Dorm Dinners and a French Invasion

Posted: February 4, 2017 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

I’ve been fairly intensively consumed by archival work recently. Normally I don’t like to write too much about what I find or see in the archives, but I’ve come across some interesting stuff lately, and I had a quintessential experience with the head archivist at Socio-Political Historical Archive (RGASPI) this past week.

Photo of a cool sunset by Red Square to distract from a ramble about the archives.

Photo of a cool sunset by Red Square to distract from a ramble about the archives.

In the military archive (RGVA), I’m collecting more supporting evidence but I haven’t found anything particularly new or shocking. The folders entitled “Sentenced War Criminals” in the Stalingrad Oblast were not quite what I had hoped they would be from the title. After 1950, the Soviets insisted that they held no more German POWs; rather, they only had sentenced war criminals. While undoubtedly many of those held had indeed been properly sentenced for actual war crimes, others were likely falsely imprisoned through show trials under a pretext that was internationally acceptable during the burgeoning Cold War. I was hoping to find information about these trials that evaluated POWs and designated them as war criminals. Instead, it was about 600 pages of guys being sentenced to various periods of jail within the camps for refusing to work or obey orders. There was a funny one about a guy who was sentenced to a week in camp jail for wandering around shirtless and in his underwear and cutting in the line to get mail.

In State Archive (GARF), I’ve begun working in some different collections. One has to do with bread rations during the Soviet famine of 1946-1947. As typical Soviet documents, they don’t actually admit that there is a famine. However, it is quite clear from what’s inside the documents that there was a major famine. They talk about how the camps did not have enough bread to feed the POWs. There were also many documents, especially from the republics of Moldova, Armenia, and Georgia, punishing the POW camp staff for missing food. During the famine, the camp staff clearly stole bread and potatoes. At least in these republics, they were caught and sentenced to a variety of different punishments for this.

As I’m dealing with Russian archives, I also had two “fun” incidents recently. The first involves the electronic catalog for GARF. There is an online catalogue on their website, but it doesn’t work properly. I thought there was way less on my topic in GARF because of this. For example, typing POW in the online catalogue comes up with zero results, but if I search the catalogue on the computers in the reading room at the archive, I get hundreds of results. So now I’ve got a bunch more to read through there.

I also had my first personal experience with the true Misha treatment at RGASPI. He refused to give me volume 2 of opis 2 of the Molotov fond. When I registered he only gave me the third volume, and I found some great stuff with POW repatriation or UN commissions/Cold War related stuff in those files (lots of correspondences between the Western allies and the USSR about German POWs in Soviet hands). However, someone else working in the archive had specifically told me to get a folder from volume 2 as she had ordered it and seen things about the POWs in it. I asked Misha for volume 2 but was told that “foreign affairs are only in volume 3. There is nothing for you in volume 2. There’s nothing else here for you. Go to GARF.” After some arguing back and forth and me showing him a citation for a particular folder a few times, he relented and pulled out volume 2 to look up said folder. Trying to prove a point, he flipped directly to that folder instead of letting me look at the volume myself. When he got to it, he read aloud the description, which included the German POWs. “Well, you never said the word repatriation,” he grumbled as he handed me the whole volume and walked off.

While doing my laundry last week, I was perusing the bookshelves in the lobby of the dorm. I found a copy of an Ian Fleming collection in Russian, which includes “Diamonds are Forever,” “From Russia with Love,” and “Doctor No.” I’m pretty excited to read them in Russian. I was confused by the book at first, though, when I pulled it off of the shelf because it claims to be a collection of detective novels. If you know me, you know my love of James Bond films, video games, and books is pretty extensive, except for the travesties known as the Daniel Craig films. Those suck. End of discussion. Some of the coolest days in the archives for me are when I come across SMERSH documents. SMERSH was a Soviet counter-intelligence agency that stood for “Death to Spies.” SMERSH features prominently in Fleming’s novels and a couple of the James Bond films. Those are the days in which I don’t hate my otherwise fairly dreary existence of reading dusty documents.

Ian Fleming - Detective Novels.

Ian Fleming – Detective Novels.

How do I cope with the boredom or insanity of the archives? I’m glad you asked. Sometimes I have a variety of food adventures around the city or in the dorm. For example, we have become regulars at the Uzbek restaurant Café Anor. We go there often enough that the staff recognizes us and the server knows to bring us two portions of adjika, the hot sauce.

Some nights I just put copious quantities of hot sauce on my eggs. Eggs are somewhat interesting in Russia in that they don’t come in a dozen, but rather in a pack of ten. I feel like there’s some Soviet joke to be made about only decadent capitalist imperialists having eggs coming in a dozen. img_3331

Maybe I spent a little too long reading files from the propaganda department. They love throwing phrases like capitalist imperialist around. I also improved my eggs with Sriracha, which was one of the prized possessions in my suitcase full of odds and ends. If I have to be responsible and trek to an archive in sub-zero temperatures, then I get the liberty to draw on my food with hot sauce. There is also a reason that I study history and not art, which is evidenced by the photo. In some ways I bring nothing but shame to my maternal grandparents, who were talented artists and long-time art teachers in the New York City public school system. Don’t worry, none of this is cold induced brain damage. That all happened years ago when I frequently fell down the stairs in my youth. Gravity and I are still on neutral terms at best.img_3332

Or, I have the wonderful luck of being friends with Anne-Marie, who had gone to cooking school and worked professional in the restaurant industry. On Monday night this past week we made a delightful macaroni and cheese with a béchamel base to which we added three cheeses, one of which was brie. It was superb.

There is no such thing as too much cheese.

There is no such thing as too much cheese.

Then, on Wednesday, we decided to make dinner with the leftover macaroni that was inspired by an internet food post about grilled cheese sandwiches with mac and cheese in them. I decided to step things up a notch by buying bacon at the store, which also happened to be on sale that day.



The other news in the dormitory is the turnover of the students. Over the course of the last week I said goodbye to the two remaining students who wouldn’t be back for a second semester. And, after a few quiet days of there only being three people on the floor, the new neighbors have begun to arrive in droves.

Napoleon has managed to somewhat achieve his goals 200+ years later. The three new French Canadian students are living on my floor. All of my Italian neighbors, with the exception of one, have gone back to Italy. Supposedly there are supposed to be eight new Italian students this semester, but if they’re here, they aren’t on my floor. Instead, we have quite a few French students from France on this floor, and there is also another group on the sixth floor. Thus, I am now completely surrounded by the French in the middle of Moscow. I feel like I’ve been transported into the world of “War and Peace.” I’m in some pre-1812 aristocratic Russian settlement as the corridors are filled with French speech and the only Russian uttered is broken. My only solace is that I don’t think there will be any balls held in the dormitory. Perhaps I should mention that I disliked the peace parts of “War and Peace.” There were too many balls, and Natasha’s inability to choose between her love interests was insufferable.

Outside of the comfort of food, I rely on going to Taekwondo to physically beat out my aggression.

Dojang sweet dojang.

Dojang sweet dojang.

This past week, I cut my arm pretty badly while fighting and there was a moderate amount of blood. When walking home from practice I thought about stopping at the pharmacy to buy some sort of antiseptic for the cut on my arm, but then I remembered that there is always vodka in a the freezer in the dorm.

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