10.14 Book notes

No 10 : 31 August 1969

The publishing house “Politizdat” has issued a book by A. Romanov about the spaceship designer Sergei Pavlovich Korolyov. The book is divided chronologically into chapters: 1907-1917, 1917-1927, 1927-1937, 1937-1947, 1947-1957 and 1957-1966. There is no mention of the fact that Korolyov was arrested and subjected to repressive measures, nor of what became of Korolyov’s immediate teachers and closest friends. The book contains a great deal of interesting information about the construction of Soviet rockets, and the names of their first constructors are mentioned – Tikhomirov, Kleimenov, Langemak and others. All these people were annihilated at the end of the 30’s during the Stalinist repressions. Of this too there is not a word.

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The Chronicle reported earlier [see 6.7] that S. Reznik’s book Nikolai Vavilov, the whole printing of which had been destroyed at the censor’s instruction, was being re-set and would appear soon. This book, published by the “Molodaya Gvardiya” [Young Guard] publishing house in the series “The Lives of Outstanding People”, went on sale at the beginning of the autumn.  It is a biography of Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov, the greatest Soviet horticulturalist and geneticist, who was arrested in 1940 and died of hunger in Saratov prison in 1943.  It is said that during his years in prison N. I. Vavilov wrote a large scientific work, and that they burned the manuscript before his very eyes. The arrest and death of N. I. Vavilov are described in the book thus:  “On 1 August Vavilov and his companions left Lvov for Chernovtsy [in the south-west Ukraine]. On 3 and 4 August they toured experimental stations in the region of Chernovtsy, collecting samples of crops, and studying the research being carried out. And on 5 August, writes F. Kh. Bakhteyev, Vavilov spent the whole day ‘visiting the University, meeting the few teachers who were still there, and its research workers, getting to know the museums, the Botanic Garden and the town1. In the evening Vavilov gathered together the local specialists for a meeting, and asked them to help the expedition. They decided without further ado to set out next morning for the Carpathian mountains in the direction of Putila.

‘There were many people who wanted to participate in the expedition’, recalls F. Kh. Bakhteyev, ‘Two extra cars’ were added, to Nikolai Ivanovich’s, but even so there was one man without a seat. On N. I.’s advice, I had to drop out of the expedition in favour of one of the guests who had been at the meeting.’ V. S. Lekhnovich recounts how the road to the Carpathians was covered with sharp pebbles and the cars had very old and worn tyres. They had one puncture after another. The car in which Lekhnovich was travelling was particularly unlucky. It fell a long way behind the others, and when they had used all their spare inner tubes, the driver turned back …  That was the last journey of Academician N. I. Vavilov. Two and a half years later he was no more … Nikolai Vavilov’s trip to the West Ukraine turned out to have been extremely productive, as were all his expeditions. While sorting the contents of Vavilov’s rucksack, F. Kh. Bakhteyev came across – among other things – samples of an ancient type of German wheat which, according to Vavilov’s theory, ought to have existed in the Carpathian foothills and which the local scientists had never suspected.”

At the end of the book there is a list of the “Main dates in the life and work of N. I. Vavilov”, and this is how his last years are described:

“July – August 1940:  expedition to the West Ukraine.  6 August – F. Kh. Bakhteyev found in Vavilov’s rucksack the last of the varieties of wheat he discovered. May 1942 – elected Fellow of the Royal Society, London. 1943, 26 January – died at the age of 55.”

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At the end of August No. 7 of the journal Yunost appeared in Soyuzpechat kiosks. When it was first put on sale and went out to subscribers, the list of members of the editorial board on the back cover included the name A. V. Kuznetsov. After Anatoly Kuznetsov asked for political asylum in London [see 9.10, item 22], the remaining copies of the 2-million edition were sent back to the printers, and the back cover was reprinted without Kuznetsov’s name and substituted in all the unsold copies.