Di­aries shed light on Stalin-era ter­rors

New Straits Times - - World -

MOSCOW: Ta­tiana Panova holds a pho­to­graph of her great-grand­fa­ther as a solemn-faced stu­dent in 1923 in the Soviet Union, around 16 years be­fore he died in a pri­son camp dur­ing the Stalin purges.

While Alexan­der Yakovlev’s death was over half a cen­tury be­fore her birth, Panova, 25, has gained a tiny win­dow into his thoughts and life, thanks to an aged di­ary that her fam­ily pre­served.

Now, as mem­o­ries of the Stalin era fade, a project run by young Rus­sian his­to­ri­ans is putting his jour­nal and hun­dreds more like it on­line, in a bid to bring to life the ev­ery­day ex­pe­ri­ences of those tu­mul­tuous times.

“Any di­ary has value,” says 35year-old his­to­rian Ilya Venyavkin, who is writ­ing a book about di­aries from the 1930s.

The site, called Prozhito, or Lived Through, was launched in 2015 and can be searched us­ing the day, au­thor or a key­word. It al­ready in­cludes more than 600 never-pub­lished jour­nals.

The idea came from his­to­rian, Mikhail Mel­nichenko, 33, af­ter he wrote a book about Soviet po­lit­i­cal jokes us­ing di­aries as a source.

Work­ing in his apart­ment and with­out a scan­ner, Mel­nichenko pho­to­graphs di­ary pages on a large win­dowsill where the light is good.

He and around 350 vol­un­teers — a broad range of en­thu­si­asts from dif­fer­ent back­grounds — then tran­scribe the di­ary en­tries.

“It’s some kind of so­cial change,” says Venyavkin. “We are sud­denly in­ter­ested in know­ing in de­tail how peo­ple lived who of­ten have no re­la­tion to us.”

The pages of the di­ary of Panova’s great-grand­fa­ther are brit­tle, with hand­writ­ing that is hard to de­ci­pher.

“He’s... a com­plete stranger, a per­son who lived 100 years ago,” she says.

Her great-grand­mother se­cretly pre­served the di­ary af­ter Yakovlev was ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of a “Trot­skyite” plot and sent to a labour camp in the far­east­ern city of Ma­gadan where he died.


His­to­rian Mikhail Mel­nichenko dis­play­ing pages from a Soviet-era di­ary in Moscow.

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