Yesterday I hinted that this post was on its way…
Although very few people know this, this is the final resting place of the great Russian avant-garde director Vsevolod Meyerhold in the Donskoye cemetery in Moscow. The marble slab that stands over the earth occupied by Meyerhold’s ashes bears the inscription: “Common Grave No. 1. Disposal Place of Unclaimed Ashes From 1930 to 1942 Inclusive.” I wrote in some detail about that earlier today in an article for The Moscow Times, which you can read by going here. If you don’t have the time for that let me provide the bare details. Meyerhold was shot, most probably in a basement of the Lubyanka headquarters of the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, on Feb. 2, 1940. He was a week short of his 66th birthday. I am assuming that his ashes (rather than his body) were dumped in a hole at this site. There are probably thousands of individuals here. They couldn’t all fit here if they hadn’t been cremated.
The location of this as Meyerhold’s probable final resting place was originally published, I believe, in Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper around 1990. My old friend and mentor Alma Law first published the information in English in the now-defunct Slavic and East-European Performance journal.
The first time I visited this location it was just a bit of dirt with a marble slab stuck in the middle. Three or four families had erected homemade memorials to relatives who, like Meyerhold, were dumped here. Over the years, those few markers have been joined by dozens, maybe hundreds more. Look at the photos below to see the enormous number of small memorials stuck into the ground. To date there is no information here indicating that this is Meyerhold’s grave, too.
An interesting thing in the photo immediately above: a huge wreath from the prosecutor’s office commemorating the victims buried here stands to the right of the common grave. I found this incredibly odd. I had never seen anything like this before when stopping by to pay my respects. But this was no regular day. Moments before these photos were taken Yury Lyubimov had been laid to rest in his grave on the other side of the cemetery. Could it possibly be that some PR-minded person in the prosecutor’s office knew that a few nosy people like myself would come over to honor Meyerhold while we were there to honor Lyubimov? Hard to believe. Actually, very hard to believe. But what else is this wreath doing here? It is a mystery to me.
Immediately below you see a second marble slab that stands behind the first and faces in the other direction. It bears the inscription: “Here are deposited the remains of innocently martyred and executed victims of political repression, 1930-1942. Eternal memory to them.”
I am always moved by cemeteries and gravesites. There is a solemnity and a mystery to standing so close but so infinitely far from the individual buried at your feet. Jim Morrison’s grave. Anton Chekhov’s grave. Nikolai Erdman’s grave. I feel a deep and personal connection to these and other individuals by visiting their final resting places. That sensation is complicated by other feelings when standing above the earth where Meyerhold’s remains were rudely, crudely, unceremoniously, criminally dumped. You are visited by all the horrible thoughts – of his being betrayed by old friends and colleagues; of his being tortured in the Lubyanka; of his wife being stabbed to death in their home after his arrest; of the crime, the brutal, inhuman injustice of those who had anything to do with any of this. You stand helpless and uncomprehending as these thoughts wash over you with the breeze coming off of shimmering, autumn leaves. Calm does not come. Closure remains at bay. You stand in awe of the crimes humans commit so easily against their own kind. You are horrified by the suffering some individuals are chosen to bear. You are infuriated by the waste of talent and human potential. You are devastated that you can do nothing but bow your head, shuffle your feet and walk away until you come back again to repeat the inadequate little ritual the next time.