Sokolov’s Second Court Date in Serov Libel Trial

On December 7, 2016, the second court session of the case against the Russian historian Boris Sokolov 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.

While talking on Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy on July 14, 2016, Sokolov expressed doubt that the memoir, prepared for publishing by Khinstein, was written by Serov himself, and called Serov an executioner. The applicants sued for a compensation of 2,000,000 rubles from the radio station and 1,000,000 from historian Sokolov. It is important to remind the reader of Aleksandr Khinstein’s official position as adviser on ideology to Army General Viktor Zolotov, Director of the Rosguards, a 300-400,000-man special forces army subordinated directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Many consider the publication of Serov’s memoir to be a whitewash of one of the most heinous NKVD executioners of Stalin’s time, and this court trial as part of the ongoing process of the re-Stalinization of Russia, which is, according to the definition by the Russian historian Irina Pavlova, “a special operation [of security services] to glorify Stalin, which began in the mid-1990s, and has advanced greatly in the years of Putin’s rule.”

The first court session took place on November 9, 2016. In his long speech, Sokolov gave examples from the text of Serov’s memoir backing up his main statement that “a large part [of the memoir] was not written by the person who is credited with the authorship, and not at the time stated, which the publishers are insisting on.” The court declared that the applicants are obliged to provide information about the relationship of V. V. Serova with I. A. Serov and her right to inheritance, as well as on the whereabouts of the manuscript. In addition, it requested the claimants present the original of an alleged expert handwriting evaluation of the Serov manuscript. Since then, Sokolov published more examples of discrepancies and mistakes in the text of the memoir. Sokolov is not the only Russian historian who has doubts about the authenticity of the memoir.

Here is Sokolov’s description what happened in the court room on December 7, 2016:

[Aleksandr] Khinstein and Vera Serov appeared in the court room. They brought two small suitcases with Serov’s manuscripts, placed in a big suitcase. We [Sokolov and his lawyer] were allowed to study the materials for about two hours.

There were handwritten notebooks, separate sheets in handwriting, as well as typewritten notes, edited and unedited. It is unclear if these are all manuscripts, or if [Vera] has more. At first she said that that’s all, but then she hinted that she has more.

[In the telephone conversation with me on November 26, 2016, Nigel Bance, the author of the book Liquidation of Raoul Wallenberg, claimed that in 2002 the entire archive was kept in three upright holdalls, on wheels. [Serov’s daughter Svetlana] wheeled them in from her bedroom. I spent hours rummaging around in them” – V. B.]

I can’t say whether all the manuscripts were written in the same handwriting or not. An expert said that this is Serov‘s handwriting. But I have not studied the text of the expert yet, and I don’t know which parts of the manuscript the expert looked at. Apparently, at least some parts were written by Serov. But certainly, there are no diary entries. Everything is fragments of a memoir, dated no earlier than the 1960s, written in school notebooks with the price in kopeks on the cover, i.t., manufactured after the 1961 [monetary] reform [when the denomination was changed 10:1].

It’s still a mystery to me how the text was created. I found only the beginning of the story about [the city of] Kerch, [which Sokolov had pointed out before] saying in general that the Germans “at the beginning of March 1942 started their offensive.” The word “beginning” is inserted on the top of the phrase in another handwriting.

About March 4, 1953, it is said that Serov learned from Ignatiev at work about Stalin’s illness. The surname “Ignatiev” is inscribed in a different ink above the line, while the previous name in that place was carefully crossed out, so it cannot be read. If in the publication a corresponding footnote had been made, probably, there would have been less questions.

There were no records about the Katyn massacre. There was nothing about the death of Colonel Arshava, only about the first meeting with him. Apparently, here the text was composed from different manuscripts, possibly, even from typed parts.

Apparently, in general Khinstein composed the text of the memoir in its current shape from the fragments of various notes, but not from diary entries.

Only a typed version about Wallenberg without editorial notes or a signature was presented, so the question remains if this is Serov’s text. One can only assume that it was retyped from some of Serov’s manuscripts because Serov could not type himself.

Possibly, there was additional editorial work [on the text] during typing, as well as some omissions and insertions were made. There is also a possibility that the text was prepared for publishing during the “perestroika” years [Mikhail Gorbachev’s time], and that’s why the story about Pskov, which whitewashes the MGB action [the capture of Raoul Wallenberg – V. B.] appeared in it. I think the Pskov story is fiction.

However, in principle nothing should be excluded. Somebody, for instance, [Serov’s son-in-law] Khrutsky could have written the [Wallenberg part of] the text. But this seems to me unlikely.

We made photos of a number of pages, including all pages about Wallenberg.

The next court session will be on December 23, 2016.

Note from the Editor (V. B.)

Dr. Sokolov kindly provided me with photos of six pages of an old typed manuscript in Russian with a title on the top of the first page “Delo Wallenberga” (“The Wallenberg Case”) that was presented in the court room. As Dr. Sokolov wrote, “for sure there are no handwritten changes or notes [by Serov] in the manuscript, it looks like a typed final version.”

My comparison of the text of the manuscript and the published in Russian book shows that it was published without any changes. All numerous inconsistencies with known facts previously discussed by myself and Dr. Sokolov, are present in the manuscript.

Therefore, there is still no answer whether this text was written by Serov himself and retyped by, for instance, his wife, or he dictated it to his wife who was typing, or it was written partly by him and edited by somebody else, or if it is somebody’s compilation from unknown handwritten fragments of Serov. In any case, it is hard to explain why the manuscript contains so many fundamental mistakes in facts, even if one suggests that Serov wrote the manuscript totally from memory between 1987, when, as he writes, journalists started calling him asking about Wallenberg, and 1990, when he died.

Finally, there is still no explanation what text had Nigel Bance in his hands when he wrote his book Liquidation of Raoul Wallenberg (2016) since there are several fragments cited in Bance’s book that are quite different from the Russian publication and the manuscript presented in the Moscow court.