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How the director of the Geological Institute of the Academy of Sciences got on the pages of Solzhenitsyn’s novel

© Архив РАН

In 1949, the investigation of a large group of geologists, called the "Krasnoyarsk Case", resounded throughout the USSR. Twenty-seven people, including 4 academicians and corresponding members of the USSR Academy of Sciences and 10 professors, doctors of geological and mineralogical sciences, were put under investigation. The main accused was Joseph Grigoriev, who, according to the investigation, "maliciously hid valuable mineral deposits from the Soviet state and deliberately directed research work along a false path".

The story of this major scientist attracted the attention of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and in the first chapter of "The Gulag Archipelago", discussing the fears and actions of people caught under the heavy camp machine, he wrote:

"A person who is not internally prepared for violence is always weaker than a rapist. Rare smart women and daredevils think instantly. Grigoriev, director of the Geological Institute of the Academy of Sciences, when they came to arrest him in 1949, barricaded himself and burned papers for two hours".

© Fotograaf Onbekend, 1974

The scientist did not sign a single interrogation report, did not denounce or mention anyone. He was clearly aware of what and whom he was facing, what would follow, how it would affect the Institute and his colleagues, and how to counteract it all. Such dignified behaviour and exceptional clarity of vision led to the fact that the capture of the director was not followed by a flood of arrests in the Institute, as was often observed in other organisations under similar circumstances. Who was Grigoriev and how did the trial end for him?

Joseph Fedorovich was born in 1890 in the city on the Neva in the family of a hereditary wood carver. In 1908, after graduating from a classical gymnasium, the young man entered the Mining Institute, which in the early 20th century had a first-class faculty. The director of the university and prominent Russian mineralogist Eugraf Fedorov read crystallography and petrography to students; geology was taught by the famous tectonist Dmitry Mushketov, who later headed the Geological Committee; profile mining disciplines were taught by Vladimir Bauman, the founder of the Russian surveying school, and Ivan Tima, the founder of mining mechanics; and chemistry was taught by Nikolai Kurnakov, a Stalin Prize winner and the creator of physical and chemical analysis. With such a base, university graduates became mining engineers of the highest class and scientists of a wide profile.

Having received a diploma, Iosif Fedorovich started studying polymetallic and tin-tungsten deposits in Altai, the Urals, Kazakhstan and Georgia. Based on the results of his first independent research in 1918 Grigoriev was elected to the post of geologist of the Geolkom. Such attention to the young scientist was explained by his scientific ambition and successes - his work on the study of ore minerals from twenty-eight deposits in Altai was the first in the country to use mineralography (a precise method of microscopic study in transmitted and reflected light of samples of ore or opaque minerals). As it turned out, the polymetallic deposits studied in detail by Iosif Fedorovich contained ores of lead, copper, zinc, and noble metals on a commercial scale at the same time. Subsequent exploration of the deposits showed that Altai ranked first in Russia for silver and lead.

In addition to its significance for the expansion of the country's mineral resource base, these explorations proved to be fundamentally important from an academic point of view. Grigoriev defined the criteria for establishing the sequence of separation of ore minerals, developed a classification of ore structures, described primary ores and ores of the hypergenesis zone, identified genetic types of structures and showed the importance of their knowledge for understanding the genesis of the deposit. Thus, Iosif Fedorovich became one of the pioneers of metallogenic research in the USSR.

In 1921, for the first time in the country, Grigoriev began to teach a new discipline - mineralogy - at his alma mater, and a little later he wrote and read a course of lectures "Ore Deposits" at the Mining Institute and the Moscow Mining Academy. In 1926, the scientist was elected to the position of chief geologist of the Geolkom and head of the metal section, which actually determined the ideology of forecasting and searching for ore raw materials in the country.

In 1933 Joseph Fedorovich, already a widely known scientist in the field of geology of ore deposits, headed the ore department of the Geological Institute (GIN) of the USSR Academy of Sciences. For his outstanding scientific work, without having to confirm his qualifications by defending a thesis, he was first awarded the degree of Candidate of Geological and Mineralogical Sciences, and then of Doctor.

In 1941 Grigoriev was appointed deputy, and in 1947 - director of the Institute. At the same time he acted as deputy chairman of the Committee for Geology under the USSR Council of People's Commissars, during the Great Patriotic War he headed the Kazakh branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences and was a member of the Commission for the mobilisation of natural resources for the needs of the country's defence. From 1945 to 1947, he acted as chief geologist of the Commission for the creation of a domestic base of atomic raw materials, carrying out numerous consultations and expertise in the north of the country (Norilsk district), Western Siberia, Ukraine, Transcaucasia, and Kolyma.

© Вручение наград в Кремле в 1940-е годы/3-ий справа в 4 ряду Иосиф Григорьев/ Архив ГИН АН

The USSR government awarded the exceptionally erudite scientist two Orders of the Red Banner of Labour and a medal "For Valorous Labour in the Great Patriotic War".

However, despite such a brilliant career, none of the jubilee compilations devoted to the history of the Geological Institute, 50-year or 70-year, does not mention Grigoriev as a director in principle....

As a brief background, it is worth recalling the scandalous August 1948 session of the All-Union Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VASKHNIL), organised by Academician Trofim Lysenko with the support of the country's top leadership, which had disastrous consequences for the development of biology and entailed a strengthening of the role of ideology in science. This led to large-scale persecution of Soviet scientists - following the geneticists, pogrom meetings began in many research institutions.

The reporting point for the repression of geologists was the report prepared by the newspaper Pravda "On the state of geological exploration in the Krasnoyarsk region", read at a meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks (b). It was based on unconfirmed facts stated in an article by journalist Anastasia Shestakova. Initially, the material did not arouse the interest even of the editor-in-chief of Pravda. However, against the background of the acute crisis in the USSR Atomic Project and the critical shortage of explored uranium industrial deposits, the task of catching up with the US in the nuclear sphere became the number one problem. A number of officials in charge of geological prospecting prematurely reported to the government and the Ministry of Internal Affairs about the discovery of uranium ore provinces in the north of the Krasnoyarsk region, without waiting for full confirmation of reserves and prospects of deposits from geologists. As a result, the huge amount of state funds spent on the search did not correspond to the results obtained. A "witch-hunt" started, and the newspaper gave the Shestakova's material a go.

Literally the day after the Politburo meeting, the Minister of Geology of the USSR Ilya Malyshev was summoned to the Kremlin. After a conversation with Stalin, he suffered a massive heart attack and was removed from office. On the same day - 31 March 1949 - came for Joseph Grigoriev.

A few months before, by analogy with the Lysenko meeting, a Session of the Extended Scientific Council of the Geological Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences was organised to discuss the work of the scientific institution. Formally, the theme of the event did not pretend to the scope of biologists, but the consequences were no less dramatic.

Grigoriev belonged to the number of specialists who opposed large volumes of geological exploration work on insufficiently prepared sites, realising the likely consequences.

"The struggle for the quality of published works should be the daily task of the Institute. Nobody demands from us ringing unrealisable promises! <...> The Ministry of Geology as far back as years ago began a decisive struggle for the quality of reports. All reports of geologists of departments pass the territorial or All-Union Commission on Reserves, and only after their acceptance the work can be written off by the accounting department as completed production. Perhaps the reviewers are too lenient and do not attach due importance to the benignity of the description of factual data. In essence, of course, it is impossible to tolerate such a situation, when the descriptions of factual material are good only in the works of research institutes. The work of recent years has shown that in a number of cases we had to repeatedly return to the description of the studied areas and revision of the collected collections and sometimes redo the work, if the actual materials on the study areas are incomplete or lost", - spoke at the Session Director of the Institute of Geological Sciences GIN Grigoriev.

Officials obviously did not expect such accusations. The transcript of the Session of the enlarged Academic Council of the Institute of Geological Sciences of the USSR Academy of Sciences was classified (it was published only after almost 70 years to the 90th anniversary of the research institute).

The academician was incriminated as follows: "being one of the heads of the geological service in the USSR, Grigoriev, knowing well the deposits of Altai and their importance, hides rich deposits of rare metals, in particular, uranium, and prevents their industrial development". The situation was beginning to strongly resemble the Shakhta Case of 1928, in which 53 managers and specialists of the country's coal industry were convicted (all of them were fully rehabilitated in 2000).

Шахтинское дело
© Подсудимых конвоируют сотрудники ОГПУ

The "work" with the accused behind prison walls bore fruit - new waves of arrests. But Joseph Fedorovich did not name a single name. There was no trial. The sentence was passed on 28 October 1950: 25 years without the right to correspondence with confiscation of property. By that time the scientist was already dead. He died in his cell, returning after another interrogation "with a bias", a month and a half after his arrest - 14 May 1949. Not knowing this, the family of the academician applied for cancellation of the groundless accusation repeatedly until 1954, when "the case was terminated," and all geologists, both those who died in prisons and camps, and those who survived, were fully rehabilitated.

After the arrest, furniture, crockery, and clothes of all family members were removed from Grigoriev's flat. A woman with an open form of tuberculosis was forcibly moved into the former office of the academician, and then a man registered in a psychiatric dispensary, formerly a KGB officer, who terrorised the family for 10 years. He was evicted only in 1974.

© Студент Иосиф Григорьев в 1916 году и Директор ГИН АН СССР в 1949 году при аресте

After the Ministry of Geology was "put in order", the usual prospecting and exploration parties and expeditions were replaced by a completely different system. All geological work in Krasnoyarsk Krai and Khakassia was transferred to the Main Department of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs "Yeniseistroy" established in 1949, which took over the regional geological department and the territorial geological fund. Deposits were developed mainly by prisoners, so it was within the framework of "Yeniseistroy" that 10 correctional labour camps were established, where more than 16 thousand people worked. Huge forces and funds were thrown into the search for uranium in Siberia. Undoubtedly, this gave results, but the quality and efficiency of geological exploration left much to be desired. The activity of the GeolFund in the period 1949-1953 was practically stopped. The cadastres of mineral deposits were almost not replenished for 6 years. Maps of the study were made only where the State Unitary Enterprise "Yeniseistroy" was working, and it was not more than 30% of the whole territory served by Krasnoyarsk Geolfond.

In March 1953 by the Resolution of the USSR Council of Ministers "Yeniseistroy" was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Metallurgical Industry of the USSR, and already 4 months later this department was closed. In 1955 the parties and expeditions were returned to the system of the Ministry of Geology of the USSR.

"In 1949, with the help of slander and the use of unworthy persons, the former employee of the newspaper "Pravda" Shestakova Anastasia Fedorovna managed to accuse in the eyes of Beria and Abakumov and put 27 geologists behind bars. Of these, 6 died in prison and camps, including Academician Iosif Grigoriev. The survivors innocently served 5 years of their sentences. Shestakova bears a huge responsibility not only for the imprisonment and death of geologists, but also for many hundreds of millions of rubles, aimlessly and irresponsibly wasted by Yeniseistroy", - summed up the uranium epic one of those arrested in the "Krasnoyarsk case", scientist-geologist Vladimir Kreuter in a letter to the First Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee N. S. Khrushchev.

The journalist was expelled from the Party, but was never brought to criminal responsibility.

In the spring of 1950, Marshal Kliment Voroshilov officially announced that the USSR had nuclear weapons. The production of the first Soviet atomic bomb was based on trophy raw materials - we had no uranium of our own at that time, and the government used ore from the Yakhimov deposit on the border of Germany and Czechoslovakia. And in the early 1950s geologists explored rich and accessible deposits in Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Transbaikalia and Aldan, providing a reliable and promising raw material base. Quite modest in terms of reserves deposits in Krasnoyarsk and Kolyma against the background of monstrous natural conditions and huge costs of extraction were recognised as not profitable and not productive. In other words, as Grigoriev suggested, there was no need to rush with investments until all the necessary geological exploration work was completed.

© Испытания первой советской атомной бомбы в 1949 году/ РФЯЦ-ВНИИЭФ