Serov’s Memoir Prompts Legal Action

By | October 8, 2016
slipachuk artem

Boris Sokolov, photo by Artem Slipachuk

On October 3, 2016, Russian news agencies and the Russian BBC Service announced that Ivan Serov’s granddaughter Vera filed a lawsuit for libel against the radio station Ekho Moskvy and the well-known Russian historian Boris Sokolov, whose words about Serov’s memoir Notes from a Suitcase I put as an epigraph to my article on the memoir. Aleksandr Khinstein, the editor and publisher of the memoir, also filed a lawsuit.

The action of Vera was prompted by Boris Sokolov’s phrase he said about Serov during the interview on radio station Ekho Moskvy on July 14, 2016: “He [Serov] became infamous first of all due to the arrests, executions, and deportations he carried out.” Serov’s granddaughter demands an official rebuttal of these words although Sokolov gave concrete examples of Serov’s activity: “In Poland, [he] deported and shot to death the servicemen of the ’Armia Kraiova’ [Polish Resistance ‘Home Army’]. In Germany, [he] also was in charge of deportations and repressions.”

In his interview Sokolov called the memoir “a falsification” and “a free interpretation of Serov’s biography written by Khinstein in the form of his [Serov’s] memoir.” The goal of the publication, according to Sokolov, was “to rehabilitate Serov, if possible, to show that he was not an executioner, but carried out important governmental work, and [to rehabilitate] the [security service] organs.”

As for Khinstein, he was offended by Sokolov’s claim that the memoir is a forgery. Khinstein told the BBC correspondent: “In the program that was transmitted by the Ekho Moskvy, the expert Boris Sokolov directly accused me of falsifying the diary and notes of the first KGB Chairman Ivan Serov and pretending that they are historical documents.” Khinstein stated that he worked with the manuscripts as an editor and wrote commentaries. As for the identification of manuscripts, Serov’s granddaughter requested a professional review of the diaries and notes and their authenticity has allegedly been proven.

Khinstein added that several weeks ago he sent a letter to the Chief Editor of Ekho Moskvy, Aleksei Venediktov, asking for a rebuttal that the book was falsified. As he told the BBC correspondent, “from my side, I’m raising a question that the information discrediting me should be denied.” Venediktov did not answer.

The lawsuit includes a demand for money. The plaintiffs want Sokolov to pay 1 million rubles, and the radio station, to pay 2 million rubles, as compensation for libel.

In answer to the legal action, Venediktov stated that the Ekho Moskvy will be the third participant in the trial. He said: “We are ready to discuss in a courtroom the responsibility of General Serov for the arrests, executions, and deportations.”

The next day Boris Sokolov published his answer to the lawsuit entitled “A handle from Serov’s Suitcase” (referring to the claim that Serov’s memoir was found in a suitcase) on the Grani.ru website:

I was surprised to learn that General Serov’s granddaughter has filed a lawsuit against me to protect the honor and dignity of her grandfather. Apparently, it was induced by the Ekho Moskvy radio transmission in July [of this year] …

Generally, I am against the establishment of historical truth in court, it should be found by historians during debates among themselves. But as for Serov’s career, he was infamous first of all due to the arrests without trial, executions, and deportations. These are established and documented facts, and recalling them cannot be a reason for the accusation of insulting the “honor and dignity” of Serov. I’m not sure that the executioner had them. By the way, he was expelled from the Communist Party in 1965 for “violations of the socialist legality and the use of official position for personal gain.”

During the Ekho radio transmission, I suggested that, in fact, the Notes from a Suitcase were written not by [Serov], but by other people and, most probably, after Serov’s death. The manuscript is not professionally done since Aleksandr Khinstein, who published the memoir, as he said by himself, worked only with scanned pages. Therefore, Serov’s published memoir, although it contains parts of Serov’s real texts, is, on the whole, a falsification. I’m still holding this opinion.

The fact that those fragments of the Notes from a Suitcase that look like dairy records have no specific dates, suggest a possibility of falsification of a large part of the memoir and diaries. Usually people, who make records in a diary, put dates. But if records are falsified, the exact dates are not mentioned to avoid being trapped in specific events.

Of course, there are plenty of facts in the book supported by documentary evidence about the events Serov was involved in. However, the corresponding fragments could have been written on the basis of published information. At the same time, a number of obvious anachronisms in the diary records suggest that they were written not by Serov, but somebody else.

In the memoir, [Serov] says about Raoul Wallenberg: “For the first time, I heard this name in 1942 . . . Then I found out that Wallenberg, a relative of the prominent Swedish bankers, visited the temporarily occupied territory, specifically Pskov, where he had contacts with the Fascist civilian administration and the Abwehr” (p. 534). Interestingly, who would have allowed Wallenberg to come to Pskov, into the Army Group “North” operational zone, where its staff and the staff of the 18th Army were located, and no occupational civilian administration existed? Really, did [Field Marshal Georg] Küchler and [General Georg] Lindermann need his urgent advice on how it would be better to conquer Leningrad? […]

I think that the publication of the Notes from a Suitcase was needed to a considerable extent for whitewashing Serov, and to some extent the state security organs of Stalin’s time. Really, if the author writes not a biography, but a memoir and diaries, it would be natural for him not to speak about his crimes, and if he does speak, he tries to justify himself by all means. But in my opinion, Serov never wrote the majority of the book.

The historian Sokolov is very strong in his judgement. Earlier, on September 25, after the Wallenberg round table in Moscow, he wrote me: “I was at the Wallenberg event and said my opinion that Serov’s memoir is a falsification.”

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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