Historians Unearth One of St. Petersburg's
Darkest Periods at the Peter and Paul Fortress
Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich and Princess Olga Paley
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The Museum of the History of St. Petersburg has unearthed more than 100 skeletons while conducting archeological excavations at the Peter and Paul Fortress on the spot where the mass graves of victims of the Red Terror are located. Now, however, the project has been refused financing for the continuation of the work.
The museum has appealed to various authorities, including the Ministry of Culture, to provide the necessary funding for the excavations, but has yet to receive any reply. Historian and archeologist Vladimir Kildyushevsky says that the two million rubles ($71,300) that are needed to continue the work would cover not the excavation itself, which is usually done by volunteers, but “the processing of materials that have already been discovered, and those that we are planning to find.”
“It is for conservation, restoration, working with bone fragments, anthropological and, if necessary, DNA examinations,” said Kildyushevsky.
So far, excavation work at the Peter and Paul Fortress has been done by volunteers.
The term Red Terror is used to refer to the period in which Russian counterrevolutionaries and monarchists were arrested and shot en masse, beginning at the start of September 1918 and ending with dates ranging from the following month right through to the end of the Civil War in 1922. The Peter and Paul Fortress was used as a prison at that time, and locals reported regularly hearing the sounds of gunshots from the fortress.
The remains of some of the Grand Dukes of the imperial Romanov family may be among the finds, people involved with the project say. Olga Palei, the wife of Pavel Alexandrovich, a younger brother of Alexander III, who died in 1894, managed to escape from Soviet Russia after her husband’s death and later published a book of memoirs in which she described her husband’s last moments in detail, as told to her by a doctor who was imprisoned with the Grand Duke and from an old servant who witnessed the murder.
The remains at the fortress are of victims of the Red Terror who were generally shot in the head.
“All the radiant happiness of former times passed before my dazed vision,” Palei wrote in her book. “Then the paper arrived, [and] after a long martyrology of people assassinated on January 17/30 [the calendar used in Russia at that time was 13 days behind the one used in the West], I read these words: ‘Shot. . . the ex-Grand Dukes, Pavel Alexandrovich, Dmitry Konstantinovich, Nicholas and George Mikhailovich,’ and I remember nothing more of that day.”
Kildyushevsky says that officials do not seem particularly interested in the issue, and that it appears they believe they have more important things to do. “The museum would like to continue the work, but it does not have the necessary funds,” Kildyushevsky said during an interview on Ekho Moskvy radio station.
Seven graves containing the remains of 110 people have been found.
It is eventually planned to erect a memorial plaque on the site of the mass graves.
Source and Copyright: St. Petersburg Times