Unearthing the Responsible

By | November 30, 2016

For four years, Denis Karagodin, a graduate from the Philosophical Faculty of the Tomsk University (Siberia), searched for the names of every person involved in the execution of his great-grandfather Stepan, in 1938, from a NKVD woman-typist to the NKVD investigators who signed the death sentence. The story of the local peasant Stepan Karagodin in those years was quite typical. He was accused of espionage for Japan, sabotage and creation of a rebel organization, which among other things was aimed to disrupt the elections in in the USSR. Karagodin was sentenced to death, and the sentence was carried out at the beginning of 1938.

On November 12, 2016, Denis Karagodin received a copy of the last document he requested from the FSB (Federal State Security) Directorate for Novosibirsk Region, the “Akt” (Certificate) of execution of his great-grandfather with the names of his executioners.

The document stated that three NKVD persons were directly involved in the murder of Stepan Karagodin: Sergey Denisov, commandant (chief executioner) and Yekaterina Noskova, inspector of the city of Tomsk NKVD Department, as well as Nikolay Zyryanov, deputy head of the local NKVD prison. In his blog, Denis Karagodin wrote that he is planning to file a case in court to bring all those responsible for the murder of his great-grandfather to criminal liability.

A few days later Karagodin received a letter from the granddaughter of Nicholas Zyryanov. She wrote :

I have not slept for several days, I just can’t … I’ve studied all your materials, all the documents you posted on your site, I thought over so many things, and recalled in retrospect. […] Intellectually I understand that I am not to blame for what happened, but the feelings that I experience are beyond words […] That grief, which brought such people [executioners], can’t be atoned. […]

The task of the future generations is simply not to suppress [information], everything and all events should be called by their real names. And the purpose of my letter to you is just to tell you that now I know about this shameful page in the history of my family and am completely on your side. But nothing will ever change in our society if the truth is not uncovered. Not without purpose Stalinists have emerged again, [as well as new] monuments to Stalin, all this just does not fit in my head, it defies my comprehension.

The investigation by Denis Karagodin is not unique. Sergey Prudovsky, another historian-enthusiast, has collected documents about the fate of his grandfather, arrested and executed in 1941. Like Stepan Karagodin, Prudovsky’s grandfather Stepan Kuznetsov was arrested as a Japanese spy, but for many years relatives did not know what happened to him. Prudovsky started searching just for his grandfather, but as a result of his investigation collected the names of 1,700 persons arrested along with his grandfather in connection with the so-called “Harbin Case”, when former Russian emigrants who returned from China were persecuted. He found the names of 475 persecuted persons that were not previously listed in the database of the “Memorial “Society and the Andrei Sakharov Center in Moscow.

In an interview to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Prudvsky said:

The great-grandfather of Denis was on my list. I’ve been following his investigation since 2012. But my task is more broad, I want to understand the whole volume of arrests during the Harbin Case.

According to various estimates, in the framework of the case between 39 and 53 thousand people were arrested. Lists of all arrests are kept in the archive department of the Omsk Region FSB Directorate, where Karagodin found the “Akt of Execution” of his great-grandfather.

Prudovsky wants to learn and expose everybody involved in the executions. He continued: “Prosecutors and judges also participated. After a 10-15 minute hearing, they sentenced people to death, and much later the same persons also signed certificates of rehabilitation.”

Prudovsky helps those who, like him, want to find out the truth:

I talked to the children and grandchildren of the people whose data I have found in the archives. To one family, I gave copies of documents about their relative. Another family, after a conversation with me decided not to rake up the past, and decided to participate in the “Last Address” project. This project attaches memorial plaques to the buildings in which a NKVD victim lived and was arrested. But in this fall, after the action “Returning Names“, they decided to continue their search and have written to the FSB archives, demanding it provide them with the Case File of their relative.

Sergei Prudovsky is determined to get the investigation files of three executioners, Illarion Wolfson, Ivan Sorokin, and Arkady Postel, through a court trial against the FSB. These particular executioners carried out death sentences, but later they were arrested and tried themselves. The FSB archive refused to give the files to Prudovsky, citing the law “On Rehabilitation of the Victims of Political Repressions.” The FSB Central Archive based its refusal on the fact that these NKVD officers have not been rehabilitated. One of Moscow’s courts supported the FSB’s decision and declined Prudovsky’s appeal. After that Prudovsky filed a suit in the Supreme Court.

Similarly, Karagodin is determined to seek a court conviction of everybody responsible for the execution of his great-grandfather, from the drivers of the NKVD prison vans called “Black Ravens” to Joseph Stalin. At the moment, he has collected all the materials required for a court case. The open question is whether the court will agree to hear the 75-year-old case.

The Moscow historian and “Memorial” member Nikita Petrov is skeptical regarding the possibility of a trial:

The judicial system is controlled in Russia, and if there is no political will from above, courts will not consider such cases because of the statute of limitations, the death of the guilty, or something else.” But it is imperative to go to the courts. “The more cases like these, the more pressure will be on the prosecutor’s offices and, consequently, there will be more chances to achieve the result.

It is necessary to make it legally recognized what normal people understand without a trial. Stalin’s crimes are crimes against humanity. The 1936 Soviet Constitution prohibited the activities of the so-called “two-member” and “three-member” “courts.” If their work is recognized by modern courts as illegal, it will show the illegal and unconstitutional nature of the Soviet legal system, the Politburo and Stalin personally. Even if the courts refuse a hundred times refuse to consider the cases because of the death of the guilty, it would mean that a hundred times, Stalin has been declared a criminal. And people will stop going to meetings with his portraits.

Sergei Prudovsky and Nikita Petrov urged anyone who has a relative who was persecuted to follow Karagodin’s and Prudovsky’s example.

Author: Vadim Birstein

Dr. Vadim J. Birstein is a historian and geneticist. He is the author of over 300 scientific papers and books and has written two scholarly historical works, "The Perversion of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science" and "SMERSH, Stalin's Secret Weapon: Soviet Military Counterintelligence in WWII". He received the inaugural "St. Ermin's Intelligence Book Award" in 2012 for SMERSH.

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