Have you ever read something that was so chilling that even though the person who wrote it is long dead, it was still sort of frightening to read due to the sheer level of evil present? I had such an experience last week on Tuesday. I was reading about Alexander Kolchak during my lunch break (if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, this probably won’t surprise you) and encountered a short description of his execution, written by someone present, that is so chilling to read.
Admiral Kolchak was a famous polar explorer in the early twentieth century. He served in World War I in the navy of imperial Russia (so I’m pretty sure he personally knew the last tsar, Nicholas II, which is awesome). After the tsar and his family were forced from power and eventually executed, Kolchak became a leader in the counterrevolutionary White movement, fighting against the Reds (i.e. the Bolsheviks who went on to tyrannize Russia, the rest of the former Soviet Union, and the world for seventy years). Kolchak eventually held the title of Supreme Leader and was the head of a government in Siberia before it eventually fell and he was executed.
History—or Western scholarship, at least—has not been kind to Kolchak. (Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russians have done some excellent work on him, which is great. Unfortunately, since the Leftists have such a hold on academia in the West, such a change probably won’t occur here.) I’ve always liked him, though, ever since I found out about him. When I was still planning on going to graduate school for history, I planned to write my dissertation on him. Basically, I’ve been a White Guardist since I was too young to know the term. 🙂
Which brings us to the chill passage I read last week. Eventually, Kolchak was betrayed by people fighting on his own side (a bunch of Czechs who wanted to go home so badly that they decided to sacrifice their commander, Admiral Kolchak, in exchange for safe passage home. The Reds wanted him badly, so they agreed to this deal. The Reds put Kolchak on trial—and I use that term loosely, because everyone knew from the start what the outcome would be—and after interrogating him, executed him on the night of February 7, 1920, along with a man named Viktor Pepelyaev who served in Kolchak’s government in Siberia.
One of the executioners was a man named Ivan Bursak. He wrote a memoir that contains the excerpt I’m going to show you in a bit. But first, let’s talk about him a bit. His real name wasn’t even Ivan Bursak. It was Boris Yakovich Blatlinder and he was from what is modern-day Estonia. He participated in the October Revolution and fought in Siberia during the Russian Civil War. The only notable thing he ever did was participate in Kolchak’s exeuction, which he describes here. The translation is mine.
There’s a full moon: a bright, frosty night. Kolchak and Pepelyaev stand on the mount. Kolchak refuses my offer to blindfold him. The troops are ready, rifles aimed. Chudnovsky [another high-ranking Bolshevik in Siberia] says to me in a whisper: “It’s time.”
I give the command: “Troops, fire on the enemies of the revolution!”
Both men fall. We drag the corpses to a sledge, drag them to the river, and lower them into the hole in the ice. And that is how Admiral Kolchak, “the supreme ruler of all the Russias,” leaves on his final voyage.
There’s so much wrong with that passage I don’t even know where to start. First off, Kolchak’s title was “Supreme Ruler” (Верховный правитель [Verkhovniy pravitel] in Russian), not “supreme ruler of all the Russias.” That title sounds more similar to how the tsars styled themselves: Nicholas II’s title was officially “Emperor of all the Russias.” Even that isn’t precisely what Bursak called it, though. Nicholas II’s title in Russian is Император Всероссийский [Imperator Vserossiskii], while Bursak called Kolchak верховный правитель всея Руси [verkhovniy pravitel vsya Rusi]. Rus is usually used as the old name of Russia, like in the medieval period. Again, I don’t know if Bursak meant to be mocking with this phrase, or was just really that stupid.
Also, the part about Kolchak leaving on his final voyage struck me as particularly obnoxious. Bursak uses the word плавание [plavanie] for voyage here, which specifically refers to a trip taking place by water—recall that Kolchak had a distinguished career in the navy, where he went on many such voyages by water. Using such language to refer to an instance when these Bolsheviks executed two people in cold blood, then dumped their bodies in a freezing river just because they hated them that much is actually frightening.
By this point, you’re probably wondering what happened to Bursak. He was killed in Stalin’s Great Terror in 1937, a victim (I don’t know if he deserves that appellation, to be honest) of the system he helped create. While I recognize that Stalin killed many, many innocent people in his Purges, this is one person who wasn’t innocent and one that I certainly will never mourn.
And, of course, the Soviet system itself did not last. Admiral Kolchak has been rehabilitated—there’s a monument in his honor in Irkutsk that I’d love to see, but Irkutsk is so difficult to get to. Hopefully someday I’ll make it there.
For reference, here is the original Russian:
Полнолуние, светлая, морозная ночь. Колчак и Пепеляев стоят на бугорке. На мое предложение завязать глаза Колчак отвечает отказом. Взвод построен, винтовки наперевес. Чудновский шепотом говорит мне:
Я даю команду
– Взвод, по врагам революции – пли!
Оба падают. Кладем трупы на сани-розвальни, подвозим к реке и спускаем в прорубь. Так «верховный правитель всея Руси» адмирал Колчак уходит в свое последнее плавание.