Viacheslav Chornovil’s three letters sent to Iryna Stasiv-Kalynets in 1978 were donated to the museum-memorial along with much of her correspondence from her time in exile in the Chytynsk region of Siberia, in a village not far from the Chinese border. These letters penned by her close friend, fellow dissident and journalist Chornovil, while he served out his own lengthy sentence in Yakutia, are particularly illuminating about the conditions in which they lived.
Curators of the collection note that this is a unique item, as its vibrant and accessible language brings to life Chornovil’s experiences in the camps, and later in exile, the changing circumstances of his day-to-day life, and ongoing discussions over the legality of the work regimen with correspondents. He and Stasiv-Kalynets also discussed Chornovil’s concerns over the agendas of likely well meaning, but unknown parties from the Ukrainian diaspora in North America. This was most probably tied to the fact that one such person, Yaroslav Dobosh, a member of a nationalist youth organization, came to Ukraine from Belgium to meet with dissidents, triggering one of the gravest campaigns of surveillance and arrests against Ukrainian dissidents—called Operation Bloc.
These three letters chart a year in the life of political prisoners in internal exile in the Soviet Union and once translated and published are expected to provide a unique and illuminating window into this world for researchers, students and the general public.
This letter, written on September 11 1961, from the Schriftstellerverband to Annelies Loest, pertains to the period of detention of 1957 to1964 of her husband, author Erich Loest. After events involving the suppression of the People’s Uprising on June 17 1953, the author was increasingly critical of the German Democratic Republic regime. When he expressed his view on the need for de-Stalinisation, Loest was arrested in 1957. Considered a problem to the regime due to supposedly “forming counter-revolutionary groups,” he was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison, which he served at the Bautzen II prison. During the sentence, Loest was banned from writing. The Schriftstellerverband petitioned for repeal of the ban. In the letter, the association informed Annelies Loest that the head of the GDR Public Prosecution Office had denied the petition, deeming a lift of the ban to be “special treatment within the penal system,” which was considered un-justified.
In the second correspondence, the GDR Public Prosecution Office informed Annelies Loest of the termination of all investigative proceedings against Erich Loest in December 1958, described as the due course of concluding the operation. From then on, further correspondence would be transferred to the Public Prosecution Office in the Halle district.
A folder contains Soldatov’s original letters and notes written on rolls of paper. His letters and notes were smuggled one by one out of the prison camp by his wife Ludmilla when she visited him. These writings included several philosophical and religious contemplations, which were later published in Soldatov’s collected works.
Mirel Leventer preserves in his private collection a number of snapshots, all black and white, in which in the foreground appears the person who played a decisive role in the coalescing of the student movement in the Faculty of Architecture: Mac Popescu. His real name is Emil Barbu Popescu. “The greatest help came from Mac Popescu, who was himself a legendary university leader at the time. He was a professor, dean, rector, and also a great supporter of young people and of student movements – whether artistic or sporting. As far as I was concerned, Mac Popescu was of enormous support. Both when I was a student, and when I was active in Club A, but also after that.” He is today one of the most respected personalities of Romanian architecture.
Mac Popescu’s role regarding this collection was an essential one: he looked after Mirel Leventer’s photographs and films temporarily in the period in which the latter had left Romania. “In 1985 I left for Israel. For ever, I thought at the time. I lived there for eight years; I did military service in Israel. I couldn’t take all these things there with me, so I decided to leave them, on my departure, to Mac Popescu, who had helped me and protected me so much when I was a student. He was the only person I could trust to preserve them. He put them, well protected, in an office of his. In 1993 I returned to Romania. When I got to Bucharest, my first call was on Mac Popescu. Everything I had left was there – in the same drawer where I had put them on my departure. So I recovered them. I took them back and how they are in my possession,” explains Mirel Leventer.
The film Balada albă (The white ballad), winner of two awards in 1974, is in the Mirel Leventer private collection both in its original format, on a roll of film, and in digitized format. The film reconstructs the tragic death of a colleague from the Architecture Faculty during a winter excursion to the mountains. Because the vacation after the first examination session was in February, many students left to walk in the mountains then, even if the weather conditions were not favourable. In the winter of 1973, a group of Architecture students was caught by a blizzard, and the student in question basically sacrificed his life to save the others. It was a death that shook all his colleagues, and some of them paid him posthumous homage through this film. “It is a film that began like a reportage on the funeral of a colleague of ours, in sixth year. Together with some colleagues, he climbed the mountain in very difficult conditions and in saving the others, he met his own end. He was found dead after three days of blizzard; he was completely frozen and was, by a bitter irony of fate, very close to the chalet, on the way back. A terrible tragedy. Without initially thinking that anything in particular would come out of it, out of a sort of inertia, I filmed the funeral; I filmed it on 8 mm. Then I used the scenes in the 16 mm film. I made a screenplay, together with three other colleagues; we climbed the mountain, we repeated the route the following year; we filmed in similar conditions; we put ourselves in danger too. Then I did the editing in our laboratory at the Faculty; I did amateur editing. That was in 1974; the tragedy was in 1973,” recalls Mirel Leventer. The film was shown at two film festivals, and at each it won an award: the National Festival of Student Art in Cluj-Napoca and the Festival of Bucharest Cine-clubs. It was also awarded a prize by the magazine Cinema. The music is by a well known Romanian singer-songwriter, Dorin Liviu Zaharia. He plays the flute and recites a poem written by himself entitled “La trecătoare” (At the crossing), superimposed on an extract from the melancholic piece “Oh Well, Part Two” composed by Peter Green and performed by the then group Fleetwood Mac, who were in vogue at the time. After 1989, the film was projected as part of the Club A evenings.