juris eckstein

So, what about Maria Leiko?

Posted in memoriam by Juris on Decembris 15, 2009

It was a tale a family loss that turned to tragedy. It began when Maria journeyed from her native Riga to Tbilisi in 1936 to mourn the death of her daughter Nora and collect her newly motherless granddaughter. But instead of returning to her native Latvia with her granddaughter, the writer and successful stage and screen actress made a fateful decision to accept work at Skatuve Latvian Theatrical Company in Moscow

Instead of making a comfortable final act to star career Laiko was soon caught up in the violent whirlwind of Stalin purges. With 30 of her colleagues at Skatuve, she was summarily shot as a spy, Nazi and Latvian nationalist within just two years.

Born the daughter of worker in 1887 in Riga, 17 years old Maria has moved to Vienna and after – to Berlin. She started with Fridrich Murnau as his muse and the star, then played at Max Reinhardt’ theatre.

Maria has left Germany after Nazi came to power in 1933. Her stage career in Riga National Theatre was very successful. One of her stage-partners was the great Russian actor Mikhail Chekhov (the nephew of famous Russian writer), emigrated from Stalin’ Soviet Union, there is name of Maria Leiko in Napoleonic Encyclopedia after her role in “Maria Valevska”  drama in Riga, 1934.

In 1930. Maria’s daughter Nora fell in love with an officer of Soviet diplomatic service to Berlin ( he was native Georgian man) and was married. (His second name was Chichavaya, it isn’t really Georgian surname, most probably – Abkhazian one). Within a few years Nora’s husband was posted back to Tbilisi, where the couple settled to start a family. But disaster struck when Nora died giving birth to the couple’s first child shortly after moving to Tbilisi in 1934. The child lived with her father, who named her after her late mother – Nora. In 1936. it was decided that she should be raised by her grandmother for Riga.

So , she left to Tbilisi, but stayed in Moscow, in Butova NKVD-KGB’ secret polygon for ever. No any information about little Nora destiny.



One Shot Illusion

Posted in memoriam by Juris on Decembris 15, 2009

In the light of this February day, in one instant before Maria Karlovna have killed a shot in a nape, she has seen huge black trench, half filled with human bodies, some men and women besides of her at edge of the trench, falling in it and already laying there to put them down for the bodies, and herself- among these men and women. There was her turn now. It could seem, that she stands on proscenium; the orchestra pit blackens before her, the stage behind. Her enter now was. It was impossible to play it, but she already was finally approved on this role – a role of Latvian woman that should be shot in the light of this February day.

In that day sixty-five years ago 229 Latvians were shot on firing range of NKVD (the precursor of the KGB) at Butova on Feb, 3.1938. Actually, Latvians were shot as large compact groups also in other days of that year. For example, 74 Latvian names can be found out in lists of executed in Butova for February 28 of the thirty-eighth.

There is no final figure for today, how many human beings at all is dug in trenches of Butova, by some estimations this number can exceed seventy thousand.

According to annually updating reports of “Butova’ firing range”, 20 765 representatives of 70 various nations were deleted by NKVD’ butchers, or chekists, since Aug.7, 1937 till Oct.19, 1938 at this place situated near Moscow. By the investigations of this Moscow issue authors, 1 142 people of this number were perished as they were Latvians, each sixth woman bring into being under the fire of NKVD’ troops was a Latvian here. Also more than 300 Latvians were shot then within another possessions of Stalin’ secret police at Moscow. According to the records of 1933, the number of Latvians then living in Moscow did not exceed half-percent of populations of the city. 

Nevertheless, exactly the day on Feb. 3 will forever remain in account of Stalin’ terror as “Latvians’ day”. Even if no more reasons than all of Latvian theatre troupe of Moscow, Skatuve, was shot in Butova in this day.

The theatre was established in 1919, as Osvalds Glaznieks, student and associate to legendary Moscow actor and art director Yevgeniy Vachtangov, had created it.  One of three Latvian theatres, acted in former USSR in 20-30 years of XX century as well as one of three national theatres of Moscow then, Skatuve – which means “stage” in Latvian – made considerable success at Moscow audience. What about Latvian community of Moscow, these just stand in awe of the actors of the theatre on Strastnoy Boulevard, 6.

The Latvians, more than 150 years living in Moscow, became relatively multiple after large waves of migration in 1915-1916. World War I made the government of Russia to relocate the works from front line Riga as well as another industrial Baltic cities to central Russia. Expert laborers of these plants leaved Latvia for Russian inside cities of Moscow, Nizhniy Novgorod, Tver, Smolensk and others.

Some part of migrants came back to Latvia at the early 20s however many Latvians were employed, or got married here; they did reside at Moscow. Moscow of that time, rich of its cultural traditions, the capital of vanguard and cosmopolitism, charmed Latvian artists and writers, architects and actors.

Some dozen of amateurs of Skatuve’ in the early 20s turn out to be the professional theatre up to the middle of 30th. Here, its studio, where young Glaznieks’ beginners studied the scenic art all over the mornings then entered in show at nights. There were 88 plays of Skatuve for the period of eighteen years of its existence.

In the middle of 30s theatre’ directors got a star of European cinema Maria Leiko for the troupe. Filmed by Fridrich Murnau as well as Berlin viewers at Max Reinhardt’ theatre had applauded her playing Latvian actress casually appearing in Moscow in 1935 has contracted to stay here, interested by idea new to her to play in Skatuve. She then did not know yet how much will pay for this interest.

The arrests of Latvians have accepted total spirit in the fall 1937. According to confession of one NKVD’ ex-officer, published by “Butova’ fire range”, “the mass arrests of so called ‘Latvian organization’ members have turned to literary stalk for ethnic Latvians and justifiable homicide of the grown part of male Latvian population in Moscow, as reached up to looking for Latvians in police registers “.  The main task of secret service departments became search of the Latvian names in house registers in day time; black prison-cars, or “black ravens” combed through the city, carrying these names owners out at night. Prisoners, Latvian families members, were faced to the choice of two “basic” accusations under shadows of ravens’ night flights: or belonging to “counterrevolutionary nationalistic nazi Latvian organization”, or ” espionage for the benefit of Latvia “. Actually a choice was not, as both statements meant the death sentence. So their real “guiltiness” was just belonging to Latvian family’ names.

Indeed the battle with “the Latvian organization” started with the confidential instruction to NKVD, sign by Stalin on December 3 1937, licensed worldwide terror concerning about 150 000 Latvians living then in the Soviet Union. The practice will be continued after Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940, when hundreds of thousands of names of Latvians more will be add to this listing.

The Strastnoy Boulevard’ Theatrical House has become rather deserted now. The viewers got at Skatuve at night December 8 1937, seemed, have faced too advanced performances display: there were no men in show, but the actresses on stage. Only courageous improvisation of women played in absence of actors has rescued this illusion. Audience hardly probable has suspected, that there weren’t actors at theatre already indeed, as roles in the play staged by ‘chief director’ of the state were allotted already. The curtain was shot. Women have left followed men. Up to the fall of December everyone was arrested in Skatuve.

Dec 27 1937 Moscow municipal board has officially resolved to close the theatrical house on Strastnoy Boulevard, as “existence of Latvian theatre at Moscow is not advisable”. There was nobody in Latvian theatre up to then already. Moscow rule has come to a conclusion “to dismiss the actors from office since January 1,1938 paying them allowance for two weeks”. Actors have not got this – a February 3 theatre was executed.

It is evidently that great efforts have been attached to cancel just the name of Latvian theatre forever. There was no a speech nor about Skatuve, nor about destiny of its actors for fifty years. As a problem ”so what happened to our Maria Leiko at last?” didn’t leave somebody alone in Latvia as Soviet secret police staff players after a pause did some casual reply a kind of “well, she hung herself on silk German-made stocking in prison cell ”. However, the KGB files do not burn. Some part of it was published for the brief period in the early 90s, including this:

” Leiko Maria Karlovna, born in 1887 in Riga (Latvia), Latvian, from workers, non member of Communist party, low educated, the actress of Latvian theatre “Skatuve”.
Address: Moscow, Obolenskiy lane, 9, build.3, ap.58.
Arrested December 15 1937.
By the Commission of NKVD and Prosecutor’s of the USSR from January 24 1938 as member to Latvian counterrevolutionary nationalistic nazi organization sentenced to death penalty – an execution.
Executed February 3 1938.
Rehabilitated 12 May 1958 “

At March 2002 commission of Moscow city government has officially refused to Latvian community of Moscow in installing the memorial board in memory about Skatuve. Latvians addressed to Moscow rule with request to install on building of the theatre memorable board, which planned to make on own paying on already existing outline. The city authorities have exuded inadvisable installing such sign on house 6 on Strastnoy Boulevard, having recommended searching for “some another forms” for memorial of Latvians. Such decision of the commission of Moscow government was sent in the address of Moscow Latvian Culture society.

The house on Strastnoy Boulevard does yet exist in Moscow. Once upon a time Latvian theatre Skatuve was being here. As there are no “some another forms» so there is some reason to remember its participants as they have paid their own life for this participation.

Here are their names: Manager Roberts Bancans (born 1892), directors Adolfs Vanadzinis (born1884) and Karlis Kruminis. The Actresses: Irma Balode (1907), Zelma Zudraga (1910), Lidiya Berzina (1911), Marta Kalnina (1892), Zelma Boksberga (1912), Maria Leiko(1887), Matilida Prince (1898). The Actors: Janis Baltauss (1894), Karlis Baltauss (1904), Augusts Kruminis (1884), Voldemars Baltgalvs (1911), Andrejs Ose (1899), Rudolfs Bancans (1898), Reingolds Preimanis (1902), Alberts Zvaguls (1904), Eriks Feldmanis (1913), Oskars Zebergs (1905), Vilis Forstmanis (1894), Roberts Cirulis (1896).
Choreographer Nikolay Zubov (1904), artists Karlis Veidemanis (1897), Arturs Rudzitis (1893), Alfreds Tikums (1895), assistant Elfrida Lesina (1898), stage director Fricis Ulmanis (1899) and stagehand Roberts Bredermanis(?).

The chief director of Skatuve, Vachtangov’ troupe actor Osvalds Glaznieks was perished in one of thousands of Soviet concentration camps in March 17 1947.

 By Juris Eckstein