Boris Sokolov’s Speech at His Final Court Session

On December 23, 2016, the third court session of the case against the Russian historian Boris Sokolov and Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy took place in Krasnopresnensky Regional Court in Moscow. The lawsuit was filed by Vera Serova, the granddaughter of the first KGB Chairman Ivan Serov, and Aleksandr Khinstein, the editor of Ivan Serov’s Russian memoir Notes from the Suitcase. The claim is based on a Russian libel law protecting the “honor and dignity” of individuals and his case seeks to protect the late General.

At the end of the third session, the judge Anna Karpova declined the plaintiffs’ claim.

Here is an English translation from Russian of Dr. Boris Sokolov’s speech in the court:

To Krasnopresnensky Regional Court, Moscow
From Boris Vadimovich Sokolov, defendant
Case number 2-8661 / 2016

Supplement to the objections to the statement of claim

(An assessment of I. A. Serov’s Notes from a Suitcase as a historical source)

1. As could be seen from the handwritten and typed manuscripts, presumably Serov’s, presented by the plantiffs, all these texts are not diaries, but a memoir written for the most part not earlier than the 1960s, rather fragmented and not organized into a single book by the author during his lifetime. Almost all the presented notebooks have a price [on the back] in kopecks, meaning that they were made after the 1961 money reform. Only one notebook, which is the first part of the memoir, has a printed price of 3 rubles 95 kopecks, and, probably, was manufactured in the second half of the 1950s. However, the notes could have been made in it later.

Meanwhile, on the cover of the book Notes from a Suitcase a subtitle says The Secret Diary of the KGB First Chairman, Found 25 Years after His Death. This subheading confuses the readers. Not to mention the fact that it contains an obvious mistake. According to the text of the expert evaluation of the handwriting presented by the plaintiffs, the manuscripts were already at their disposal in 2013, i.e. 23 years after the death of I. A. Serov [And, therefore, the memoir manuscript was not found in a suitcase in a wall during renovation. V.B.]

The publisher of the manuscript [Aleksandr Khinstein] certainly knows the difference between diaries and memoirs in terms of reliability of the reported information. Diaries, where records are made immediately after the event, are always much more accurate then memoirs, which are written years or decades after the events they describe and which commonly have memory errors, as well as later circumstances that cause the memoirist wittingly or unwittingly tomisrepresent the event.

Due to numerous anachronisms and errors in the published texts, the publisher had to show that he dealt with a memoir and not with diaries, but by calling the publication “diaries,” he forced readers to consider the reported facts as far more reliable than they really were. And the texts are composed in such a way that they create the impression that they are diary entries. The book was published by the publishing house Prosveshchenie [Education]. Therefore, school students are its potential readers. And they will treat everything that the author of the diaries reports on with full confidence, if comments do not point to the mistakes made by the author. At a minimum, the commentator Khinstein should have noted and commented on all the obvious anachronisms and errors, which he did not always.

Therefore, the reader can remain assured that the gyroscope is operated by a computer and that a program-controlled device existed in the USSR in 1945 (page 305 of Notes from a Suitcase). He can also believe that the German troops launched an offensive on the Kerch Peninsula in March 1942, when in fact it happened on May 8, 1942 (see p.121, in the original manuscript even the expression “in the beginning of March” is inserted, which was not included in the published version). A schoolboy may remain in the belief that the Maharajah of Kashmir, being a Sikh, was ready to wear a red supposedly Muslim turban only in order to please the Soviet guests (p. 445).

This presentation of the material appears to be incorrect. While reading the text, and facing numerous anachronisms and errors, the reader inevitably begins doubting and thinking about falsification.

2. In my opinion, in some cases, by his comments Khinstein only reinforces the reader’s impression that he is dealing with texts created without Serov’s participation. Thus, if to believe Khinstein’s comments, on the same day, August 18, 1942, Serov was in two places, in Stalingrad (“according to documentary sources, Serov arrived in Stalingrad on August 18, 1942”, p. 132), and at the Kluhorsky Pass [in the Caucasus Mountains], many hundreds of kilometers from Stalingrad to, which is physically impossible [for more details, see also here].

The fact that Khinstein believes in this, is clear from his comment on p. 141: “Major I. Arshava (Serov mistakenly calls him Colonel) was killed in action on August 18, 1942. He was posthumously awarded the Order of Lenin.” The text, to which this comment was made, describes Arshava’s death in a battle with German submachine gunners who attacked the Soviet headquarters, and how Serov stands over the corpse of Arshava.

To dispel the readers’ suspicions that they are dealing with a possible falsification, Khinstein would have to undertake some research. Then he could figure out that, according to the presentation of the Order of Lenin, Major Arshava died on September 3, 1942, during the Soviet offensive, while the fight against the German submachine gunners at the Soviet headquarters took place on August 27 (see the awards database entitled “Deed of the People”:

Comrade Arshava with his regiment joined the battle on August 27, 1942, and due to his able leadership the enemy group of 250 submachine gunners, who broke through to the headquarters, was destroyed. Comrade Arshava personally killed two enemy submachine gunners with his pistol. On September 3, he prepared an offensive, organized it, and as a result, the enemy was defeated and driven back for 14 km. On the same day, [on September 3, 1942,] Comrade Arshava died a heroic death in the performance of his military duty.

In the meantime, the text of the memoir is organized so that readers have an impression that Archava really died on approximately August 18, 1942, and Serov really was at his side.

In the submitted [to the court] manuscripts we were able to find only a fragment about the first meeting of Serov with Arshava. Apparently, the text of the subchapter “A Minute Before Death” was composed of various memoir notes made during different times which were not parts of a united Serov text. For correct publication, it was necessary to note from what particular handwritten or typed part a particular fragment was taken in order not to mislead readers.

It should be emphasized that since Serov himself did not have time to prepare his memoir for publication, the publisher had to do essentially the creative work of compositional organization of the texts from a variety of sources (manuscripts and typed versions). We have to state with regret that the publisher has done the job so that readers have the impression of the unreliability of a big part of information reported.

Photo of a page from original Ivan Serov’s notes with the name of Ignatiev above another, crossed out name (the second line from the bottom). The phrase says: “At work, I found out from [crossed out, “Ignatiev” is above the line], who visited the Kremlin, that during the night, [after everybody left the near dacha [Stalin’s country house near Moscow], approximately about the morning, Stalin became sick].” The text is on p. 404, Notes from a Suitcase.

3. As we have already noted, Serov ‘s statement that on March 4, 1953, he found out at work the details of Stalin’s illness from the then Minister of State Security S. D. Ignatiev is doubtful. It would have been cleared up to some extent if the publisher said that in the manuscript the name “Ignatiev” was inscribed above of the other name that cannot be read [see a photo of the page]. It is possible that Serov, for whatever reasons, did not want to give the real name of somebody who told him of Stalin’s illness. In my opinion, in the record about March 4, 1953, the name of Ignatiev replaced the name crossed out the surname of Ryasnoi (which could be read).

Vasily Stepanovich Ryasnoi (1904-1995), State Security Lieutenant General, was deputy minister of state security [MGB] and head of the 2nd MGB Main Directorate (counterintelligence), as well as also acting deputy head of the MGB Guard Directorate from May 19 to July 30, 1952. Since May 8, 1953, he headed the Moscow MVD Directorate. [See Ryasnoi’s biography in: N. V. Petrov. Those Who Governed the State Security Services, 1941-1954. Moscow: Zven’ya, 2010. Pp. 756-57 (in Russian).]

Ryasnoi was [Lavrenty] Beria’s close man. It was Ryasnoi who Beria proposed to Stalin [in 1946] to appoint MGB head instead of [Vsevolod] Merkulov. I think that by using the names of Ryasnoi and Ignatiev, Serov tried to cover up the name of the real narrator, Beria, who could have really visited the MVD on the evening of March 4, [1953,] and told Serov about Stalin’s illness. But it would be disadvantageous [for Serov] to admit such a closeness to Beria.

4. We could not find in the manuscript presented in court the place that contains the text about the publication of the Burdenko Commission Report on the investigation of the Katyn massacre and that in connection with this, B. Z. Kobulov “escaped punishment” (p. 201). Therefore, doubts remain whether the text was written by Serov even as part of the memoir, although it is presented [in the publication] as a diary entry made in 1944. If this note was written in the 1960-80s, after the execution of B. Z. Kobulov [in December 1953] and after the West had recognized the Soviet Union’s responsibility for the Katyn [massacre], it could really belong to Serov, but hardly conveys his real feelings in 1944.

5. As for, perhaps, one of the most publicly significant fragments of the memoirs, about the fate of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, published on pp. 534-539, is a typed manuscript from the late 1980’s-early 1990s, without any trace of a handwritten signature or changes made by Serov. Therefore, it is impossible to determine whether it is a typed version of a text handwritten by Serov, a later writing following the words of Serov, or the text written by another person on behalf of Serov, possibly on the basis of Serov‘s stories [see more criticism here].

The title “The Wallenberg Case” is printed on the back of the first typewritten page. Meanwhile, with the publication of this fragment the publisher did not make any comment about what is the text of Wallenberg, a manuscript, a typed version with or without editorial change, authorized typewritten manuscript, as well as whether the title “The Wallenberg Case” belongs to the manuscript or was given by the publisher. In other parts, the titles of the subchapters were mostly provided by the publisher.

6. It should be noted that in the initial lawsuit claim the plaintiffs stated: “Serov made his records secretly and covertly, since during the Great Patriotic War [WWII] writing diaries by servicemen was officially considered equal to committing a crime. No wonder he did not write dates in them.” Therefore, they defended the thesis that Serov’s notes were diary entries, which hardly reflects the reality.

When a historical source, which is presented to the public in the form of a diary, contains such a high number of anachronisms and absurdities, historians and philologists usually deny its authenticity. In other words, they conclude that it was written not by the declared person and not during the time stated. The form which Serov’s memoir was presented to the readers, in my opinion, is an unreliable historical source that requires a very cautious and critical attitude. And it is unlikely that it can be used in the teaching of history in schools.

December 23, 2016

B. V. Sokolov [signature]