6.3.10

Great Terror, Leica X1

One can only wonder how many had been waiting, fatalistic, for the knock at the door.

Who thought there had been a terrible error and that Stalin would sort it out. A quick goodbye to their families before they were escorted away by the faceless agents of the security services. 

Dom Na Naberejnoi or the House on the Embankment, stands next to the former Red October chocolate factory on Serafimovicha Street, in Moscow. 

It used to be Europe's biggest apartment complex back in 1932, comprising of 10 or so buildings, including a theater, cinema, kindergarten and grocery. It housed the Soviet elite: military leaders, administrators, journalists and artists.

The house went on to acquire a terrible notoriety. Of the 2,400 people living there, during 1936-1937 just over 700 were arrested in Stalin's purges as enemies of the people.


Usually arrested at night, many were shot within days. Mostly men, their wives were usually sent to labour camps and children to orphanages.

There's a touching photograph of a boy of about 13 hosting a party for his friends captioned, First Birthday Without The Parents. Shed a tear for the children if you will. Many of the adults were part of the regime and some had played a role in repressing others. 

The complex now houses a small museum, headed by the widow of
Yuri Trifonov, who grew up in the house, and whose parents were liquidated. He wrote a book, published in 1978 which gave the building its current name (and he's the birthday boy in the photograph).

I took the Leica X1 along for a spot of historical documentary. As you can see it is a very modern-looking building, considering that it was built in 1928-1932. The architect was from Odessa, via Italy, B.M. Iofan.

It was supposed to face, across the River Moskva, the Palace of the Soviets. Preparations began with the demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, seen here

The design for the Palace of the Soviets was not like the impressive, if squat Stalin skyscrapers completed in the 1950s. It looks more like Pieter Breugel's paintings of the Tower of Babel, crossed with a bad dream of Benito Mussolini. 

Anyway, it turned out the foundations of the Cathedral had been built on a marsh and even the most extensive pile driving would not have supported the Palace.

So the authorities turned the site of the Cathedral into the Lenin Swimming Baths. 
The Cathedral was rebuilt in the 1990s, as you can see here, looking from the steps of the theatre of the House on the Embankment.

Looking from the steps of the theatre which still forms part of the House on the Embankment you get a strange sense that history is out of kilter. Not repeating itself, not a time warp, but that two periods of history have collided.

The small security office at entrance No.1 is now a museum. I spoke to a wonderful, multilingual lady who was born in this house in 1930. She devotes here time to chronicling the names of those who, one way or another, ended up as enemies of the people.




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