“One great-grandfather of the NKVD, another died in the camp” – how to talk with children about the Gulag

How and why you need to tell students what is the Great terror and the GULAG? What to do if in the same class were the descendants of the repressed, and “butchers”? As school and family can work with this theme? How to start family history research and how not to be afraid of your past? – says the head of the educational centre of the State Museum of Gulag history Konstantin Andreev.

Photo: dnnmuseum.ru

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We are not responsible for their ancestors, but responsible for our choices today

– You often hear the question “why do children need to know about repression”?

Periodically this question arises, and different people: parents, teachers, scientists, and Museum staff. One of them believes that it is harmful to a child’s psyche and it is better to talk with older people. They usually think we are at the Museum talking about the corpses, about physiology, naturalism and can’t accept the idea that about repression can be told in any other language. Adequate school age, adequate to their issues and interests.

Once in the Museum was called by a representative of the parent Committee of one of the schools: “I don’t know why, but your Museum in the first place in the wish list from children in our class. I would have never taken to you, but the guys so I voted”.

Konstantin Andreev

Some of the children who come to us, don’t know what the GULAG, and not all come here consciously. Remember guys, the ninth graders began to joke before the tour that they are about prisons and about the “AUE” will tell. And in the end he shed a tear: a sincere and conscious. Of course, we are not trying to bring you to tears, but the emotional response is always obtained. And our task is to combine the emotion of empathy to the lives of people with a rational understanding of what happened with our country in the last century. Do everything that people left with questions.

– What?

– What makes us human beings? What is the choice? How to interpret this experience, if one grandfather worked in the NKVD, and the other died in the camp? We often don’t give the answer here are important considerations.

You just need to say, show, tell about what happened. Init is important to look for ways and forms with which to the child to bring in fact of fundamental relevance to the past: no high purpose should not be to absorb human life. As if it is ideologically justified neither legally nor shod. In any case it is impossible to justify the repression of some accomplishments and victories, to put them on the scales.

Photo: uv.mskobr.ru

We believe that it is necessary to know to go to another level of awareness of the past and present that person analytical attitude to their way of life, interested in the history of his family, understood how far his family before he was born. And while we mainly communicate with those who understand this and becomes the way of thinking.

– Today we have three situations: someone can be a descendant of the repressed, someone- a descendant of the NKVD, and someone either doesn’t know about your family’s past, or his ancestors repression faced. How these different groups work and communicate?

– I think if we are going to approach these groups (the separation of which, in my opinion, is very conditional), this topic will never occupy a proper position in the consciousness of society. They should apply equally to all. And speaking of the students, especially as they bear no guilt for the deeds of their ancestors, that someone is the grandson of the NKVD, who was condemned and shot according to the instructions. I think it is necessary to speak. And in a candid dialogue to think about the responsibility for today and for your actions today. But it can be done, based on the experience of our country and people.

Recently re-read the material one of the reporters, who learned that his great-grandfather was a member of the NKVD, who thus got a flat in the center and access to other benefits. He writes that in childhood thought that the sofa on which he was lying, and grandmother read him stories, confiscated from repressed, as well as an apartment. What about people today to work with the past, rather with the past of their families! Not everyone will be able to do it openly and honestly.

I have many friends whose ancestors, being employees of bodies of internal Affairs, committed acts for which descendants today ashamed. Now they ask me how this story work and how to speak about this to their children.

– And how?

– In history, I think it’s important to speak as it was, and to give an assessment based on the approaches of human values. If great-grandfather stepped over the line, so to speak, to judge, to accept, to think about it. Be aware that this experience should influence our thoughts and our actions today.

But if man is the descendant of the repressed, it does not mean that it is necessary to try on the sacrificial mask. In the perception of the past and these “roles” as the “executioner” and “victim” – it’s much more complicated than we think.

– For example, during classroom hours, one kid said that his grandfather was persecuted and the other if he still admits that a relative worked in the NKVD and was a hit list. If this does not cause any “hatred for the ancestors” and the persecution?

– Admit that such a situation can be. A teacher who works with children and knows their characteristics, internal group dynamics, social status of the families of the guys will surely be able in this situation to build a constructive discussion, not short on personality. But I admit that an untrained teacher or not understanding of this complex topic can relate to the situation casually. We always talk about the high level of responsibility of adults who work with themes of memory. This responsibility is much higher when the topic affects the history of the families.

With students it is important to use any situation to come out of her people. How to do it? This is a question faced by any teacher.

We at the Museum very often talk about choice and about what it is.

We have in the Museum there are letters on the cloth. Woman threw them from the stage (carrying her to the camp of the Gulag) trains in the hope that someone will pick up and carry or mail it to her children. Another woman picked up and carried to the address. Children who see such an artifact, often argue – what choice did the woman who found a message on the platform. Bear to the investigating authorities, to carry to the address specified on the rags, or pass? It is a choice. Today in the Museum of children also speak to this choice, thinking about it.

Photo: echo.msk.ru

The choice is clear to them today? Or maybe, you need some modern equivalent?

Very often the historical material is not enough to clearly explain to modern students some of the events and phenomena of the past. And we are trying to first lay the Foundation by examples from the present, from local experience, and then building on it gradually to give information about the past.

For example, we say: imagine a situation in class when one person is accused of misconduct that he did not commit. And the other knows that he is not guilty, but not standing up. Not standing up, as fears, or understands that it is not profitable to aggravate relations with other students or a teacher. So we tell, for example, about conformism. But we also talk about everyday life, which is interesting to students.

– Such lessons of indifference?

– Indifference is a good word. We are not responsible for their ancestors, but we are responsible for today and for our choices, including explore the story or not learn. And the task before us is the following: we try to convince you that studying history, literature, and culture, we can better understand ourselves and become better.

If the person died in camp at 17 years, who will remember about him

– What age children can be told about repression?

– Hard to say. If adults can talk with children on different topics, then they can explain to children 7-8 years, what is illegal to arrest and sentence without trial, and even more so to kill. But some adults and senior students can not communicate on such topics. The basis of any dialogue, regardless of the age of mutual respect. And if the elder sees the younger Man, and about the theme of repression he will speak with a powerful tone.

I’m working with 9-10 year old children in another language than with high school students. Told them about the arrested mother and the fate of the children.

That could be the children that lose parents in these circumstances to be – the big question. Speaking of that, of course, be understood that the younger guys are more vulnerable and sensitive. It is therefore necessary to recognize and to reach the level of fixing the morality of this was to bring them to thoughts about the need today to take care of each other, to be kind, to show compassion and mercy to others.

As a rule, brought to the Museum the boys are older, but now many forms of work with younger adolescents and elementary school children, for example, the book “Sugar baby” Olga Gromova or “Children of the Raven” by Yulia Yakovleva. These children’s books will allow this subject to log in and think. Sometimes we recommend them for parents who want this topic to communicate with children.

– And you remember how you learned about the persecution, at what age?

I remember my grandmother and I went to the cottage, and she, by purchasing a ticket, showed my ID of the victim from reprisals. In the train I started to ask about it (what’s reprisals), and then she told me that her father was arrested and imprisoned in the camp, where he died in 1943. So I found out that such repression. I was 10 or 11 years old. Surprised that he did not know and had not even thought before that I have a great-grandfather. One was a war about it in family legends, and the other did not say. Then much later realized that the man their four grandparents. Of course, we all have different experiences with this topic, but don’t be afraid to pass on the knowledge.

– What words would you start a tour?

– Often speak about the history of the Museum and its founder. But I love to talk about what memory is, and explain it using our example of a building that was once a lodging house. The people who lived there 60-70 years ago, come to us already grandparents, and we are leading them to the entrance in one of the apartments, now laid with brick, and they remember: “Oh, and here grandmother lived Faith.” They remember neither her name nor who she was, only that she fed them to the hungry post-war years, Easter were treated to chocolate Easter. This grandmother’s Faith was no longer alive, these grandparents may also be leaving soon, but as long as they remember and say, and together we think about the kindness of the woman – grandmother of Faith. And it should be noted that remembered her at a certain point, where he came to see how to change the space of their childhood. It is unlikely that they remembered her sitting in his apartments. We often say that places of memory are important.

But imagine a man, who was arrested in 17-18 years, and he died in the camp. If he had no children, who will remember who will remember him and to pass this information from generation to generation? Yes no, the branch is stopped. And we understand that we are talking about. And crying out to ensure that it was understandable.

Very often the children we are talking about the fact that we are all mortal. For them it is sometimes news. They thought about it. But in the Museum they also reflect on the fact that a time after death. As I remember person after death and remember?

All projects designed to restore the names, to speak them, to make the base – it’s all about that memory lived. And I want folks to see what memory is that such people – millions of them, and someone needs to speak, to tell, to think.

– That is, trying to tie the story of the repression to a man’s personal story?

– In different ways. Some guys need and diagrams to show graphics to draw, the documents show. When a person sees an extensive scheme Gulag, he wants to understand what this system.

All guys are different, and the level of perception, a way of perception of each individual child is unique. It is necessary to understand and feel. But, of course, still the person takes the main place in the new exhibition, and in all our projects, because Man is a small story of great destiny.

To wear virtual reality glasses and see the barracks

– How else is your Museum and other museums of memory work with children? How to do non-traumatic and generate interest?

Recently my colleagues and I have been in Germany, in Berlin there is a project week, during which students go every day in the city, to museums and other places of memory. For example, in the Museum and the Stasi prison, Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Teenagers themselves are tours of the camp, each have their own cut – part of the tour. They talk about their peers, classmates. That’s the study of memory. Think how to implement this in our reality.

We have works in the Museum laboratory “Lived”. This year launched a children’s format for this project. Students transcribe manuscripts: letters, diaries, notes. One day came the sixth grade and with such interest bite into the work with the letters to their peers 30 years, transcribed, disassembled incomprehensible abbreviations, type of the Komsomol. Real document encourages the search for, as a reference point in history and in the destiny of a particular person. We are holding application workshops will take texts, for example, camp prose Shalamov, and illustrated in the technique of linocut.

Working with diaries

Our Studio of visual anthropology writes videosspokane of victims of repression or their relatives. You can download them on the website Mygulag.ru and to show the guys, the video is a list of questions to ask, then this movie will be the beginning of a dialogue, and maybe the start of design work or an attempt to start to record the memories of their grandparents.

In the new year we will try to create a youth expeditionary force: we teach the kids to work with archives, interview, including to go to the place, analyze space, everyone was able to do something to restore the memory.

And as with the themes of memory work abroad? Do you think that if we sometime in the future trips to the sites of former camps in Germany?

– In countries such as Germany, Israel, France, Poland, done a lot for awareness of the past. And even they have difficulties in representing events and meanings. But they are very mobile, dynamic in work with adolescents. They experiment, apply new forms. They have a lot to learn. But Russia has experience with children. Repeatedly our colleagues, speaking at international conferences, has attracted interest from colleagues from other countries.

If we talk about the tours at the sites of former camps is possible. In each region there were points where he used prison labor. And it’s not just the remote regions of our country, where access is very difficult and there to take you on a tour almost impossible.

Photo: photosight.ru

But in the same Moscow and St. Petersburg there are detention centres, prisons, sharashka, firing ranges and locations of mass graves, locations of arrests, children’s homes-distributors, and more. Many buildings were built by prisoners, many of the objects used for building materials, developed and produced in other regions of the prisoners. We must speak, led the tour in the context familiar to children infrastructure and to uncover previously unexplored pages of history for them. Based on the image of a familiar childhood home, revealing the information that it was built by prisoners of the Gulag is a very strong move that is used by a few educators, working with urban space.

– Now, perhaps, help digital technology.

– In the new exhibition, we will have many virtual and augmented reality, but all such tools must be in harmony with reality. We make the virtual reality for? The Museum visitor is unlikely he will go to Chukotka, to see what were the barracks in the camp, which was mined and enriched the uranium for the Soviet atomic project. And we can wear virtual reality glasses and see how now it looks like this space, to hear the comments of the member of the expedition. Just hang the photo would be less effective. Especially knowing the experience of modern teenagers, for which planar placement of information, text and images often does not work and does not cause interest.

Developing the big data, and repression is a big data, is the statistics, figures, documents, places. And this array may sirovtsya and to generate new and unexpected insights even for historians.

When the child is studying the biography of great-grandfather, and maps point memory, it assumes importance for families and for all of us.

Last year we created an interactive map of the Gulag, soon launching the project with “Open list” and “Memorial” – will create “Moscow book of memory”, and everyone can come, bring your documents to help decipher the text. We recently opened exhibition at the Lyceum “Second school” gymnasium № 1514, Moscow. And opening of the exhibition, I told the guys that maybe they will be able to use technology at the intersection of disciplines to explore the theme of mass repression, to draw conclusions based on large statistical data and research material.

– Is it possible in this theme to use some elements of the game? The infotainment, gamification – how do you feel about that?

– Teachers now a lot of thought and done to the theme of repression was used in the school. These forms cannot be called a game. Of course a combination of “game forms of work with the theme of repression” evokes certain thoughts. Even the creation of the intellectual game on this subject is not entirely correct, although we understand that the form of neutral to the topic. But the combination of the theme which contains sacred and very heavy meanings, immediately makes many forms is unacceptable in the work with students. This can cause the “playfulness” of her perception, that is, its depreciation. With the choice of the forms you need to be careful.

Gamification is applicable, but we must understand in what conditions it is permissible. It is necessary to choose suitable and more extensive forms. Play NKVD or the GULAG is to cross some sort of line, I think. And it really scares me the format of naturalization, reconstruction.

I was recently in Kaliningrad, and it is very popular quest, “Escape from Gulag” – people wear jackets with numbers and they are trying to get out of enclosed space. Now, knowing a lot about the GULAG, wondering how to play this?

Although when I came to work at the Museum, I thought: “now I will think of something interactive, youth”, approached colleagues and asked: “was there any games in the camps? Maybe we’ll try to reconstruct?”. Looked at me like: “Constantine, are you? Think of a person who seldom bathes, works 14 hours a day for food. And here these people in a hut of two hundred man.” Think: “Really – what games, when people need to survive.”

More liberal in working with the theme of repression network space. We can find many projects that draw our attention through interesting tests, geographic job knowledge of the location of the Gulag camps, the mapping of everyday life today and in the mid-twentieth century. Many of them are designed to generate interest in history and quite acceptable, in my opinion.

In the choice of forms and methods always need to analyze, to think, to consult with colleagues. If the teacher feels insecure with this topic – it is necessary to consult with a specialist if too sure to consult with a psychologist.

“We do everything to ensure that you were free to wear the badge of the Komsomol”

– And if the child says “I don’t want to know about it” – what to do?

A good teacher knows how to teach the subject and uses the situation “do not want”. You might think that will be of interest: to offer a discussion, do research or conduct a survey, who wants to study this theme of repression, and who is not, and then to perform. Unacceptable authoritarian approach: “No, you’re going to have repression!”

We had such a situation on the tour: came class, and one boy, I thought, an ardent Communist in his lapel the badge of the Komsomol, all slicked up, with a briefcase and tie. The other guys from class – Teens in everyday clothes. And here I talk about Lenin and Stalin, and he was all frowns, as if his cringe from the documents abstracts. And in the end of the tour came up to me and says, “here is What you promote, this can not be! Why are you doing this?” And then I said, “You know, we talk about it and do everything to ensure that you had the opportunity to wear this Komsomol badge. In our society it was possible to exercise freedom, to respect each person.” Next weekend he came with his parents. It may, of course, he said, what we’re villains, but I think he decided to deeply explore the subject and to talk to the parents.

Half of Russian youth (18 to 24 years) not heard of the Stalinist purges, a recent poll by VTSIOM. Why? Although it would seem the archives have been opened, so many years working memorial, school textbooks still tell.

Textbooks contain the information, but in the study of the twentieth century this subject is not given very much time. Usually slips “Yes, there was repression, but it’s not so simple”. And students come to us and say: “Here we are told such and such, and we believe that, Yes, Stalin killed, but he’s done a lot of good.”

It seems to me that teachers do not always have enough resources, and temporary, and research to this topic deeply to work. Although, if the teacher builds on this theme as an opportunity to reveal different phenomena of the twentieth century, he finds time and opportunity. And the theme of repression does not tolerate superficial attitude. But, unfortunately, the formation of historical competence (the ability to work with different sources, analyze them, compare) lead not all teachers.

The potential of this historical topic can be opened not only in history classes but also social studies, literature, world art culture, and geography. If the school has created a unified educational space with the said principles laid down by the mission, quality communication between children, staff, parents, the theme of mass terror can work systemically. Voiced in one lesson the thesis is recorded in the part of the lesson for another class, and also indicated during the educational event or collective creative business.

There are other reasons why the teacher is not paying attention to the subject of Stalinism and repression. This may be the priority of some topics, such as, the great Patriotic war, on the other, characterizing then. The repression left out of attention of both teachers and students.

I believe that it is possible to tell about that time in the complex, what was the situation in the world, what modes and how they affected people, what is the fate of man in the Grand narrative of the history of the country. We often think global and not see the tragedy and the fate of the individual and the family.

The position of our Museum: if you don’t know how to work with this theme, take the children to the Museum and use this topic of conversation. Spend a class hour on the theme “Moral choice of the person in the 30-ies”. You just have to start to communicate on this subject, or to study history, and sooner or later to the subject child or an adult will come.

– You have opened the exhibition in two schools. What they look like and how did you deal with the administration of the schools?

At the Moscow gymnasium No. 1514, we opened the exhibition devoted to the Great terror is a hit list, information about a “death house”, a video interview with the victims, showcase items from the camps. At the Lyceum “the Second school” has placed an exhibition on the Gulag – notebook enclosed a reprint of Euphrosyne Kersnovskaya, exhibition module with the objects found in the expeditions to the abandoned camps. The exhibition is interactive, involving working.

The exhibition was placed in schools, teachers which we regularly come and lead high school students. Such exhibitions is always a movement from two sides. We have the ability to do schools have to take and tell them to lead tours, training of guides, think about the forms of activities in the framework of the exhibitions.

By the way, tours of the exhibitions are often held students themselves, high school for boys high school. And sometimes the students answer the questions more consciously than older guys.

When we opened the exhibition in the gymnasium No. 1514, I was told about the fate of a boy whose father was shot. I read his letter, where he writes mother with a request to send a father’s shoes. We still don’t know where he was, and we have yet to find out. But now, to see a letter with the phrase “came his father’s shoes” – what this phrase means? And small immediately grasp that father was no more. Intelligent, sensitive, empathetic guys. And with these amazing guys and work hard, sincere, informal.

– This theme can go systematically in all schools?

– It seems to me, should gradually go to it. Yet there are difficulties, but we believe that at some point the subject will perceive as serious for the educational work that the schools will be more than one or two teachers who are willing to engage with this topic. And the Day of memory of victims of political repression is a reason for occurrence of this theme in school.

Now my colleagues and I created the Lesson in memory, which will be available on our website and on the electronic portal of the Moscow school. We have tried to implement in this scenario the designer of a lesson, interview, work with maps, places, discussions, interactive forms of interaction between students, analysis of written sources. The teacher can take and use the material for this lesson, based on the level of the guys and class, internal dynamics, psycho-pedagogical features of children.

Who is responsible for the education of young, from whom should such a request go?

– It might be easier to say – the Ministry, the Committee, Director. And in fact, from all of us – parents, schools, teachers, and cultural institutions. But first and foremost from the state as a translator of key positions of the state policy in the field of memory. The extent of repression is the size of the state. And I think any state that wants to develop must understand what is needed for these difficult topics to talk, to prescribe textbooks that are not repeated and that we have reached a new level of development.

Very often lately talking about the denial of the repression and praising Stalin. And if it is present in everyday conversation – the reaction one. But if these words come from the official, public employee, Director of budget organizations – that is something to ponder.

In my opinion, public person, the officer can not under any circumstances speak or write in favor of the totalitarian system of repression. We must remember that at the opening of the monument to the “Wall of sorrow” last year the President of Russia and Patriarch Kirill has stated unambiguously that repression to justify anything impossible.


According to the survey, 22% believe that “turning dark past will hit the image of our country and of the repression it is better not to speak.”

– People think that the image of the country can harm that which is our pain. On the contrary, the opportunity to work with the pain, courage to address this topic in the dealing with the past is that respect. The world respects those States that recognize their error, to give proper historical way, not ignore, do not embellish. After all, the man who apologized and repented, doing everything to avoid repetition – the more respect.

And Patriotic feelings, pride for the country, in my opinion, can only then occur when a person knows their history, knows how to work constructively with her injuries.

And happily, when we call the guys and say that took place this theme on literature and going to the Museum.

When grandparents will die, untold stories will disappear

– Are you interested in teen trips to this topic. What can he do next? To go home and try to talk to grandma or grandpa?

– First, we suggest to communicate with their families, with the elderly in the family. Don’t endeavor to Wake up the injury that may be lurking in them but at least find out who your great grandparents. Maybe they didn’t say anything, because there was no reason.

Later you can start to make a pedigree or digitize letters, annotated photographs from the family album – there are many forms of interaction with their family’s past. Work those forms in which communication families going through some document. For example, there is a cake recipe from her great-grandmother, and while it is cooking, you can tell some family history.

When grandparents will die, unsigned photos will not, untold stories will disappear.

Need to remember this and make efforts to preserve the family history. Find out what documents there are in the family, be sure to scan them. My grandmother was evacuated during the war a kid, and now intends to destroy his letters because he was little and wrote with errors. She was ashamed, she doesn’t want such a memory of it remained. Only recently I managed to convince her that it is a valuable document of the era, not only for the family but for the history of the country.

Previously, from father to son or from mother to daughter is often passed any objects – a ring, a knife, and in these characters there is something much deeper than simply the value of the subject. Here, the link between generations. Once engaged with the boys, and one girl to the next lesson came and said: “Constantine, I talked to my mom and she gave me a grandmothers ring” and shows it on hand. Turns out my mom just forgot about this family tradition to pass on from mother to daughter’s great-grandmother’s ring.

Amazing story, when parents and children jointly engaged in the story of his family: go to the place where he died great-grandfather, and lay flowers, trying to figure out where ancestors lived, looking for the grave. I know such families. A lot of these families come to us in the Museum.

The victim of political repression

– How much generally important to do the pedigrees and work from home archives? Families in big cities, more nuclear, children and parents live in different cities.

– I think people understand that this is important. Each of us is not eternal, everyone wants to preserve the memory of himself and ancestors, and as we often say in the Museum. Yes, I will die, but I have to stay in memory. And how is this memory write?

Early to study the family history was difficult, as the work in the archives require special expertise. Today it has become easier. I go to the website of the Yaroslavl regional archive, get access to the electronic records of the funds and are looking for information about my great grandfather. And know that there is a document – loan agreement. It turns out that my ancestor in 1870 took a loan to build a house. Sooner or later, but the archives should become more familiar to our contemporaries. Algorithms of work with them will be easier, as long as they opened and was not closed for very dubious reasons.

We often do not communicate between generations, but this does not mean that one cannot come to a situation when it begins to wonder who he is and where. And the poll showed that the study of family history is important. I even think that it will be fashionable.

To understand who we need sometimes is elementary to explore your health. Not accidentally, doctors often ask, what diseases were in the family. And by the way, this sometimes help and archival sources.

Watch the movie “My Gulag”

And a half years ago, “memorial” held a research contest for high school students, while awarding the participants of the poured paint. Knowing this, the teenager will want to explore your family history?

– It is necessary to say that such provocations with the green people are capable of thinking primitive and incapable of respect of other people. I’m not talking about the fact that his rudeness, crudeness, anger, tugoumie they cover high words about patriotism and Homeland. The man who loves his country, first and foremost, loves people regardless of their views, opinions, origin, creed. And we must remember that opposition to others once began and the class struggle and the subsequent repression.

In our country risks to be doused with green paint there. And these risks are very serious. We must make every effort to repression was condemned and was not the ground for the appearance of germs of Stalinism. Although in real life many temptations to make the soil appeared, but we are the people to have the courage to use your mind and our rich history.

Talked Hope Prokhorov

Photo: www.gmig.ru and the archive of Konstantin Andreev

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