Opinion: What if the ‘Soviet Nuremberg’ Did Happen?

“Nuremberg That Could Have Been” explores the reasons why Nikita Khrushchev (left) bailed out of prosecuting Stalin and other murderers even after the process was set in motion. (Photo via Russkaya Reklama)

Last month, the audience at the Dweck Center of the Brooklyn Public Library had a rare chance to watch the documentary, “Nuremberg That Could Have Been.”

The movie reveals the failed attempt to bring to trial Stalin and his henchmen, who took the lives of millions of their citizens in the Soviet Union. Filmmakers, including director Igor Kholodkov, screenwriter Irina Vasilyeva, and producer Aleksandr Radov, from Fishka Studio, shot the movie in Russia and paid for it themselves.

All the Russian channels took a pass on broadcasting the movie. They admitted: “It’s good, but too risky.” Even in the United States, the movie played just once as part of a documentary series at the Tribeca Film Center and once on a local TV channel. Which brings up the question: What could be the risk? Especially, since only open-source materials were used in the production…

Filmmaker and writer Alexandra Sviridova, responsible for the February 9 screening at the Brooklyn Public Library, also presented the audience a short video-interview with the authors, and said, “Everything could be different if [Nikita] Khrushchev hadn’t been so afraid of convicting communists for crimes against their own people. If a ‘Soviet Nuremberg’ had taken place, Russians would live a different life now. But it didn’t. If you try to investigate why, you can find a dozen of legitimate arguments…, and very soon the USSR will rise again. But even in its smaller, shrunk current version, Russia is still just as deadly for its citizens.”

It is doubtful that in modern Russia, things would be different. The authors, possibly unintentionally, showed that if a “Soviet Nuremberg” did happen, nothing would have changed (think “Perestroika”). It would have taken longer to get where we are now, but in the end we would still end in the same “miniature version” of the USSR.

In “Nuremberg That Could Have Been,” actress Yulia Rutberg plays Olga Shatunovskaya, the protagonist of the failed “Nuremberg” project.

Shatunovskaya (1901-1991) was arrested in 1937 for participating in a “counter-revolutionary Trotskyist organization,” and sentenced to eight years. Presumably, she survived thanks to the courageous intervention of A. Mikoyan, who was in love with her.

After her rehabilitation in May 1954, Shatunovskaya served as a member of the Party Control Commission of the Central Committee [of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union] from 1956-1962. Her duties included rehabilitation of the repressed. It was her who prepared materials for the historic lawsuit: 64 volumes of documentation that left no doubt about the most terrifying crimes of Cheka-OGPU-NKVD-MGB [the Soviet secret police agencies], the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union], and Stalin himself, against the people.

According to Shatunovskaya, during just 1935-1941, 19,840,000 people were repressed, and over 7 million of them were shot to death. The number of those who died in camps is still unknown. Everything was ready for the “Soviet Nuremberg.” But Khrushchev got scared. When Shatunovskaya, who lived until the Perestroika, decided to learn what happened to her 64 volumes of work, she discovered that most of them were burned. Moreover, Zinoviya Serduka, first deputy chairman of Party Control under Khrushchev, was ordered to find all major witnesses that appeared in the collected materials and force them to abandon their previous testimony. However, some documents survived: a complete list of the documents, some of the 64 volumes and results of the follow-up investigation. Could that mean that the “Russian Nuremberg” still might happen?

… In one of the movie scenes, a tobacco pipe is brought next to a Stalin portrait. The pipe starts producing smoke. And at the end of the movie, smoke arises from just burned records. At the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s, many of the executioners were still alive. For example, Molotov and Kaganovich, who signed 38,679 death sentences, and also some smaller fish. They all could have been arrested. Could they?…

That’s why Stalin’s pipe is still smoking: The main evil has not been finally convicted, but rather transformed into the weaker evil of the present. This is what Grigory Pomerants, a wonderful philosopher and writer, and former political prisoner, says in the movie. Pomerants had personally known Shatunovskaya and wrote the book, “Следствие ведет каторжанка” (“The Investigation by a Female Convict”) about the first woman who called Stalin a murderer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *