.

The concern expressed by various commentators and interested parties – including former prison doctor V. Ia. Kokosov and Lev Tolstoy in his 1903 story ‘After the Ball‘ – that the violence of flogging came uncomfortably close to sexual sadism (Languages of the Lash, pp. 180-3) is already apparent – which Schrader doesn’t mention – in the meditation on the ‘executioner within’ in Dostoevsky’s Notes from the House of the Dead (part 2, chapter 3). Obviously this was a work Tolstoy knew well, but one wonders whether other reformers were influenced by it as well. What hadn’t occurred to me (or, as far as I recall, to other critics) previously is that the correlation between corporal punishment and domestic violence is also made explicit in Dostoevsky’s novel through the positioning of the harrowing chapter ‘Akulka’s Husband’ straight after the chapter where the ‘executioner within’ is discussed. Moreover, this chapter, in which a prisoner regales his companion with the extremely graphic story of how he beat his wife to death, takes place in the prison hospital, after three chapters in which corporal punishment has been the major theme, as Dostoevsky’s narrator Gorianchikov talks to convicts who have been flogged and witnesses the effects of flogging for himself. Violence is never far from the surface in House of the Dead, but this adds a different dimension, I think. And it also considerably complicates the question of infection by state violence in my chapter. Time to put my thinking cap back on…

No worse than English prisons…

My work on nineteenth-century narratives about Russian imprisonment and exile has not only led me to read the classics that established the genre, notably Dostoevsky’s House of the Dead and Chekhov’s Sakhalin Island, but has also necessitated ploughing through many less celebrated works by both travellers and former prisoners and exiles. (See my previous post on Siberian narratives for a list of those available online.) Some of these are quite fascinating – Lev Deutsch’s Sixteen Years in Siberia (1905), for example, is significant as a depiction of his own experience, but it also contains a lot of important detail about the situation of female prisoners at the time.

Title page of J.W. Buel's Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia

Title page of J.W. Buel’s Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia

Alas, not many are so well written, or capable of holding the interest in the same way. Even some of the memoirs are very dull; Rufin Piotrowski’s My Escape from Siberia (1863) may sound worth reading, even exciting, but I assure you it is neither. Way before the end of its almost 400 densely-written pages I was losing the will to live. Among the travelogues, the main fault is often voyeurism. James Buel’s Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia (1883) is particularly bad as it manages to exhibit a prurient fascination with the prisoners’ suffering at the same time as the rest of his narrative makes it clear he is actually far more interested in hunting and adventure than he is in the prison question.

But the most problematic – as well as the most unreadable – of the travelogues are those that aim to show the Russian penal system in a positive light. The worst offenders here are Henry Lansdell’s Through Siberia (1882; vol 1 and vol 2)and Harry de Windt’s Siberia As It Is (1892). They are easy to dismiss for a number of reasons. The means they use to convey their message are painfully obvious. The constant expressions of surprise at the brightness, cleanliness and spaciousness of the prison accommodation they saw batter you into submission, so that statements such as, ‘I failed to discover the slightest defect in the sanitary arrangements, or the smallest approach to an offensive smell’ (de Windt, p. 201) become the expectation.

Harry de Windt, Siberia As It Is, p. 204

Harry de Windt, Siberia As It Is, p. 204

Prisoners in both books are repeatedly seen ‘lolling about’ (Lansdell, p. 114), while the unlikeliest of comparisons are used to emphasize how charming and civilized everything is: ‘the demeanour of the exiles more resembles that of a picnic party than a convict gang’ (de Windt, p. 192). De Windt’s illustrations, meanwhile, depict supposed convicts who look less like Russian peasants than English cricketers who have had the misfortune to have a portion (not quite half, as regulations stipulated) of their head shaved – the handlebar moustache on this one is a particularly nice touch.

De Windt, the later visitor, cites Lansdell’s book repeatedly and approvingly as corroborating evidence (see e.g. pp. 126, 154, 169, 268, 272) – in fact the books are so similar one begins to wonder whether de Windt bothered going to Siberia at all. He admits he did not make it as far as Sakhalin, but quotes Lansdell at length as an authority on the subject (p. 297), failing to note that Lansdell didn’t visit the island either. The nomination of such a credulous dupe as an authority is itself ridiculous; Lansdell’s capacity for accepting uncritically what he is told by officials is matched only by his ability to dismiss as exaggeration anything to the contrary he is told by exiles. The book is a tissue of hearsay, so peppered with phrases such as ‘I was told that…’, ‘I heard that…’, ‘it is said that…’ that it is difficult to believe the author saw anything with his own eyes. His criticism of House of the Dead (known here under the title it was first given in English translation, Buried Alive) for the absence of reference to dates or places that would make its contents verifiable (Lansdell, pp. 384-6), was the result of a common misapprehension of the text amongst early English readers, but he evidently made no inquiries of his Russian hosts.

Henry Lansdell, Through Siberia, p. 651: Sakhalin island: the author did not visit here

Henry Lansdell, Through Siberia, p. 651: Sakhalin island: the author had not visited the island

Lansdell may have been simply foolish and incurious, but de Windt was far more disingenuous – his trip was made, after all, at the behest of the ‘MP for Russia‘ and opponent of the radicals Olga Novikoff, who penned the introduction to his book. But as propaganda it’s pretty ineffective as it’s so over-the-top: he claims that the negative portrayal of the Russian penal system can only be found in Kennan’s Siberia and the Exile System (1891; vol 1 and vol 2) and the testimony of former exiles (de Windt, pp. 359-61), but his list of evidence of positive opinion (de Windt, pp. 444-56) – which blithely ignores Russian-language sources – over-eggs the pudding. Equally, his attempts to play down aspects of Russian penal practice by comparing them to features of English life – which Lansdell also does – descend into absurdity when he notes that the birch used for flogging prisoners ‘is precisely similar to those used at Eton’ (de Windt, pp. 343-4).

Leaving aside the curious formulation ‘precisely similar’, this may tell us more about the mores of British public schools than it does about the Russian carceral system. But the rhetoric of similarity to Britain to which such comments belong raises a much more serious question. Both writers repeatedly compare Russia prison conditions to those in Britain, and assert that what they have seen in Siberia is certainly no worse, and frequently better, than in Britain. In the case of punishments as well, the comparison seems to favour the Russians; as Lansdell writes, ‘I saw at Nikolaefsk the wooden kobyla, or “mare,” on which the culprit [note the use of this term; there is certainly no sense of sympathy for any of the convicts in these texts – SJY] is laid; it is preferable, I should think, to the birching “horse” in the Middlesex prison, Coldbath Fields’ (Lansell, p. 654). That may be debatable, and, as elsewhere, he provides no evidence to support his assumption. But when he comments that the plête, while undoubtedly ‘fearful’, is used on prisoners who would be hanged in Britain, he has a point. The British penal system may have been quite different, but it was no less brutal, and its punishments no less cruel than the Russian.

There is clearly an element of whataboutism to this, designed to deflect attention from the subject in hand, and there is little to be gained from indulging in a competition to find the harshest prison system. But the question that arises, which is of particular significance for my work, is why, if the Russian penal system was not unusual, did it become such an important cultural symbol, and why has it generated such a huge body of literature, not only at home, but also abroad? (I do not suggest that there is no prison writing elsewhere, merely that it does not have comparable status, and that it has not captured the imagination beyond its own borders in the same way.) Much as I view Dostoevsky as responsible for establishing the parameters of prison writing in House of the Dead, I don’t think the very existence of the genre is solely the result of the incarceration of educated people capable of transforming their experiences into literary works – if it were, then why haven’t Dickens’ depictions of prisons, or Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol had a similar effect on British or Irish literature? Nor, when we think of the twentieth century, is it simply a question of numbers – the population of the Gulag was indeed large, and it produced an enormous number of memoirs and other writings, but so is the prison population in the USA, without the development of a similarly prominent body of work. Nor is it a question of injustice, as although the Russian system is generally seen from the outside as disproportionate and indiscriminate, that is not necessarily how things are viewed within Russia itself. In the Stalin period, many of those arrested thought that in their own case an error had been made, but that others genuinely were enemies of the people. And to bring things up to date, in the case of Pussy Riot, many Russians reportedly thought the women deserved the sentences they received.

This all suggests that prison writing has gained in significance in Russia not because of specific circumstances, but because prison and exile occupy a different position in relation to Russian society. My view of what that position is, however, will have to wait for another day – or indeed for my book.

The Gulag fantastic?

Kolyma: Dalstroy prisoners constructing the 'Road of Bones' highway from Magadan to Yakutsk

Kolyma: Dalstroy prisoners constructing the ‘Road of
Bones’ highway from Magadan to Yakutsk

I have just finished teaching a new cross-cultural course, Tales of the Unexpected, with my colleague Peter Zusi. A whistle-stop tour through the fantastic and supernatural from the Grimm brothers to H. P. Lovecraft, the course has been great fun, but beyond the appearance of Gogol (his Ukrainian folktale ‘Vii’) and Dostoevsky (the classic work of the Petersburg fantastic The Double), I didn’t anticipate it having much resonance with my research. It came as something as a surprise, therefore, to find echoes in a number of the texts we studied of ideas that relate to my current work on Gulag writing and particularly the short stories of Varlam Shalamov.

Shalamov, who spent 17 years in the hard labour camps of Kolyma, notoriously the harshest part of the Stalinist gulag, is renowned for stories that, while they are full of poetic nuances, express the brutality of that experience with unflinching realism. The curious echo of the opening line of Pushkin’s fantastic story ‘The Queen of Spades’ at the beginning of Shalamov’s story ‘On Tick’ (1956) may give us pause for thought, but ostensibly these tales have no relation to literature of the fantastic and supernatural. However, as I discovered, there are significant commonalities relating to ideas of language, writing and authorship that suggest Shalamov’s approach to his subject is similar to that of fantastic writers of earlier eras.

In Frankenstein, the developing consciousness of the creature creates the paradox of him telling the story of his life prior to language. As the eloquence and knowledge he acquires later shape his expression of his earlier experiences, the poetry of the creature’s uncomprehending gaze initially obscures, but ultimately emphasizes, the fact that even the concepts he does bring to bear in his descriptions were unknown to him at the time of the original experience:

Soon a gentle light stole over the heavens, and gave me a sensation of pleasure. I started up, and behold a radiant form rise from among the trees. I gazed with a kind of wonder. […] No distinct ideas occupied my mind; all was confused. I felt light, and hunger, and thirst, and darkness; innumerable sounds rung in my ears, and on all sides various scents saluted me: the only object that I could distinguish was the bright moon, and I fixed my eyes upon that with pleasure. (Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818 edn, book II, chapter III)

Shalamov’s story ‘Sententiousness’ (1965) features a reversal of this process, as convicts existing in inhuman conditions face the loss of human language:

My language, the course language of the coal face, was impoverished, as impoverished as the feelings that still survived around my bones. Reveille, go to work, lunch, end of work, lights out, citizen boss, may I address you, spade, pit, yes sir, drill rod, pick, it’s cold outside, rain, cold soup, hot soup, bread, ration, leave me a bit to smoke – I’d managed with a couple of dozen words for over a year. Half of them were curses. […] I didn’t look for other words. I was happy that I didn’t need to look for other words. I didn’t know whether these other words existed. I couldn’t have answered that question. (Shalamov, ‘Sententsiia‘)

His narrator (perhaps Shalamov himself, but this is seldom entirely clear), so weak and exhausted that he has been granted a temporary respite from work in the mines, describes a reawakening of language – and consciousness – that parallels the story Shelley’s creature tells:

I was afraid, dumbfounded, when in my brain suddenly – I remember this clearly – under the right parietal bone there appeared a word that was quite useless for the taiga, a word that not only my comrades, but I myself didn’t understand. I cried out this word, rising up on the bunks, turning to the sky, to eternity:

Sententiousness! Sententiousness!’

And I roared with laughter.

The loss and rediscovery of language is significant here because of the impossibility – evident in the creature’s tale in Frankenstein – of conveying those sensations in the language and concepts in which they were originally experienced. For Shalamov, faced with the imperative to bear witness to the suffering of the Gulag, this question is crucial, as it affects authenticity. As he notes in one of his memoirs:

And imperceptibly the intellectual himself loses everything ‘unnecessary’ in his language… Every story of mine is in this respect inevitably doomed to falsehood, to untruth. I never thought a single drawn-out thought [in the camps]. […] How do I return myself to that condition, and in what language can I write about it? […] I want the truth to be the truth of that very day, […] and not the truth of my world view today. (Shalamov, Vospominaniia: ‘O Kolyme’. ‘Iazyk’)

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Keeping Faith with the Party

I’ve been working on my research project on narratives of imprisonment, hard labour and exile for several years now, and am at last making concrete progress with my book. While I’m completing it, I plan to use the blog to organize my notes by writing short reflection pieces on primary and secondary sources as I read or re-read them – not reviews as such, as my main aim is to clarify my own thoughts. So, first up, admittedly for the somewhat random reason that I felt like reading it, rather than because it pertains most immediately to my current plans for chapter revisions, is:

Nanci Adler, Keeping Faith with the Party: Communist Believers Return from the Gulag (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012)

Adler coverThis is a necessary book for me because in its focus on questions of memory and testimony in the context of political belief systems, it addresses the very significant question of how the experience of the Gulag differs from that of the Nazi concentration camps. The existence of ‘official’ narratives publicizing the work of labour camps (notably the White Sea Canal book) and loyalist narratives such as those by Boris Diakov and Georgy Shelest disrupts our understanding of Gulag writing as a primarily ‘dissident’ literary mode. The studies that have already addressed these texts, Cynthia Ruder’s Making History for Stalin  (University Press of Florida, 1998) and Dariusz Tolczyk’s See no Evil (Yale University Press, 1999), although interesting in many ways, do not really integrate this phenomenon into the camp writing tradition. Adler’s book does not do so either, but this is because she uses narratives (and oral histories) to examine her subjects’ perception of events, rather than looking at them as narratives, which is my focus. Nevertheless, her analysis of communism as a faith system is useful in highlighting, for example, the ability of belief to survive contradictory evidence, the conception of the individual as less important than the larger whole, or the means justifying the ends, and the tendency to absolve the party of responsibility (in a sense the individual here comes back into play, but as a scapegoat, effectively confirming his or her insignificant status in relation to the party).

These factors are no doubt significant, and yet in some ways they seem to me insufficient to explain the tenacity of belief in communism amongst some of its victims. It suggests that faith is inviolable, which is clearly not true. Faith is frequently accompanied by doubt; some people lose faith when faced with circumstances that challenge their beliefs, and that certainly happened to some communists. What made those who held onto their beliefs different? Was their belief in some way different, not allowing space for doubt? In which case was it fanaticism rather than faith? Or was it simply a matter of different personality types? And how many (or what proportion of) party members continued to believe despite their own victimization? Adler discusses some cases of communists who lost faith much later, even though it had survived the Gulag, but I didn’t really find an answer to those questions – probably because there is probably no more concrete answer (or statistics) to be found here than in relation to any faith system. Perhaps more comparison with people who did lose their faith would have helped in this regard.

What did come across strongly was the sincerity of many of her subjects – an important consideration, as popular perceptions of the Gulag tend to assume that all those who supported it were mendacious. This was evidently not the case, despite the massive corruption in the system. At the same time, insincerity is reintroduced through the more practical explanations for maintaining belief, most significantly the fact that party membership remained the only viable route to self-advancement. This became especially important for those struggling with material difficulties and limited job prospects when they returned from the Gulag. But can this group of convicts and ex-convicts in any way be described as believers?

So the picture that emerges from from Adler’s study is, unsurprisingly, one of mixed motives, and although the cases she examines are very interesting in themselves – and the book is worth reading for these alone – overall I was left slightly unsatisfied. I suspect that is because it doesn’t quite get beyond the position of an outsider looking in. But for insiders, one can see how it makes sense. For instance, Yuri Trifonov’s novel Disappearance (1987 – unfinished and unpublished during the author’s lifetime, but probably one of the best novels about the purges) gives us a typically subtle insight into the mentalities of that period. The main adult characters facing arrest, the Bayukov brothers – old Bolsheviks based on the author’s father and uncle – and their friends, including an ageing former prosecutor who has fallen out of favour with the rise of Andrei Vyshinsky, have little comprehension of why the purges are taking place and whether those arrested really are enemies. But they understand one thing quite clearly: they showed no mercy to the enemies of the revolution during the civil war, and they in turn expect none to be shown to them. What matters is the continued existence, and ultimate success, of the whole enterprise, so not only can others be sacrificed to the greater good, one also accepts one’s own sacrifice when necessary.

What is remarkable – and Adler notes this several times – is that it didn’t seem to occur to anyone to ask whether (or why) such sacrifices were truly necessary, and what sort of party would demand them, or, to reformulate it in the language of the Thaw, would make such ‘mistakes’? This ultimately brings us back to the question I end up emphasizing repeatedly in my Russian Thought classes about the de-centring of the self, and the fact that the liberal subject has practically no place in Russian philosophy – does it make any substantial appearance outside Herzen’s thought? So in a sense examining the whole question of adherence to a collective ideal at the expense of the self is perhaps addressing the wrong issue, as this could be seen as the norm rather than the exception.

In saying this I have no wish to downplay Adler’s achievement. Her research is very sound and she has unearthed some fascinating stories that shed new light on the experience of the Gulag. But for me the failure to get entirely to grips with this aspect of the subject raises significant questions, not least because of the centrality of conceptions of identity to some of my own recent articles on labour camp narratives (this post contains a link to one example), and to my book. So what is not said here gives me as much food for thought as what is.

Discovering Ivy Litvinov

A post for Women’s History Month

A few weeks ago whilst preparing for my final-year undergraduate Dostoevsky class I plucked an old translation from my shelf that I’d bought a couple of years previously at the Amnesty shop in Shoreditch boxpark. I’d barely looked at it before – I tend to collect old Dostoevsky translations more out of habit than anything else – but I was very surprised when I opened it to see that it was translated by Ivy Litvinov, the British wife of the Soviet diplomat. Beyond the facts that Maxim Litvinov had lived in London prior to the revolution and had acquired a wife in the process – which had registered during research Lenin for my Russians in London project – I knew nothing at all about Ivy Litvinov, so I was intrigued, and sat down to read her translation of ‘Skvernyi anekdot’. It has the title ‘Most Unfortunate’, which didn’t convince me at first, although the more I think about it, the more it seems like a suitably idiomatic English expression that reflects not so much the period when she was translating (the 1950s), but, as is so often the case with expats, her previous life in Britain, which she had left in the early twenties, with only irregular visits thereafter.

The translation itself really impressed me, which is not something one can often say about that era; of those published in Britain, David Magarshak’s translations for Penguin are remarkable mainly for making Dostoevsky, Gogol, Goncharov and Chekhov sound exactly the same, while those produced by the various foreign language presses in the Soviet Union at the time are generally even worse, ranging from the merely laboured to the grossly inaccurate. Litvinov, on the other hand, captures the verbose pomposity and humour of Dostoevsky’s narrative in a rather stylish and readable manner.

I started to scan my shelves and discovered this was not the only translation by Ivy Litvinov I owned – I also had some Chekhov, and Alexei Tolstoi’s three-volume Ordeal – the latter given to me as a joke by a friend when I decided to study Russian at university. A quick search of the SSEES library catalogue, Amazon and Abe Books revealed several more, as well as some of her original works, and as no such thing is available elsewhere, I have compiled a list which I hope will encourage people to seek out her work. I’d be grateful for any additions or corrections. There are certainly a few short works published in Russian that I haven’t yet managed to track down.

There are a couple of websites that give some details of Ivy Litvinov’s life (the best comes from a family member, while there are a few interesting details here), but the best source is undoubtedly the affectionate but clear-sighted biography by John Carswell, The Exile: A Life of Ivy Litvinov (Faber, 1983). I don’t therefore intend to present her biography in enormous detail here, but will just give the outlines.

She was born Ivy Therese Low on 4 June 1889. Her parents were Walter Low, the son of a Jewish immigrant from central Europe, and Alice Baker, the daughter of an officer in the Indian army. Walter died when Ivy was only five years old, and her mother remarried a medieval scholar who worked at the British library and eventually became Assistant Keeper of books. After a fairly unhappy childhood – the present step-father as despised as much as the absent father was adored – in which Ivy drifted towards more intellectually broad-minded relatives, she ended up working at the Prudential offices in Holborn, and began her writing career. Her first novel, Growing Pains (Heinemann, 1913), published at the age of 23, exhibited the autobiographical streak that is apparent in much of her best writing, and the same is true of her second (rather racy) novel, The Questing Beast, which, according to Carswell (p. 72), is one of the first novels to depict women in office life. The first book is difficult to get hold of now, but the second has been published as an ebook.

Ivy Litvinov, Moscow, 1920s

Ivy Litvinov, Moscow, 1920s

It was through her relatives in 1916 that she met Maxim Litvinov, who was then living in London, as many of the Bolshevik revolutionaries did at one point or another (see my post on Lenin in London). The story of their courtship and marriage is given fictional treatment in her rather wonderful 1969 short story ‘Call it Love’ – a highly evocative depiction of London in that era as well as of the tentative romance between two strangely unmatched people from very different backgrounds. The story ‘Early Days’ (1973) gives a more straightforwardly autobiographical account of the same events (Carswell, p. 81). Maxim Litvinov stayed in London after the revolution as a quasi-diplomat – holding meetings on benches in St James’s park – but was arrested in September 1918 in retaliation for the arrest in Moscow of Bruce Lockhart, and after 6 weeks in Brixton prison was exchanged for the the British agent. Ivy stayed in London with their two children, Misha (later the father of the dissident Pavel Litvinov) and Tania (who later became a renowned English to Russian translator, as well as collaborating with her mother on many Russian to English translations).

The family was reunited in Moscow in 1922, and although there were trips abroad, mainly to Europe but also accompanying her husband to Washington DC when he was made Soviet ambassador during the war, Ivy remained in the Soviet Union for more or less the next fifty years, despite never converting to the cause politically. Her relationship with Maxim was rather bumpy. There were numerous affairs, mainly Ivy’s, who was clearly fairly adventurous; for example, Carswell (p. 119) quotes a letter with pretty frank description of an orgy with a lover and his friends in Hamburg in 1928. There were also periods of separation from her husband, including a stint in self-imposed exile in Sverdlovsk in the late thirties when the purges were at their height and things were looking most dangerous for Maxim. But whatever else was going on, there was clearly a lasting loyalty there, and they remained a couple throughout.

Basic Step by Step, by Ivy Litvinov

Basic Step by Step, English language textbook by Ivy Litvinov

Although she had produced a few short pieces, Ivy made a more serious attempt to resurrect her writing career later in the twenties and even underwent hypnotism to help her. The eventual result, published by Heinemann in 1930 under her maiden name, was His Master’s Voice (later published in the States as A Moscow Mystery), a somewhat Agatha Christie-ish murder story set in the shadow of the Kremlin. I’m reading this at the moment and have to say that while I’m enjoying the local colour (which her British publishers saw as unmarketable at the time), I don’t think it’s as accomplished as her later short stories. Writing mystery novels certainly didn’t become a habit, and in the thirties Ivy became more involved with English language pedagogy, producing several text books, readers and dictionaries, and promoting C. K. Ogden’s Basic English programme.

It was after Maxim’s death in 1951 that Ivy turned to translation, and during that decade she kept up a phenomenal work rate, translating, either on her own or with her daughter Tatiana, around 25 novels and collections of stories, plus a couple of critical works. And to judge from the ones I have read so far, they are worth seeking out – Carswell makes very little of her translation work in the biography, but in fact I think this is one of her most significant contributions. In the sixties she also began to write short stories again – some fictional and some as part of her ‘sorterbiography’ (rather more interesting in terms of their form than the straightforward memoirs many people probably wish she had written) – which were published mainly in the New Yorker from 1966.

In 1960 she made her first extended visit to Britain for many years, but returned to the Soviet Union because of her family. However, in 1972 she returned to Britain permanently, living in Hove, actually, until her death in 1977. By this stage part of her family was already in the west, including her granddaughter Vera and her husband Valery Chalidze (whose 1977 book Criminal Russia has proved very useful to my research recently) and, later, Pavel Litvinov and his wife and children. Tatiana – ironically entitled to a British passport because of her father’s lack of official diplomatic status when she was born (Carswell, p. 200) – eventually came to join her mother in 1976.

I recommend the stories Ivy Litvinov published in the sixties and seventies, and strongly disagree with the verdict of Samuel Lipman who, in an extended review of Carswell’s biography, dismisses them as ‘a stale rehash of old memories of an England now forgotten or a retelling of scene from Russian life better done by native practitioners’ (Music and More: Essays, 1975-1991, Northwestern University Press, 1992, p. 276). Certainly in the British-set stories, there is a sense of a life that had disappeared by the time of writing, but for stories set in that period, as in the case of ‘Call it Love’, it is entirely appropriate. In the case of the Russian tales, I think she does have a new and different perspective.

she knew she was rightProbably because of my main research interest, what has really struck me about some of these stories is the persistent presence of the Gulag. This gives her depictions of often very mundane situations a traumatic underpinning that occasionally reminds me of the later short stories of Vasily Grossman. At times this has a really unsettling effect, as in the story ‘Apartheid’ (1970), in which a bourgeois couple rent a dacha for the summer and initially try to keep their children away from the ‘potentially undesirable’ granddaughter of their landlady who lives round the back, and who is equally reluctant to let the children mix. But they play together anyway, so attempts to separate them are abandoned. However, once they have invited the little girl, Milochka, into their dacha, the parents are horrified when she starts prattling on about Magadan, and they realize her mother must be in a labour camp in Kolyma. An uncanny effect is created by the jarring discrepancy between Milochka’s positive references (‘In Magadan we had cream with our kasha…’) and what the parents and readers know. This sense is intensified by Milochka’s gradual appropriation of all her playmates’ toys and their habit of parroting her explanations (”Milochka says…’), so that this small child becomes a very sinister figure, who infiltrates their family through her ideological domination of the children, and forces the adults to contemplate aspects of life they wish to ignore.

‘Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, Where Have You Been?’ is not as successful, but this curious tale which submerges the story of a camp survivor within an animal fable contains a similar theme. It reminded me of one of the subjects in Jehanne Gheith’s oral history work with Gulag survivors – a former prisoner who named his dog Stalin and, by caring for it on a daily basis, went through a process of ‘non-narrative healing or repair’ (J. M. Gheith, ‘”I never talked”: enforced silence, non-narrative memory and the Gulag’, Mortality 12.2 (2007), p. 171). In Litvinov’s story, the cat, acting as the one point of continuity between the past and the present, represents both a comfort and the threat of exposure, which for me exemplifies the ambivalence of the Soviet experience.

There are other stories that address the Gulag theme, such as ‘Bright Shores’, and I may write about those at a later date. I am persuaded that Ivy Litvinov is worth reading as a writer and as a translator. I hope this post will encourage others to read her and contribute to her emergence from the obscurity she has never entirely managed to escape.