Sokolov Debunks Serov’s Memoir

By | October 29, 2016
Historian Bois Sokolov

Historian Bois Sokolov

On October 12, 2016, the Russian historian Boris Sokolov published an additional response to Aleksandr Khinstein and Vera Serova, General Serov’s granddaughter, entitled “’Honor and dignity’ as a Tool of the Russian Authorities” in the Ukrainian newspaper Day.

Since Sokolov’s article sheds significant light on the efficacy of Ivan Serov’s memoir, Notes from a Suitcase, which I have also dealt with in my book review, I translate part of it here, knowing that no one else will:

Court claims to protect the “honor, dignity and business reputation” of individuals as well as legislation ostensibly protecting privacy, are actively used in Russia to suppress historical events and characters that are not in the spirit of the present authorities’ historical attitude. Legislation claiming to protect private life is used to prevent the publication of archival documents that are inconvenient for the state historical propaganda. But claims of “defamation” are used to gag the independent Russian historians who refuse to alter real history in accordance with the patterns of the Kremlin propaganda.

Now your humble servant has become the target of such a lawsuit. This time we are talking about the protection of “honor and dignity” of General Ivan Serov, who . . . marked his presence during the Stalin era with numerous crimes in Ukraine, Russia, Poland, and the Baltic States while carrying out mass political repressions. The plaintiffs want to receive one and two million rubles respectively from myself and the radio station Echo Moskvy and force me to refute a few of my statements made in the broadcast entitled Dilettante in July this year. In that broadcast I expressed doubt that a significant part of the newly published Serov memoir Notes from a Suitcase, advertised as his secret diaries, in fact were written by Serov. The plaintiffs are the well-known journalist Aleksandr Khinshtein, closely affiliated to the [Russian President’s party] “United Russia,” and the granddaughter of General Serov. Serov’s memoir and diaries were published under Khinstein’s editorship.

I wonder how Serov could write in the text, advertised as a diary entry made in the summer of 1945, that in some laboratory the Germans showed him a gyroscope, “inside which a small machine was controlled by software works…”. After all, the first commercial computer-controlled machines appeared in 1952 in the United States, and in the Soviet Union, they appeared only in the 1960s. In 1945, in the Russian language there was no term “controlled by software.” If such anachronisms appear in a historical source, historians deny its authenticity.

Or [a story] in India in 1955, when, while there with [Nikita] Khrushchev and [Nikolai] Bulganin, Serov asked the Indian accompanying them why one of the Indians, who they met with, had a red Muslim turban on his head. And the answer was: “It’s the Maharajah of Kashmir. He put on the red turban in honor of the Soviet guests, knowing that the red color is considered official [in the Soviet Union].” It turns out that supposedly the Sikh Maharajah wore the Muslim turban to please the Soviet guests! No translator would tell such nonsense to Serov.

And in his diary in 1944, referring to the notorious report of the Burdenko Commission on the Katyn massacre case [this Commission concocted a false conclusion that the Germans were responsible for the massacre], Serov comments: “And then the fat [Bogdan] Kobulov escaped punishment, he was only frightened.” [In 1940, Kobulov was responsible for the preparation of the massacre]. I’m sorry, but I will not believe that Serov dared to entrust to paper such a carefully guarded state secret as the NKVD murder of Poles in the Katyn forest. Or that Ivan Aleksandrovich [Serov] seriously thought that in 1944 Stalin was going to recognize the responsibility of [the Soviet state security] “organs” for this crime, and that Bogdan Kobulov was afraid of retaliation. If so Serov himself should have been afraid of retaliation because in 1940, as head of the Ukrainian NKVD, he participated in the same Katyn operation, also executing the Poles, not in the Katyn forest, but in the city of Kharkov and in prisons in Western Ukraine. Well, those who invented all this, should not have presented Serov as an idiot, he was never an idiot! An executioner, yes, he was!

I think the publication of the Notes from a Suitcase was undertaken mostly for whitewashing Serov, and to some extent, Stalin’s and current security “organs.” After all, if someone writes not a biography, but a memoir and diaries, it becomes quite reasonable that the author does not talk about his own crimes, and if he mentions them, he is trying to justify them in every way. And, in my opinion, Serov did not write a significant part of this book.

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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