Thursday, October 22, 2020

The International Newsletter of Communist Studies Online XVI (2010), no. 23

 Grigorij Grigorov: Povoroty sud'by i proizvol. Vospominanija. 1905-1927 gody,

Moskva, OGI, 2005. 536 p. (Častnyj archiv). ISBN 5-94282-281-6; Grigorij

Grigorov: Povoroty sud’by i proizvol. Vospominanija. 1928-1972, s.p., [2008]. 682 p. No ISBN. 

 Not many members of the Left Opposition in the Soviet Union survived Stalin's terror regime. Those who wrote about their experiences of struggle and repression constitute even a lesser quantity.  In 2005, the OGI  publishing  house  released  such  a  rare  document    the  first  volume  of  the  memoirs  of  Grigorii  Isaevich  Grigorov  (1900-1994),  revolutionary,  scientist,  dissident  and  Gulag  inmate.  Born into  a  Jewish  craftsman  family,  Grigorov  joins  the revolutionary movement as a teenager, takes part in the revolutions of February and October 1917, fights on the side of the Reds in the Civil War, becomes imprisoned by Denikin and is freed  again  by  Nestor  Makhno.  After  the  war,  Grigorov  succeeds  in  obtaining  a  proper  education through rabfak institutions, specializes himself in philosophy and becomes a "red professor",  obtaining  a  doctoral  degree  with  a  monograph  on  Spinoza  and  being  close  to  Abram  Deborin,  Evgenii  Preobrazhenskii  and  David  Riazanov.  Having an  independent  mindset  and  not  being  content  with  the  bureaucratization  of  the  party,  Grigorov  associates himself  with  the  Opposition  from  1923  on,  and  is  forced  to  move  to  Siberia,  where  he  can  work  relatively  freely  due  to  his  friendship  with  Vladimir  Kosior.  From 1926  on,  when  the  struggle between the United (Communist) Opposition and Stalin's circle reaches a new level, Grigorov takes part in the work of clandestine circles, crossing paths with Lev Trotsky, Karl Radek,  Victor  Serge  and  other  prominent  oppositionists.  The first volume ends with the author's expulsion from the party in 1927. 

A planned 2nd volume did not see the light in Russia for unknown reasons.  Instead, Grigorov's son, who lives in Israel, has put out an extremely limited print run of the 2nd volume in 2008.  Dealing with the period between 1928 and 1972, it proves to be a fascinating and highly valuable source on the Stalin era.  In  1928,  after  the  “capitulation”  of  Radek,  Preobrazhenskii and Smilga, Grigorov is more than ever active for the Opposition - yet in a way  that  fails to please  him: Carrying  out  the  controversial  tactical  decision of the Left Opposition’s  leadership  to  disband on  oppositionist groups in order to be able to operate within the party, he goes on  a  liquidator  mission into the Soviet province, including the Caucasus, and is confronted with frustration of rank-and-file oppositionists who are not at all willing  to  give up the  organized struggle. In the same year, Grigorov faces arrest and deportation to a village in the Ural, where he spends the next two years together with Desist leader Vladimir Smirnov, first-hand experiencing the brutal peasant collectivization.  After a brief period of freedom back in Leningrad, Grigorov and his wife (an old Bolshevik revolutionary herself) get arrested straight after the Kirov murder in 1934. What follows is an odyssey through several Gulag camps, where the couple manages to stay together for most of the time. Grigorov  experiences  the  Trotskyist  prisoners'  famous hunger strike in Vorkuta (in which he does not take part) and the massacre that followed thereafter – and it is striking that the information on these events, which he brought to paper in the 1970s-1980s without access to any sources, corresponds with the findings of recent research. 

After being released in 1939, again his freedom does not last long: he is mobilized into the army for the war against Finland, captured by enemy troops and spends the following (comparably easy) years as a POW in Finland. In 1944, after the Soviet Union made peace with Finland, Grigorov is arrested again by the infamous SMERSh counter-intelligence, and another period of Gulag imprisonment begins, ending only in March 1955. During the times of Khrushchev and Brezhnev, Grigorov works as a schoolteacher and succeeds to get back into science, shifting to geology (using the experience he gained participating as forced laborer in geological expeditions during his imprisonment). His monograph on the entanglements of philosophy and geography gets published in Kiev in 1983, while his memoirs, which he has been secretly writing from the mid-1960s until 1983, of course remain unpublished during Soviet times. During late perestroika, in 1988, Grigorov writes a letter to Soviet historian Vladimir Billik where he shares his memories on the encounters with Trotsky. 

Shortly after, in 1989, he immigrated to Israel together with his son's family, where he dies in 1994. 

The memoirs of Grigorii Grigorov, contemporary of the 20th century in a literal sense, have an immense historical value for scholars of the Left Opposition, but also they are fruitful as a source for several aspects of the Russian Revolution, the early Soviet Union and the times of Stalinism. And, above all, they are a highly fascinating read.

 Gleb J. Albert, Bielefeld


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Finnish Archives information found

Thanks a  lot to Liisa Vuonokari-Bomström from University of Turku , faculty of Finnish history for some information she found in Finnish archives about my Grandfather Grigory Grigorov.

Read below her email

The little I know about doctor Gregory Grigorov is that she was taken as a POW during the WWII in the by finns occupied Carelia. After having been in different camps for POW:s and civil prisoners he was taken to work in so called war booty archives 7.9.1942. In that occasion he was liberated from the concentration camp 3, and could live in the city of Petrozavodsk quite freely.

The war booty archives was a organisation that intended to collect all archival material and books that was left to the occupied region by soviet institutions but also private persons. The aim was to create provicial archives of Äänislinna (as the Finns called Petrozavodsk) as the idea was to annex East Karelia to Finland. That plan failed and Finns left Petrozavods june 1944.

As your grandfather had said to the Finns to be a doctor of geology his task in the war booty archives was to sort books concerning geology,   physics, chemistry and so on. He was some period  also a foreman for the local workers of archives.

Sadly, the archives I have used include very little information about the local workers and prisoners used in the War booty Archives. They were referred as "prisoners" or "russians" not as individuals. The little I know about him bases on two interrogation protocols. The first one was made after that the University building that housed archives was partly burned-out. All the personnel and prisoners used in the work were interrogated in that occasion.

 That's why I was so happy to find out that your grandfather have wrote his memoirs. It gives me the possibility to give a voice to at least one soviet worker of the archives though your grand father seems to have been far from a "typical" example of  the workforce used.

The second protocol was made by soviet officials after the Red army had arrived in the Petrozavodsk. Soviet officials interrogated individuals who had worked to the Finns partly to collect information about possible war crimes of Finns, partly to punish "collaborators". I think the history of your grandfather as a former prisoner of Gulag gave him a little chance to avoid the new imprisonment that followed.

I have to say I was really glad to find out that he survived the Gulag and lived  such a long life. I hope he had some really good years after all the atrocities he had gone through. 

Monday, October 30, 2017


On the next day after meeting with Trotsky I was in Leningrad with my family. It was the eve of the year 1928-th. We celebrated it at home, everybody was present, which was then rare. When my son and daughters were sleeping, Dina and I discussed the situation. We decided that I had to leave Leningrad, as mass arrests were expected. On the next day we invited A.L. Bronstain and I told her of my meeting with her late husband at A. Beloborodov’s flat. I told sincerely, that I considered Trotsky’s position strange, I did not understand his wish to convince his supporters not to leave the Party, to dismiss themselves. Alexandra Lvovna considered, that Trotsky understood the situation, but did not want to acknowledge it and did not want to act. She thought that Trotsky’s and hid numerous supporters’ arrest was inevitable. I agreed with her and we could not explain Trotsky’s position. After Alexandra Lvovna left Dina said that I would better stop to be interested in political problems and to speak in public. She wanted me to pay more attention to family. I explained that now it was late to speak of it, as “a case” was started on me in the Central Committee, I was excluded from the Party and lost work. Now arrest is to be expected, it is inevitable, but can be postponed. I really cannot be indifferent, when the dreams of freedom, that people of our generation cherished, are destroyed, and the most progressive people, who struggled for many years for social ideals, are now repressed. My wife understood me very well.

Before leaving Leningrad I called upon Misha Ivanov. I met there his friends, workers of Lenin works, where he lately was Party secretary. The workers estimated the situation very critically: they thought, that it was necessary to finish with the dream of socialism, another revolution was to be done, but it was beyond their powers. When they left, Misha told me the last Leningrad news. The journalists of “Bukharin school” wrote in “Leningrad Pravda” of a big victory over the opposition, cited extracts from Stalin’s, Molotov’s, Shkiryatov’s reports at the XY-th Party congress. Misha noted, that in some articles critical remarks on N.I. Bukharin appeared, that Bukharin did not totally approve organizational conclusions related to opposition at the XV-th congress. All the works by Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Preobrazhensky and even the first “Leniniana”, edited by Kamenev, are excluded from libraries. Teachers cite less Lenin’s and Bukharin’s works an anted to recommend it to the journal “Under the Banner of Marxism”. In this case I would help my family with money. But then Deborin was suddenly abused to be a “Menshevist idealist”. Idealism as philosophic trend was Plato’s and Aristotle’s science. There were many trends: objective and subjective idealism, rational and empirical and so on. But there was no “Menshevist idealism”. New philosophers-politicians invented this term to compromise A.M. Deborin, one of Plekhanov’s disciples. He was charged in denying Lenin’s period in Marxist philosophy, did not acknowledge Marxist- Leninist dialectics. Just then a quick rise of such “philosophers”- falsifiers as Mitin, Yudin, Raltsevich, Rozental, who did not hesitate to acknowledge Stalin a great philosopher, historian, biologist and so on. Under a vigilant supervision of the Central Committee ideologists a huge army of ignorant scientists and teachers of natural and humanitarian d prefer “theoretical pearls” by gensec. Some especially prompt “historians” try to present Stalin as a theorist of socialism, organizer of October revolution and a great military strategist. Misha said, that he was dismissed from work, he was a locksmith. He compared it with tsarist power: if you were dismissed from one place, you could go to another one, but now there are directions not to take oppositions to work. Now we have to leave Leningrad and not to spend night at home. Yet I went home, said good-bye to my wife and children and early in the morning left Leningrad. I did not think, that I was parting with family for rather long time.

In Moscow D. Ryazanov sheltered me for the first time in Socialist Academy, I was sleeping on a sofa in one of the rooms. Ryazanov gave me work for translations from German. A.M. Deborin, editor in chief of “Under the Banner of Marxism” journal often called to the Academy, I knew him from the time of studying at the Institute of Red Professorship. Ryazanov and Deborin were acquainted with my monography on B. Spinoza. In this monography I mentioned that Spinoza influenced Marx and Engels. Ryazanov did not consider Spinoza a materialist, he considered him a rationalist and Pantheist,according L.I. Axelrod opinion. Deborin considered Spinoza a materialist. I also then considered Spinoza’s philosophy as a materialistic one. Ryazanov and Deborin adviced me to supplement my monograph, they wanted to recommend it to the journal “Under the Banner of Marxism”. In this case I could help my family with money. But suddenly situation changed. A.M. Deborin was absurdly called “a Menshevist idealist”. There were many trends of idealism: objective, subjective, rational and so on. There was no “Menshevist idealism”, this is not philosophy. New “philosophers”-poiticians invented this term to compromise Deborin, one of Plekhanov’s apprenticies. He was charged with denial of Lenin’s stage in Marxist philosophy. In those years in philosophy an epoch of total absurd began, the science was substituted with politics, a special pseudo-scientific terminology was invented. “Menshevist idealists” were charged with many “sins”: support of “Trotskism,” support of the second International ideas and so on. The journal “Under the Banner of Marxism” was called a mouthpiece of counter-revolution. All this influenced badly on A.M. Deborin, he tried to drown himself in Moskva-river. He was taken out and put to psychiatric clinic. The scandal acquired an international character, after that Deborin was elected an academician (!) The real reason of Deborin’s and his apprentices persecution was that they did not over-oriented themselves, did not say that a new “philosopher” Stalin “rose Marxist-Leninist philosophy to unprecedented height”. Just at this time a quick growth of “philosophers-falsifiers”, as Mitin, Udin, Raltsevich, Rosental began. They promptly acknowleged Stalin a great philosopher, historian, biologist. Under diligent supervision of the Central Committee ideologists a huge army of ignorant scientists and teachers of natural and humanitarian sciences was created.

In such conditions I could not abuse Ryazanov’s hospitality, and looked for a new place. My old friend Nikolay Vikhirev offered me to live in his summer-cottage near Moscow, where it was possible to live in winter. I felt easy there, sleuths did not call there. Vikhirev gave me materials on the XY-th Party congress and I began to study them.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Brief overview of memoirs by Grigory Grigorov

Author - Shulamit Shalit - Grigorov's Monologues

"When destiny in our steps was walking,
Like a madman with a razor in his hand".
Arseniy Tarkovsky, First Rendezvous

It's no accident that he put these words as an epigraph to one of the chapters in his memoirs. He could have put them as an epigraph to his whole life. The unknown writer, the unknown philosopher, well-educated and spiritually strong. He took part in many events that sent shockwaves through Russia in the 20th century. However, his name has just started gaining wider recognition.
Grigory Grigorov in the 1980s

When writing his memoirs, Grigory Grigorov pointed out the following milestones of his life: From 1923 until 1927 he lived in exile without being arrested. For five years his every step was carefully monitored by the State Political Directorate, also known under its Russian acronym GPU.

In the period starting from 1928 and ending in 1952 he received serval prison sentences with the total prison term equal to 29 years. He was accused of counter-revolutionary activities and Trotskyism (i.e. support for Lev Trotsky who was regarded as an opponent to Joseph Stalin).

Grigory got his last prison term in 1952, when serving the previously given ten-year term in a labor camp. All in all he spent 20 years and a half in prisons and labor camps.

Grigory was released from prison ahead of schedule twice (for the first time in 1930 from the Siberian exile six months before his term would be over, and for the second time in 1955 from the concentration camp eight years ahead of schedule). From the end of 1941 until the middle of 1944 (i.e. for two years and a half) he stayed in Finland as a prisoner of war.

In 1940-1941 and in 1955-1956 he lived under close scrutiny of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Committee for State Security (also known under its Russian acronym KGB) and was deprived of the right to live in many Russian cities and to be engaged in activities which had anything to do with ideological issues.

Having pointing out these milestones, Grigory drew the following conclusion: "It is widely recognized that the most productive age lasts from 16 years old until 75 years old. Five years of my life were devoted to pre-revolutionary underground activities and military service in the Red Army during the Civil War. Taking into account all the years I spent in jail and labor camps, it means I could live productively, doing the work I love, for only 17 years and a half, including ten years starting from the age of 65 until the age of 75. That's a huge tragedy for any person, particularly for a creative one".

Grigory was an exceptionally gifted man. He knew Latin and was fluent in German. He remembered miscellaneous quotations from the Roman and Greek classical literature and Heinrich Heine. He was fond of reading and listening to music and had impressive vocal skills. After the Civil War Grigory studied in the Institute of Red Professors and was appointed professor of philosophy when he was 25 years old. In the meantime, very soon, with the advent of Joseph Stalin and totalitarian state, all his aspirations were ruined. When persecutions started, Grigory realized that he would not be able to publish his literary and philosophical works.

Grigory Grigorov, young professor of philosophy

Grigory left a detailed description of his life as intertwined with violent and unimaginable events that rocked Russia and the Soviet Union for many years. His memoirs cover the period starting from 1905 and ending in 1983.

Grigory Grigorov was born in 1900. Very few people of his generation managed to simply live through the entire 20th century until our days. He survived, wrote memoirs and made honest life conclusions. He came to Israel in 1989 and spent there the last five years of his life. The sad irony of the situation is that he could have come to Palestine 70 years ago, had his life taken a different turn.

He was 16 years old when he came to the city of Ekaterinoslav, presently known as Dnepropetrovk, from a little backward town. He was so amazed with what he saw that used to take long walks around the city. Once he got into a poor district. Presumably it was a wage day. He saw a beautiful young woman some 20 meters away from him. She was tugging at the sleeve of a tall dark-haired lad, persuading him to go home. In response to her endearing words he smashed her in the face. "I felt blood rushing through my head", Grigory said. "I lost self-control, rushed to this guy and pushed his belly with my head". All of a sudden Grigory felt piercing pain, with someone's sharp teeth sinking into his cheek. He saw blood dripping onto his shirt, turned around and saw that same woman he was trying to defend. A crowd started gathering around them. Two young passers-by saved Grigory from the brewing trouble. One of them was Moulya, i.e.Abraham Shlonsky, who would later become a well-known poet and translator in Israel. They became friends. Soon Moulya started helping Grigory remove gaps in education, taught him foreign languages, history and literature. They had heated debates. Moulya was trying to persuade Grigory that Jews should take their own path: "We need to stop serving other nations and enrich their economy, culture and science. It's high time that we have our own writers, scientists and artists". However Grigory remained steadfast and regarded Zionists as idealists with rose-colored glasses. Their life paths diverged. When leaving for Palestine in 1921, Moulya asked Grigory to come with him but Grigory stayed in Russia. He continued to cherish revolutionary illusions, believing that eventually revolution would lead to freedom, equality and brotherhood.

He would be arrested for the first time in two years, but he would recollect Moulya's words only in 31 years, in 1952, in Norilsk labor camp, when he would be accused of Zionism and sentenced to ten more years in prison. By that time he already knew that the state of Israel had been founded and that it went through its first war for independence. "Only at that moment, lying on a plank bed in a concentration camp, I realized that social revolutions could never keep Jews free from humiliation and would never bring them equality and human dignity".

Who knows what would have happened, had he left with Abraham Shlonsky in 1921. He could have become a well-known Jewish philosopher, with his name being added to Israeli encyclopedias. But his life took a very dramatic turn.

Grigory managed to withstand all the ordeals that befell him and remained faithful to his principles. He reconsidered all the events he had witnessed and gave them a very detailed description. In 1989 his family left for Israel, where he lived for the last five years and died peacefully in 1994, bidding a light-hearted farewell to this world, on the very eve of the 21st century. "Millions of people slaved away in GULAG labor camps, worked hard and died. Was it pure luck that I survived or something helped me?"

Grigory Grigorov in Israel. More than 90 years old

While growing old, making life observations, reading and contemplating, he wanted to understand whether it is possible that numerous victims and sacrifices taught Russian people nothing. His memoirs contain three thousand pages and they are unique, as is spiritual life of this remarkable man.

Until he was 20, his name was Gershele Monastirsky. He was born in the little town of Starodub located in the Chernigov region to a hard-working family that had many children. He had vague memories of his great-grandfather on his mother's side who died at the age of 102. Right before his death he lit the candles, lay down and passed away peacefully. His grandfather on his father's side lived in the village next to the monastery, and that was the origin of his family name. Gershele morphed in Grigory Grigorov in 1919, when he fought in the rear of the White (i.e. pro-tsar) Army, executing tasks given by the underground organization headquartered in Ekaterinoslav. In order to understand what helped Grigory survive physically and spiritually, retain the ability to analyze both global events and his own mistakes, it is necessary to look through the list of quotations he collected over his life and wrote down in columns one after another. These wise thoughts helped him fight despair and remain hopeful.

Grigory Grigorov (on the right) with his friend. Tomsk city, 1924

The first quotation refers to words his mother Rachel used to say: "There is no way to escape your destiny". These words are followed by quotations from the classical literature: "On what slender threads do life and fortune hang" from Alexander Duma, "Courage lost, all is lost - better you never born" from Johann Goethe, an extended quote from Prometheus, a poem written by George Gordon Byron: "But baffled as thou wert from high, / Still in thy patient energy, / In the endurance and repulse / Of thine impenetrable spirit, / Which Earth and Heaven could not convulse, / A mighty lesson we inherit..." For whom did he write down these quotations? Only for himself? Or probably for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Or may be for his future readers as well?

These quotations reflect complex contradictions of human life. What's the best way to survive? Is it better to surrender to one's fate and circumstances that frequently develop without our direct involvement? Is it wiser to humbly accept the way things unfold and resign oneself to other people's intentions? Or a man should step against unfavorable circumstances, bearing in mind that his consciousness, will and energy are overwhelming. It might seem idealistic and even naive now, but when Grigory was young, he chose Prometheus as his role model, the hero of the Greek mythology that brought fire to the mankind in defiance of orders given by the gods from Mount Olympus. For Grigory, this character was an example of free spirit, strong will and ability to withstand one's fate.

Grigory Grigirov in Norilsk labor camp, 1951

Here are several examples of Grigory's life stories:
"When I was young, I quite often had to make fast decisions whether to hope for the best and do nothing or to take quick actions to save my life. I am not talking about war, when death is always lurking behind, but somehow you never think that a stray bullet can put an end to your life. I am referring to situations when you can die because of your own mistakes or weakness, when you can rely only on your own strength, self-control and stamina. I will now tell you about a couple of very tight situations I went through when I was young. The first one happened in 1919. I received an assignment from underground authorities to go to Sevastopol by train to set up links with soldiers of the Black Sea fleet and local workers. Officers entered the railway car in Alexandrovsk town and began checking passports. They were looking for Jews and for commissars. I was both a Jew and a commissar. I was very nervous but did my best to remain unflappable and pretended I was reading a book. The underground authorities had given me good ID papers, but the officer began scrutinizing me and finally asked to say the Russian word "kukurusa" (corn), expecting to hear a throatal r sound typical of the Jewish dialect. I pronounced this word clearly with distinct roaring r. The officer let me go. But what would have happened had I pronounced this word incorrectly? Another situation happened when I was taking gold, silver and other valuables to Kharkov with a group of soldiers from the Red Army. These precious metals reserves were packed in bags and loaded into sealed railway cars. At Samoylovka railway station we were surrounded by the horse detachment headed by the gang leader whose name was Farther Knysh. There were three hundred people in this detachment armed with sables and rifles. Farther Knysh cried: "What is your cargo?" The myriad of thoughts sped through my head: what should I answer? Then I replied: "We are taking killed soldiers to their relatives". Farther Knysh ordered his horsemen to pull off their hats as a sign of respect for the dead and crossed himself. All soldiers began crossing themselves, too. "Good luck, boys", he said. And his detachment rode away towards Pavlograd town. But what would have happened, had Knysh told us to open the railway cars? What saved us? Keeping self-control, thinking fast and knowing psychology of peasants who gathered in different gangs in those tremulous times.

There was another tricky situation in my life when I thought there was no way out and was already trying to imagine how my poor parents would take the news I had been killed. I was going to Sevastopol for the second time and at Sinelnikovo railway station I had to change trains. That's where I was betrayed by a medical attendant who had known me before as a head of the political department at a hospital in Ekaterinoslav. Soldiers from the punitive division put me suspended in air with my arms tied, hit me with ramrods and whips, insisted on my saying who my friends are. They went on torturing me for several days. When I was losing consciousness, they dragged me into my cell and poured cold water onto me. The next day torturing resumed. I either denied everything the traitor had told them or kept silence. I thought there was no way out. All of a sudden the investigation stopped. The army headed by Farther Makhno took hold of the city in a swift assault. Makhno's followers destroyed the prison doors and set us free. What saved me this time? I believe both luck and self-control, the ability to handle physical pain and tortures".

Dina, Grigory's wife

Grigory got acquainted with his future wife Dina in 1921. She was eight years his senior. She was divorced and had two daughters, Vera (nine years old) and Polya (seven years old).

Dina's daughters Vera and Polya

He was 14 and 12 years older than his step-daughters, but he would become a devoted farther for them for the rest of their life. He was enraptured with Dina: "A strikingly beautiful woman was standing in front of me with that air of feminine beauty described in the Bible. There was inner glow in her smiling brown eyes. Her face was absolutely pure, with no traces of makeup. The way she behaved and talked was simple and free of coquetry. At the same time there was something eye-catching about her. You could feel inner strength".

They would be arrested together in 1934 and would be declared "the enemies of the people". By that time besides from Vera and Polya they would have their common seven-year-old child, son Vissarion. They would be called "children of the enemies of the people". At first Dina and Grigory would be allowed to stay together in a labor camp but later they would be separated.

Dina passed away in 1972 aged 81. "My wife was one of those rare people who managed to keep human dignity and high moral values under the beastly Bolshevik regime. I take off my hat to my wife, a remarkable woman, my dear and faithful friend. She is the one I address the lines written by the Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov: "Under the same star, I am sure, / We both crossed the worldly rims; / We stepped along same road poor, / And were deceived by same false dreams."

He survived through all the ordeals, Lubyanka, Butyrka, prisons, exiles, solitary confinement, hysterical screams behind the prison wall, punishment cells, beating, hunger strikes and cellmates' death. In 1934 he was accused of organizing the anti-Soviet movement and of inspiring false ideas among students whom he taught philosophy. Authorities said he had corrupted young people ideologically and encouraged them to act against the leading political party. Grigory told the investigator: "You wrote this mean opus, so you should sign it, not me". He was nearly killed. He repeatedly lost consciousness because of beating and expected they would execute him through shooting but instead he was sentenced to five years in labor camps. He survived again. "Metaphorically, this arrest and interrogations proved a certain gate that took me to the sinister world commonly known as Gulag Archipelago. Above this imaginary gate I would put a line from the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri: "From thy heart banish fear: of all offense I hitherto absolve thee".

Grigory realized very soon that his previous prison experience was of little help. A lot had changed in the way the punitive system worked since he came back from his exile in Siberia four years ago. To summarize his survival in soviet prisons and concentration camps, Grigory described the rings of the hell created by Joseph Stalin and his proponents. According to Grigory's estimates, Stalin's hell could be roughly divided into ten rings.

Grigory Grigorov – doctor's assistant in the Norilsk concentration camp in 1951

Future generations should be patient and attentive to what this man wrote about not to repeat past mistakes. He wanted to be heard so much. He wanted his descendants not to lose faith, to resists fear and hardships and to remember that life is the ultimate value.

First ring: prisons, investigation, excruciating interrogations at nights, false witnesses, beating, punishment cell.

Second ring: transporting of prisoners, walking in chain gangs 25-30 kilometers a day, escorting soldiers, frequently drunk and violent, crying: "One step right, one step left, we will shoot without warning". It is impossible to get used to it. You remain tense all the time.

Transporting of prisoners in vessels along rivers, usually locked inside orlop decks below the waterline. These ships reminded a floating condemned cell. One foul-smelling bucket for several hundreds of prisoners to be used as a toilet. Hundreds of detainees died because of diseases. The walking dead crawled from orlop decks at the end of such journeys.

Third ring: transfer centers. This is where a lot of transportation routes crossed. And this is where particularly brutal and large-scale fights happened between criminal and political prisoners.

Fourth ring: concentration camps. Common works until prisoners are completely exhausted. Some of them died while working.

Fifth ring: heavy security barrack.

Sixth ring: internal prison and punishment cells at a concentration camp. Penal colony.

Seventh ring: diseases and hunger. A lot depended here on a prisoner's genotype, i.e. heredity, stamina, spiritual strength, ability to endure diseases and hunger and not to despair.

Eighth ring: criminals. It was possible to stand against them with relative success if gathering into groups. Grigory was locked into a cell with criminals several times intentionally, in order to break his will. Some prisoners found this ordeal particularly harsh.

Ninth ring: haunting threat that detention would last forever, the sense of hopelessness for many years, that caused serious psychic disorders and death in the long run.

Tenth ring: everyday examination of one's will, need to defend one's human dignity, to withstand moral corruption and emotional debilitation. Without these efforts death approached unnoticed. A lot of people died because they could not stand the general debilitating atmosphere of a concentration camp. They just got morally broken, collapsed spiritually and died.

Having described these circles of Stalin's hell, Grigory added a line from Dante's Divine Comedy that summarizes what he had lived through and described above: "What fortune or what fate / Before the last day leadeth thee down here?" Sometimes it was better to die rather than to remain hostage to this hopeless never-ending slavery. "I believe that Jews that perished in fire when defending the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from Roman troops, or rebels led by Spartacus, or Masada defenders who committed mass suicide after killing their children and wives, they all wanted to be free. They opted for death to avoid slavery. These heroes made their mark on the world's history, but millions of slaves who ended up in Gulag, worked hard and died without being mourned. I doubt that anyone could now tell how many people disappeared in the icy wilderness of tundra and taiga, in dark waters of Siberian rivers".

As a historian and philosopher, he was trying to understand the ultimate reason that would explain why so many Russian people ended up in Gulag. Having carefully read researches on the Russian history by Vasily Klyuchevsky and Vladimir Solovyev, he made the conclusion that this reason is deeply rooted in Russia's past, national psyche and mentality. When completing his memoirs, he realized that even the detailed description of the everyday life in concentration camps would fail to explain what prisoners felt being suspended in limbo, between life and death, ready to die any moment. this is why Grigory was searching for a metaphor that would make it clear to people unfamiliar with Stalin's hell what it was like: "For many years, I stayed pressed down by a huge rock, as if it were a gravestone. I could breath, think and even move a little bit, but at the same time my soul became as hard as stone. Fear was obviously a bad advisor in those circumstances. I understood that any awkward move could make this gravestone collapse and bury me. I managed to survive, I was set free. I kept interested in life, science, art, poetry and literature. I am even writing memoirs. And all these years I've been trying to figure out what helped me stay alive. I was endowed with good health, stamina, ability to withstand extreme pain, exceptional memory and analytical mindset. All these qualities were key to my survival. Which of them developed thanks to my parents, whom I loved and respected a lot? Quite many, i.e. will, priority of spiritual values over physical property, diligence, willingness to do any work, including hard and dirty one, frugality, modest habits, desire to learn, respect for knowledge and science and self-respect, which is probably the most important one. I was seriously engaged in philosophical studies before I was arrested in 1934 and was very much interested in philosophy. I believe this helped me a lot when I was confronted with horrors in prisons and concentration camps. When locked in solitary confinement, I began contemplating about philosophical systems developed by Baruch Spinoza, Immanuel Kant and Georg Hegel. That helped me get distracted, become oblivious to harsh reality and depressing thoughts. This is when I fully realized the deep meaning hidden in the widely-known expression of the French mathematician and philosopher Rene's Descartes "Cogito Ergo Sum" (I think, therefore I am). That's true, a man can be taken prisoner, shackled and isolated, but if he keeps on thinking constructively, it means he keeps on living. And here is another biographical detail, which may seem insignificant at first glance. I was fond of reading since I was a small boy. I read poems, novels and plays. I knew a lot of literary pieces by heart. I remember reading this line in one of Goethe's literary works and it became my guiding star: "Courage lost, all is lost - better you never born". I understood its deep meaning when staying in prisons and labor camps. Sometimes I saw that my cellmates were growing desperate and irritable and it was hard for them not to kick up a row. At such moments I began retelling either a novel or a play, and as a rule it had a strikingly pacifying effect on everyone, particularly on prisoners sentenced on criminal charges. They were very fond of the novel Les Miserables written by Victor Hugo".

Dante Alighieri's fellow countrymen used to say about him, referring to Inferno: "He was there, he saw everything and came back". Grigory believed that those people who went through all the horrors of Stalin's and Hitler's hell, survived and came back should write about their experience. That' what he did. He hoped that writing would therapeutically help him get rid of haunting memories. Did it really help? Who knows...

"When the Second World War started I was taken prisoner by the Finnish Army and spent two years and a half in Finnish labor camps. This captivity was very unusual as I was allowed sometimes to leave the camp, to stay in Helsinki and to see how Finnish people live. They were free people of a democratic state. This world was arcane to me, a man born in the tsarist Russia and a citizen of the Soviet Union. The values underlying their life were strikingly different. Personal freedom, human dignity, equal rights and the rule of law were of paramount importance. Since then I have had an opportunity to compare a Soviet citizen with people from a democratic state. Joseph Stalin died years ago, but the system he created is still in place, though slightly improved. Serious changes are not within sight. The country lacks political will to make radical changes. The brightest people, those who were spiritually strong and brave enough to oppose suppression, were killed in droves. And what does the Soviet society look like today? Millions of devastated families and crippled lives. Millions of those who were eventually released from concentration camps but remained crushed, both physically and spiritually. Millions of former investigators, false witnesses and state officials. There is little hope that this sort of society would be able to soon take in ideas of human rights, supremacy of law, moral values and democracy. And what about the state system? It proved low-efficient, and even more so, nonviable and self-destructive. There are no forces that would encourage high productivity, especially as far as agriculture is concerned. Before the revolution which happened in February 1917, Russia used to supply grain to Europe. In the mid-1960s, the Soviet Union was a net-exporter of grain. Corruption, nepotism, protectionism and abuse of alcohol are rampant. Rich natural resources fall prey to predatory extraction tools. If this situation persists, the country will face economic collapse and complete chaos, which will unfold along with the frantic search for solutions. This might result in greater troubles. A quotation from the Russian writer Vladimir Korolenko suggests itself here: "There are gaping abysses in social movements, like in every ocean... Who knows them? Who managed to uncover the mystery that defines the movement of the human ocean? Who could tell with certainty that there is no threat of a new tsunami that would rise anew as unexpectedly as before and with a vengeance?" There is little to add to these prophetic words. Few events might seem more grisly than those that happened to Russia in the 20th century. I would recommend my children take these words very seriously".

At the end of his memoirs, Grigory Grigorov put a quotation from George Gordon Byron's poem "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" which he liked a lot: My task is done - my song hath ceased - my theme
Has died into an echo; it is fit
The spell should break of this protracted dream,
The torch shall be extinguish'd which hath lit
My midnight lamp - and what is writ, is writ, -
Would it were worthier! but I am not now
That which I have been - and my vision flit
Less palpably before me - and the glow
Which in my spirit dwelt is fluttering, faint, and low.

The first volume of Grigory Grigorov's memoirs "The Twist of Fate and Tyranny" covering the period from 1905 until 1927 was published in OGI publishing house in Moscow in 2005.

The second and the third volumes were published in Israel in 2008 and 2010 respectively (with the subtitles "Memoirs, 1928-1972" and "The Russian History, the 20th century: Highlights and Analysis").

P.S. Big thanks to Katya Levchenko for translation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Part of the memoirs - Leningrad 1934, after Kirov's killing

My wife and I were offered to put on clothes and follow the guards. Our daughters cried, the boy seemed to be asleep. May be, sometimes talented dramatists and producers will be able to show in the theatre all the tragedy of the life in the USSR beginning from the thirtieth years: hundreds of thousands people who gave many years to struggle for their ideals, who were in tsarist jails, underground and the Civil War, now are sent to Soviet jails.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Finnish Captivity (part 2)

Chapter 3
The first days of Finnish captivity. Suoyarvy camp. Camp in Svyat-Navolok .Liberalism and kindness of Finnes. A rouge and provocative agent from Odessa Yeremeev. A military doctor, son of Russian emigrants believes in the future of Russia. Doctor Karl Mary and his fiancée Erna.

From the first war with Finland, provoked by Hitler, Soviet newspapers were full of the savage treatment facts of Russian captives by Finns. For instance they wrote that Finns cut ears and took out eyes of captives. I did not believe the Soviet press for a long time, but still some suspicion remained me a nation called itself Suomy – as the nation of marshes. I knew very well that Finland had given shelter to many escaped from Russia revolutionaries. Lenin came back from emigration through Finland. During the time of struggle with Russian autocracy a strong social-democratic Working party was formed and acted in Finland.  

        As I wrote in the previous chapter, a group of captives walked along the road. A small escort led us to the North of Segozero. Knyazev and I decided to run, to hide in the wood then try to reach Maselsky or Medvezhyegorsk.

We began to gradually lag behind the column of people; the escort did not notice it. We lay on the earth and began to crawl quickly to the woods. We walked about two kilometers through the woods and suddenly met Finnish soldiers. They surrounded us and we thought that was the end of our lives. But two soldiers just led us to the road, overtook the column of captives and passed us to the escort. The escort only cried: pargele , satana, but they didn't hurt us, but placed us in the first row.

One of the escorts took out photos from his pocket and showing it explained in broken Russian with a smile: ”This is my mother, this is my bride.” This scene could be taken as illustration of soldiers fraternization between hostile armies.

We came to the village that was left by its inhabitants. We were quartered in houses by 5 persons in each one. The escorts ordered us strictly not to touch anything in the houses. Everything was in order in our house: pillows are on the beds, a wooden cupboard with plates, cups and saucepans is on the wall, an icon of Christ is in the corner with a still burning oil wick. There was warm and clean in the house, it seemed, the masters of the house went out somewhere. We lay on the floor on home-made carpets .
Though I was tired, I could not sleep, I thought about escaping. My thoughts were interrupted by a noise; a new party of captives came. As soon as four Finnish officers entered all of us stood up. One of the them told us in Russian that we had to leave the house as the inhabitants came back to the village; they were saved by Finnish soldiers after the shooting.

We were accommodated in a big barn where there were a few people already. There was a young girl in the middle of the barn. She covered with bandages and was moaning. Also we met there this boy who was saved by us; he rushed to me and said with tears on his face that his mother and sister drowned in Segozero.

In the evening we received a tank of boiled water and two lumps of sugar for each of us. Knyazev and I did not sleep; my young friend asked me what the Finns can do to us. (He remembered what Soviet news-papers wrote about). They treated us quite decently yet. In the morning five Finnish officers entered into the barn.  One of them addressed to us in broken Russian: Be prepared, now we cut your ears and noses and take out your eyes.” We prepared for something awful. Suddenly all them began to laugh soundly. The same officer continued: “Your papers slander us. We won’t do you any harm, you will be treated as captives, you just work and after the war will be over you get back to your country.”

Everybody breathed freely and began to smile. We got porridge, tea and two lumps of sugar for a breakfast. Soon ambulance took the burned girl, two sick men and the boy. The boy ran up to me to say good-bye. I stroked his blond hair and turned away. It is always difficult to see suffering children.

 I was confused in the captivity because I saw that the conditions in Finnish captivity cannot be compared with Soviet concentration camps where I had been. In Finland the captives were not flouted or humiliated, but in the native land a political prisoner was always treated as a slave with whom the authorities can do everything they want.

But one circumstance worried me: the Jewish problem. No other nation on the Earth suffered such persecution as Jews.  Probably, because they gave to the Christians a God-man and did not want to knee down before him, when he was transformed into an idol? Never the Jewish question was as keen as after the fascists came to power in Germany. I was anxious: whether democratic Finland treats Jews in the same way as fascist Germany?

My thoughts were interrupted. All the captives from our barn were placed in lorries, two Finnish soldiers convoyed us. We started to drive down along the wide asphalted road.

A lot of lorries with soldiers moved in the opposite direction. The driver of one of them threw out two boxes with biscuits right on the road and shouted something in Finnish. Our driver stopped and told us to take the boxes to divide the biscuits between us.

In the evening we arrived at a big camp Suoyarvy for military and civil captives. In the administration of this camp was a small group of fascists. In the morning, the captives were formed two persons in a row in order to take breakfast. The group of fascists watched after the order: they shouted, demanded of us to keep the file.
One of the captives left the line for some reason. A fascist officer shot and killed him. We became strained. But suddenly something happened unexpectedly. Apparently, in Finland some citizens refused to take part in war because of moral or religious principles. So, they were called “non-participants” and punished in a curious way: If they were soldiers, their belts and shoulder-straps were taken off and they were sent to a separate tent in the territory of a concentration camp.

There was the same tent in Suoyarvy camp, ten strong men were there.  Once they saw the fascist officer killed the captive, they ran to him and began to beat him, took his gun and threw it out behind the camp's fence. The camp commandant, an elderly sergeant major, came up to the beaten fascist, lifted him up, led him to the camp gate and pushed him strongly with his leg out of the camp, saying: Poish, pargele, satana” (get out, devil).The commandant came up to our line and said in a broken Russian:  “Such people as this fascist disgrace our people, we won’t let anybody taunt you, you are not responsible for your government.”

I was deeply impressed with the “non-participants’” and commandant’s behavior. I understood that Finland is a country where keeping the law is obligatory for everybody. There was no roots for wide spread of fascist or anti-Semitic ideology. I also understood that in Soviet news-papers published an impudent lie of Finland.

Two days after the captives were led to a nearby village for a bath. After that we did not return to the same barrack, but we were accommodated in a big another one. It had doubled number of plank-beds but it wasn't so dense as the previous one was. I received an upper plank-bed placed between beds of Gennady Knyazev and Vasily Ivanovich Polyakov. Polyakov was taken as a prisoner near Sortavala. He told us that Finnish Army took Petrozavodsk but did not go ahead, though the Germans demanded to move its units up to Leningrad, surrounded with German troops.

Later I learned that deputies of the Social-democratic party of Finnish Seim demanded from Government to be ruled by considerations of strategic interests of Finland and not German interests. It appeared that the Commander–in-chief of the Finnish Army Mannerheim and President of Finland Rutty were members of the ”Progressists” party, founded when Finland was a part of Russian Empire.

What surprised and rejoiced me very much was the position of the Finnish Government on the Jewish question. In spite of great pressure of fascist Germany, Finland did not admit to persecution or discrimination of Jews on its territory. More than that, Jews served in the Finnish Army. This position of Finland , being an ally of Germany in war, demanded great courage from its Government. There was a lack of food in Suoyarvy camp. We were given 3-4 crackers a day, two portions of soup from rotten potatoes and a small portion of porridge. Sometimes we were given horse-flesh. All those who did not take part in battles were transferred into Svyat-Navolok camp. Knyazev and I were transferred as well. Svyat-Navolok was a big village located in the forest at the lake bank. There was no fence, but a commandant’s office headed by a sergeant-major was there.

Once he told us in a broken Russian: “Mannerheim is more yours than ours, he was loyal to the Russian tzar, he is not Finn, and he is Swede.” It should be noticed that Finnish soldiers and officers very critically treated supreme military command. The captives were quartered in peasants’ houses; we were warned not to take peasants’ things. The majority of Karel peasants did not want to be evacuated, but hid in the forest. There was a big Russian stove in the house we lived in. There were a big wooden table in the middle of the one room and two beds in another room. There was no dining-room or kitchen in the camp, we got a ration for a month, we cooked soup and porridge by ourselves.

There was a lot of fish in the nearby lake, then captives fished under the control of Finnish soldiers. There were some rogues between the captives, one of them, Eremeyev from Odessa. He pretended to be a hereditary noble man, son of prince Volkonsky. He invented a story that his parents went abroad from Odessa by a ship after the revolution. While people boarded to the ship, Eremeyev, being a boy of ten, ran away. The police caught him and sent to an orphanage, where he had lived several years as Eremeyev. He told Finns that his parents live in Paris and asked to send him there. All the captives understood that it was a feeble legend but simple-hearted Finns believed him. Eremeyev was trusted to give us the ration.

Besides that in case there was no flour in the camp he was given a horse and a cart to go free to villages to fetch flour. One of the girls in the camp fell in love with Eremeyev, this romance was last for a long. Eremeyev stood at anti-Soviet position and wrote articles to the newspaper for captives depicting the suffering of Soviet people under the Bolsheviks oppression.

Once he came to my place and said: “I know you are professor of philosophy, imprisoned in Soviet jails and concentration camps as an opposition member.” I was surprised, I had never told anybody about my past. Finally I discovered where he got this information from. Being in Suoyarvy I searched the Finns who took my wallet with the certificate given to me when I had been leaving Vorkuto-Pechersk concentration camp. There was written there about my work and arrests. Obviously, Finns believed Eremeyev to the extent that they showed him the certificate and so he decided to speak to me. He asked me to describe my life in the USSR in a news-paper for captives. I refused him flatly, but Eremeyev did not let me alone. He asked: “Do you consider Finland a democratic country?” I answered: “Yes, Finland is a democratic country because there are several political parties in it, including a working and a peasants’ parties. They have their newspapers in which they can reflect their position.”

Later, when I was questioned about my Finnish captivity by a Soviet interrogator, Eremeyev was a “witness” and he reminded this conversation. The captives were taken out to work, we sawed logs, prepared firewood, cleaned roads. The Finns tried to keep roads very diligently, demanding us to take away even small pebbles.

My young friend Gennady preferred to work in the Commandant’s Office. I did not advice him to do that. But it turned out to have an unexpected effect. A young beautiful Finnish woman worked in the Commandant’s Office. She paid attention on the handsome Knyasev and fell in love with him. This girl was a member of a youth fascist organization. A small part of Finnish youth was influenced of fascist professors and writers. They dreamed to conquest all the North up to the Urals. They put forward primitive motives: Russian North is inhabited with Finnish tribes: Karels, Komi and others. The Finnish girl influenced unsteady Knyazev with this idea. She also spoke with him of sexology, saying that a true Finn as a true Aryan denied monogamy, and the decisive factor is physical love directed to the sanitation of the race. Knyazev told me about that sincerely. I explained to him that racism is a philosophy of brutal fuhrers who oriented on the mean instincts of masses. I was speaking of fascist Germany when Eremeyev came into the house. He asked me: “Don’t you think, Grigoruy Isayevich, that Germany is now so strong that it is able not only to make to kneel down the Soviet Union, but England as well?” I understood that he wanted to provoke me into a dangerous conversation.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Grigory Grigorov's book as base for movie

After the first memoirs book by G. Grigorov “Turns of Destiny and Tyranny” appeared for sale, his family, who published the book, obtained enough readers references all over the world. No doubt, the fate of thoughtful yet active person of the cataclysms 20th century background interested various groups of readers.

One of the references made us to look at the grandfather’s fate in a completely new way. Some readers specify the memoirs were appear as a finished screen play for a Hollywood movie. Once we read the reference, we understood the reader was right for a number of reasons. First of all it's a historical com-ponent of the story: Grigorov was participating in the most significant USSR events at all country’s his-tory periods.

He was familiar with representatives of all classes of the Soviet society. Such as workers, peasants, writers, poets, professors, military men, Communist Party political figures.

He met such brilliant persons as Esenin and Mayakovsky, Shostakovich, Bukharin and Trotsky. In his memoirs he speaks about such striking event as his liberation from a jail where he was sentenced to the death ( He describes the situation in Leningrad before and after Kirov’s death, he substantiates mass executions in Vorkuta in 1938, tells about Finnish captivity during the 2-nd World War, and many other facts.

Besides unique G. Grigorov's personality, despite the death sentence, the inhuman jail conditions and concentration camps, he returned to his family being full of life and energy. He started to write his large volume of memoirs in 1965. The book was finished in 1980.

We are life witnesses of G. Grigorov's extraordinary yet charming personality. A brilliant and impres-sive character might be created in the movie.

Several parts of the memoirs have been translated into English by Stella Grigorov, Grigorov’s daughter in law.

We would be very grateful if you could give us any advice for finding a film agent or recommend peo-ple who can really work with that. Please let us know your thoughts on the chance to turn memoirs book “Turns of Destiny and Tyranny”into a movie and how much would that cost.

Where to start? We'd be delighted to hear any idea from you. Please contact us by email