In early August 1991 a man who introduced himself as Andrei Stanislavovich Pshezhedomsky telephoned, saying he was assistant to Chairman Ivanenko of the Russian Republic KGB. His chief, he said, wanted to meet with me. Out of old dissident habit, I replied that I didn’t pay calls on the KGB and if they wanted to see me they should send an official warrant. The man quickly assured me that I had misunderstood, that “they” had great respect for me and simply wanted to meet me. At the time the independent KGB of the Russian Federal Republic was in its infancy. I had no idea what it would become, but expected nothing good. Still, I was curious.

I said, “If you really want to get acquainted, come to see me.”

A few days later, they did. At first our conversation didn’t go very well. We had little to say to each other. We chatted about my articles in Moscow News, which they said they had liked, and the Sakharov Congress. I finally asked them why they had come. They said that they wanted to establish contact with political figures and with the public at large. They wanted a clearer idea of what was expected of them and hoped to work out a new concept for their organization.

As for the new concept, I recommended that they get in touch with one of the Congressional experts who had studied the new (Union) law on the KGB and had found that it violated almost every human right. I told them that I didn’t consider myself a political figure and that when I spoke out on issues that worried me I was expressing only my own opinion, that I didn’t belong to any political party, and that they therefore had made a mistake in coming to see me. But in general, our conversation was amicable. I had never seen people from the KGB trying to act in this way, especially in my own kitchen over a cup of coffee on a bright sunny day. So I said that I’d like to have something from them: permission to read the KGB files on my parents and my uncle and help in locating the manuscripts and diaries of Sakharov that were stolen by the KGB in Gorky.

Ivanenko promised to satisfy my first request immediately, but he wasn’t sure what he could do about the second. And with that, they left.

A few days later Andrei Stanislavovich called and invited me to come to the KGB on Monday to read the files. But that Monday was August 19—the day of the Putsch. It was only on the twentieth, when I caught a fleeting glimpse of Ivanenko in the Moscow White House, that I remembered the offer—and immediately forgot it. But Andrei Stanislavovich called again, and soon I was crossing for the first time in my life the marble threshold and mounting the marble steps of the building on Lubyanka Square, the place everyone calls the Big House.

I walked down what seemed miles of corridors. I saw the internal prison, now an accounting office—a small three-story building in the inner courtyard connected by a complicated passageway to the main building that surrounds it on all sides. There were several cells, very small, on two floors. Prisoners were kept there for short periods, just a day or two. They were tried in a courtroom separated from the prison by a short corridor and up a short flight of stairs. A pleasant young lieutenant showed me around. In the passageway between the inner prison and the courtroom, which was now sealed, he told me that his grandfather had been tried in the courtroom and had gotten the most common sentence of those days—execution by shooting (the most extreme punishment).

The sentence was carried out on the other side of Lubyanka Square in the cellar of the Military Collegium building. An underground passage, which goes beneath the entire square, under the subway tunnels and city communication lines, connected it with the main building of the KGB. This had been the last road walked by many thousands of people. I didn’t see the passage and I don’t even know if it is still there. A lump in my throat kept me from asking.

I took the underground passage from the old KGB building to the new one twice in order to see V.V. Bakatin, the new—post-Putsch—chairman of the KGB. At our first meeting he gave me a marvelous present: a two-volume set of Andrei Sakharov’s memoirs, published in 1986—that is, three years before the book appeared—in handsome blue covers, in manuscript format, on good quality paper, in large type. The volumes are convincing evidence that Sakharov’s manuscripts had been stolen, not by random petty thieves, but by the Committee on State Security, the KGB.


The KGB’s edition had the title Pages of Reminiscences, the title Andrei Dmitrievich had first chosen in 1983 at my suggestion but later rejected. It’s too bad I hadn’t known about this edition earlier. I never knew which edition the former leaders of the Soviet Union had read—the KGB one, the one published in Zvezda magazine, or the American edition. At the concert that opened the Sakharov Congress in 1991 Gorbachev told me that he had read the memoirs with great attention, and I could have asked him then.

The second present Bakatin gave me was more modest, since it only confirmed a loss. I received two documents. Here is the complete text of the first:


File of Operative Investigation No. 4490 on Bonner, Elena Georgievna, was received by First Department Fifth Directorate of the KGB USSR from the UKGB [the main directorate of the KGB] of Moscow and Moscow Oblast on December 16, 1971, and refiled as FOI No 3223. On December 29, 1972, FOI No 3223 was transferred to File of Operative Development No. 10740, and on July 4, 1988, to it was added FOD No. 1532 in 200 volumes on Sakharov AD (“Askold”), received from the KGB for Gorky Oblast (our No. 14616).

That is all the document says. It doesn’t make clear when they started investigating me. And it seems that I wasn’t appended to Sakharov’s file but that he was attached to mine. Of course, he had always said I underestimated myself and that for the KGB I was Enemy No. 1. Strangely, our cases were put together in the same file only in 1988.

The second document also consists of a single page, but there is writing on both sides. I find in it that I had been given the nickname “Fox.” On the front:


On stopping surveillance of File of Operative Development No. 10740, on August 9, 1989, I, Colonel Shevchuk, A.A., chief of First Department Fifth Directorate KGB USSR, examined the materials of file No. 10740 on “Fox” on “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda” and found: that the materials have lost their relevance, in connection with which (Bonner, Elena Georgievna FOD No. 10740) I resolve: close the case, removing “Fox” from all operative surveillance and destroy the materials.

At the bottom: “Agree. Chief Ninth Department Fifth Directorate KGB USSR Colonel Baranov, A.V.”

At the top of the page: “Secret. Confirmed. Chief Fifth Directorate KGB USSR Major General Avanov, E.F. 6 September 1989.” On the reverse side:

Order on destruction of file No. 10740…September 6, 1989…burn volumes 1, 41, 71, 130, 200, 280, 340. Previously destroyed by decree of 10/17/1988 a total of 116 volumes…. Order of 12/19/1988…116 volumes. Order of 1/4/1989…total of 114 volumes…. Order of 4/5/1989…42 volumes. Order of 5/29/1989…44 volumes. Order of 6/5/1989…43 volumes. Order of 7/28/1989…40 volumes. Order of 7/28/1989…44 volumes. Order of 8/1/1989…17 volumes.

That means a total of 583 volumes were destroyed. The first seven were burned on the basis of the resolution quoted. But what was the basis for the destruction of case files compiled before September 6, 1989?

Did the burned volumes include Andrei Dmitrievich’s manuscripts and diaries? I keep hoping that they will be found. I hope that they destroyed only the evidence of the many years of surveillance—reports by informers, and other materials they describe with the words “operative development.” First they fill up so much paper and then they destroy it—200 volumes on Andrei and 383 on me. I’m not much interested in how they investigated us, how deeply they got into our intimate life. And I don’t want to know the names of the people we considered friends but who worked for the KGB. Today I continue living as I had before—the methods and concerns of the old KGB do not interest me. And I’m not so sure that it can be changed enough to meet the standards of a democratic state.

In my first visits to the Big House, the Russian KGB had modest offices on a single floor, the seventh. Andrei Stanislavovich told me that he couldn’t understand why the KGB of the USSR didn’t arrest him while he shuttled back and forth between that building and the White House. Why did they allow him to leave? Why did they let him back in? But by November the Russian KGB had expanded, and in December his office had moved to the fifth floor. It was strange to look out the window of his office and see the large round square below, with the empty pedestal of the Dzerzhinsky monument in the middle, and the Okhotny Ryad perspective radiating from it. It was lovely! I had walked past these windows so many times, cringing inwardly, feeling the oppressive building suffocating me. And now I was inside. And the case files of my family were before me.


Father’s case file is No. 11888. The order for his arrest and a search warrant issued in June 1937 appear on the first page. He was arrested “at the section for receiving prisoners of the 10th section GUGB”—where apparently he had been brought from the offices of the Comintern, where he worked. Page 2 gives information identifying the prisoner, including photographs taken on the day of his arrest—full face and profile. He had been beaten—there is a large bruise under his right eye and his wide-eyed stare is unrecognizable. I had seen eyes like that. Many of them. In an exhibit of photographs of the prisoners of Auschwitz. The fourth page lists what was taken during the search of his house: “1. personal correspondence and various documents. 2. counter-revolutionary Trotskyite materials. 3. 2 revolvers, Mausers, No. 6117 and No. 268563, and 48 bullets.” On the other side of that page there is a note: “In view [sic] of the absence of keys and the impossibility of searching the suitcase and trunk were sealed with seal No. 30.”

A resolution follows (page 5) on the selected method of restraint—detention under guard—dated November 15, 1937, five and a half months after his arrest. It says: “For several years perpetrated anti-Soviet work, as a member of a Trotskyite-rightist organization in the Comintern system and collaborated with foreign intelligence.”

In the transcript of the first interrogation, Father gave our ages, incorrectly. He wrote, “My children are a daughter, Lusya Alikhanova, 13, and a son, Igor Alikhanov, 10.” But I was already fourteen and Igor was nine. Did he make a mistake? Forget? Or was there a hidden meaning for him in that? And in giving our names (in other case files I have seen, they wrote only “daughter,” “son,” or “two children”) was he attempting to extend an unreal spiritual thread to us, simply by repeating our names, by reproducing them on paper? Oh, my inflexible Communist father! The transcript ends with his words: “I have never participated in any oppositions, fractional groups, or deviations. G. Alikhanov” (page 7).

Then comes another resolution (page 8) dated August 1937 (no day given):

I, commander of the 9th division of the Third Department GUGB NKVD USSR…having examined case No. 12028 against Alikhanov Gevork Sarkisovich, find: that Alikhanov belongs to a counter-revolutionary Trotskyite group, which was involved in active counterrevolutionary espionage, and resolve: to include the case against Alikhanov G.S. to case No 11888 against [here follows a list of Comintern figures].

Page 9 of the file: “To People’s Commissar of the NKVD of the Union of the USSR [that’s what Father wrote!] N. I. Yezhov.


By this statement I feel it is my duty to bring to your attention the following. Before my work in the Comintern, I worked for many years in the Party [illegible] honestly and loyally to the party of Lenin and Stalin. When I moved to the apparat of the Comintern, I was gradually drawn into anti-Party work. I found myself among the Trotskyite-right group of Pyatnitsky. [Iosif Pyatnitsky was secretary of the Comintern’s Executive Committee.] At first I thought that Pyatnitsky and his allies held the correct Stalinist positions. However, I later saw that this group in its makeup and direction was Trotskyite–right-wing. Having realized that—instead of exposing the group and struggling ruthlessly against it—I helped that group and became a member of that group. Therefore I bear the responsibility for the counterrevolutionary work of the entire group. In view of the specific conditions of work in the Comintern apparat (the need to be conspiratorial) I could not know the entire activity of the group but only parts. But those parts were counterrevolutionary enough. They kept Trotskyite and rightist elements in responsible posts in the most important sectors. They recruited dubious and spying elements in secret places. My personal counterrevolutionary work consisted in that on the one hand I knew individual facts of anti-Party work of this group and did not expose them or protest against them and on the other hand that in my own work in the Balkans I recruited and trusted leftist and Trotskyite elements, for instance the famous Trotskyite [illegible] and his brothers, or the leftist elements of the Bulgarian party, who led the struggle against Dimitrov. I will give more detailed information on my counterrevolutionary work and the work of the Pyatnitsky group in my statements [sic]. 15.XI.1937.

Then from page 10 to page 126 come the interrogations of six Comintern workers from September to December 1937. And the page numbering is changed there, too. On page 10 you can see 149 crossed out, all the way to page 164, when a third numbering begins. Father’s second interrogation—also his last—was on December 29, 1937. According to the third numbering, it begins on file page 126. When asked if he pled guilty, Father said: “Yes, I am guilty of being a member of a Trotskyite-right organization in the Comintern system and on the orders of that organization doing active anti-Soviet work.”

On the question of the circumstances of his recruitment, Father said that he had been recruited in the Caucasus by Besso Lominadze. But even I knew that Lominadze, first secretary of the Transcaucasus Committee, had long been dead. Now I know that he had committed suicide in 1936.

Probably this time the investigator did not beat my father, and gave him a cigarette and maybe some strong, aromatic tea, which he loved so much.

The investigator’s last question: “Do you confirm that you did espionage work for many years?”

“No, I do not confirm that.”

The pause for a cigarette would have ended. And the tea. And his life!

On December 30 the investigator announced the end of the investigation, and on December 31 charges were written for case No. 11888 “charging member of the counterrevolutionary terrorist organization in the Comintern system and agent of Japanese intelligence Alikhanov Gevork Sarkisovich under articles 1a–17–8 and 11 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR.” Above that was stamped: Approved. And signed: Vyshinsky.

On February 12 (file page 138) the preliminary meeting was held to prepare for a trial. February 13, the minutes of the closed court of the circuit session of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR. The session began at 18:00. “The defendant stated that he had nothing to add and asked the court to spare his life.” The sentence: “The military Collegium of the Supreme Court USSR sentenced Alikhanov Gevork Sarkisovich to the highest measure—execution with confiscation of all his personal property. The sentence is final [one word illegible—E. B.] resolution of the Central Executive Committee USSR of 1/XII/34 is immediately executed. The meeting ended at 18:15.”

The last page of volume 1 (file page 142):

Secret. Note. The death sentence on Alikhanov Gevork Sarkisovich was executed in Moscow on February 13, 1938. The decree on realizing the death sentence is kept in the Special Archive of the First Special Department of the NKVD USSR, Vol. 3, page 72. Chief of the 12th section of the First Special Department NKVD USSR State Security Lieutenant [signature].

Volume 2 contains materials on my father’s rehabilitation following the death of Stalin. According to information supplied by the KGB agents, he was not a spy. There are no reports from Alikhanov G.S. at all. That means that he did not work for the KGB-NKVD-OGPU.

But there follows a list of twenty Comintern workers (including Father), whose files had been falsified by the investigator, along with his statement that he “had used physical means of influencing statements on orders of his superior and with him had beaten Pyatnitsky and many other prisoners.”

That investigator, before his own arrest in 1957, had worked his way up to lieutenant general. He survived the camps and returned to Moscow, something that was not allowed until 1987 for prisoners of conscience, or dissidents, when they completed their camp sentences. So it seems that the administration treated former investigators better than their victims.

The investigator’s superior had been arrested in 1938 as a Polish spy and sentenced to death. His wife applied for posthumous rehabilitation for him. When the case was reexamined, the charges of espionage were dropped. But, “The plea by [name] for rehabilitation of [name] will not be satisfied for lack of evidence for the latter’s rehabilitation, and she is to be so informed.”

Even the rehabilitation files have falsifications in them. The Lieutenant General of Justice who was in charge of rehabilitating my father wrote on November 17, 1954, “Please instruct the appropriate registry office to give Bonner Ruth Grigoryevna certificate of death for her husband, Alikhanov Gevork Sarkisovich. Alikhanov Gevork Sarkisovich, born 1897 in Tbilisi, was condemned on February 13, 1938, by the Supreme Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR, and while serving his sentence died of pneumonia on March 11, 1939.” So this comrade general buried my father one more time, making up a new date and month and year for his death.

My mother’s investigation file No. 15871 is very brief, and it seems completely insignificant compared to the file on her exoneration, which had been started long before the rehabilitation process as a result of the complaints I was able to make as an army veteran. When I read it, Andrei Stanislavovich said that I was fortunate—in many cases wives had given evidence against their husbands. In the prison photograph Mother is smiling triumphantly, confirming the thought I had at the time that she was waiting impatiently to be arrested at last.

Her file was begun before her arrest. It opens with a note (file page 1) dated November 4, 1937, “Former Comintern worker Alikhanov Gevork Sarkisovich was arrested by the Third Department GUGB as a member of a counterrevolutionary Trotskyite organization and as a Japanese spy. Living in Moscow, at Gorky Street, 36, apt. 317, Hotel Luxe, is Alikhanov’s wife, Bonner Ruth Grigoryevna, b. 1901, Siberia, Verkhne-Ostrozhnoye, not a Party member [Mother had already been expelled from the Party], USSR citizen, studying at the Stalin Industrial Academy. She has children…. The children are in Leningrad at Bonner’s mother’s. Bonner is subject to arrest.”

But when she filled out her prison dossier, Mother did not write that she had children. And in her only interrogation, when asked “What ties of Alikhanov’s do you know?” she replied, “I don’t know any of Alikhanov’s friends, since none of his friends have ever visited our apartment and I’ve never visited any of his friends with him.” So that’s the kind of house we were supposed to have had—no one came to see us, and we never went to see anyone. As I reread that part in Mother’s file, I can’t keep from smiling, through tears, of course. It reminds me of my own interrogations, when I played dumb, sounding like an idiot, repeating over and over, “I’m not important.”

Mother’s file ends on page 8, with an excerpt from the transcript of the Special Meeting of the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs USSR on March 22, 1938: Bonner Ruth Grigoryevna—as a member of the family of a traitor of the homeland—is to be incarcerated in a corrective labor camp for eight years, starting from 9/XII/37. File to be sent to the archives.” Beneath is a stamp marking that Mother was sent from the Butryki Prison to Akmol. And there is a No. 461218 c/o Karlag.

The file on my uncle, Mother’s brother, Bonner Matvei Grigoryevich, begins with the resolution to select a method of restraint and a charge dated September 29, 1937, which states there is “enough evidence to indicate he is a member of a counterrevolutionary espionage organization and doing undermining work against the USSR for Japan.”

The full text of his first interrogation on the day of his arrest on October 26:

Question: You have been arrested for counterrevolutionary activity. Give a statement on this.

Reply: I have done no counterrevolutionary activity.

Question: That is not true. Your stubbornness will not hide your criminal activity from the investigation. We suggest you give truthful answers.

Reply: I am not hiding anything and I repeat that I have never done any criminal activity against Soviet rule.

Question: We are warning you that we will have to use the existing materials of the investigation against you. We suggest once more that you give exhaustive evidence about your criminal activity.

Reply: I can only repeat what I said, that I have not committed any crimes against Soviet rule.

The second (and last) interrogation was on November 21. In it Matvei confessed fully that he had been a Japanese spy. The materials in the investigation that the investigator mentioned are not in the file. Right after the second interrogation come the charges (page 25 and 26), which state that he had admitted his guilt in crimes under articles 58.6 and 11 of the Criminal Code RSFSR, and then it says: “I consider this present investigation file No. 35719–37 charging Bonner MG to be complete and in accordance with decree No. 99485 of the NKVD USSR General Commissar of State Security Comrade Yezhov am sending it to be reviewed in the first category. The charges were written on December 31, 1937. Leningrad.”

The last page in the file, page 27: “Note. Decision of the Commission NKVD and the Procurator of the USSR on [the date is not filled in] 1937 in relation to Bonner Matvei Grigoryevich was executed on 20/XII/1937.” What decision was that? Why was it carried out ten days before the charges were filed? Did they first shoot him and then do the paperwork?

Besides these three cases, I read the file on Father’s friend Alexei Konstantinovich Stolyarov. He was arrested because at the Party meeting in the summer of 1937 he said that he couldn’t believe that Alikhanov was an enemy of the people. After that his comrades in the Party organization of the Red Professors Institute devoted several meetings to his past sins. He had visited a sick coworker, whose husband was later arrested. He had been at the institute but did not attend a rally calling for the death of either Marshal Tukhachevsky or someone else. He had not criticized Abram Deborin—the Marxist philosopher attacked by Stalin as a Menshevist idealist—when this was demanded. And he dared to defend an arrested man! He was expelled from the Party “for ties with enemies of the people and for deceiving the Party.” At the moment of his arrest he was working as an accountant at a sewing factory. At his first interrogation he did not admit his guilt—he was accused of being in that same Trotskyite-rightist and espionage group as Father, even though he had nothing to do with the Comintern. At the second interrogation he admitted his guilt fully. But he was not shot. There is a copy of his autopsy in the file, which makes it clear that he died of beatings before trial. That’s why he was not rehabilitated and “the case against Stolyarov was closed 9/13/54 for unsubstantiated charges.” Alyosha Stolyarov, who lent me good books and then discussed them with me. Father’s friend!

I read the files on many others who worked for the Comintern. They are all similar, astonishing in their identical style. At the first interrogation no one admits guilt. And in the second they all confess “fully.” The period between the first and second interrogation lasts from two or three days to one to two months. It was almost six months for Father, and ten for Pyatnitsky. The transcripts of the confessions are all the same in content, varying only the countries for which they are said to be spying. And the language is strangely similar for people from different ethnic groups. And they all got the same sentence—execution by shooting. The trials lasted ten to fifteen minutes. The longest was Pyatnitsky’s—twenty minutes. And in all the notes on rehabilitation there is a fake date of death “while serving the sentence.”

I am not naming names. The investigators also have children and grandchildren. And their victims—all of them, each and every one in the files I read—gave evidence against someone else. Mother’s is the only file without such evidence—she didn’t have a second interrogation. And she told me that they didn’t beat her.

One more thing. I don’t think the archives should be moved from where they were kept. They are in order there. But measures should be taken to keep them from being destroyed. I don’t know how. But I do know that given our civic sloppiness, the simple transfer of the files from one place to another could lead to their destruction.

The recent history of our country is a total lie. Just look at my family—there are not only lies in the investigation files and the charges during the period of “violation of Soviet legality.” There are also lies in the death certificates issued by registry offices during the period when “the cult of personality” was exposed and people were rehabilitated. The highest state officials also lied. During the months and years when Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov asked the fate of his papers—in 1988 and 1989—they were in fact being burned. Such were the lies of the perestroika era.

translated by Antonina W. Bouis

Copyright © 1992 Elena Bonner

This Issue

June 25, 1992