Today Konstantin took us to visit the site of one of the region’s blackest moments. In 1938 Stalin slaughtered more than 11,000 enemies of the state here – political prisoners who had been incarcerated on Solovetskiy Island in the 1930’s. Why they were brought across to a lonely forest between Mevezhegorsk and Povenets to die, no one seems to know. But here they ended their miserable lives. I know there are many other such holy places around Europe and the world, but the power of this one overwhelmed me.
Lush pine woodland has been transformed into the saddest and most touching of memorials. In random fashion among the trees stand hundreds, perhaps thousands of posts and simple wooden crosses. Each is adorned with a photograph of one of the prisoners. Small beds of flowers are lovingly tendered by local people.
Installed and maintained by families of the deceased, these silent, scattered memorials to a shameful past spread endlessly into the forest in all directions. They bring tears to one’s eyes. The power is in the absolute simplicity of it all. There are no grand headstones, no broad sweeping approach drive, no architecture. Those would be otiose.