"Memorial" strides through the planet

"Memorial" strides through the planet

Not long ago, on the 19th of April, an event took place, which the "Memorial" activists had already been talking and disputing about for more than three years. The All-Russian organization, although never registered, had been renamed into an "Interrepublican" organization one year before and was now finally registered with the Russian Ministry of Justice. On that occasion "Memorial" was given a strange structural likeness to the USSR Communist Party of the pre-Poloskovsk time: it consisted of Republican organizations of the Ukraine, Moldavia, Kazakhstan, etc., but there was no Russian organization at all. The necessity to close this gap became obvious: without any Russian organization a cooperation with the legislative and executive powers of the Russian Federation turns out to be difficult and a nomination of "Memorial" candidates for the following (sooner or later) election is not possible. But many "Memorialists", particularly the Moscovitans, were quite confused to note that the entirely needless organizing element demanded much more energy and time from the people and that they were forced to turn round and round, like a squirrel on a wheel.

Finally, on the 19th of April, the Rubicon was crossed. On this very day the Historical, Educational Human Rights and Charitable Society "Memorial" became reality: they passed the statues and articles and elected a standing coordinating commission - the Work Board. This memorable event happened during the time, when the suburban electric train was on its way from glorious St. Petersburg to the Finnish Gulf shore, to the bathing resort of Repino (previously called Kuokkala), where the "Memorial" organization carries out its third conference on the 18th and 19th of April. Exactly in that place the deputees of the local Russian "Memorial" affiliates dropped the decision to call a Republican organization into being.

They resolved to make the commission of the Russian organization as compact and solid as possible, with seven people only. As a result of their vote five of them were Moscovitans and two chairmen from local organizations: Yuriy Markovin (from Yaroslavl) and Vladimir Sirotinin from our Krasnoyarsk branch office. When one of the delegates asked, how Sirotinin could be able to take part and assist in the work of the standing commission, the Moscovitans replied without much hesitation: "When we have to decide upon an important problem, we will call him and ask for his advise".

However, on the occasion of the April conference in Repino, they did not only call into existence the Russian „Memorial“ organization. One day earlier, on the 18th of April, they founded the International „Memorial“ Society in replacement of the Interrepublican one. All representatives took this decision unanimously: the Russian, Ukrainian, Estonian, Kazakh, etc., deputees. Thirteen people were elected into the work board of the International „Memorial“ (which, behind the scenes, was immediately renamed „Interplanetarian“), i.e. eleven from the Muscovite organization, one deputee from the Armenian „Memorial“, who also had his permanent residence in Moscow, and once again Vladimir Sirotinin from Krasnoyarsk.

May all those forgive me, who were not sentenced on any political section, who were not compelled to leave their homes and who were not deported by train, in goods’ waggons, under machine-gun fire: the next two paragraphs of this text will certainly be of no interest to you, but one does not have to read them anyway, since this will not have any adverse effect on the comprehension of the text that follows them. Later I will continue to talk about this International „Memorial“ and ist first steops on the planet.

The conference did not only deal with organizational problems. The delegees also profoundly discussed about the laws and statutes on the rehabilitation of former victims of political reprisals, passed on the Ukraine, the Russian Federation and other countries of the „sixth continent“, and in particular debated the practical application of these laws and the great number of problems involved with it. Among the speakers were Arseniy Roginski and Alexander Daniel – members of the work board, who we can quite often listen to on the weekly Russian „Vybor“ radio program . They made statements about the preparations and plans to amend and modify the Russian Law of Rehabilitation, which mainly determins the restoration of the possessory rights of rehabilitated persons, including farmers, which have obviously been „forgotten“ in the existing law, as well as the expansion and more precise definition of the group of people, who were formerly acknowledged as being victims of illegal reprisals. The delegees also learned that agreements and arrangements between the Russian Federation, the Ukraine and Belorussia were still in progress. As soon as all this has been settled, people who received the rehabilitation in accordance with the Ukrainian or Belorussian laws, will also be restored their rights and receive compensation payments here in Russia, as they are intended and planned for the Russian law (except the right on compensation; these payments will be effected by the Ukraine and Belorussia). We do hope that all this will happen within the next few months.

The conference addressed itself to the parliaments and governments of all countries that have come to existence on the territory of the former Russian empire with the explicit request to guarantee by law the rights of the victims of political reprisals and to apply these laws without delay, whereever they have already been passed – in accordance with the requirements of international legislation. Lots of things have not been done yet. In Kazakhstan, for example, they have not yet passed the law which determines the compensation payments for rehabilitated persons for the duration of their having been in prison or in a camp. We are aware of the fact that such a project is being under preparation, but, as one of the representatives of „Memorial“ in Kazakhstan told us, these plans meet with the vehement opposition of the Supreme Soviet.

Now, as promised, we get back to the matters of the international organization. By the way, a lady from Nice also came to Repino. After the proclamation of the International „Memorial“ she immediately asked to speak and declared her preparedness to found an affiliate of this organization at the Côte d’Azur.

Well, who knows – maybe there will also be some work to do for „Memorial“? The more since it has already taken the task upon itself to also represent the victims of non-Communist, totalitarian regimes in ist position of being an international society.

An employee of the Czech consulate in St. Petersburg appealed to the delegates of the conference. For the past three years the consulate has been endeavouring to clarify the fate of Czechs and Slovaks, who were expelled to the USSR after World War II – and they do hope that „Memorial“ can assist them in this task.

The conference furthermore received a letter from the scientific publishing house of the „Karta“ Center, which is acting in Warsaw since 1982 (until 1989 as an underground movement, of course) and publishes a wonderful magazine with the same name on a hogh scientific level. It also brought out books about the history of the Communist regime in Poland. The letter contained an application for the integration of this „Karta“ Center into the „Memorial“ organization. The head of the center, Zbigniev Gluza, expressed his regret that, due to the Easter holidays, he was unable to be present in person (probably for the same reason the chairmen from Lithuania had also not come to attend the conference). That was agreat pity, although many delegees had already got acquainted with Zbigniev a couple of days ago, in Warsaw, where they had taken part in the Week of Conscience, which had been carried out in the Museum of Independence (the former Lenin Museum) from the 6th to the 12th of April.

The events that took place during this week were prepared by joint action of the „Karta“ Center , the Eastern Archives and the „Memorial“ organization and can actually be considered as the first big step towards an international „Memorial“ society, even though the formal announcement was only made a little later.

The „Memorial“ team which had come to Warsaw consisted of more than fifty people: about twenty from Moscow, - mostly people dealing with global questions (i.e. a map of the GULAG, central archives, the structutre, functioning and efficiency of the GPU – NKVD – MGB, issues of law, etc.), about ten persons from St. Petersburg, some „Memorial“ members from the Komi Republic (Syktyvkar, Ukhta, Vorkuta). The Ural was also quite well represented, a little worse – Sibiria: a few people had come from Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, Abakan and Sludyanka on Lake Baikal.

The Ukraine was represented by the irreplacable and undefatigable Nina Fedushak, Kazakhstan by Viktor Snitkovskiy. Unfortunately, much to everybody’s regret, nobody had arrived from Belorussia and Lithuania. We also have to mention a small group of participants, which is not related to „Memorial“, but closely joined to us by its work done on the occasion of the Week of Conscience: Petr Romanov from the Muscovite Polish Society, Genadiy Shavoronkov from the „Moscow News“ and Stepan Rodzevich from the Main Military Office of Prosecutor, - he was a member of the mutual commission for the investigation of the Katyn executions. Another participant in the Week of Conscience was the Polish consul general, Mikhail Zhuravskiy from Moscow.

„Memorial“ had brought along lots of materials to carry through the exhibition „GULAG Art“, including a selection of documentary films about Solovki, Katyn, the post-war camps in Ryazan, about Poland – victims of the Great Terror. The „Karta“ Center contributed to this event by organizing photo exhibitions about Vorkuta, about the railroad line Salekhard – Igarka; an exhibition of exile and camp relics, documents, photographies – all prepared for the Week of Conscience by the Warsaw affiliate.

The Sibirian Alliance. This organization unites former prisoners and exiles, victims that were expelled to the tundra, taiga or the Kazakh steppes and semi-deserts after the 4th division of Poland in the years 1940 and 1941, as well as from 1944 to 1953.

During the second half of the Week of Conscience they organized a conference which can be defined as a scientific-practical event. By the endeavours of the „Karta“ Center and the Eastern Archives, as well as the participation of the Institute of Military History and other academic institutions, an extensice lecture was held on the Polish history between 1939 and 1989, with additional information about archives in Poland, Great Britain and the United States, where documents of those times are being kept.

When it was the turn of the „Memorial“ activists, they gave a summary of the last five years of their history and activities, as well as detailed information about the structure of the archives that remained in the USSR and about possibilities to get admittance to them. They also talked about the passing of laws and decrees in the Russian Ferderation and the Ukraine, in which the rehabilitation and the rights of rehabilitated persons are determined and embodied. The chairman of the local „Memorial“ affiliates furthermore supplied information about what they had been able to achieve in search of the historical truth about political reprisals against Poles and Polish citizens.

I would like to draw special attention to the speech of Jacques Rossi, who had come over from France, author of the fanous reference book about the GULAG. Mr. Jacques talked about the history of the origins of his book, which is based on his rich experience of life and a profound knowledge of our great and mighty language he gathered and learned in the middle of the Soviet reality, in the Norilsk exile camps. The guest from France also used this typical camp language in his speech, and he expressed himself in such a manner that a couple of ladies scowled, pulled a sour face and started whispering indignantly. By the way, the whole auditorium raized a few objections to his speech: for some reason or other he was entirely convinced that, during the liftime of the „Leader of all People“ there did not exist any open resistance movements in the Soviet camps (which was, in fact, not the case at all).

On the whole, however, the personality of the authour of the above-mentioned book, as well as his speech, were bound to rouse the interest of the audience.

Special evening sessions were organized and used to exchange opinions and compare notes between "Memorial" and the Eatsern Archives concerning the production of commemorative maps (i.e. maps of camps and places of exile) by regording the memoirs of victims of reprisals and by systematically gathering all data on IBM computers. It became apparent that "they" principally have to cope with the same problems as we do, but due to the fact that their projects are already financed by certain funds (even the state undertales some financing), "they" had already been able to go further in their work, thus having had the chance to make mistakes, which we have not made yet.

Well, thanks to our poverty we have the opportunity to first learn from other people's errors and mistakes.

According to prior agreement, scienctific exchanges will take place, of course, and people will keep in touch and cooperate. The field of our mutual activities is broad: millions if Soviet citizens, who were of Polish nationality, became victims of arrests and deportations, about two millions of Polish citizens (including one million ofPoles) were arrested or deported during World War II. The third part of the Week of Conscience was mainly taken up by the stand-by duty of the local "Memorial" representations, i.e. by the consultation hours, which we have already become very used to. The people asking for advice were mainly Poles, who in 1940-1941 were expelled to the north, to Sibiria or Kazakhstan, but we were also consulted by former prisoners, who served a sentence in our concentration camp. In order to receive compensation payments, as it is provided by Polish laws, these people have to present documents giving proof of the fact that they were expelled and / or arrested. Some people did not dispose of such documents (any more) and in some cases the authorities had taken them away from their bearers after their repatriation to Poland.

But among those, who had come to the Museum of Independence, there were enough people, who had these important papers with them,others; and there were others, who just intended to tell us something about their own fate or about the fate their families had to suffer "in this unhuman world". The land of the camps and the many places of exile is not called Russia or Sibiria in Poland - it is called what we describe as the GULAG archipelago. Many of them recalled with a strong feeling of gratitude and warmth those Sibirians, who, although they lived in humble circumstances themselves, tried their best to protect them from the NKVD collaborators and save them from moral and physical destruction. Yes, in fact, some human beings existed in this "unhuman world", but, unfortunately, not enough to make this world stop being unhuman.

K. Lambert in exile. Turukhansk, 28.01.1951The beautiful Kristina Lambert, former prisoner of the Lubianka (prison in Moscow; translator's note), who also served her sentence in the Tavdalag, Norillag and Ozerlag and was then sent into internal exile to Turukhansk, called to her mind and spoke very warmly about the Kamkin family - the aircraft mechanic Nikolay and his wife Anna, a synoptic meteorologist. Kristina took care of their two little children - Volodya and Tolya. When she left Turukhansk in 1954 the children held her hands and did not want to let her go.

Mr. Ephraim Ephros, today a scientific collaborator of the Academic Jewish Institute of History (he is 82 years old!), member of the Communist Party since 1932 (which he finally left in 1968), remembers doctor Ivan Fyodorovich Silenko, who saved his life in the Kraslag in 1938. He furthermore remembers the student of language and literature Nikolay Gerasimovich Mordovtsev, with whom he fell the venerable pine-trees in those years, in the steeply rising mountains of the eastern Sayan. After his release he stayed with Mordovtsev in Krasnoyarsk, who was then working for the Locomotive Repair Workshop.

Yadviga Orlovskaya recalls, how her family lived in the village of Shumikha during the years of the war, from where they arenow starting excursions to Biryusa. Izabella Kuyabinskaya remembers her classmates Valya Volinkina and Shura Guseva from the railroad school No. 43 in Achinsk, where they were learning together from 1943-1946.

And Danuta Kovalevskaya, who works as a journalist today, was born in the village of Oreshnoe, Mana district, where her parents had been deported from Lithuania in 1948. She went to school there and even succeeded in receiving a certificate of honour for extraordinary achievements at school (in the first grade).

During the consultation hours in the Museum of Independence we were confronted again and again with a very specific phenomenon: the visitors tried by all means to hand over to the persons on duty some little presents, mainly bars of chocolate (a very typical gift), and it was rather difficult to dissuade them from doing it. In all probability they considered us as being inhabitants of some famine-stricken area, which, as for the rest, was not too unfounded.

When talking about such a matter-of-factness, I would like to add a few words on the "every-day routine" we observed during the Week of Conscience in Warsaw. The participants were provided with lunch in the building of the Warsaw public prosecutors. In this building a couple of rooms have been put at the disposal of the Eastern Archives, although this is an entirely erronous organization. The collaborators are used to have their lunch their, and that was why they included the participants of the conference, as well. However, we had supper at a very common café named "Stout Katka".

Before the whole team left for Moscow again, everybody was supplied with provisions: each of us received a smoked sausage, a packet of butter, two big slabs of chocolate, a French stick, three bananas, three oranges and a 1,5 l bottle of lemonade.

In general, our daily good supply was perfectly organized, thanks to the selfless endeavours of a couple of women working for the "Karta" organization. It is small wonder that they were entirely exhausted at the end of the week, but they nevertheless insisted on coming to the train station and say good-bye to the "Memorial" members.

And one week later the conference in Repino pronounced the foundation of the International "Memorial" Society.

Warsaw - St. Peterburg - Krasnoyarsk, the 20th of May, 1992
V.S. Birger, member of the "Memorial" Society, 660080 Krasnoyarsk, P.O. Box 6391