The tsarist secret police, known as the Okhrana, maintained an office at the Imperial Russian Embassy in Paris to monitor the activities of revolutionaries who were trying to topple the tsar. The files of this organization are a unique source on the internal operations of the revolution. Covering the period 1883 to 1917, the files include transcripts of intercepted letters from suspected revolutionaries, police photographs, code books, over 40,000 reports from 450 agents and informers operating in twelve countries, and dossiers on all of the major revolutionary figures.
Another extremely valuable collection on revolutionary Russia consists of rare materials assembled by Boris I. Nicolaevsky, who was a prominent Menshevik during the Russian Revolution. Following the revolution, he emigrated to Paris and was later described by Lenin's biographer Louis Fischer as "undoubtedly the greatest expert in the Western world on Soviet politics and Marx." His collection contains rich documentation about the party and prerevolutionary Russia, including letters and papers from Trotsky, Lenin, Bakunin, Herzen, Lavrov, Plekhanov, Akselrod, Martov, Tseretelli, and Chernov. In the Trotsky file are approximately three hundred letters exchanged between Leon Trotsky and Leon Sedov, Trotsky's son and closest political collaborator. The letters, which were recently added to the collection following the death of Nicolaevsky's widow, cover the period 1931-1938 and reflect Trotsky's thoughts and recollections during a crucial period of political upheaval in the Soviet Union, when Stalin purged the communist system of Trotsky's influence.
The Herman Axelbank Film Collection on Russia (1890-1970) contains 250,000 feet of film documenting activities of the tsar, his family, and his associates; the two Russian revolutions of 1917 and their leaders; the Provisional and Soviet governments; Soviet military forces in World War II; and Russian culture and economy. It includes film of the March 1921 Kronstadt mutiny, the first purge trials of Social Revolutionaries in June 1922, and many political figures of the time (Kerensky, Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin). According to one film expert, it is "undoubtedly the largest and most valuable film collection devoted to the subject of revolutionary and prerevolutionary Russia in the Western hemisphere, and probably in the Western world."
The Russian Civil War period is well represented in the archives by the papers of Mikhail Nikolaevich de Giers (chief diplomatic representative of the Vrangel' Government), Petr Nikolaevich Vrangel' (commander of the White Russian Volunteer Army, 1920), Nikolai Nikolaevich Iudenich (commander of the White Russian Northwest Expedition, 1918-1920), Boris Vladimirovich Heroys (chief of the White Russian Military Mission to London), and Evgenii Karlovich Miller (chief military representative of General Vrangel' in Paris).
Apart from the unique tsarist secret police files and the Axelbank film collection, the archives holds extensive documentation on the communist seizure of power in the countries of East Central Europe and the Baltic states after World War II. These materials include, for example, some 43,000 certificates issued to prisoners released from forced labor camps in the Gulag Archipelago.
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