Muscovites lined up in a driving snow Saturday to view an exhibit of the injustices of the Stalin years, when millions of their compatriots vanished into the hell of prisons and labor camps and never returned.
"A Christian cannot be a good Christian without recognizing that he's a sinner," said one of the exhibit's organizers, historian Nikita G. Okhotin. "How can one be a Soviet without recognizing the errors made in his nation's past?"In the columned cultural hall of a Moscow light bulb factory, the "Week of Conscience" opened with a jarring reminder of abuses committed during the 1924-53 rule of Josef Stalin, whose legacy of terror has been repudiated by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
The weeklong exhibit, which will include films, discussions and tributes to Stalin's victims, was sponsored by the weekly magazine Ogon-yok, which has been in the vanguard of Gorbachev's campaign for "glas-nost" or greater candor - including frankness about the dark pages of Soviet history.
"The memorial will be the manifestation of the grief of the people for millions of their compatriots, unjustifiably repressed, and will mean their political rehabilitation," Ogon-yok editor Vitaly Korotich told the Tass news agency before the exhibit opened in the hall, which belongs to the factory and was built for the employees.
The "Week of Conscience" is another blow to the reputation of Stalin, whose repressions and harsh central controls are now blamed by Gorbachev and his followers for many of the nation's political, social and economic ills.
In a side room at the cultural hall, a wooden board twice as high as a man bears pieces of paper with the names of thousands of Russians, Jews, Armenians and others arrested in 1937, at the height of what historians call Stalin's "Great Purge."
Each sheet carries the laconic notice "VMN," the Russian-language initials for "Highest Measure of Punishment," the euphemism then used to designate the death penalty.
Western historians estimate that 8 million to 10 million Soviets died in the 1936-38 Great Purge, when Stalin was ridding the Soviet Communist Party, government and society of real and imagined opponents.
Many victims were posthumously rehabilitated by Nikita S. Khrushchev following Stalin's death in 1953, and others have had charges against them wiped from the judicial record. But the fate of countless others remains unknown.
Reseachers like Okhotin from the group "Memorial" spoke to more than 100 Soviets seeking news about family members or friends swallowed up by the vast network of prisons and labor camps that Alexander Solzhehnitsyn dubbed "the Gulag archipelago."
Tatyana Vasileyevna of Moscow gave reseachers a portrait of her grandfather, Mikhail M. Gerasimov, a Moscow physicist who once was photographed as an honored worker alongside Stalin and his henchman Lavrenti Beria, but in 1937 was arrested and shot.
"Maybe his picture will help somebody else track down someone near and dear to them," Vasileyevna said.
Some exhibits inspired pity and sorrow. Vasily P. Petrovsky, then-director of the light bulb factory, was arrested in 1938 and shot. A collage of photographs and documents told the sad story of his family.
"Our family, my sister and myself, experienced all the circles of hell for belonging to a family of `enemies of the people,"' Petrovsky's daughter wrote.