A group of Russian billionaires spent over 3 million euro at French auction to buy historic papers of the man who tried - and failed - to halt Bolsheviks.
A collection of Alexander Kolchak’s manuscripts, a hand-written 1918 Proclamation of his Provisional All-Russian Government declaring intention to bring ‘reunited and reborn Russia into the circle of the great democracies of the world’, unseen pictures of himself and family, and loving private letters to his wife and son Rostislav written mostly in 1919 were kept for over 90 years inside a foreign bank’s vault.
‘No-one knew about the collection, or rather a few close relatives did know that it existed, but they didn’t realise what it comprised’, said Anastasia Birr, a Paris-based specialist on Russian archives who was asked to view the files in spring 2019.
A group of Russian billionaires spent over 3 million euro at French auction to buy historic papers of the man who tried - and failed - to halt Bolsheviks. Video: The Siberian Times
First mentions of Kolchak’s private archive started appearing among Russian and foreign experts in March 2019 after his grandson and namesake Alexander Kolchak passed away in France aged 85. Within months of Alexander’s death his three children decided to auction all 391 documents belonging to the man once known as ‘the supreme ruler of Russia’, the collection that re-opened pages of some of the bloodiest and most turbulent times in Russian history.
One of the items is Kolchak’s typewritten letter in English which saved the lives of his wife and son.
He sent it from Omsk to Sevastopol where Sofiya Kolchak stayed with the couple's son Rostislav, urging them to leave Russia with help of money he transferred to the UK Foreign Office in London.
‘Am in good health. Have assumed temporary leadership of Russian Armies fighting Bolsheviks in Siberia and Eastern Russia’, the letter reads.
‘In view of my present position and activities I consider your stay in Russia dangerous and therefore am requesting British Government to arrange for your departure together with my son(s) for England or France.’
In his last letters he addressed wife as ‘Dear Sonichka’ and spoke of being in the heart of ‘the most cruel, fierce struggle’ as well as of his loneliness as he continued to fight the Red Army.
‘Everything shall pass, and the damned stain of Bolshevism will be wiped out like dirt from the Russian land. For this I laid a good foundation, and dozens of thousands of traitors will never rise’, he wrote on 16 September 1919, months before he was shot by Bolsheviks in Irkutsk.
Despite his blossoming romance with 25-year-old Anna Timireva, who was arrested and jailed with Kolchak in Irkutsk, the man who then controlled the largest part of Russia wrote to wife about his loneliness inside the Omsk mansion that became the headquarters of the White Movement.
‘Often I have to work alone at nights, so I got myself a kitten who is by now used to sleep on my desk, and who shares my night-time loneliness’, he wrote in one of the last letters on 20 October 1919.
One of the archive’s photographs is the only existing and a previously unseen childhood picture of Admiral Kolchak aged six.
The archive letters appear to dispel speculation about Alexander Kolchak - who was part of the English military mission in August 1917 - being an English spy, which was for years seen by many as fact, a Russian expert believes.
‘Letters that he wrote to wife explain the myth that he was an English spy', said Victor Moskvin, director of the Russia Abroad House.
‘He gives a clear account of why he decided to get into the British service. His main motive was to keep fighting against Germany as he was a true patriot of Russia with all thoughts only about Russia. Then events in Russia began that called upon him to carry another mission of freeing Russia from Bolsheviks that he tried to complete.’
The decision to sell the collection was made by his grandson Rostislav’s descendants in a rush, and left little if any time for Russian state to negotiate with the family.
There were multiple calls from historians and state officials stressing the importance of buying the archive in full, so that the invaluable documents were to be brought back to Russia, but until the day of the auction it was unclear if there were any funds to back it up.
The unique collection was sold ‘with great success’ for 3.012 million euro by French Drouot auctioneers on 21 November 2019.
Within days of the auction two Russian state-run archives confirmed that 90 per cent of all documents were bought by ‘unnamed philanthropists’ and will be returned to Russia, even though some items will be kept in private collections.
Only after the documents were back in Russia at the end of January this year the buyers names were revealed as billionaire Leonid Mikhelson, novelist and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s son Yermolai Solzhenitsyn, antique dealer Vadim Zadorozhny, businessman Ivan Yefimov and Russia’s state-backed PromSvyazBank.
The purchase was supported by Russia’s high-flying state servants like former PM Dmitry Medvedev, his former first deputy and currently head of VEB Igor Shuvalov, Head of Russian Federal Archive Agency Andrey Artizov and former press-secretary of Dmitry Medvedev and now also a part of VEB team Natalia Timakova.
The archive is currently exhibited at the Moscow-based Alexander Solzhenitsyn House of Russia Abroad. It is not clear which part of it will go to private collections after the initial public display.
Anna Timireva, below, was arrested and jailed with Alexander Kolchak in Irkutsk. She spent months in various labour camps for her 'connection to Kolchak'. Anna died in 1978 in Moscow. Pictures: Leonid Shunkarev