Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Stalin’s Police Killed Invalids as a Group, Church Historian Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 5 – Stalin’s NKVD in a single action in 1937 executed more than 1600 invalids in a Moscow prison because they were taking up too much space and could not be dispatched to work in the GULAG. In so doing, they committed a crime more typically associated with Nazi Germany than with the Soviet Union.
This horrific action came to light as the result of research carried out over the last 20 years by Lidiya Golovkova, a specialist in contemporary history at Moscow’s St. Tikhon Humanitarian University, into the execution of Russian Orthodox clergy in the Butovo poligon (http://www.tserkov.info/numbers/history/?ID=2160).
In its report on her work, “Tserkovniy vestnik” describes how difficult it was for Golovkova to get behind the blinds drawn by history and by those who still are not prepared to acknowledge the crimes of the Soviet system against the Church and ordinary citizens.
According to official data, Golovkova reports, 20,675 people were executed in this one prison between August 1937 and February 1938, but the actual number she suggests is much larger, more than 90,000 and includes at least one metropolitan, two archbishops, three bishops and more than a thousand other believers.
Only in 1992, “Tserkovniy vestnik” reports, did the first rumors surface that Butovo had been a killing field, and for two years, FSB employees “were not able to find archival documents” that could confirm that fact or provide any details about what happened there.
But finally, they located a man who in 1937 had been the commandant of the Butovo poligon. Although now a very old man, he quite willingly described what happened there, and his testimony is “today the single available document which confirms” that that site near Moscow was a place of executions.
Among the many chilling details of that time, the following may be the most unsettling. The NKVD “carried out an action to liquidate more than 1600 invalids” because “the jails were overfull, the camps would not take invalids, and therefore they were simply shot.”
“Among those executed were a deaf and dumb man in whose file it was written that he was accused of carrying out active anti-Soviet agitation. The children of those shot were confined” in a special orphanage located on the grounds of what had been the Danilov Monastery.
And, the “Tserkovniy vestnik” article continues, “there was a special order to separate brothers and sisters and even those who knew one another. In the Danilov monastery, there is a place near the wall where there have been found the remains of children.” The Patriarchate plans to build a special chapel there.
This was not the only article about Stalin’s crimes against the Russian Orthodox Church or about the complicated relationship between the Soviet dictatorship and the surviving members of the church hierarchy, including the current willingness of some in the Church to praise Stalin rather than recall what he did.
Writing in “Ogonyek,” Aleksandr Soldatov talks about both. Noting that Stalin closed most Orthodox churches in the USSR – there were only about 100 “working” churches in 1939 -- and killed or arrested most of the clergy, he points to the disturbing trend among some to exonerate or even deify him (http://www.ogoniok.com/4996/32).
“For contemporary Orthodox-patriotic mythology,” Soldatov writes, “the Stalinist period of the modern history of Russia, however absurd this sounds, is the golden age. One professor at the Kremlin’s Russian Academy of State Service even has suggested that it was “the best period of the Russian Orthodox Church in the 20th century.”
“As a rule,” the “Ogonyok” commentator continues, “Orthodox devotees of the bloody tyrant cite the apocryphal writings contained in a popular collection of Church myths of the 20th century, ‘Russia Before the Second Coming.’” That book has gone through numerous editions with a total tirage now close to one million copies.
Its contents are disturbing for what they say about the past but even more for what they tell about the current and future of Russia.
According to this book, Stalin “not only” conducted crusades with wonder-working icons but “secretly came to pray at night” in a Moscow church. There is no documentation for this, but many are prepared to believe this because they are convinced that Stalin was right about other things.
As Soldatov notes, “Russian Orthodox-Stalinism” also contains an ugly portion of xenophobia and anti-Semitism: As one of its followers said, “Stalin cleansed Russians from alien elements. And he is not yet forgiven for preparing for the mass deportation of Jews to the Far East.”
Such vicious and extreme sentiments are dismissed by most people in the Russian Federation and abroad, but perhaps the reports about Stalin’s murder of invalids as a class – a crime more typically associated with Hitler than with the Soviet leader – will cause this much larger group of people to take a harder and more critical look at his actions.

No comments: