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Arseny Roginsky

Interview with Arseny Roginsky conducted by Ann Komaromi with the participation of Gennady Kuzovkin

Date: 4 April 2008

Place: Moscow

Transcription: Felix Shvedovsky, Gennady Kuzovkin

Publication: October 2015

Ann Komaromi: To continue yesterday’s conversation[1] [about the collection Pamiat’ (Memory) [2]], I have another question about the facts mentioned in the foreword to the first issue. You talk about archives…

Arseny Roginsky: Let’s be more precise. The main author of the foreword was, of course, Alexander Daniel. I am sure he is the one who wrote the first draft. Then Mikhail Gefter went over it. Then I think Sergei Dediulin and Alexander Dobkin brought what they had to say to it, and probably in the end I put it all together. I think that is the way it was, although I cannot guarantee it. I only remember that I had separate pages in Gefter’s hand, and a separate typescript from Daniel. Maybe it was even handwritten at first.

AK: So, “the archives of the VChK – GPU – NKVD went up in smoke from the chimneys of the Lubianka in 1941, and the archives of the MGB-MVD went up in 1953, as some believe.”[3] Was this confirmed, and where can one read about these two incidents?

AR: Unfortunately, there is nowhere to read about it. The history of the Lubianka archives has not been written, although we now have substantial confirmation – already documented – from work in the Lubianka archives. The paradox of the situation is that I became something like the director of the working group of the Russian parliament for work in the Lubianka archive in the fall of 1991. Of course I was interested in those questions. Indeed, in 1941, during the evacuation, quite a lot of materials were destroyed.

AK: By Soviet authorities?

AR: By workers at the Lubianka. Generally speaking, I do not know about any security services archive – with only the rarest of exceptions – that fell into the hands of the Germans. Because even in the Smolensk archive the Germans could have seized only isolated files from the Party archives. Actually it is confirmed that quite a lot was destroyed during the evacuation. But as for as I understand, this destruction was not related to covering up the traces of crimes. You understand, it is possible in some cases to say that documents were destroyed for a reason, to cover up some specific crimes. Concerning 1941, I have not heard about that. No, they simply destroyed a whole series of documents that they considered less important. All documents as you know are separated into more important and less important. They are divided as to the length of time they are to be preserved, and so on, and so forth.

So, for example, I spent a lot of time looking for purely housekeeping documents. The housekeeping documents of the NKVD are important to us at least because they would establish the sites of mass graves of those shot. Quite a lot of the documents of the administrative-housekeeping sections which were simply considered clearly of secondary importance for preservation – those were precisely the ones destroyed.

AK: For what purpose? Just to get rid of them?

AR: Well, yes. They had to evacuate the archives. The archive of the First Special Section was evacuated. It did not stay in Moscow during the war. Like the First Special Section itself, that is, the workers with all the open cases. In the outlying regions several affiliates of the archive were created, but that was already later as far as I know. One has to understand that regular destruction of documents after the specified time of preservation had run out – that was perfectly normal. But in 1941, truly great destruction took place, and it was obviously connected to the evacuation, to the fact that documents take up a lot of space.  

Of course, at that time, in 1975-76, we did not understand these subtleties. But we had a lot of testimony saying that it was impossible on October 16 to drive or walk past the Lubianka – there was the smell of fire and pieces of burned papers coming from everywhere. That is, we knew something about the destruction of documents from oral testimony, disconnected.

Concerning 1953-54, we had testimony about this kind of thing, too, only oral testimony, of course – no other kind of evidence. Later that was confirmed, too. It began, apparently, in 1954 or a bit later. Parallel to the process of rehabilitation, quite a lot of documents were destroyed, documents which from the point of view of Khrushchev or the leaders of the Party at the time, seemed pointless and harmful. Why keep documents against honest Soviet citizens who had been rehabilitated? Therefore a huge amount of documents were destroyed – not the investigative files, they did not touch the investigative files, although some of the investigative files from the beginning of the 1920s according to one legend were also destroyed, although that is another story. So we are not talking about the investigative files but about what in the West they call “dossiers.” That is, various materials of so-called “checks,” materials from the surveillance of citizens.

So quite a lot of materials actually after Stalin’s death, during the period of Khrushchev’s anti-Stalin campaign, were destroyed. Plus there are various legends about the personal searches for documents that compromised Khrushchev and his fellows, and about the destruction of those documents. But when we wrote that phrase we were thinking of course about October 16, 1941. And we heard about the destruction of the documents early in Khrushchev’s administration. But we did not know exactly what they burned.

AK: Where was the collection [Pamiat’ (Memory)] put together, where was it published, if one can say that about a samizdat collection, in Moscow or in Leningrad?

AR: Each volume was different. I think that the first volume except for the foreword we did all the way through the final clean copies in Leningrad. But the work on the foreword happened I think it Moscow and the final binding might have been also in Moscow, although I do not remember exactly. Usually the last phase of work happened in Moscow. If for no other reason than that it was more reliable to send copies to the West from Moscow. That was, of course, something we worried about a lot.

The binding, the compilation of the index of names – this is a lot of work. It took a week to sit down and do the name index. At that time nothing was computerized. Therefore we had to write out cards, then design chapters to fit them, the full pagination and so forth. That last stage of the work usually took a few weeks and usually, since we were teachers, we did this in Moscow in some apartment during our summer vacation.

I left for vacation, say, on June 20, and on June 20, I would go with Sergei Dediulin, or with Sasha Dobkin came to Moscow and here someone would join us – Sania Daniel, Alesha Korotaev. And in the apartment of one of our friends – the most important thing was to find an absolutely clean apartment and move there, not to fun from place to place, so as not to bring a tail there.

I remember how one of my distant relatives left somewhere and left us her apartment for two weeks in the area of the metro “Paveletskaia.” Of Alesha Korotaev’s cousin would go somewhere and leave his apartment at Maslovka. More than once that part of the rough draft work got done in the apartment of our friend, I don’t even remember whether she knew anything about it… She probably knew. I don’t remember very well any more. That was Liudmila Polikovskaia. She had a good apartment right in the very center, very convenient, on Spiridonovka. I remember one apartment, another, a third, but to imagine that we would sit at Larisa Bogoraz’s place or at Sania Daniel’s and put together the volumes, and do that terrible rough draft work… there was none of that. Generally speaking, I really love that rough draft work. My greatest pleasure in those years was doing that rough draft work. Of course, there were specialists better than me – Serezha Dediulin, Sasha Dobkin.

AK: Of what does that rough draft work consist?

AR: Rough draft work – that’s the indices, it is the final check of some names, the final check of some notes, it’s the compilation of lists of what did not get done, the list of illustrations, if we thought that the volume would be illustrated. Because there were all manner of photographic illustrations in various volumes. Generally speaking it is when you don’t go anywhere, you just sit with friends, just the two of you, or the three of you, you sit and finish the book.

AK: Who was part of the editorial collective?

AR: We didn’t have one. We didn’t have an editorial collective or an editor-in-chief. Therefore, when they call me the editor of Pamiat’ (Memory) – that’s not correct. I would say that I was like the director of the collective farm. My role was approximately like what it is now in “Memorial.” In essence, after all, I am nothing but the director of a collective farm. To find money for projects, to find a place to work, so that some kind of schedules are followed, deadlines… we had various roles among us, but that was mine. So I, so to say, facilitated the process, not in the sense of financing it – that is a separate conversation – but say someone does not submit their materials in time, we had an agreement, and he didn’t do it. And I have to get something from him, there was no one to do it apparently but me. Or to force Sania Daniel to write the next bit. Sania was always in fact legendary for not accomplishing anything at all on time. And so one had to force him, to convince him. In the end he would sit down and do everything quickly, but he had to be somewhere where he would be sat down, so that he would not want to sleep – he always wanted to sleep – and didn’t go visiting. He always loved to go visiting. It always seemed that way to me, anyway. So I had something more like a role on the collective farm, and not the role of an editor-in-chief.

There was a group of us. I named for you the initiating group: Valery Sazhin, Sergei Deiulin and me. Sergei’s role was especially important. Then the group very quickly expanded by two people, both of whom, unfortunately, died, and to each of whom a volume is dedicated. One was Alexander Dobkin and the other was Felix Perchenok. Sergei Dediulin […] remained among the closest of friends, but he in part distanced himself. Maybe the reason was his involvement in historico-cultural projects. After all, he did remarkably varied things: his journal Severnaia pochta (The Northern Mail),[4] literary geography, the bibliographic journal Summa.[5] He was always in a lot of places. One way or another beginning with some volume [of Pamiat'] he stopped being in the very center. But Sania Daniel and Perchenok and, of course, Sasha Dobkin were always in the center of things. Without Sasha nothing would have come of our efforts, of my efforts. He even had a police nickname that expressed this.

We figured this out when I was already working in the archive of the KGB and found out what police nickname each of us had. These nicknames had an important particularity. In Leningrad they always created them using the first letter of the last name, but then they tried to give it some kind of meaning. So it was clear that mine should begin with the letter “R,” and that Sasha Dobkin’s should begin with a “D.” […] It was simply that I had the opportunity to look at the accounting journal of operations of the Leningrad section of the KGB. The cases themselves had already been destroyed, and I only studied the orders relating to the destruction and the journals chronicling these cases. At that time I determined that my nickname was “The Consultant” (Referent), so that began with “R,” that’s what they called me. And Dobkin’s nickname was “Understudy” (Dubler). There was something in that, you understand, right?

Gennady Kuzovkin: That was the Petersburg style, because in Moscow it was completely different – “The Ascetic,” “The Spider.”

AR: Yes, in Moscow it was different. So, Alexander Dobkin and Felix Perchenok played a huge role in creating the collection [Pamiat’]. In Moscow, Sania Daniel really played a central role and probably Mikhail Iakovlevich Gefter did, too, after all. Well not exactly the same kind. Larisa Iosifovna [Bogoraz] was, of course, always one of us. And, well, there were also friends with us who were exactly like us, generally speaking, not essentially differing from us in any way. This was a rather big authorial and often simultaneously editorial human resource staff. But they were somewhat less drawn into the general politics of the edition. Kostia Popovsky in Leningrad. And in Moscow … I already spoke about Alesha Korotaev, and then Dima Zubarev who works now in “Memorial,” a worthy and in many respects unique person. Well, there were lots of them. Of course, there were advisers – people with whom I consulted regarding some concrete sections, if I wanted to strengthen some line, and there were people with whom I consulted. Well, and others probably consulted with others.

I already named Iakov Solomonovich Lurie yesterday. Let’s speak elsewhere about him. I was friends with his son Lev. He was also a person who was not alien to the spirit of the collection [Pamiat’]. Or the other Lurie – Sania, Samuil Aronovich, an outstanding critic. We need to speak about him separately also. Or my friend Vadim Borisov here in Moscow. The fourth volume, I remember precisely, came out through Dima and therefore I remember well that he had more of a relationship to the fourth volume than to the third, for example. He did a lot in terms of getting materials and agreements with people. Through him we became close to Judith Matveevna Kagan, the daughter of the philosopher, the friend of Bakhtin. Through him, also, we got to know Volodya Kormer, the philosopher and writer. He was writing the novel then The Mole of History…. We consulted with Lidia Korneevna Chukovsky about something.  And once she called us to see her and chewed us out because of one publication associated with Kornei Chukovsky. That sort of thing also happened. Before her emigration, Liuda Alekseeva managed to slip us the memoirs of a woman from Harbin – Shapiro – a piece of which had been published already in the first issue. That came from Liuda via Larisa. I am just naming people at random.

Our friendship with Social-Democrats of the 1920s was an entirely different story. With David Mironovich Batser, Mark Rakhmielievich Levin – that is the father of Yuri Schmidt, the famous lawyer working now, perhaps you heard of him – with Vera Iakovlevna Arkavina, with others. You understand there was a mass of stunning people, and the surprising thing is they preserved their family archives, with which I then became acquainted and about which I cannot to this day forget. This is completely special work – simultaneously: a) with those who can tell you information, b) with sources on paper. Everything is mixed together because in fact it is essential, first of all, to read the text, then, if they give permission for publication, to choose what exactly to publish, and then to do commentary for it. And for commentary the library was not enough. Often one had to ask people, first find them that then ask them, and out of that was born an oral history, not simply from the desire to talk with a remarkable person, but because it was essential to do the commentary. In the course of these meetings and conversations we found new documents and sometimes entire archives.

So an editorial collective as such did not exist, but there was a kind of group, each did something on his own, but we constantly talked things over, and as a result everything somehow worked out… well, that’s called a consensus, right, or we just convinced one another. A lot remained unpublished, but I don’t remember that we were so divergent in out tastes.

Today in “Memorial” there is an archival collection for Pamiat’. Olga Blinkina has described it. It occupies some number of boxes where there are rather a lot of unpublished materials which we had on our hands at that time.

Why did we publish this thing and not that thing? Our sphere of interests formed more or less gradually. We of course had left behind the simple description of the gulag. The gulag seemed to us such an impenetrable banality. There was already a lot published and gathered about the gulag, or so it seemed to us then. And having left the gulag behind, we needed to understand in what direction we were going. I think we moved away from… so to speak, crimes of power, of course it was there at the beginning and remained always, but we moved away from this quietly toward the history of the formation of the broad Russian public. We were more and more taken by this subject. I am not speaking only for myself, but in any case also about Felix and about Sasha Dobkin. These circles of intelligentsia from the 1920s, which we studied under the influence of Antsiferov’s memoirs. We dedicated a huge amount of time to finding the traces of these circles. In part they of course went into the fourth issue, into the commentary to Antsiferov, but basically they were published in the commentary to Antsiferov’s book, which Sasha put out in a separate edition in 1990. The memoirs of Antsiferov were very important for us in this turn toward the theme of the public.

Or, for example, the socialist public. Socialist groups and organizations, first legal and then underground were also important for us. Not only because of their ideology but also because this had significance for widening the spectrum and precisely in terms of the functioning of an independent public at a time when it seemed there could be no talk of such independence. The groups in internal exile, groups not incarcerated – all of this was the history of opposition; because even religious-philosophical groups are opposition, and socialist groups or anarchist groups are opposition, and any other type is, too… Of course, the central thing was not the word “opposition,” but the word “independence.” How did the independent Russian public take shape, how did it die, how did it not yield positions or how did it yield them – this began to interest us more than all else. At least, so it seems to me now.

Generally speaking, two ideas turned out to be at the centre. The first was the memory of the terror, of the Gulag, and the second, was the broad Russian public. One way or another these two themes, these are the two roads that led at least me, and not only me, to “Memorial.”

[1] The interview was done over the course of two days.

[2] Pamiat’, No. 1-5, 1976-81, Leningrad-Moscow, samizdat.

[3] The interviewer cites the foreword to the first issue of the collection Pamiat’. See “Ot redaktsii,” Pamiat’. Istoricheskii sbornik, vyp. 1 (Moscow 1976) New York: Khronika Press, 1978, v-xi.

[4] Severnaia pochta, No. 1-8, 1979-81, Leningrad, samizdat.

[5] Summa, No. 1-7/8, 1979-82, Leningrad, samizdat.