MOSCOW AJB — MOSCOW -- In the dank tunnels beneath the KGB headquarters lie the moldering documents, perhaps ruined by seepage or soiled by rat droppings, that could explain to Vladimir Yanin why he was arrested at 16 as "the son of an enemy of the people" and why his stepfather was shot.
At least, that is what Yanin dares to hope, now that the KGB files on the millions who fell victim to Josef Stalin's brutal dictatorship are about to be opened.
"We need the archives to know the truth," the vigorous pensioner with a shock of white hair said yesterday. "We want to find out about the mechanism of repression -- but not only that. We want to create a white book, with the history of all the people who were repressed.
"And not only a white book, but also a black book, with all the organizers of the repressions and the interrogators who were sadists and tortured people."
Volya Lebedinsky, a 17-year veteran of the infamous Gulag labor camp system, put in vehemently: "The ones who crushed us and stabbed us and wouldn't let us sleep."
It is not revenge they are seeking, said the members of the Union of Victims of Unjustified Repression who had gathered yesterday in the Moscow headquarters of the Memorial Society, the country's most prominent group seeking to redress the wrongs of the Stalin era and fight neo-Stalinism.
"Our task is to make sure that such repression can never be repeated," said Artyom Feldman, who spent six years in a labor camp in Kazakhstan.
Hobbled by age and illness already, the members of the victims' union got a terrible scare during last month's coup attempt; many of them were sure they would be immediately arrested as enemies of the KGB and the Communist Party.
After the coup's failure, a crowd enraged at the institutions that supported it brought down the 14-ton statue of the security agency's founder, Felix E. Dzerzhinsky. Vadim V. Bakatin, a relative liberal, took over as KGB chief and pledged virtually to close down the agency's secret police functions and open all its archives except the lists of its agents.
The Memorial Society, with its team of researchers into Stalin-era crimes, has been promised access to the archives as soon as arrangements can be worked out, and groups like the victims' union also expect to be allowed entry.
"Our hands are itching to get at them," said Alexei Tokarev, co-chairman of the Memorial Society's Moscow branch.
But at the same time, he said, the society's 100 or so Moscow activists know they have nowhere near the resources needed for the Herculean task of sifting through the decades of Stalinist detritus believed to lie under the KGB's headquarters-cum-prison, known as the Lubyanka.
All the KGB archives taken together could amount to "millions and millions of cases," Tokarev said. "And we don't know what level of preservation they are in -- what was destroyed and what was not, though they assure us it's all there, it's all been kept.
"The Lubyanka archives alone probably have a wild amount of papers," he added, "because so many people went through it -- thousands of people per day in 1937 and '38. That's all there, under Dzerzhinsky Square, in those tunnels."
Tokarev said society members know that the tunnels exist because they had been seeking to take over a building across from the KGB headquarters as a museum. When they went into the basement, where thousands of Stalin victims had been shot, they saw the network of tunnels beginning in its bowels and leading to the Lubyanka.
Because of the underground conditions and typical Soviet negligence, Tokarev said, he fears that many of the documents could have been lost to the elements.
"There are probably rats, and it could be half-flooded, and there won't have been any iron safes or dust removal," he said.
But the physical condition of the archives and the tremendous labor in store did little to diminish the thirst for information about the victims of repression.
"The main thing is the case reports that would show how it all started, who did the first denunciation, how it was all organized," Feldman said. "Who was the person who stood at the heart of it all?"
"We want the KGB to tell us exactly how many cases of political repression there were," Lebedinsky said. "How many were shot, how many died. We don't even know many of their last names."