This area just south of Moscow is the final resting place of many figures in Golovkova’s narrative, including Boris Kaplun (head of the first crematorium in Russia).

The woods of the Kommunarka region, just outside the Polygon itself. Photo: Gretchen Fernholz

The woods and prairie of the Kommunarka region, just outside the Polygon itself. Photo: Gretchen Fernholz

The forested land was once part of an estate that was passed between several noble families before the revolution of 1917. After the revolution, the region became known as Kommunarka after the communal farm nearby.

In 1928, the area now called the Kommunarka Polygon (“polygon” is used in the Russian military to indicate a firing range) was allocated to the head of the NKVD (secret police), Genrikh Yagoda, for a country house, called a dacha.

Genrikh Yagoda's country house at Kommunarka. Photo: Gretchen Fernholz

Genrikh Yagoda’s country house at Kommunarka. Photo: Gretchen Fernholz

The area remained comparatively serene (despite Yagoda’s famous parties) throughout the early years of Stalin’s repressions in the 1920s and early 1930s, but when Yagoda himself was arrested in March of 1937, the dacha’s convenient location and wooded surroundings made it an ideal execution and burial ground for victims of political repression.

Memorial plaques at Kommunarka polygon, placed by relatives, friends, and admirers of those presumed buried on the premises. Photo: Gretchen Fernholz

Memorial plaques at Kommunarka polygon, placed by relatives, friends, and admirers of those presumed to be buried on the premises. Photo: Gretchen Fernholz

While Butovo Polygon was run by the regional Moscow Office of the NKVD, Kommunarka belonged to the all-union Central Office of the NKVD, so higher-profile and foreign prisoners were typically buried here. Most victims were held in the Lubyanka, Sukhanovo Prison, or Lefortovo Prison before being brought here.

A memorial to the members of the Mongolian government who are buried at Kommunarka. Photo: Almeda Moree-Sanders

A memorial to the members of the Mongolian government who are buried at Kommunarka. Photo: Almeda Moree-Sanders

Between 1937 and 1941, an estimated ten to fourteen thousand people were shot and buried at Kommunarka. Currently, efforts are underway to search through NKVD records and find the names of all of these victims, and so far 6,500 names have been confirmed.

The Kommunarka Polygon was given to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1999, following a period of disuse after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Now, it houses a beautiful cathedral and bell tower, along with a staff of clergy members. They are working to make the polygon more accessible to mourners and researchers by clearing the dense undergrowth around the grave sites. There are also plans to build a larger memorial that would contain the names of all the victims, once they are found.

The Cathedral of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors at Kommunarka, built in 2007.

The Cathedral of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors at Kommunarka, built in 2007.

Kommunarka also hosts a volunteer research/work camp for students for two weeks in August. If you are interested in this camp and speak some Russian, you can learn more here.

Kommunarka Polygon is located to the south of Moscow, and can be reached by taking the Metro orange line to Tyoply Stan, than catching a bus to Gazoprovod. The entrance is just a couple hundred meters past the bus stop along the Kaluzhskoye highway, but is not particularly well-signed.

Sources:

http://hram-poligon-kommunarka.ru/content/view/4/3/

http://kommunarka.narod.ru/poligon.htm