Yakov Gordin on Arseny Roginsky: Not for the first time, we have to say the world has grown empty.

posted 19 Jan 2018, 12:05 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Jan 2018, 12:14 ]
22 December 2017

By Yakov Gordin, editor in chief of the literary magazine Zvezda (Star)

Source: HRO.org [original source: Novaya Gazeta in St. Petersburg]

Arseny Roginsky was a person of quiet and intelligent courage. This is no common combination.

A professional historian, he studied the Russian liberation movement and adopted its best and noblest traits.

In the dark Soviet seventies, he took on what was perhaps the most important work: historical enlightenment. He and several of his allies put together Pamyat' (Memory), collections of archived historical materials on Russian history, which were assembled in the USSR and published abroad.

This work was at once strictly scholarly and – as is inevitable in certain conditions – political. Gradually, a wide circle of sympathizers and contributors formed around the group, among whom were well-known and distinguished people.

Studying the liberation movement paid off. Roginsky knew what a conspiracy was. And the KGB was unable to discover the archive of Pamyat' or to substantively indict Roginsky.

He was tried on farcical charges. The maximum punishment for this "crime" would have been to bar Roginsky from the manuscripts department of the Public Library where he conducted his research. But guilt was not proven during the five-day (!) trial.

I happened to be present at several political trials during the seventies and the early eighties. This includes Roginsky's trial. His situation was unique. He refused to testify. He hardly spoke at all with the judge, answering only the questions about his name, patronymic, and surname... He was saving those who were involved in the publishing of Pamyat'. There were not able to hold a single meeting between Roginsky and other suspects during the investigation.

He understood what he was up against. And the Soviet secret police took their revenge on him. He was given a four-year sentence and served it in very difficult circumstances: a significant part of his sentence he spent being transported between camps. He was continually moved from camp to camp.

He remained true to himself all his life. One of the founders and leaders of Memorial, the main organization promoting the good health of our public awareness, steadily and with unwavering persistence he continued this work of enlightenment, offering people the much-needed historical truth at all times. I repeat: steadily and with unwavering persistence.

I took the liberty of writing about Arseny Roginsky for a reason. I shy away from using the loaded word "friendship." But for many years – we met in 1965 at the University of Tartu, where Senya was studying – we maintained a good-natured and trusting relationship.

In the Pamyat' days, our relationship became closer and stronger. One incident, among others, brought us closer. I published an excerpt from the memoir of my uncle, Arnold Moiseevich Gordin, the elder brother of my father. The excerpt mentions my uncle's friend from the twenties, Baire (Boris) Roginsky, whom the author describes as a brave, outspoken, and honourable person.

At the end of the twenties, Baire Roginsky took in an author, who was an illegal member of the opposition movement, and hid him from the GPU. This was so dangerous that it could have meant death.

My uncle survived twenty years of labour camps and exile. Baire Roginsky died.

When I showed Senya this excerpt, it turned out that we were reading about his father, whom he had hardly known. Senya was born in 1946, in the north, in exile, and shortly afterward his father was arrested and died in 1951...

Arseny Borisovich never knew his father, but he inherited all of his human qualities. This included a strong sense of self-worth, something which in Soviet times made a person a danger to the system. That is also a tradition in Russia.

Arseny Roginsky has passed away. He was intelligent, calm, and courageous. He understood so much and accomplished so much.

Not for the first time, we have to say the world has grown empty.

Translated by Nina de Palma