Paper trail

Collector from Lida gathered unique documents of Soviet era

A collector from Lida has gathered unique documents and artifacts of the Soviet era

Cheslav Serafinovich does not go to museums. He has got one of his own, his two-storey house being a large exposition, in which you can get «lost» for several days. Our newspaper reported on his unusual collection of inkstands at the beginning of the year. But that was only one of the many compartments of his precious casket of a house. If you open the next, you can get into the half-forgotten Soviet past: with the party-membership cards, «killed in battle» notices, certificates, IDs for all occasions, checkbooks and Komsomol directions. There are thousands and thousands of historically valuable papers with stamps, signatures and black-and-white photographs a whole era, compressed in chubby albums.

Sentimental journey

— I’ve been gathering this collection for 12 years. It all began with a rather amusing accident. I went to visit my nephew, and saw the following picture: the child was drawing with pencils on coupons dated 1992. I do not know why, but I felt sorry for those surrogate money: they had quite not long ago been a great value for every family as we had bought our food for them. And here was such neglect… One year later, I had two albums devoted to food coupons and commodity cards exclusively, — Cheslav Victorovich shows. — Young people, who leave school today, cannot even imagine that 20 years ago pasta, sunflower oil, sugar, flour, cereals and vodka were sold only for coupons. Exactly from this last page of the Soviet history my sentimental journey to the USSR began — a country, which is no more and will never be.

Thirty albums, with 5–6 thematic sections in each of them, make up about two hundred mini-collections in one on the whole. It is virtually impossible to cover them all in one article, therefore we will stop on the most interesting.

People always ask me which document is the most valuable. And I still do not know the answer. All of them! See for yourself: the year 1922, the Alexander railway board, traffic service. Name — Elizaveta Nilvina, position — switchman’s wife. Is it not a nice imprint of that time? Now here is a Union of Militant Atheists’ membership card of 1932. You read, and you see those icons, hidden in attics, cupolas without crosses and owners of such tickets, fanatically convinced of their rightness. It is necessary to show this to our children and grandchildren so that they know, — says the collector.

One of the funniest sections is papers for pets of the 1930–1940s. I do not know about you, but I personally for the first time held a passport of a «buckwheat-gray» gelding 128 cm in height, and a «mongrel» one at that, in my hands. And here is one more sweet certificate of this type. Just in case: a red mare Sivka, «bald», was confirmed to belong to a Garus M. L. in 1932. A pairing certificate № 241 has all the details of personal lives of these two lovers: a dark red mare Nyura and a buckskin stallion Junker. A «pairing paid for», a date, and a sprawling signature by the head of the pairing station present.

«Steyer» for Vaskin

The war broke out, and there was no more time for love. This section is probably the most emotionally difficult. In the concise documents life and death of real people are compressed: they look at you from the pictures, and that makes you feel uncomfortable. In my hands — a curfew order for Minsk citizens dated October 1941 and signed by Wilhelm Kube. Caught without documents — executed! And here is a certificate of completion of the higher staff refresher course by a group of machine-gunners from the Western Front, issued in 1942. «Active army» — added in red. The next certificate was given to a lieutenant Solomenko, chief of artillery supplies: shrapnel wound to the left shin with the bone injury, year 1944. But there were «killed in action» notices too, the very sight of which made parents’ hearts stop in Moscow, Brest, Kiev, Minsk, etc. «Your son, lieutenant Chukreev, died October 14, 1943 in a battle for our Socialist Motherland, true to the oath, having shown courage and heroism. He is buried in village Zarechye of Chaussy district. This notice is a document that can be used to initiate application for a pension award». It is impossible to read these yellowed papers of one-third of the album leaf size without emotion.

Lying before my eyes are several numbers of the Red Navy newspaper «The Combat Supplier». December 1942: the advance of our troops near Stalingrad and on Middle Don continues, Soviet Information Bureau reports. And here we can see the tricks of the enemy propaganda — thousands of leaflets, thrown by the German aircraft on our positions. «That’s how your comrades taken prisoners live» — such was the name of a series of photographs, showing the idealized mode of life of the Soviet soldiers in captivity. On these pictures they look fed, clad, healthy, smiling and smoking German cigarettes. What they did actually do to them in the Nazi torture chambers, the whole world knows today. «If you go over to us, you will put an end to all the poverty and suffering». And a signature in capitals: «THE GERMANS».

But we won we did! Here they are the harbingers of the most significant events in the 20th century history. A commendation by the Supreme Commander in Chief Joseph Stalin to a Red army man Arafaylov for the breach of the German defense on the Oder river, covering Berlin, April 23, 1945. And finally, the first peacetime certificate issued to a Guards Lieutenant Colonel Vaskin. For diligent service the formation command gives him a bicycle, «Steyer» № 1573. Date: July 25, 1945. Signature: «Major-General Zeitlin».

No papers, no respect

The hard post-war years: the country rises from ashes and ruins. There is not enough machinery, the 4-years plough-free fields just begin to yield. Food products and raw materials are nessesary as the air one breathes. This can be read between the lines in the obligation notes to deliver meat, milk, cottage-cheese, eggs, wool and leather to the State. Cheslav Serafinovich has whole piles of them for 1949, 1954, 1950 1956… One more trait, that reveals the not easy life of the generation of victors to us – a mother’s personal book to receive state benefits for the sixth child. From November 1946 till July 1949 she would be getting 140 rubles a month. 

The whole Soviet period is inseparably associated with the word «Party». It had a lot of aspects, penetrated into all spheres of society, and became the air that the huge country breathed. Here they are the notorious party-membership cards. A person surrendering such document lost everything — his career, respect and friends. Look at the other relics of a party functionary: an account card of a member of the CPSU, mandate 74, the first party mission to a comrade Guriev, an agitator’s notebook, a personal reference to a member of the CPSU comrade Ryabov, and a pass to the tribune of a comrade Kozlov. Are you laughing? Half a century ago people could give their lives for these papers, — leafs through the album Cheslav Serafinovich. — Komsomol is a separate topic. Young and full of strength guys and girls went to steppe, to virgin lands to built factories and power plants of their own will. It was fashionable, it was cool, as we would say today. Just listen to what is written in a komsomol direction of those years: «Comrade Vladislav Kolchinsky at the call of XV Moscow city Komsomol conference expressed desire to work selflessly at the agricultural farm «Pyatigorsk». After graduating universities, these ardent young people continued in the same spirit at factories, farms, design bureaus and numerous scientific research institutes. Becoming record-setters in work productivity, proudly sporting physical fitness badges and boasting parachutist, yachtsman, and underwater swimmer cards. Getting innovator certificates and rationalization proposal patents. You may have heard about it, but have your son had?

«All the best. Franya»

— I tried to get my son into the collecting several times. When he was a schoolboy, I brought a small coin with a hole. Then a second. He kind of liked it. I bought a third. And fancy that, it turned out to be a blank shot no interest on his part at all! Whereas I have as a result gathered the largest collection of holed coins in the CIS, Serafinovich laughs sincerely. The disease is worse than drinking. How many families have already broken up because of it! That’s why, alas, I pine over my treasures alone.

The integral attribute of Soviet life is the savings bank book. The poster was publicated with a laughing, goodlooking man posing with this cherished gray booklet in his hands. A new «Pobeda» in the background and a motto: «Have saved and bought». After 1991 tens of millions of people were ready to eat this poster and its creators alive in rage. It’s a pity, of course, but all that happened to us as well. History

Postcards, telegrams, stops and commas… How long does an sms live? A week, two or a year? The transit telegram of the Ministry of communications of the USSR, which lies in front of me on the table, is dated 1970: «to gerus genrita ivanovna= happy birthday wish all the best =franya». It’s short, clear and how durable! And here`s the governmental telegram: a white form with a noble impression at the top: «Dear Anatoly Grigorievich congratulate you sincerely glorious jubilee and high government award stop wish you health and big success in your fruitful scientific effort for the benefit of our great motherland=academician fokin». These were kept for years and decades.

Where do I get all the «antiquities»? I search the Internet and outbid some interesting lots. I ask veterans and pensioners, communicate with the people of my generation, who have been born and grown in the USSR. Attics and cellars still have a lot of mysteries and discoveries in store. All you need is desire to search for the rarities and courage to shake off the dust of history, Cheslav Serafinovich smiles. Who do I do it for? For our descendants, I beleive. For those who will read a historical essay on an iPad and ask themselves the questions: what did that all-Union voluntary temperance society actually do? How did the atomic submarine mechanic certificate look like? Finally, what were that substandard film demonstrator’s duties? And here before him the unadorned and contradictory epoch spreads out with all its documents, evidence and facts. The strange distant life that will never happen again, but which undoubtedly was.

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