Andrei Sakharov Archives at Harvard University

Andrei Sakharov liked to quote Pasternak’s line: “Ne nado zavodit’ arkhiva, nad rukopisyami tryastis'” (“One should not have an archive, nor fret over the manuscripts”). Yet, he was acutely aware that behind every written word, be it his own, or someone else’s, stood a human life, often with a tragic story to tell. To get these pages, these lives, from out of reach of the KGB would often mean their only chance for survival.

This awareness and anxiety drove Sakharov and his wife, Elena Bonner, to look for ways to save his manuscripts from the KGB thefts, which started long before he was exiled to Gorkii. It goes without saying that this was far from an easy task. It required ingenuity and courage, and it meant a considerable risk and potential danger for those who were involved all along the way.

This is why, after the KGB theft of the first batch of documents in the Fall of 1978, the Sakharovs tried to use every opportunity to smuggle the documents abroad, mostly to the States. There they were kept in the home of Bonner’s daughter, Tatiana Yankelevich.

In the mid-eighties, Andrei Sakharov expressed a wish that his papers are deposited in an academic institution for safekeeping and for a possible future creation of an archive. In July 1993, after two years of discussions between the University and Elena Bonner, the Andrei Sakharov Archives were established at Brandeis University. At the announcement ceremony, Bonner said that donating the papers of her late husband, she hoped not only for their preservation, but for a creation of a center for the study of the entire era Sakharov represented, in the spirit of Sakharov’s motto “Peace, Progress, Human Rights,” the title of his Nobel Lecture of 1975. In much the same manner, The Sakharov Archives in Moscow were established and Sakharov’s papers that remained in Russia were donated by Elena Bonner and deposited there. Bonner feels that the division, or distribution of Sakharov’s papers between two archives, one of them in Russia, another beyond its bounds, reflects the unique and tragic side of Sakharov’s destiny. She also envisioned close cooperation of the two archives and coordination of their activities. In the three years since its inception at Brandeis the Archives defined and addressed a spectrum of issues: the arrangement of documents. their computer indexing and scanning; introduction of a similar process at the Moscow archive, in order to create a unified system; the establishment of the Archives/Center as a scholarly institution in the international academic community. The Board of Trustees of the Sakharov Centre at Brandeis was established. In 2004, the Archive moved to Harvard University.

There are three major collections at the Archives. The Andrei Sakharov Collection consists of 65 linear feet of material. It includes personal materials, materials pertaining to Andrei Sakharov’s scientific and political activities, correspondence, and manuscripts of his writings. All these, with a small exception of the more recently acquired documents, have been processed, and all the documents indexed. The process took about one and a half years. Personal papers of Andrei Sakharov and his family include documents related to his parents and ancestry. Among these, is a large collection of police files, in copies, on Ivan Sakharov, Andrei’s grandfather, a lawyer, active in the movement for the abolition of death penalty. There are also police files on other members of the family, involved in “Land and Liberty,” the underground movement against the old regime in the late XIX century, as well as documents from the archive of Sakharov’s god-father, Alexander Goldenveiser, a renowned musician and a close friend of Leo Tolstoy.

This collection includes Andrei Sakharov’s personal documents, his diaries, medical records, family correspondence, and memorabilia. Sakharov started to write his diaries in 1975, not on a regular basis, sometimes with intervals, but despite their somewhat fragmented nature, they are of enormous interest, shedding profound light on his persona, his scientific and political ideas, and his inner, spiritual life.

There are his drawings, poems, and science-fiction written for his grand-children, none of which were ever published.

These materials are extremely important for any research in Andrei Sakharov biography, but they also provide substantial information for the scholars of Russian and XX century history, on the continuity of the ideals, culture, and traditions of Russian intelligentsia, among many other topics.

The Human Rights Collection consists of 25 linear feet of material. It includes materials pertaining to organizational activities relating to human rights violations in the Soviet Union and other countries. Materials pertaining to individual human rights cases are also included.

The Elena Bonner Collection, like the Andrei Sakharov Collection, includes personal materials, correspondence, materials pertaining to her activities, as well as her written works. It contains the interrogation files of Bonner’s parents, important party functionaries, obtained from the KGB archives, her mother’s letters from labor camp, the 1940s letters from the besieged Leningrad, etc. This collection is, in fact, yet another archive, with historical value of its own.

There also is an extensive collection of photographs and audio/video materials, that includes of up to one thousand photographs, recordings and videos pertaining to Andrei Sakharov and his human rights activities.

One of the most important possessions of the Archives is the manuscript of Sakharov’s “Memoirs.” It contains about two thousand pages of long-hand in ink and pencil, plus versions of the various parts of the book not included in the published text. This book was written mainly in Gorkii, in extreme isolation. Substantial parts of the manuscript were stolen by the KGB more than once, and the author had to rely on his memory to rewrite them. Indeed, he rewrote the memoirs three times, and he had never seen the entire manuscript until the end of the exile. Fragments had to be smuggled to safety — with great difficulty, using rare and random opportunities.

On November 1, 1982, Fedorchuk, the Chairman of the KGB, reported to the Central Committee of Communist Party (Document No.2139F): “Committee for State Security covertly procured in the course of its operations ‘Pages of Reminiscences’ (autobiography), and diary, written by Sakharov.” The result of this “procurement” was the typewritten edition of the “Memoirs” in 1986, for a highly exclusive and very limited group (of the members of Politburo, perhaps?), four years before it had seen the light of day in the publishing houses of Chekhov (in Russian) and Knopf (in English). A copy of this “edition” was presented to Bonner by Bakatin, then the Chairman of the USSR KGB.

In mid-1994 a substantial number of documents directly related to Sakharov and Bonner was obtained by the Andrei Sakharov Archives. They are, in one form or another, briefings from the KGB to the Central Committee of the CPSU. The documents are signed by every KGB chief, the first in 1967 by Andropov, later Secretary General of the party, the last in 1990, after Andrei Sakharov’s death, by Kruichkov, the last KGB chief and an architect of the failed coup d’etat of August 1991. In short, one can discern and survey the history of persecutions from the moment Sakharov entered the human rights movement to the end, when he definitively became a national figure and symbol of democratic aspirations in the country.

At the moment, this collections has no analogies or precedents in the area of Soviet Studies, in particular, and in history, in general. Far from being an accurate historical record, it represents sensational material essential both for the history of the human rights movement and for the history of communist superpower. Besides that, it sheds some light on the relationship between different branches of power in the Soviet Union during the last twenty-five years of its existence. These documents would be of high interest to scholars and scientists, politicians and journalists writing on this broad range of topics.

Summing up, this collection of the KGB documents will doubtlessly attract the attention and interest of wide segments in the academic community and in political circles. Therefore, its publication seems to be a natural step. The Andrei Sakharov Archives hope to make it the first in the series published under its auspices.

The Archives and Center believe that the work being done is essential both for the preservation of the unique historic resource and for the development of tradition of a discourse that will attract outstanding scholars and scientists to contemplate the important and pressing issues of modernity.