Smoke of the Fatherland

A Guide to "Where Are You," by Lidia Golovkova




The prologue covers the Russian revolution and the introduction of cremation in the Soviet Union, beginning with the first Soviet cremation: that of Fanny Kaplan, who was convicted of attempting to assassinate Chairman Vladimir Ilyich Lenin in August 1918. After… Continue Reading →

Chapter 1: Patriarch Tikhon in Donskoi Monastery

Present-day Donskoi Monastery in south-central Moscow was founded on the spot where the Russian Army made camp before going into battle against the Crimean Khanate in 1591.  The holy Don Icon, for which the monastery is named, was carried around the… Continue Reading →

Chapter 2: The First Moscow Crematorium

The first crematorium in Moscow was actually a converted church: the Seraphim Cathedral at Donskoi Monastery. The crematorium was opened on October 6, 1927. At the time of the crematorium’s opening, its boss Pyotr Ilyich Nesterenko actually lived in an… Continue Reading →

Chapter 3: The God-Houses

Despite the crematorium at Donskoi often sitting empty, plans were made to construct a second crematorium in Moscow on the grounds of Lazarus Cemetery. Located in the Marina Roscha region of Moscow, Lazarus Cemetery once contained a Godhouse: a small building that held the… Continue Reading →

Chapter 4: Big Changes

The crematorium at Donskoi Monastery had been founded mostly as an antireligious experiment, but in the middle of the 1930s, it saw a new purpose: like Fanny Kaplan, the victims of Stalin’s political repressions needed to “disappear without a trace.”… Continue Reading →

Chapter 5: Varsonofevsky Lane

Varsonofevsky Lane, a small side street in central Moscow, received its name from the former Varsonofevsky Women’s Monastery.  The monastery maintained a Godhouse and nearby cemetery and operated from 1500 to 1765. After their murders at the hands of False… Continue Reading →

Chapter 6: The House on Solyanka Street

A hulking gray building stands on a busy street in the central Moscow neighborhood of Kitai-Gorod: Solyanka No. 1/2, simply called the House on Solyanka Street. After the Petrograd Crematorium closed down, its former boss Boris Kaplun lived here. Kaplun… Continue Reading →

Chapter 7: The Chekist Village

In central Moscow, the windows of Chekist offices blazed through the night.  They toiled in the Lubyanka, in buildings on Bolshaya and Malaya Lubyanka Streets, on Varsonofevsky Lane and other similar side streets.  The secret police’s nighttime activities continued until the mid-1950s. Chekists planted… Continue Reading →

Chapter 8: The Kremlin Affair

Even the sacred Kremlin was not safe from intrigue in the tumultuous days of the early Soviet Union. The Kremlin had been the home of the tsars in Moscow for hundreds of years (since at least 1147), but the Bolsheviks… Continue Reading →

Chapter 9: The Quest for Shambhala

The residential building on the corner of Bolshaya Lubyanka and Furkasovsky Lane was designed by Ivan Fomin, the architect who took 2nd place in a competition to design the Petrograd crematorium. The building, directly across the street from the Lubyanka,… Continue Reading →

Chapter 10: Poets and Chekists

Many of those executed during Stalin’s repressions were poets. These poets often grew close to secret police agents, likely because of the exciting air of risk and mystery associated with them. One significant group of poets in the 1920s was… Continue Reading →

Chapter 11: The Great Terror

Most likely, the cremation of execution victims began with the opening of the Donskoi Crematorium in 1927.  Officially, though, these cremations began years later. Statistically, one of the most dangerous industries at that time was the department of railroads.  Many… Continue Reading →

Chapter 12: The End of the Great Terror

By 1938, the secret police (NKVD) was mostly just executing its own members: NKVD chief Nikolai Yezhov distrusted those who had served under his predecessor Genrikh Yagoda. Other targeted groups included disabled people and “nationals”—that is, people from non-Russian Soviet… Continue Reading →

Chapter 13: The Artists

Many of those who were executed and brought to Donskoi for cremation in the late 1930s-1940s were people associated with the arts, both world-famous artists and background figures. The director of the Bolshoi Theater and several members of its orchestra and… Continue Reading →

Chapter 14: Cruel Reality

The cremation sector, like all other sectors of Soviet industry, was not without its casualties under Stalin. Pyotr Neterenko, who ran the Donskoi Crematorium, was arrested as a spy on the second day of the war (June 23, 1941) and… Continue Reading →

Chapter 15: The Second Front: Wartime and Post-War Executions

The years of World War II (1941-1945) are one of the least understood periods in the history of the repressions.  Partly, this is due to the widespread incineration of documents that occurred in preparation for Moscow potentially being lost to… Continue Reading →

Chapter 16: In Our Time

The Donskoi Crematorium was closed in 1973 due to the health hazard posed by its smoke, but the ovens were not removed until the 1980s and were still occasionally used for Party officials; the churchlike building, however, remained open for… Continue Reading →


The book ends in the old territory of Donskoi Monastery, which, according to Lidia Golovkova, is one of the finest places to talk a stroll. Petr Chaadaev, a 19th-century intellectual is buried here, as is forgotten poet Sumarkov, the famous… Continue Reading →

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