Posts Tagged ‘Paul Gregory’

International honors for “Women of the Gulag” – and an exclusive podcast from the Stanford screening!

Monday, June 24th, 2019
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It premiered in Hollywood and New York – but on June 11, Women of the Gulag, a documentary film based on Paul Gregory‘s book of the same name, came home to Stanford. It got a big audience at Hoover’s Hauck Auditorium, in the new David & Joan Traitel Building, with a splendid reception afterwards. (We’ve written about the film here and here and here and here.)

The film, directed by Marianna Yarovskaya of MayFilms and produced by Yarovskaya and Gregory, was also shortlisted in the best documentary category in the 2019 Academy Awards competition. It has been named the Best Non-European Independent Documentary in the 2019 European Independent Documentary Film Festival held in Paris. It was also shown at Moscow’s Film Festival. It couldn’t be more timely, as Russia sinks into denial, historical lies, and Stalin-fandom.

A very exclusive screening with George Schultz

The film tells the compelling stories of six remarkable women – among the last survivors of the Gulag, the brutal system of repression that devastated the Soviet population during the Stalin years. Most stories of the gulag have told of men’s experience. Women of the Gulag is the first account of women in the camps and special settlements.

Women of the Gulag, filmed entirely on location in Russia, turned out to be the last chance to tell the story of women in camps and special settlements. Several of the women featured in the film have died since their interviews.

You can listen to the podcast of the Q&A session from the June 11 screening below – it’s a Book Haven exclusive. Eric Wakin, director of Hoover Library & Aerchives, introduces filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya and author Paul Gregory, who have a short discussion and answer audience questions.

There’s more to come: The film has been cleared for screening on Russian Channel 2 Russiya – with an okay from the highest government levels. The film will also get Russian screenings at Дом Русского Зарубежья (Solzhenitsyn’s house) and Gulag Museum, as well as Tver and other smaller cities. Other European universities have signed on for a screenings, and so has South Korea.

But the most exclusive showing to date is the one that took place the following morning for 98-year-old former State Secretary George Schultz, who had a private screening at the Hoover Tower. He called Women of the Gulag “an outstanding work,” and praised the strength of character of the women it profiled.

Photos by Igor Runov

Stalin loses at the Academy Awards … again.

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019
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Women of the Gulag was a last-chance attempt to record he memories of the women who had faced arrest, torture, incarceration, hard labor, and abuse during the Soviet years – an untold story kept by the octogenarian and nonagenarian survivors, some who died during the making of the film. So I was  pleased it was shortlisted for the Academy Awards “documentary shorts” category. I wrote about it here and here and here. And film clip above.)

Filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya was the first Russian woman to be shortlisted or nominated for an Oscar since the founding of the Russian Federation, and the second Russian female director to be shortlisted for an Academy Award in any category in 91 years.

Groundbreaker

According to Paul Gregory, the Hoover Russianist who was author of the book and producer of the film: “Requests for interviews flooded in from Russia’s scrappy liberal press, and from Voice of America, Radio Liberty, Radio Free Europe, Echo of Moscow, Moscow Times, and Kyiv Post. John Batchelor hosted Marianna and me on his syndicated radio show (watch it here). John was enthused but skeptical that Hollywood would give its highest award to a film about Stalin’s genocides. Marianna informed the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Culture and received back a formal statement that the film is not a ‘national film’ of the Russian Federation. There was a sudden awakening of interest on the part of film distributors.”

Then the bad news last week:  it didn’t make the nominations, despite golden predictions. So Stalin loses at the Academy – again. “We can agree to disagree, but it is true that filmmakers have largely ignored the mass executions, Gulag camps, and repressions for ‘political’ crimes that took place in the Stalin years. International awards for Stalin themes have been rare,” Gregory wrote in Defining Ideas, a Hoover Institution journal.

“As Jan. 22 approached, we were buoyed by some good news. All seven major prognosticators (including Variety, The Wrap, Indiewire, LA Times, and Hollywood Reporter’s Feinberg Forecasts) predicted we would make the final five. These were the professionals, we thought. Surely, they know what they are doing. Bookies placed our odds of winning the whole shebang at 6/1.”

Looking forward

But Stalin has not been as interesting as Hitler, the focus of many acclaimed and awarded films – despite Stalin’s record that makes him one of the greatest genocidaires of modern times. “Societies that do not come to terms with such genocides suffer, each in their own way,” said Gregory. And so it has been with post-Soviet Russia, lost to memory and drawn to Putin like a moth to the flame.

But 2019 was a surprising year for the Oscars: the most expensive campaign in its history. The small, independently funded was kneecapped against professional publicity campaigns.

The indefatigable Paul Gregory is still optimistic and looking forward: “There is still the Emmys, if we can find a suitable TV venue. We have a premiere in London on  April 23 at the Barbican Centre.  Universities and museums are requesting showings and panel discussions. Most interesting is going to be the reaction of Russian media. Will they allow a showing on a major network? We’ll wait and see.”

Read Paul Gregory’s article here.

Oscar endorsement for Women of the Gulag: “To go through such suffering without going mad is a spiritual feat.”

Monday, January 14th, 2019
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She made a movie on the “slaves of the slaves.”

Russian American filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya sent me a short note after she read the earlier Book Haven post on her new film Women of the Gulag, based on the research and book by Paul Gregory. The film is now up for an Oscar next month in the “short documentary” category. 

Her email included an endorsement from Vladimir Bukovsky, a Soviet dissident who spent a dozen years in the psychiatric hospitals, prisons and labor camps of the USSR. In December 1976 he was deported from the USSR and exchanged at Zürich airport by the Soviet government for the imprisoned general secretary of the Communist Party of Chile, Luis Corvalán. Bukovsky now lives in the UK.

So he knows what he’s talking about. Here’s what he had to say about Women of the Gulag – consider it an endorsement from the depths of hell:

The film Women of the Gulag is an important document of the era.

The U.S.S.R. was a huge zone of human suffering.

Inside that zone there was also a hell that contained its powerless slaves—the GULAG.

But within that hell, there was an even more terrible hell.

Varlam Shalamov, the great writer who lived through the GULAG hell, said the women in the camps were slaves of the slaves.

Gulag survivor Shalamov, author of “Kolyma Stories”

Their experience was so horrific that eyewitnesses were afraid to describe it in detail.

I could not understand how you can make a film about “what a person should not know, should not see, and if he has, he is better off dead,” as Shalamov wrote.

Marianna Yarovskaya has managed to do it. Her heroines, who survived the GULAG, say almost nothing about their suffering. But I could hear their desperate screams during their silences.

To go through such suffering without going mad is a spiritual feat.

To make such a film is a moral feat.

I would compare the appearance of Women of the Gulag with the appearance of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.

The Gulag Archipelago was awarded the Nobel Prize. [Editor’s note: Solzhenitsyn was awarded, rather than his masterpiece.]

I am glad that there is the opportunity to award an Oscar to Women of the Gulag.

Freedom at last: Bukovsky at the 1987 Sakharov Conference, the Netherlands: (l. to r.) Prime Minister Lubbers, Vladimir Bukovsky, Prof. Jan Willem Bezemer, Stanford historian Robert Conquest (Photo: Creative Commons)

Will Women of the Gulag get an Oscar next month? Please vote yes. Putin won’t like it.

Saturday, January 12th, 2019
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Marianna Yarovskaya filming on location in Russia

Everyone nowadays is terrified of Russia, talking about Russia, condemning Russia – but comparatively few make any attempt to find out what Russia is really about, culturally, socially, politically. Relatively few make an effort to know its history, other than the comic-book version. Author Paul Gregory, an economist and Russia expert, has gone some way towards alleviating our myopia with Women of the Gulag, teaming up with Russian-American filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya. We’ve written about the Women of the Gulag here and here and here. (We’ve written about Paul’s book on Nikolai Bukharin here, and his curious and complicated tale of Lenin‘s brain here.) Although he’s one of the movers-and-shakers at the Hoover Institution, he’s had to use public fundraising platforms to get the film made.

Marianna Yarovskaya

Now Women of the Gulag is up for an Academy Award, and we couldn’t be more pleased. Women of the Gulag is a story that’s still untold, even in Russia. 

According to Paul, the film “drives home the point that Russia has yet to come to terms with the Gulag and the Great Terror. Consider the striking images of a Stalin look-alike selling photos on Red Square and older men and women sobbing at Stalin’s burial place. There has never been a big event, like Nuremberg or the Truth Commission in South Africa, that wipes the slate clean.  The Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot deny that the Gulag happened, but he needs the Russian people to want a leader with a firm hand. The strategy of admitting Stalin’s ‘harshness’ while emphasizing his presumed contributions has paid off. The Russian people name Stalin as the most significant figure in history!”

The Academy Awards are notoriously whimsical in their choices, but if there’s any justice, I hope Women of the Gulag takes home the statuette in the “short documentary” category. (The Academy finalists are listed in Variety here.) He’s competing against shorts like My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes, which was featured in The New York Times here .

Women of the Gulag was first screened last September in Santa Monica. The John Batchelor radio show featured an episode on the film, and in 2013, Gregory talked about his research, which drew a lot from the phenomenal Hoover Library & Archives, on CSPAN BOOKTV.

Paul says in a Hoover interview here:

My first surprise was that I could gather enough information from the above sources to breathe life into the five remarkable women whose lives I was chronicling. I was also surprised (although I had encountered this in the statistics) by the fine line between executioner and condemned. The two women in my book who married executioners lost their husbands to execution and one was forced into suicide

My second surprise (and this led to the documentary film with Marianna Yarovskaya) was that three of my characters were still alive in their upper 80s and lower 90s. They readily agreed to be filmed. The others were long gone and had no adult children to tell their story first-hand. Therefore, Marianna and I used networking and the good services of Memorial Moscow to identify three additional Women of the Gulag, who told their remarkable stories on camera. We called our subjects “last witnesses” while making our documentary. Indeed, two of the main characters died shortly after their interviews.

My third surprise was that no one had written this book or made this documentary before us. Hollywood has been remarkably absent in the coverage of Stalinist crimes against humanity. Perhaps Women of the Gulag will be a turning point.

Let’s hope so.

You think I’m imagining the international ignorance? Paul writes on his blog earlier this week about a Gulag denier: “A writer viewed the film and concluded that the five female Gulag survivors, telling their story on camera were lying. Such things that they describe – the arbitrary sentences, the beatings, and arrest of innocent fathers and husbands – were made-up fantastic stories. … Surely viewers will not be taken in by such nonsense. Besides, director Yarovskaya is incompetent – a dupe of faux human-rights organizations, like Memorial. In the same edition, another Gulag-denier writes that the much-authenticated order 00447 that initiated the Great Terror is a fabrication of Russian human-rights organizations. So far, Russian mainstream media is waiting and watching, asking should Yarovskaya’s Women of the Gulag be treated as an accomplishment of Russian film makers or an attempt to sully the greatness of Russian history?”

According to Paul, “Stalin is purported to have said that one death is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic. We believe that by giving the Gulag and the Great Terror human faces and human stories, we will cause viewers everywhere to think of the tragedy and not the statistic.”

Postscript on 1/14: Women of the Gulag gets a resounding endorsement from one of the former Soviet Union’s foremost dissidents, Vladimir Bukovsky. Read it here

Women of the Gulag: help finish the film. Putin won’t like it.

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
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Marianna Yarovskaya on location

Paul Gregory, author of Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin’s Kremlin: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina (Hoover Institution Press, 2010), is passing the hat. It’s for a good cause.

Filmmaker Marianna

He and Muscovite documentary filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya are in the final stages of filming his 2013 book, Women of the Gulag. (Marcel Krüger has an interview with Yarovskaya here.) They’re nearly a quarter of the way to the $25,000 they need to complete final editing, sound mix, and music. Want to help? Go to Indiegogo here.

From the introduction to Women of the Gulag:

A remark often attributed to Stalin is, “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”

This is the story of five such tragedies. They are stories about women because, as in so many cases, it was the wives and daughters who survived to tell what happened.

These five women put a human face on the terror of Stalin’s purges and the Gulag in the Soviet Union of the 1930s.  They show how the impersonal orders emanating from the Kremlin office of “the Master” brought tragedy to their lives. They cover the gamut of victims. Two are wives and daughters in ordinary families unable to comprehend why such misfortune has overtaken them. A third is a young bride living in the household of a high party official. The last two are wives of the Master’s executioners. These stories are based on their memoirs—some written by themselves, others by close friends or by their children.

putin

Nyet.

“Why film a bunch of old babushkas?” Marianna is asked.  According to Washington Post‘s Pulitzer-prizewinning Anne Applebaum, who appears in the film,  “What had happened since the year 2000 is that history has been gradually re-politicized. And the Russians started treating history that way. And that means that they’ve become more sensitive again about discussing this sort of crimes of their past. For the Russians, understanding the history of the gulag is absolutely crucial.”

She tells us that Russia still lacks “that defining moment, that big monument” that will help the Russian people come to terms with their past.

“I wish to express my support for Dr. Paul Gregory’s and Marianna Yarovskaya’s documentary project, Women of the Gulag. Although there have been a number of excellent Gulag documentaries, this film is intended to tell the personal stories of just a few former prisoners in greater detail. It will also focus on the stories of women, which differed in a number of ways from that of their male counterparts. Rape, pregnancy and motherhood were a part of the Gulag experience, too.”

The film below gives a preview of their work.  I hope you find it as riveting as I do – and please do pony up whatever you can over at Indiegogo here. Putin won’t thank you. That’s one reason to do it.

Former Baltic president Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga: “Ukraine is being dismembered and torn apart.”

Thursday, October 16th, 2014
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At Stanford, Latvian president recalled the long, hard road to independence. (Photo: Jim Hatlo, EyeDoMedia)

Former Latvian president Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga was in town last week – and, just as I anticipated before my live-tweet session below, she was smart and bold and knew how to throw a punch. She has been an outspoken critic of Russia’s recent incursions into its former Soviet vassal-states and criticized what she called “wobbly” Western resolve to support Eastern Europe. Stanford historian Norman Naimark, who introduced her, said she had provided “the moral straight-shooting that Latvia needed.” Stanford got a taste of it, too.

The woman who shepherded Latvia into NATO and the EU during her term as president (from 1999 to 2004) spoke about recent Baltic history in her keynote address, “Against All Odds: The Path of the Baltic States to the EU and NATO,” for the “War, Revolution and Freedom: The Baltic Countries in the 20th Century” conference sponsored by the Hoover Institution Library & Archives and Stanford University.

naimark3

Kind of a straight-shooter himself

During the question-and-answer session, Hoover scholar Paul Gregory asked the question that was on everyone’s mind: what did she predict for Ukraine?

“Ukraine is being dismembered and torn apart – it’s the Russian resolve to get Ukraine in its grips again,” she said. Their diplomatic weapon of choice? “A whole bouquet of arguments.” She took the petals off, one by one. For example, she challenged the Russian claim that “there’s no such thing as a Ukrainian people, it’s just another kind of Russian.” A related argument is that Russia had “brought a life of civilization and culture” to its western neighbor. Yet, she said, Kiev had been the center of the Rus civilization way back when St. Petersburg was still marshlands.

Finally, the Russians contend that the Ukrainians “don’t know how to govern themselves.” Without endorsing the Russian argument, she conceded that Ukraine had not made the “painful reforms” that the Baltic states were required to make for entry into NATO and EU.  She noted the vast amounts of money that had flowed through Ukraine to a few kleptocrats, which had  “polluted and subverted the political system.” However, “that is not an excuse for neighbors saying we’ll do a better job of it.” She compared the situation to a hypothetical one in which Mexico reasoned that, with so many compatriots in the U.S., it had a right to invade, using a  standoff between the president and Congress as proof of U.S. incompetence to manage itself and a reasonable pretext to bring in  tanks. “How would you feel about it?” she asked.

Latvia

Democracy as “an acquired trait.” (Photo: Jim Hatlo, EyeDoMedia)

She remembered Latvia’s history after World War I, when Latvia became a democratic parliamentary republic, and said that “hardly ever was there a nation with less going for it to become an independent nation.” However, democracy “is not an inherited trait, but an acquired trait,” for “anybody who wants to make a go of it.” In 1940, however, the country was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union, then invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany the following year, and the reoccupied by the Soviets in 1944. It found freedom at last with the fall of the USSR in 1991.

When she took office, the prospect of Euro-Atlantic integration was not as bright as it might have looked, she said. While some EU/NATO countries thought integration might be a good idea, “very few countries were deeply convinced.” In the end, their consent was a “political decision that had to be taken at political level,” she said. “It was the political leaders who would have the last words …it was very plain and simple as that.”

“There was lots of negative PR about our countries,” she recalled. The Balts were accused of turning their backs on Russia, which was precisely what they had intended to do. “We would be reproached for being Nazis because we did not want to stay within the embrace of Moscow.” She recalled nasty, and untrue, accusations about Latvian collaboration during the Holocaust.

chirac

Afraid of bears

The EU worried that the Balts would drain the finances of the organization. They had voiced the same concerns, she said, when considering Poland’s entry, saying “the Polish plumber would be distinct danger to countries in Western Europe.” Now, however, “Poland has one of the highest growth rates in Europe – higher than those countries who sneered at it,” she said. She joked that “any number of Frenchmen ask me, ‘Where are those Polish plumbers? We need them.'”

A major hesitation for political leaders considering Baltic entry into NATO was “the bright idea that, in order not to offend or displease Russia, the enlargement of NATO and EU should proceed cautiously.” French president Jacques Chirac warned, “You must not pull the whiskers of the bear, it’s a very dangerous thing to do.” She battled a prevailing attitude that “whatever we do, must not offend Russia. Such sensitive souls, such delicate violets! Easily humiliated!”

“Their economy is a shambles, their social security systems are in disarray, but the point is we must not upset them,” she said, with a note of exasperation as well as amusement.

As for my first frenetic foray into live-tweeting, you can see the results below – with an occasional assist from my colleague, Lisa Trei.

tweets

“My friendship with him was perhaps the longest he’d ever had.” Stanford’s Paul Gregory on Lee Harvey Oswald

Thursday, November 7th, 2013
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gregory_paulr_biophotoI’ve known Paul Gregory for several years (and written about him here and here and here) –  I know him as a compelling writer, a fine Russian scholar, and the author of books on the women of the U.S.S.R.’s gulag, Nikolai Bukharin, and Lenin’s brain. He’s mentioned before that he knew Lee Harvey Oswald, but I certainly didn’t know how well until I read today’s story in the New York Times Magazine. I also learned of his unusual donation to the Hoover Archives – more on that below.

Like everything Paul writes, the current NYT story is an excellent read.  It’s also a profoundly sad one, the story of an insecure and misguided misfit’s attempt for grandeur, and how an unlucky confluence of events led him to shoot and kill President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.  It’s also the story of his wife, Marina Oswald, a confused and abused Russian wife pulled into an international crisis before she knew more than a handful of English words and phrases.  So many theories have been spun around the assassin since – after reading this, the theories seem bigger than the man.

But I’ll let Paul tell the story:

oswald-in-dallas

Oswald arrested at the Texas Theatre

It was 7 a.m. on Sunday when the single phone at the bottom of the stairs echoed through my parents’ red-brick house, right off Monticello Park in Fort Worth. “Mr. Gregory,” a woman said as my father picked up, “I need your help.” Who are you? he asked in his Texas-Russian accent, still half-asleep.

The caller said only that she had been a student in his Russian language course at our local library, and that he knew her son. In that instant, my father, Pete Gregory, linked the voice to a nurse who sat in the back of his class and had once identified herself as “Oswald.” Until this phone call, he hadn’t realized that she was the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald, a Marine who had defected to the Soviet Union only to return two and a half years later with a Russian wife and a 4-month-old daughter. My father helped Lee and his young family get settled in Fort Worth a year earlier. The Oswalds had been my friends. …

time-coverMy father recounted that weekend’s events to me a few days later over Thanksgiving dinner, when I returned home from the University of Oklahoma, where I had just begun graduate school. Through my father, I had become a close — or, as Robert Oswald would later say, almost the only — friend of Lee and Marina Oswald’s from virtually the moment they arrived in Fort Worth, in June 1962, until the end of that November. While that five-month period might seem fleeting, it was a significant period in Oswald’s life. He was never in the same place for long. By age 17, he had already moved some 20 times. Then he dropped out of high school and joined the Marines, before being released and traveling to Moscow. He avoided deportation by attempting suicide and was sent to Minsk, where he met Marina. In the year and a half after he returned to the United States, he moved several more times. My friendship with him was perhaps the longest he’d ever had.

My family tried to put those tragic events behind us, but over the ensuing decades, as I became an academic and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, I felt compelled to combine my memories and the historical record to present my own sense of Oswald. Most Americans believe that Oswald shot Kennedy. Yet according to one recent A.P. poll, only a quarter of Americans believe that one man acted alone to kill Kennedy. “Would Oswald,” as Norman Mailer wrote, “pushed to such an extreme, have the soul of a killer?” As I pored back over those months, I realized that I was watching that soul take shape…

post_card

A postcard from the Oswalds (Photo: Hoover Archives)

Read the rest here.  But this fascinating postscript is not in the New York Times – Paul has just made a valuable  donation to the Hoover Archives.  The story behind it:  Young Paul Gregory began taking Russian lessons from Marina.  Here’s what he says in the article about it on one occasion:  “As I was leaving their house, he raced to the bedroom and returned with a faded pocket English-Russian dictionary that he used during his time in Minsk. ‘Take this,’ Lee told me. Only later did I realize that Oswald was showing off in front of Marina, pointing out that he didn’t need the dictionary but that I did.”  Now that dictionary is at the Hoover archives, thanks to Paul’s generosity.  Read about it here.  Paul also donated the postcard from the Oswalds that may have ended their friendship. Paul had congratulated Marina on her English after receiving the postcard, with a few corrections. Then he got a phone call from the distraught wife:  “’I did not write that letter. Lee did.’ Her tone told me all I needed to know; Lee had been deeply insulted and mortified by my response. Marina then told me she was unhappy. She hinted at physical abuse and explained that she had left him only to reconcile after he pleaded for her to attend Thanksgiving at his brother’s house.”

Women of the Gulag: when life meets history

Monday, September 16th, 2013
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women-of-gulagToday Joseph Stalin is one of the most admired figures in contemporary Russia.  Go figure.

Sure he did bad things, but it was worth it, right? So the line of thinking goes. Paul Gregory, author of Women of the Gulag, talked about the matter in a recent talk at Hoover Institution, during its annual summer workshop, which draws international scholars to the world-famous archives (I’ve written about it here ). His new book “attempts to capture the sights, sounds, and smells of the Great Terror of 1937-38 through the eyes of five women caught up in extraordinary circumstances.” (I’ve written about the documentary that accompanies the film, by the Russian-American filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya, here.)

“Stalin is purported to have said that the death of one person is a tragedy, the death of a million is a statistic.  Those of us who study Soviet Russia fall into this trap,” he said. “We think we can convince people of Stalin’s evil by citing the millions who died in his famines, the hundreds of thousands shot during the Great Terror of 1937-38, and the millions of men, women, and children who sat in his concentration camps and special settlements.”

fekla2

Head of family at 11

With his book, Paul hopes to make statistics into individual stories.  Paul said that “overwhelmingly his victims were ordinary people, confused why they had been singled out. They tell us of the fine dividing line between perpetrator and victim.”  When Paul began looking, he knew that his chances of finding living survivors was slim – they would be women in their 80s or 90s – but he persevered.  “Lo and behold, we found three of our primary characters still living, ornery, and lucid, and in the locale in which their stories take place.  In other cases, we found their daughters, who were old enough to tell their family’s stories.” Ages ranged from 86 to 96.

His research assistant Natalia Reshetova tells the story of the search for one of them, “Fekla,” in the current issue of the Hoover Digest. Fekla’s family of “kulaks,” middle-class peasant farmers (we’ve written about that effort here), were targeted by Stalin’s “dekulakization” of the Soviet countryside.  She grew up to become a founding member of Memorial, the society to preserve the memory of these terrible times. An excerpt from the article:

fekla4

Executed

She found herself in the fall of 1931, just short of five years old, in a cold earthen dugout that was part of the vast Gulag system.  … Small children in the children in the Martyush settlement stayed in earthen pits, dug in the birch forest, from fall until spring. They played in those dark, cold dwelling places—digging little rivulets in the dirt walls and watching the soil run down. Fekla’s grandmother gave her grandchildren almost all of her daily allotment of bread; she died of hunger and illness in April 1932, not having survived a year. The children of the settlement rarely saw their parents, who were peasants used to working the land but were now forced to toil as industrial workers from morning to night—Fekla’s father at an aluminum factory and her mother in the mines. After her father’s arrest, the only man left in the family was her grandfather. He worked as a guard, and until his death in 1944 he helped his daughter-in-law and grandchildren as best he could. …

She last saw her father the day after his arrest on March 29, 1938. He was in the cellar of a secret-police building among tens of other prisoners—all standing because there was no room to sit. The NKVD guards pretended not to notice the children who crawled to the window to talk to the prisoners. Fekla remembers how the others told her father, “Andreev, your eldest daughter is here.” He struggled to get to the window and managed to speak only a few words to Fekla, addressing her as an adult even though she was just eleven and a half. “Now you are in charge of the family,” he said. “Educate your sisters. It is harder to oppress an educated person. Get an education, too, and do not abandon your mother and grandpa.”

“I followed his will,” Fekla concluded. …

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Fekla today.

Fekla not only became an educated person who taught for many years, first at a local school and then at the university level, but also completed her dissertation on the celebrated author Alexander Pushkin. Later she also became a historian of the Martyush settlement. She collected hundreds of documents and traveled extensively through areas where the camps and settlements of the Gulag had once stood. She published several books and helped many people achieve rehabilitation: 419, by her count. …

Fekla’s father never returned, and the family did not receive any news of him. Only many years later, after Stalin’s death, did Fekla begin to search for information about his fate. Ultimately she learned that he had been condemned to death by firing squad on September 29, 1938, and executed on October 4, 1938. As one of the innocent victims of the Great Terror, he was among 725,000 people who were unjustly shot.

“It was a real genocide,” Fekla said in the film. “Why did they wipe out five generations of our family?”

Read the whole article here.  Meanwhile, we’ll try to tell some more of these women’s stories in the coming weeks.

 

Terror’s human face: Women of the Gulag – the book and the movie. Help make it happen.

Saturday, October 27th, 2012
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Marianna Yarovskaya on location

I met Paul Gregory a couple years back, when his Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin’s Kremlin: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina (Hoover Institution Press, 2010) was just out.  I wrote about it, with a video of Paul, here) … well, “writing” might be too strong a word.  His noontime presentation at Stanford was so tight and so compelling that I pretty much presented what he said, as he said it.  I didn’t have to do much more.  (I’ve written about his Lenin’s Brain and Other Tales from the Secret Soviet Archives here).  Since meeting him, he’s become a high-powered economics blogger at Forbes 

Filmmaker Marianna

The Bukharin book was such a great story, I kept seeing it as a film.  Instead, he’s saved the film for his newest book, Women of the Gulag.  He’s teamed with Muscovite documentary filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya.  Paul told me some time ago about his newest effort: I was against several deadlines and didn’t have the extra brain cells to process it then, but given his previous book, I had little doubt that it would be stellar.

It is.  From his introduction:

A remark often attributed to Stalin is, “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”

This is the story of five such tragedies. They are stories about women because, as in so many cases, it was the wives and daughters who survived to tell what happened.

These five women put a human face on the terror of Stalin’s purges and the Gulag in the Soviet Union of the 1930s.  They show how the impersonal orders emanating from the Kremlin office of “the Master” brought tragedy to their lives. They cover the gamut of victims. Two are wives and daughters in ordinary families unable to comprehend why such misfortune has overtaken them. A third is a young bride living in the household of a high party official. The last two are wives of the Master’s executioners. These stories are based on their memoirs—some written by themselves, others by close friends or by their children.

Writer Gregory

Here’s the deal.  The book will be out early next year with Hoover Institution Press.  But the movie is in limbo until you pitch in over at kickstarter here.  The filmmaker is trying to raise $30,000 to finish the film, and she has 57 more days to raise the money on the kickstarter deal, which ends December 23.  Think of it as a Christmas present to Russia … or better yet, to mankind, because this history is important to record.

Applebaum at Stanford

“Why film a bunch of old babushkas?” Marianna is asked.  According to Washington Post‘s Pulitzer-prizewinning Anne Applebaum, who appears in the film, “Aside from its historic value, a project like this one has special significance in the light of contemporary Russian politics. In recent years, under President Putin, Soviet and Russian history have been re-politicized, and the Stalin period has come to be viewed with ambiguity by politicians, writers, film makers, and regrettably the public. The stories of the victims of the gulag, told by simple people who had little or no understanding of why this was happening to them, make an excellent antidote to creeping historical amnesia. This project is also urgent, of course, because most of their subjects are in their advanced years, and their stories have to be recorded now.”

Filmmaker Marianna explains why she’s passing the hat:  “We are now continuing the campaign and the project and are in post-production. We are also interviewing more women in other parts of Russia. We already have almost 40 hours of footage. These funds will go towards recording more testimonies on HD video and towards editing the footage we have gathered. Clearly the timing is urgent as the survivors and the heroines of the original Stalin gulag are getting very old. This is “the last chance.” (Marcel Krüger has an interview with her here.)

The film below gives a preview of their work.  I hope you find it as riveting as I do – and please do pony up whatever you can over at Kickstarter here.  Time is of the essence.  As always.

Boris Pasternak: Family Correspondence: British praise, American silence … so far

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011
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Portrait of the artist as a young man: cover painting by Leonid Pasternak, the Nobel laureate's father

In general, Hoover Press isn’t known for its groundbreaking literary fare — its more usual titles embrace such topics as Social Security: The Unfinished Work and The Wave: Man, God, and the Ballot Box in the Middle East. So last summer, as I attended a reception for the appearance of Boris Pasternak: Family Correspondence, 1921-1960, I wondered how how much press attention the first English of the Nobel laureate’s family letters would get.

So here’s the upshot:  some reviews in top-notch British literary journals — The Times Literary Supplement and The Literary Review; zip in America. All the votes have not been cast, of course — the slower literary journals may yet make an appearance (perhaps they’re teaming it up with the new Peavear/Volokhonsky translation of Doctor Zhivago, but the surprise is that some of the more mainstream dailies on both sides of the Atlantic have ignored it.

Or rather, not a surprise.  The point is (and here is where I turn into a scold), that is exactly what the prominent reviewers and their editors used to do: ferret out the good from a basket of seasonal rubbish.  But book reviews have been shaved and then butchered; unemployed and hungry literary critics are feeding out of dumpsters.

That’s the bad news.  Here’s the good.  The book has received two awards: the American Library Association’s  Choice award for Outstanding Academic Title for 2010.  It also received the BookBuilders West prize.

One American has written about the book:  moi.  Here’s what I wrote about the book last summer (the rest is here):

The newly published correspondence is important: The Pasternak family was a close-knit one, and leading figures like Leo Tolstoy were family friends. Boris’ father, Leonid Pasternak, was an important post-Impressionist painter, and his mother, an accomplished pianist; they immigrated to Germany in 1921. After 1923, Pasternak was never to see his parents or two sisters again, except for one visit with a sister.

Slater said he originally began translating these letters out of a feeling of family loyalty. Pasternak did not write much about arrests, imprisonments and executions, but his intimate letters to his family have been considered works of art in themselves.

As the Nazis took power in Germany, Pasternak’s Jewish parents began to consider returning to Russia. According to Slater, “Boris found himself writing contorted letters in which he on the one hand assured his parents that he would love to have them living with him, and that they wouldn’t be a burden, but simultaneously tried his hardest to dissuade them from coming – since he knew, but couldn’t tell them, that their lives would be in danger if they came.

“I don’t think they understood his hints, and they probably did find him a bit inhospitable.” (They took refuge with Slater’s parents at Oxford instead.)

The book has, at least, gotten a few favorable reviews in the British press.  Peter France, writing in the Times Literary Supplement:

“It is not a complete translation, and one may regret the omission of certain passages discussing poems in detail, and above all the natural decision to focus on the letters of Pasternak himself. But the translator, Nicolas Pasternak Slater, the poet’s nephew, has done an admirable job, writing with enough freedom to bring across the meaning strongly, but enough faithfulness to convey something of the sheer oddity of Pasternak’s range: his exalted tone, his obscurity and his idiosyncratic eloquence. …

At Hoover reception: Anastasia Pasternak, great-granddaughter of the poet; Oxford scholar Ann Pasternak Slater, niece of the poet; Maya Slater, editor of the new volume, and her husband Nicolas Pasternak Slater, translator of the new volume and nephew of the poet. Anastasia Pasternak, great-granddaughter of the poet; Oxford scholar Ann Pasternak Slater, niece of the poet; Maya Slater, editor of the new volume, and her husband Nicolas Pasternak Slater, translator of the new volume and nephew of the poet.

Boris Pasternak has sometimes been seen as a happy man who survived miraculously when his fellow writers were meeting tragic fates.  What comes over most strongly here, however, is the sheer difficulty of his life: the anxiety, fear and depression with which he struggled for decades. … It was an increasingly hard place to be, with the arbitrary arrests, exiles, and executions, the horrors of collectivization, and, less tangibly, what Pasternak calls ‘the dark night of materialism.'”

And George Gömöri (one of the contributors, incidentally, to An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czeslaw Milosz … couldn’t resist the plug for my book), wrote in the Literary Review’s “Prisoner of Peredelkino” that the new volume of letters “will remain an indispensable source of information for future biographers” writes that Pasternak’s fortunes worsened considerably after the trial and execution of Nikolai Bukharin (we’ve written about that here, following the publication of Paul Gregory‘s engrossing book on the subject, The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina, last year).

One American had some nice words to say about the kudos drifting in from awards committees — even if from the very farthest corner of America, the far-flung islands to the west. John Stephan, professor emeritus of the University of Hawaii wrote:

“The Pasternak book richly deserves the awards. It’s a pleasure to see intellectual integrity and scholarly quality win public recognition.

It’s a marvelous work, rich in literary and historical insights, meticulously edited and handsomely produced.  Its utility for researchers is enhanced by an excellent index–notable not only for completeness and accuracy but for bio info (years of birth & death–and in some cases manner of death) of each individual mentioned in the text.  A standard all editors should emulate.”