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To save the past

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To save the past

30.06.2018

Julia Goryacheva

Yves Franquien (Alexander Burui, Russkiy Mir Magazine)

Russian immigrants hatched the idea to open The Russian Center of San Francisco during pre-war times. The Deputy Chairman of The Museum of Russian Culture at The Russian Center of San Francisco Yves Franquien talks about past and present of the major independent Russian immigration archive.

—Yves, The Russian Center of San Francisco carries the biggest non-governmental Russian Immigration archive. Founded in 1939 by Russian immigrants, it will celebrate 80th anniversary very soon. How the local Russian settlement in SF looked like by the time of the the opening of The Russian Center of San Francisco?

—Russian community in San Francisco used to be very small. It started growing only after the White Movement was defeated in Siberia and Far East. Important Immigration center with many public organizations appeared in San Francisco when Russians started coming in through China, Japan and Philippines in 1920-30s. First centers have appeared among ex-army officers. For example the Gunnery Officers club became The Society of The Great War Russian Veterans in San Francisco. Ex-naval Russian Officers Society in San Francisco, more known as Ex-Naval Ranks of The Russian Navy Wardroom, was inaugurated in 1925. On October of the same year a joint committee of the Russian National Organizations was created. It comprised Church Council of Holy Trinity Cathedral, The Great War Russian Veterans' Society, The Russian Navy Wardroom, The Society of Support and Education of Russian Children, Russian National Student Society at the Californian University, Club of Russian Artists, The Russian Mutual Aid Society, and Society of Russian Engineers and Technics.


Many Russian Public Associations have opened on the the US East Coast during these years. Among them, The Russian Mutual Aid Society and the US. Famous Pushkin Society in America were established as well. Did these associations took a good care about archiving?

Many public associations have opened libraries. But there were almost no specialized archival repositories. Very often important materials on Russian colonies were kept in attics or garages, or just vanished without leaving a trace. At that time Russian immigrants in Europe and on the Far East have started gaining experience in creating cultural archives repositories along with maintaining existing libraries, museums and archives outside Russian Empire borders. Czech President Tomaz Masarik and Yugoslavian Regent Alexander Karageorgevich helped creating major immigration archives in Prague and Belgrade.

However, the world crisis of the end of 1920s - beginning of 1930s and expanding of military ambitions in Germany and Japan raised concern on the destiny of Russian émigré archives. A more secure place had to be found, since Russian historical-cultural archives have experienced biggest losses during their transfer at the end of the World War Two.

The idea of creating Museum of Russian Culture in San Francisco was hatched by Russian Immigrants' organizations during pre-war times, primarily by leaders and activists of the Joint Committee of the Russian National Organizations founded in 1925. In the 1930s the joint program was developed, and in August 1939 the Russian Center was officially registered. The building was bought on the voluntary contributions brought by members and supporters in 1940. Today it is a communal base for several Russian organizations such as Headquarters of Russian Americans Congress, Russian Life newspaper editorial (published since 1922), a library and Teremok kindergarten. In 1948, one room was allocated for our newly opened Museum of Russian Culture at The Russian Center of San Francisco. A bit later we've moved to the big exhibition space.

— Which tasks have been set out and how they were solved?

—I have to mention that our collaborator from Vladivostok, Russian historian Amir Khisamutdinov has written an article on this topic. According to the sources he quotes, such goals as collecting and preserving historical-cultural materials on Russian community in different countries, on outstanding public figures and other important moments and events connected with Russian community were established.

In just five first years we have received a lot of valuable materials from more than 30 countries, starting from family archives to celebrities' records.

After the death of the first museum's director Pyotr Konstantinov, Anatoly Stefanovich Lukashkin started leading the museum-archive. Before coming in 1941 to US he was doing research in Manchuria. During his tenure of the presidency many materials on Russian émigré history in China and the Civil War in Siberia and Far East have arrived.

After the Second World War thanks to the Highness Prince Alexander Andreevich Liven the attention was paid to the documents left from displaced persons from Germany and Austrian refugee camps. These people produced a lot of interesting information materials.

From the beginning of 1970s archival documents started arriving regularly. We have received requests from well-known historians. Universities and research organizations in America have also expressed their interest. We've have started receiving requests from all parts of the world.

The Museum of Russian Culture at The Russian Center of San Francisco

—What are the key items of the collection?

— One of the most important and complete museum collections is the heritage of the latter Council of Russian Empire in Hankou Andrey Terentievich Belchenko. Before moving to the US, being the part of the Russian settlement, he registered Russian population in China. His unique collection consists of diaries, notebooks, and thematic files that introduce detailed information on the life in Hankou in 1918–1946. Now this archive is digitised.

— And how the Alaska theme is reflected at your museum?

— There is not much. We have some collection materials. Also there are archival documents of the Father Makariy Andreevich Baranov, the Officer who served in Priamursky Military District. During the First World War he fought with Russian Expeditionary Corps in France, and remained in Europe after the Russian Revolution. He took orders as a priest, and became a missioner at the The Pribilof Islands, located on the north from The Aleutian Islands.

He worked with Aleuts who preserved Russian Orthodox religion despite the pressure of Americans who wanted Aleuts to become Protestants. There are photographs of all churches where the Father Makariy served. He has collected translations to the local language of all the Orthodox literature published by Synod printing house in St. Petersburg and Moscow in 1848 and 1893, in 1895 in Sitka, in 1896 in San Francisco, and in 1898, 1902-1903 in American Orthodox Bulletin in New York.

—Is this archive included in the Russian academic research area?

—Yes. We aim to make our materials accessible for scholars doing research in the fields of Russian history and culture. We work on setting the documents exchange, we participate in joint exhibitions, research projects with our colleagues around the world. Scans of film negatives of the Russian refugees' life on the Philippine island Tubabao have been exhibited in the Solzhenitsyn House for the Russian Diaspora in Moscow. We've forwarded them copies of documents of the the chemist V.N. Ipatiev Foundation for the coming exhibition. We have also supported Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore with electronic copies of the Civil War archives.

—Where the museum gets financing?

— We are not public organization. We are fully independent, and very proud of that. Most of the fundings are bequeathed by so-called "old immigrants."

— How big is the demand for Russian archives in America?

— We get requests continuously, in 80% cases from Russians. Contemporary electronic resources and digital copies make our work with foreign researchers much easier. Our archival documents are used more and more in research papers and scientific publications by America, Russian, European and Japanese historians.

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