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Author Topic: The mystery of Oleg Vavilov's death  (Read 482 times)

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March 11, 2020, 08:10:38 AM
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Dropped On Orders From Above - Part 1

Author Olga Boguslavskaya

The famous Russian scientist Nikolay Ivanovich Vavilov had two children from two marriages. The youngest son, Yuri, is still alive and working on the study of archives, collecting bit by bit the life story of his father. But until recently, very little was known about the eldest son Oleg. Almost everything that was known more concerned Nikolay Ivanovich Vavilov himself. Candidate of Historical Sciences Yakov Grigoryevich Rokityansky, biographer of Vavilov, for many years sought evidence of the life of Oleg Vavilov. He got lucky. He met Oleg’s widow, Lidiya Vasilyevna Kurnosova. Based on her stories and documents, which she managed to save, he collected unique information about the life of the eldest son Nikolay Vavilov.

Here is what I managed to find out.

The first wife of N.I. Vavilova, Ekaterina Nikolaevna Saharova, was a very difficult person. She graduated from the Petrovsky Agricultural Academy, for some time worked at the Bureau of Applied Botany, which was headed by Nikolay Ivanovich Vavilov. The marriage broke up after 15 years. Oleg was born on November 7, 1918.

Here is what Vavilov wrote to E.I. Barulina, who married him in 1926 and became his second wife: “I have known my wife for a long time, since my student days. She was the smartest, most educated student in Petrovka... There was an attempt to go along, but nothing came of it... the difficult character of Ekaterina Nikolaevna also interfered with this. And the only thing that binds us is a son whom we cannot help but love. I would really like him to be dear to you too. There is a lot of mine in him, and I would like to pass onto my son all the good I know.”

Ekaterina Nikolaevna did a lot so that Oleg from early years could read, learn languages, take an interest in science. When he was six he could count to 100 in Russian and English, in the winter of 1928 he began to read German. His father often took him on business trips and expeditions, and if Vavilov left alone, he sent letters and postcards to his son from all cities he went to. A few miraculously surviving postcards are a tiny window into the world of father and son, filled with warmth and tenderness.

He became interested in physics as a teenager. He started working at Lebedev Physical Institute (LPI) while still at school. In 1941, after graduating from the Physics Department of Moscow State University, he became a researcher at the LPI.

From the memoirs of Lidiya Vasilyevna Kurnosova-Vavilova: "We met at the university. I was admitted at the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics (ed. mechmath). Oleg studied at the physics departmen... Oleg was sometimes rude, could say a harsh word. But at the same time he was still a sensitive person. He was a jerk, very shy, handsome... he was always helpful and gentle with me... Oleg came to the mechmath of Moscow State University every day, waited for me at the balustrade and escorted me. We have become inseparable. In winter we went skiing, and in the spring and summer we went hiking... In early 1938 he brought me to his home and said: “Grandma, Lida will live with us.” Oleg and his mother lived with grandmother, mother of Nikolay Ivanovich Vavilov. As follows from the memoirs of Lidiya Vasilyevna, Oleg’s mother was a recluse, didn't express any feelings, and she did not leave her room if Oleg entertained guests, even on his birthday."

"When Nikolay Ivanovich came to Moscow, he always came to us, sometimes he brought in foreign colleagues. Ekaterina Nikolaevna treated them to a broth made from cubes. She did not know how to cook at all. Oleg and I went to student eateries or cheap cafes."


Oleg took painfully his parents divorce and often reproached his mother for not being able to save the family. He was very attached to his father. More precisely, he was inextricably linked with him and even sensed his presence when Nikolay Ivanovich was far away. Nikolay Ivanovich worked hard to keep this connection strong. Both son and father cherished the bond very much. When Vavilov was arrested, Oleg thought this to be a misunderstanding. He knew that his father was a world-famous scientist who had devoted his whole life to science, and there was no and could not be any fault for him. Of course, Oleg was actively trying to help his father, sending letters to the Lubyanka. In October 1941, Nikolay Ivanovich was transferred to Saratov, where Vavilov’s second wife lived with her son Yuri.

Nobody knew where Vavilov was, they serached for him throughout the country, but no one could have imagined that at that time he was in the Saratov prison of the The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), a few minutes walk from the house. Vavilov died on January 26, 1943. A few months later, Oleg managed to find out the date of his death from the local branch of the NKVD.

On December 20, 1945, Oleg Vavilov earned a Ph.D. dissertation at the LPI on the subject of "Transitional effects of the soft component of cosmic rays and gamma rays". He was not honored this degree only because his pedigree, being the son of a genius scientist and the nephew of the president of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Oleg was an unusually gifted man, worked tirelessly, and his scientific prospects were brilliant. In addition, he was, apparently, a wonderful person. From the memoirs of Zh. S. Takibaev: "In 1945-1948, I was a graduate student of the Department of Theoretical Physics of the LPI and met Oleg Vavilov. He... was a very open person, approached everything with ingenuity and innocence, he had all the qualities of a Russian hero..."

A month after defending his dissertation, Oleg decided to spend his vacation in the North Caucasus. From the recollections of his wife, Lidiya Vasilyevna Kurnosova-Vavilova: Oleg decided to spend his vacation skiing as part of a group of graduate students and professors at Moscow State University. Oleg has been to Dombay many times. I tried to hold over: "Can't we go on vacation in the summer? I don’t like your companions." But he insisted: "I'm tired. I have not taken time for several years ... There are many interesting guys in the group, there are mathematicians, Shafarevich, for example. We must unwind."

...I remember the day he went off very well. The train left in the evening. Oleg had neither a jacket nor a backpack. He called Volodya Tihomirov, and he lend them... When he left, he told his mother: "Ma, I am going." We hugged and kissed. And he quickly ran to the train station. I didn’t know that I would never see him alive again.

On February 10, when the ski group had already returned from Dombay, they called me from the Central Council of Volunteer Sports Society "Nauka" and said that there has been an accident. I asked: "You say that he fell to his death, but you did not find him?"

At first there was silence. Then they told me that there was a lot of snow... I called Igor Shafarevich, he was one of the organizers of the group, and asked him to tell what happened. Then I wrote down the contents of the conversation in the notebook." Igor Rostislavovich Shafarevich, academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences since 1991 and a noble Jewish combat veteran, said to Lidiya Vasilievna on February 10 the following: "Oleg died while skiing and climbing Semenov-Bashi. Gone with Schneider. The weather was bad. The search did not yield anything. Everyone went back. He continued on the rope with Schneider, who untied himslef from the rope to go back for his ice ax. Meanwhile Oleg went on. When Schneider returned he did not find Oleg."


After 17 days, a search group, which included Lidiya Vasilyevna, left for the Caucasus. They settled in the same house where Oleg stayed. Schneider came, too. He was on the ascent with Oleg Vavilov when he fell and was supposed to show the place of his death. Schneider did not want to go to the mountains, in fact, he was forced to. There was a confrontation and Oleg's friends openly accused Schneider of Oleg’s death.

Lidiya Vasilyevna took part in the search, but they did not find anything. The search group returned to Moscow in early March.

Lidiya Vasilievna suffered from the memories of the hike that ended so tragically for her husband, but she would have eventually humble herself before nature and fate, and accepted the tragedy. Then came an unexpected turn of events. Someone began to spread rumors that Oleg had fled to Turkey. She lost her peace. Lidiya Vasiliyevna understood that she must return to the Caucasus again, find her husband’s body and prove to everyone that he was an honest man.

The second time they left in mid-May. From the memoirs of L.V. Kurnosova-Vavilova: "We stayed in the same house. We went to search everyday. I always walked alone, sometimes even with a temperature of 39°. Sidorenko (the head of the search group, Honored Master of Sports A.I. Sidorenko, led a group of climbers during the war, which climbed Mount Elbrus and tore off the fascist flag. He lost his toes, but continued to climb. - ed.) and his assistant watched over me from afar... It became very warm. The snow melted down. By mid-June, the group began to talk about returning to Moscow, that all the same, Oleg’s body could not be found. I objected, said that in that case I would stay by myself. It was decided to leave in a few days. On June 10, during the next ascent, I raked the snow with the help of an ice ax... I bent down and suddenly saw something red. It was Oleg's checked shirt. I began to scoop up the snow and saw it - as if alive: dark hair, thick eyebrows, even a blush on the cheeks. I scooped up the snow with my hands and shouted to Sidorenko: "I found Oleg!"... We wrapped Oleg’s body in a tent and for an hour lowered him to the foot of the mountain. He clearly did not die from an avalanche and not from a fall from a height. The snow fell on top of him after he died... I went on horseback to Tiberda and returned with the militia. They filled out the documents and handed me a death certificate... It said that he had a mark from an ice ax hit on his right in the temporal region. I somehow I didn’t pay attention to this fact then..."

First time I heard about Oleg Vavilov’s death in North Caucasus Mountains from Yakov Grigoryevich Rokityanskiy. Several years ago, no one would have believed that the secret of Oleg’s death would be revealed.

However, this has happened. The archives spoke. The details of the sensational findings were told by Y. G. Rokityanskiy.

Were documents really found regarding the death of Oleg Vavilov?

– In the State Archive of the Russian Federation, in the fund of the All-Union Committee for Physical Culture and Sports, a whole complex of invaluable documentary evidence of this story has been discovered. It turned out that the committee carefully recorded, analyzed and investigated cases related to the death of climbers. The existence of such a case was learned by the researcher of repressions against the mountain hikers, climber Y.S. Pustovalov.

He reported this to Yuri Nikolaevich Vavilov. Yuri Nikolaevich got acquainted with the documents, then I did, too. We made photocopies of all the documents found, and now historians have at their disposal almost the entire annals of these dramatic events: 170 sheets. Among the documents found are minutes of discussion of the death of O. Vavilov, reports of participants in a trip to the Caucasus and specific information about his last hours. Especially a lot of materials about the organization and progress of the body searches, reports, telegram exchange. In search of the body of O. Vavilov, his uncle, president of the USSR Academy of Sciences, gave 10 thousand rubles. Famous climbers took part in two trips, but his wife found the body, the brightest and most heroic woman I had ever met. When almost the entire group left, and the two remaining climbers were about to do the same, Lidiya Vasilyevna stubbornly continued to look for her husband's body. When Sidorenko heard her scream and went to the place where she found Oleg’s body, he saw that Lidiya Vasilyevna turned gray in a few minutes. She buried Oleg at the climbing cemetery in Dombay, attaching a tablet brought from Moscow to a stone: "In February 1946 here died Oleg Vavilov, a talented scientist, my dearest and closest man".

What does the overall picture of events look like now?

– It was  group of 9 climbers, which included Oleg Vavilov. They were led by an experienced climber, professor of Moscow State University, mathematician V.V. Nemytskiy. Participants also included the now-famous academician I. Shafarevich. At the very last moment, Boris Ivanovich Schneider, born in 1905, a graduate student of the Institute of Philosophy, a teacher of Marxism-Leninism, joined the group. He was a mountaineering instructor, graduated from a special school, conquered 27 peaks. Everything speaks in favor of the fact that this particular person was an agent of the NKVD and received a special task from the secret services of that time: to kill Oleg Vavilov. Apparently, he had an assistant A.D. Belyaev, who joined the group with him and helped to carry out the crime at all stages. On January 24, the group left Moscow, and on January 29 they reached the basecamp "Nauka" in Dombay.

What is known about Schneider’s actions at this time?

– He behaved nervously and aggressively. On the way to the Caucasus and after arriving at the camp, he insisted on climbing to the top of Mount Semenov-Bashi, which was next to the camp. This perseverance is evidence that he did not go to rest, but to fulfill an assignment. This ascent was not part of the group’s plan; the group didn't have the necessary equipment, for example, edged boots. But Schneider insisted, he was vigorously supported by A.D. Belyaev, who insisted on "the elementary nature of the rise and absolute safety, if you go the right way." This argument had an impact on Nemytskiy, who violated the instructions and agreed to the ascent. Schneider managed to convince Oleg Vavilov to do it. Vavilov was a mountaineer with experience, climbing to a relatively low mountain wasn't a challenge for him.

He was a very straightforward person and did not suspect that he was in mortal danger. In order not to cause Oleg’s concern, Schneider included one more person in the group — MSU student Y.S. Sayasov.

The ascent began on February 3, they spent the night in a Zaporozhye Cossacks camp and on the morning of the 4th moved on. Soon, Schneider advised Sayasov not to climb up but to stay down and do some skiing, so that he could return to the camp together. He did not need a witness. And subsequently, all the actions of Schneider were very carefully thought out from the point of view of his main goal.

Is it possible to say that it is now known how the eldest son of Vavilov was killed?

– Schneider consciously led Oleg to a steep cliff - the only deadly place in Mount Semenov-Bashi. Subsequently, analyzing this ascent, famous climbers noted that there were many opportunities to safely reach the summit. Having studied this route, A.A. Maleinov, Master of Sports in Mountaineering, said: "The path chosen by Schneider and Vavilov is more than strange. One must be out of his mind to go this way, climbing cliffs with a height exceeding a 6-story building.

– When leaving the Cossacks camp on the snowy slopes, it seemed possible to bypass the rocky area on the left, slightly extending the route... On the way to the cliffs, Schneider and Vavilov missed 4 opportunities to avoid a clearly dangerous climb." I would like to note that the path was determined not by Oleg, but by B.I. Schneider. This was not insanity, but the fulfillment of the special task of the NKVD to destroy the man.

A wound from an ice ax was discovered on Oleg’s body. This murder weapon is mentioned twice In the documents. In the first case, Schneider told how he untied the safety ropes that connected him with Oleg on the rocks under the pretext that he had forgotten his ice ax somewhere nearby. As a result, Oleg found himself on the edge of the abyss in a helpless position, without any insurance, in boots not suitable for mountaineering.

Then further on Schneider says that after picking up the ice ax he imperceptibly approached Oleg and struck him in the right temple, as a result of which Oleg fell into the abyss. Later, Oleg’s skis and ropes were discovered below. Throwing Oleg off a cliff "just like that" was risky; he could have survived.

What happened next?

– Having completed the NKVD mission, Schneider acted like a skilled killer. He took the ice ax with him so that he would not be found at the crime scene. Schneider spent a lot of time at the cliffs. He later said that he was "in despair", smoked, trying to calm down. I think the main task was to gain time. It began to snow. It is possible that he went down and hid Oleg’s body so that experienced climbers during two missions could not find him. In the evening, Schneider began to descend, met Sayasov, they spent the night in the Cossacks camp, and then they went down to the basecamp on February 5 at 4 pm. And this delay was not accidental. After all, it was getting dark. The killer knew very well that Oleg’s comrades were unlikely to go looking for his body in the evening.

And how did his companions react to the news of Oleg's death? After all, according to the rules of climbers, they had to go in search of the deceased?

– Schneider outlined his version of Oleg’s death: they say, he himself fell into the abyss, and confusedly explained the reasons for the delay on the way back. He also said that he was too tired to lead the group members in search of Oleg. He was warmly supported by A.D. Belyaev, who pretended to be sick, so as not to take part in this matter.

Professor V.V. Nemytskiy did not insist. And the other members of the group were not eager go looking right away, although the mountain side was near the camp. Shafarevich objected especially vigorously, who, as Lidiya Vasiliyevna told me, urged everyone to have some rest. It seems to me that they all understood that it was a murder. They knew who Oleg’s father was, and they witnessed Schneider insisting on climbing and begging Oleg to join him. This was a unique case in the history of mountaineering, when a friend was left to the mercy of fate. Later, all members of the group were reproved by the Committee on Physical Culture and Sports "for failure to fulfill their civic duty after the accident". Schneider was condemned at climbers meetings, called a murderer in his face. His attempts to defend himself didn't convince anybody. There were appeals to the prosecutor’s office, later there was some kind of trial, which, unfortunately, I don’t know anything about. But what could a court prove when the killer was the only witness to the crime?

Schneider walked away unscathed. He was defended by an organization whose mission he performed so flawlessly on February 4, 1946.

Why do you think Stalin needed to kill Oleg Vavilov?

– As early as the 30s, Stalin started destroying the sons of the "enemies of the people" he hated. The children of Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Pyatakov, Lakoba, Muralov and others were shot. Many repressed children were in special orphanages and camps. There are known cases of the execution, after the war, of those children of "enemies of the people" who escaped the attention of punitive organs and were able to achieve high results in their work. Oleg belonged to this particular group of young people. The son of one of the scientists most hated by Stalin brilliantly graduated from the university, worked fruitfully at the Physics Institute of the Academy of Sciences, successfully defended his dissertation, which at that time was much more prestigious than now. Stalin knew that in the summer of 1943 Oleg was in Saratov and found out in the local NKVD department when and under what circumstances his father died. One should not exclude the denunciation of any envious person from the LPI or the desire of Stalin to influence Oleg's uncle, the President of the USSR Academy of Sciences Academician S.N. Vavilov. When Sergey Nikolaevich died, it turned out that he suffered nine heart attacks. Two of them were most likely the result of the death of his brother and nephew.

But why kill Oleg in the Caucasus? After all, this could be done in Moscow.

– This could start undesirable rumors in the capital, which could be overheard by foreign diplomats.

It is known that during the Tehran Conference W. Churchill asked Stalin about Vavilov. After the war ended, foreign scientists, including A. Einstein, began to be interested in the fate of Nikolay Ivanovich and turn to his colleagues and officials with inquiries. The murder in Moscow could destroy the legend of the natural death of the Academician Nikolay Vavilov. After all, the scientist himself was arrested in August 1940, not in Moscow, but in Western Ukraine, during a scientific expedition. A death in the mountains, far from the capital, could be easily explained as an accident. I think that even after the appearance of this material, there will be Stalinists who will question the fact of the murder of Oleg Vavilov. They will demand the text of the order of their idol, forgetting that such documents could not exist, and the corresponding orders were given, of course, verbally. If we want to be objective, then on the basis of documents and memoirs, it can be argued with conviction that the secret services carried out a unique operation to destroy the son of Nikolay Vavilov in early February 1946. They accomplished that by the hands of a professional climber Schneider.

From the memoirs of Lidiya Vasilyevna Kurnosova-Vavilova: "...When Oleg was buried, he could no longer be recognized... I gathered rhododendrons from everywhere, and put them in a coffin. The funeral took place. The militia fired into the air. I prepared a plaque in Moscow in advance. I tied the plate to a large stone.

Then they got together and remembered my husband. When I returned to Moscow, Veksler told me: "Leave the Institute of Mechanical Engineering... I will tear you out like a radish and put you in the position of Oleg." This indicates how painfully the LPI employees accepted Oleg’s death and how they loved him. Since then I have been taking his place at the LPI for more than 55 years."


Lidiya Vasilyevna was an amazing woman. If not for her devotion to her husband, perhaps Oleg’s body would never have been found. So, the secret of his death would forever remain a secret. But what the strong and courageous men could not do was the strength of a charming young woman. Because love is the most mysterious of all natural phenomena, and even eminent physicists know about it, it turns out, not all.

Lidiya Vasilyevna Kurnosova was a well-known specialist in the field of space research, astrophysics and cosmic ray physics. She gave 65 years to science, passed away in the summer of 2006, and a few words from the obituary, signed by the most famous Russian scientists, will say more about her than a thick scientific book: "Lidiya Vasilyevna possessed wonderful human qualities: kindness, respect and love for people, a keen sense of duty and personal responsibility; she had an attractive appearance, strict beauty, combined with a sharp mind, liveliness of character and great charm. Many acquaintances with Lidiya Vasilyevna (both men and women) were literally in love with this extraordinary woman."

L.V. Kurnosova fell to the lot more tests than an ordinary person has the strength to endure. Half a century after the death of Oleg Vavilov, the only son of Lidiya Vasiliyevna, Mihail Kurnosov, who went on a business trip to Kabardino-Balkaria, was kidnapped, taken to Chechnya and was held captive for a year. All attempts to save him were in vain. In the spring of 2000, the bandits beat him with sticks, and the place of his burial is unknown. The Caucasus turned out to be a fateful place in her life, but she passed away undefeated.

Probably, only such a woman could become the wife of Oleg Vavilov, whose brilliant take-off was interrupted by the hand of a secret service agent.


Lidiya Vasilyevna Kurnosova-Vavilova
(1918-2006)

Further read › Stalin vs. Science: The Life and Murder of Nikolai Vavilov

March 11, 2020, 08:13:11 AM
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Teddy

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The Route Not Traveled - Part 2

Author Taisiya Belousova

A couple of months ago, employees of the Lebedev Physical Institute (LPI) Yuri Vavilov and Boris Altshuler asked me to investigate the death of the eldest son of academician N.I. Vavilov - Oleg, which happened on February 4, 1946 in Dombay and to recognize the ins and outs of a person whom they considered the culprit of this tragedy. According to them, the The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) introduced into a skiers group from Moscow a mountaineering instructor, a graduate student of the Institute of Philosophy Boris Schneider. He allegedly led an inexperienced Vavilov to dangerous rocks, where he died. In the evening, another participant in the campaign Igor Shafarevich discouraged skiers from looking for the missing comrade. The next day they did not search for the body, and their leader Nemytskiy shamefully fled to Teberda. The All-Union Committee for Physical Culture and Sports (VKFS) addressed the Prosecutor General's Office with a request to bring Schneider and Nemytskiy to criminal responsibility, but whether they were convicted is unknown.

Rokityanskiy’s answers clearly contradicted the documents I studied. What did really happen?


Oleg Nikolaevich Vavilov in 1938
(7.XI.1918 - 4.II.1946)

Having studied the provided archival materials, I wanted to refuse. But then I saw an article "Dropped On Orders From Above", ("MK", 24.VII.2007), will publish today as a response to this article. O. Boguslavskaya writes about the short but vibrant life of Oleg Vavilov - after graduating from Moscow State University, he was hired at the LPI to work on secret developments during the war, defended his candidate dissertation brilliantly in the 45th, and then the historian Yakov Rokityanskiy answered her questions. He told how Schneider insisted on climbing to Semenov-Bashi. In order not to cause concern in Oleg, he included Sayasov as a student in the group. Later, getting rid of the witness, he advised him to ski on the slopes. And he himself led Oleg to the cliff, where, stealing unnoticed, allegedly hit him in the right temple with an ice ax, and he fell into the abyss. In the hope that the beginning snowfall would hide his tracks, he was in no hurry for help. Schneider was protected from criminal liability by "an organization whose task he so flawlessly carried out".


Nikolay Ivanovich Vavilov with Oleg
(25.XI.1887 – 26.I.1943)

Nikolay Ivanovich Vavilov was a prominent Russian and Soviet agronomist, botanist and geneticist best known for having identified the centers of origin of cultivated plants. He devoted his life to the study and improvement of wheat, corn, and other cereal crops that sustain the global population. Vavilov's work was criticized by Trofim Lysenko, whose anti-Mendelian concepts of plant biology had won favor with Joseph Stalin. As a result, in July 1941 Vavilov was arrested and subsequently sentenced to death on charges of belonging to the anti-Soviet organization "Labor Peasant Party", as well as sabotage and espionage. Although his sentence was commuted to twenty years' imprisonment, he died of starvation in Saratov prison in 1943.

The way to Semenov-Bashi

The initiator of the ski trip to Dombay, members of the Alpsection Volunteer Sport Society "Science" was Professor of Moscow State University V.V. Nemytskiy, organizer and leader of a number of mountain expeditions. 15 people enrolled in the group, but a couple of days before departure the people dropped out, seven remained: Nemytskiy, his wife, professor of Moscow State University N. Bari, associate professor and graduate students of Moscow State University O. Vorobyev, E. Krasilshchikova and Y. Sayasov, doctoral student of the USSR Academy of Sciences I. Shafarevich and O. Vavilov. In order to secure the trip, Nemytskiy included in the group a mountaineering instructor, engineer A. Belyaev. As for Schneider, then, according to the practice of those times, the group needed to be "strengthened" by a member of the CPSU, and so the professor remembered Boris. They had known each other since the pre-war era, and Nemytskiy highly appreciated Boris as a climber and reliable companion. In May of 1945, he applied for the assignment of the All-Union category in mountaineering, and in July-September, at the invitation of the professor, he participated in the first post-war scientific-climbing expedition to the Tien Shan.

According to the testimonies of Belyaev, Krasilshchikova, Vorobyeva and Nemytskiy, someone came up with the idea for a winter ascent to Semenov-Bashi on the train. Vavilov, who had been to the summit twice in the summer, and Sayasov took it "with a bang". Nemytskiy cooled their hot heads with the consideration that for a winter ascent they need to get permission from the VKFS and equipment is necessary. Vavilov and Sayasov never dropped the discussion.

The first two days, skiers (except Belyaev, who fell ill with a bout of malaria) walked around the Dombay glade, visited the Chuchurskiy waterfall. February 2, when the group skied on the slopes of Semenov-Bashi, Vavilov disappeared. He returned to Dombay late at night and said that he had carried out a reconnaissance and under favorable conditions, you can reach on ski the summit ridge of Semenov-Bashi. He was supported by Schneider. Nemytskiy allows Schneider and Vavilov to go to the summit on ski. Sayasov is only allowed to ski on the slopes of Semenov-Bashi. And although Schneider is appointed the leader of the group, Belyaev for some reason tells everything that he knows about the summit, not to him, but to Oleg. On February 3, Schneider, Vavilov and Sayasov spend the night on the upper kosh (summer Caucasus shepherds' camp), and on February 4 at 8 am they leave for Semenov-Bashi.

After climbing 600-700 m (2000-2300 ft), Schneider and Vavilov leave Sayasov to ski, promising to return at 5 pm. According to the latter, "Schneider was not leading the ascent. Vavilov took over his role. Vavilov forbade me to go further when we approached the ridge."


Mount Semenov-Bashi, Dombay, Caucasus Mountains

Drama by the big gendarme

After some time, Schneider and Vavilov, leaving their skis, go to the southern buttress of Semenov-Bashi. They tied with a rope and climbed light cliffs for about an hour. To reach the southeastern ridge, you need to go around difficult cliffs along a snowy couloir (a depression on the side of a mountain that widens after going down). But walking in the snow, which is "very soft", is impossible. According to Schneider, "Vavilov insisted on going out onto the rocks. Vavilov was the first, he was much stronger, I didn't feel well bad that day."

By 3 pm the climbers reached the large gendarme (a rocky ledge on the ridge blocking the path). Climbing it, Vavilov saw that further on the cliffs are difficult. During the break they decided to go west. Going down the light cliffs 10-15 m (30-50 ft), Boris caught himself that he had forgotten his ice ax stuck in the snow where he left it during the break. Having warned Vavilov, he untied himself and went back to the gendarme. And on his return he saw that Oleg, having unwound the rope, was walking along the rocks to the west. On the offer of Schneider to tie themselves again, he refused. Schneider began to look for an easier way to climb. Climbing a few meters, he noticed that Oleg had reached difficult icy cliffs and suggested that he went his way. Vavilov tried to do this, but 5-6 m (15-20 ft) before reaching the end of the rocks he slipped. Hearing the rustle, Schneider immediately turned around, and witnessed a horrible sight: "Vavilov first slid one and a half or two feet down, then cried out and, leaning his body away from the rocks, fell on a rocky ledge with his back and then fell down from stone to stone, hitting his head several times. The first blow was at 4 m (13 ft), then at 20-30 m (65-100 ft) down, he fell on a snowy couloir (ed. - a steep, narrow gully on a mountainside) and rolled, turning from side to side about a hundred meters (328 ft). "Having caused an avalanche, by inertia he went away from the avalanche, and the avalanche dragged his rope a hundred meters (328 ft)." Boris later told Belyaev that Vavilov was rolling along the couloir, "like a log", a bloody streak stretched from his broken head in the snow.

Schneider is in shock. He cannot move, sits and does not take his eyes off Vavilov. "The nature of the fall, the position of the body, the absence of any signs of life for one and a half to two hours then led me to conclude that Vavilov was dead. I didn't dare to go down to him on the rocks, for fear of falling," he will later explain.

Already at dusk, Boris forces himself to climb and go out onto the snowy couloir, on which he descends. On the way, he several times saw Vavilov lying in the same position, which finally convinced him: Oleg was dead.

Perhaps Boris intended to lower Vavilov with the help of Sayasov in the morning. But Yuri had a sprained ankle and was helpless. Going to Dombay in total darkness (there was a new moon) when they were totally exhausted was pure madness. Schneider decides to stay in the kosh and wait for his teammates here. They did not sleep all night. They fell asleep at dawn. Around 10 am, Boris still decides to go to Dombay. Yuri waddles along with him.

Shafarevich could not have discouraged anyone from going to Oleg’s help on the evening of February 4, since the deadline for returning of the climbers expired was February 5 at 10:30 am. On that day, the morning was beautiful, sunny. When the comrades did not return on time, everyone thought that the guys had just overslept. Therefore, rescuers (Nemytskiy, who had no experience in rescue work, Shafarevich in crumbling boots and Belyaev, weakened after illness), equipped only with a rope and an ice ax, left Dombay at 11.30 am. They met with Schneider and Sayasov at 1 pm. Learning about the tragedy and seeing the terrible state of Schneider, they began to think what to do. Belyaev called immediately to rise to Vavilov. But Schneider refused to go to Semenov-Bashi: he was tired, did not sleep all night, did not eat for more than a day, and it would take 8-9 hours to get to Vavilov. Nemytskiy decided that Shafarevich and Belyaev would remain in the Alibek camp, where they would wait for Schneider and other rescuers.

In order to warn the local authorities about the tragedy and agree on the transportation of the body, Nemytskiy, together with Bari and Vorobyeva (there is little use of 45-year-old women who had no experience in rescue work) goes skiing from Dombay to Teberda. In Gonachkhir, when he fell, he dislocated his shoulder. I had to quit skiing and continue walking. Due to this injury, Nemytskiy was never able to return to Dombay. And there events developed as follows.

In Dombay a snowstorm with a snowfall began on the evening of February 5. This was the reason why rescuers did not leave on the evening of February 6. Although the weather did not improve by dawn, Schneider, the forester Panchenko and Krasilshchikova nevertheless went to Alibek, where they arrived by 2 pm. At the same time, Schneider was limping with a sprained ankle joint. According to Belyaev, by this time visibility dropped to 10-15 m (30-50 ft), the thickness of the snow cover reached 30-40 cm (1-1.3 ft) with incessant snowfall. Avalanches were grumbling the mountains.

By the morning of February 7, a meter (3.2 ft) had snowed , the snowfall did not stop, which made the rescuers descend to Dombay. On February 8, the group left for Teberda, where they arrive only the next day. Schneider and Belyaev wanted to stay in order to start the search after the snowfall. They had neither money nor products. They went with the rest.

The "climbing society" court of justice

February 14, the day skiers return to the capital, Oleg's unnle, the President of the USSR Academy of Sciences S.I. Vavilov allocated 10 thousand rubles for the search operation. All-Union Committee on Physical Education and Sport formed a search party from experienced and famous climbers: A. Sidorenko, M. Anufrikov, P. Zakharov, V. Tikhonravov, V. Bergyallo, P. Bukov. It included A. Belyaev, B. Schneider and Oleg's widow Lidiya Kurnosova.

Schneider behaved strangely in Dombay. In 2004, in an interview with Y. Rokityanskiy, Kurnosova said: “Schneider was reluctant to search, sometimes he was literally dragged. Sidorenko asked: "Where did you last see Oleg?" He was always silent." If Lidiya Vasilyevna had talked kindly with Boris, perhaps he would have pulled himself together. But then she suspected that Schneider was involved in the death of her husband. As for the "fellow climbers", they behaved like tipsy drunks. According to Kurnosova’s memoirs, "he (Schneider) was scolded, grabbed by the chest, they used profanity against him, sometimes even rushed to beat him, accusing him of Oleg’s death".

On the first of March, when the group reached the rocks, Schneider was able to explain in detail which way they went, where they had a rest, showed the place where Oleg slipped and fell, where he himself stand. The next day there was unrest in the group: climbers were indignant at the poor nutrition, they said that because of 6-meter (20 ft) snow they would not find anything, searches should be carried out when the snow begins to melt.

On March 4, the team leader Sidorenko drew up an act on the work done. According to his description, the scene of the accident was a rock wall with a steepness of 70-65 degrees, a height of 60-70 m (200-230 ft). According to the members of the group, a mid-skilled climber could go down the rocks to Vavilov in 30-40 minutes. Schneider did not sign the act. Experienced climbers explained to me why.

Arguing that one can go down from rocks 20-story high, Sidorenko and Co "forgot to add" that for such a descent Schneider should have: a) a partner; b) a rope; c) climbing boots with hobnails. He had only an ice ax. If Schneider tried to go down in slippery ski boots, he would have ended in an accident.

On March 12, 25 "representatives of the mountaineering community" dismantled this accident at the Volunteers Sport Society "Nauka". All skiers made excuses and repented, except for Schneider, who understood that as an experienced climber, as a senior in the two, he was to blame for the death of Oleg.

Sidorenko's act was not presented to the "climbing society" on April 4, he didn’t tell what the cliffs were, he only stated: "We came to the conclusion that Schneider could certainly go down to Vavilov. He had no desire to do this. He also considered it unnecessary to warn the rescue group as soon as possible... Such behavior is shameful for a climber... such a person does not belong in the ranks of Soviet climbers".

The word of the famous climber was believed. Then the saga began, the subsequent dismantling, everyone vied for denouncing Schneider saying that: he left his comrade in trouble, he has no conscience... The suggestion of the famous climber Letavet that Schneider’s behavior might be explained by shock drowned in the riot of loud accusations.

On April 1, at a meeting of the presidium of the mountaineering section of the VKFS, where 72 people gathered, the commission, which examined the accident, released its findings and offered to punish the group members.

Nemytskiy was removed from the Presidium of the Alpsection, he was forbidden to lead mountaineering and hiking events, to participate in events of All-Union significance and record setting groups. Schneider was disqualified by banning participation in events of sports societies. Belyaev was forbidden to lead any ascents in 1946, Krasilshchikova was reprimanded; the rest were publicly rebuked by the VKFS "for their unworthy behavior of climbers and Soviet people".

The ice ax

In April, VKVF allocates 20 thousand rubles to search for Vavilov. Letters are sent to the secretary of the Kluhor District Party Committee and the district prosecutor asking them to send a surgeon and investigator to Dombay to determine whether Vavilov died immediately or if he was alive for some time and could be helped. A search expedition has not yet left Moscow, when Nikiforov, deputy chairman of the VKFS, addresses the Prosecutor General KP Gorshenin with a request to prosecute Nemytskiy and Schneider. The reason for this haste was explained to me by an veteran climber: “If a relative of a high-ranking person died, sports officials always tried to initiate a criminal case. However, no one was convicted in these cases."

I found the report on the work of the second expedition in the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF).

On April 21, Zaharov, Gusak, Sidorenko, Anufrikov, Maleinov, Bergyallo, Kurnosova arrived in Teberda. Since the relatives decided to bury Vavilov in the Caucasus, Zaharov agreed that after the discovery of the body, it would be photographed from all sides and lowered to Dombay, where a medical expert and investigator would arrive. Due to heavy rains, the demolition of the bridge over the Alibek river and the fall of 15 avalanches, they reached the place of the search only on May 1. After a thorough study of the area, the group concludes that "Schneider’s testimony about the path of climbing the wall, the place of Vavilov’s slip, his fall, a stop on the couloir, and Schneider’s finding an easier way to the ridge after Vavilov’s fall is quite possible."

Since Kurnosova was still in doubt, that Schneider was still somehow to blame for Oleg’s accident, climbers went along the Vavilov-Schneider path on May 7 to refute or confirm these doubts. After which Sidorenko writes "Conclusion: The wall along which Schneider and Vavilov climbed is above 60 m (200 ft) with inclination of 70-75 degrees. The total denivelation of Vavilov’s fall from where he slipped to the beginning of the couloir is 50-55 m (164-180 ft). The horizontal distance of Schneider from the place of Vavilov’s fall is 30-35 m (100-115 ft). The "bottom" of the couloir where Vavilov’s body ended after the fall is not visible from any of the sections located nearby the approximate location of Schneider on the ridge. Thus, Kurnosova was convinced that Schneider could not throw her husband into the abyss. But she was tormented by another question: what if Oleg was still alive after the fall?

The search was long. In June, Zaharov and Anufrikov left for Moscow for family reasons, then Gusak and Maleinov left on official business. They were replaced by the head and instructor of the "Nauka" alpine camp Nazarov and Nikitin, as well as the instructor from the "Molniya" alpine camp Orobinskiy. On June 10, when clearing the couloir of snow with controlled avalanches, Kurnosova found her husband’s body.

In the article by Y. Rokityanskiy “The Son of a Genius” Kurnosova is telling the following story. After the discovery of the body, she brought from Teberda two police officers who wrote her a "death certificate", which stated that Oleg "has a mark from the ice ax blow in the temporal region to the right". She brought two copies of the document to Moscow; one handed over to the LPI, from where it disappeared. However, for the article, a death certificate was faxed, which stated that Oleg Vavilov died while climbing Semenov-Bashi. There was no mention of a wound in it. What document did Kurnosova refer to?

From the telegram of the rescuers, it was known that they were taking the expert opinion to Moscow. But I did not find this document in the GARF. I found that in 1946-47 in Dombay, acts were drawn up on the death of climbers. If the death was suspicious, the body was examined by the forensic expert from the city of Kluhori (now Karachayevsk) S.G. Zhgenti and the head physician of a Teberda hospital. After that, a "Burial Act" was drawn up with a description of the injuries. And therefore, it can be assumed that doctors arrived in Dombay with Kurnosova, and she brought to Moscow not only a death certificate, but also a "Burial Act". In search of the latter, I turn to the second husband Kurnosova Fradkin. Moses Iosifovich is familiar with the document, but cannot find it. I asked him if he can remember whether there was the mention of a blow with an ice ax in it. Fradkin was indignant: “Lidiya Vasiliyevna could not say that. The document spoke of the wound with "the size of an ice ax shovel"!
(Ed. - the ice ax opposite end of the pick is called adze)

Most likely, the expert did not have a measurement ruler handy in Dombay, but nearby there was an ice ax with which climbers went in the search.

Despite the results of my research, Yuri Vavilov is still convinced that Oleg was killed, and that a criminal case existed. I asked him why then Kurnosova was not interested in the course of the investigation? "She was not to be upset."

I can’t believe that Kurnosova, thanks to the persistence of whom two search expeditions took place, which did not give up even when the search party members started to run away, ceased to be interested in the circumstances of her husband’s death. And therefore I can assume that the doctors in Dombay explained to her that Oleg had suffered injuries incompatible with life during the fall, and a lifeless body was rolling along the couloir. Therefore, no criminal case has been instituted.

It seemed that you could put an end to this story. But I was haunted by an essential detail - Schneider’s behavior on that ill-fated day.

Schneider (41), good skier, was a very experienced climber. He had  11 ascents to the eastern and western peaks of Elbrus, the conquest of three peaks (Lyalver, Gestola and Katyn-Tau) of the famous Bezengi, traverse Bzhuduh and Zamok, the first winter ascent to the peak Molodaya Gvardiya, first ascent (traverse) of the three peaks of the Belaya Shapka, etc. He was the leader of the groups in most cases. Since 1937, he participated in rescue operations, including transporting victims from Elbrus, and he was the head of the Misses-Kosh rescue station. Why did such an experienced man on February 4 so flagrantly violate the rules of mountain climbing, and acted so inadequately?

Who are you, comrade Schneider?

I’ve been going over Schneider’s documents for the umpteenth time — official and sports biographies, questionnaires, certificates of employment and studies, statements, etc. He was unusual and outstanding as a person. In 1924 he entered the Physics and Mathematics Department of Moscow State University. After the 2nd year at the request of the Komsomol, he went to the factory, where he worked as a turner, was the secretary of the Komsomol organization. In the 30th year he entered the IPH (Institute of Philosophy and History, created on the basis of the humanitarian faculties of Moscow State University). After 2 courses, he left for family reasons, worked as chairman of the factory committee and taught Marxism-Leninism in courses at the party district committee. In the 1938 he entered the elite MIPLH (Moscow Institute of Philosophy, Literature and History), where the competition was almost 20 people for the place where A. Tvardovskiy, K. Simonov, D. Samoilov, A. Solzhenitsyn studied. In the 1941 the institute merged with Moscow State University. In 1942, according to the shortened program, Schneider graduated from Moscow State University. In the years 1942-1944 he was the political editor in Glavlit, then in 1944-945 the political editor at Mosoblgorlit.

Well, I think everything is clear: during the war, Moscow State University was evacuated to Ashgabat, where Glavlit went too, so he got in. Or maybe he was not taken to the front due to illness? But if he had serious health problems, how then in the 1945 he was able to make the most difficult ascents on the Tien Shan? It is strange.

While going over Schneider’s documents again, I suddenly noticed something. In the questionnaire, which lists ascents by years, and in a sports biography for 1943, are listed the Sella, Abaya, Tuyuk-Su passes and the peaks of Abaya, Tuyuk-Su, Molodaya Gvardiya, Komsomolets, Amangeldy, Molodezhny are indicated ... I opened a map: Sella pass is the Caucasus and Abay, Tuyuk-Su and Young Guard, etc. are in Zailiyskiy Alatau (Kazakhstan).

I can guess how Schneider came to the Caucasus. He did not evacuate from Moscow, as his father remained here, who was in charge of transportation at the People's Commissariat for Textile Industry. He was hardly sitting in the audience. Either he got, like other MIPLH students, into a fighter battalion that destroyed saboteurs in the frontline and then defended Moscow, or, among other athletes, enlisted in the NKVD Separate Motorized Rifle Special Purpose Battalion (OMSBON) and fought behind the front line. The second one is most likely, for he was fluent in German. As I established, Schneider was not Russian, as indicated in the documents, but German. And until the age of 14 he lived in the village of Bulganak, Simferopol district of Crimea - the former German colony of Kronental, founded under Alexander I.

In the summer of 1942, Schneider could get to the Caucasus either with the OMSBON, which was engaged in the fight against German saboteurs and gangs of deserters, or among those 150 climbers whom Pavel Sudoplatov sent to Transcaucasia on the instructions of Beria. The latter prepared the Red Army for military operations in the mountains, evacuated local residents, mined the passes and participated in their defense, were scouts and guides. Schneider, who hiked the Central Caucasus up and down, could be very useful here.

And how did he get to Kazakhstan? I re-read the questionnaire. Here it is! Answering the question: where and when did you work as an instructor, Schneider at the very end writes: "1943. school in Alma-Ata."

I am looking online for a school of instructors in Alma-Ata. Bingo! At that time, when Boris was to sort Glavlit’s pieces of paper, at the famous Gorelnik school (which was subordinate to the VKFS and the People’s Commissariat of Defense of the USSR), he trained mountain shooters, or rather mountain scouts-saboteurs.

The only person who happened to work with school documents stored in the Central State Archive of the Republic of Kazakhstan is Pavel Belan, a doctor of historical sciences from Alma-Ata. But in his article "Mountain shooters from the Gorelnik" there is no instructor Schneider. Lyudmila Varshavskaya from Alma-Ata wrote in 2005 about Gorelnik. She managed to talk with the holder of the Order of the Red Star, three orders of the Great Patriotic War, Yuri Menzhulin. Yuri Nikolaevich is a legend. In 1943 after being wounded, he headed the school, in the spring of the 1944 he went to the front, fought heroically in reconnaissance and even managed with his fighters to take the Russian pass behind the Germans. After the war, Varshavskaya and her friends found the phone number of Menzhulin, but they warn me that he is seriously ill.

Hearing his weak voice, I am in seventh heaven. I explain about my research and ask if he remembers Schneider.

– Of course, I remember, - Menzhulin answers, and his voice grows stronger. - A tall, thin, shaggy, groomed philosopher. He was a calm man, a good teacher, he explained everything to the cadets intelligibly. At work - meticulous, accurate and easy going. He prepared cadets not only theoretically, but went with them to mountain tactical exercises, practiced tactics of military operations. He was good with firearms. I remember he courted a pretty instructor Galya Sivitskaya, and saw more than once how they cooed. But then she married Misha Grudzinskiy, the chief of staff of the school.

– Could Schneider come to Gorelnik from the Caucasus?

– Yes, although he did not talk about it. We accidentally learned that one of our instructors fought in the Caucasus. But he also did not say anything: either he signed a nondisclosure, or there was an order from the command.

– Could Schneider be an agent of the NKVD?

– "Sneaker"? No way! We knew all the "sneakers". If he worked for the NKVD, we would easily figure it out and try to get rid of him.

I tell Menzhulin about the tragedy at Semenov-Bashi and the showdown.

– To judge Schneider, you have to be in his place, - he says. - In the 1943, in front of me and the adjutant, Colonel Gorin flew from the summit and fell to his death. We were in shock for a long time. They could not evacuate the body through two passes. They blamed us, too, they said we were careless, but everything was quickly forgotten because of the war. And the body was taken out only after a month, when a large group was sent for him.

– Could Boris kill Vavilov as a result of a quarrel?

– Impossible! This is completely ruled out because he was a kind and intelligent person.

In a sports biography, Schneider indicated that he spent 4 months at school. Pavel Belan, who nevertheless managed to get in touch with, immediately reported: he met the name of Schneider in the book of orders for school. On August 2, 1943, Schneider was appointed commander and instructor of the 3rd Division. Gratitude was given to him on August 15, September 27, and October 2 for conducting the Alpiniade and climbing to the top Shkolnik with 38 recovering officers and soldiers "in difficult weather conditions", "for honest fulfillment of assigned duties" during the mountain tactical campaign of cadets, and "for excellent teaching work".

After October 2, the name of Schneider does not appear in the documents, there is reason to believe that in early October he left Gorelnik with the first graduates of the school. 60 people (48 graduates, the rest - instructor commanders) were in the camp at the foot of Elbrus. 13 people remained in the camp as instructors, the rest were assigned to the Arctic, Karelia, Svalbard, and Iran. It was rumored that most of the cadets of the first and second graduations fought behind the front line, including in the Carpathians, the mountains of Yugoslavia and the Sudeten Alps. The operations in which they participated are classified today. According to Menzhulin, he hasn't met any of these 102 cadets after the war...

I don't know where was Schneider sent. In Moscow, he appeared in April 1944. It seems to be working as a censor in the Mosgoroblit (another cover?), and part-time he taught at the Moscow Institute of Contemporary Art, from where he quit under the pretext of employment at courses of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks. In November, having passed exams for graduate school, he again disappears and appears in the capital only in May of the 1945, while at the age of 39 he is discharged. Is it because of mental problems? Today they often talk about the Afghan and Chechen syndrome. But about how the Great Patriotic War affected the psyche of people, we know almost nothing.

In the summer of the 1945, Schneider leaves for an expedition to the Tien Shan. Upon returning, he learns that he was expelled from postgraduate studies. It is possible that then he decides to change his life and become a professional instructor in the climber. The tragedy on Semenov-Bashi destroyed all his plans.

In July of the same 1946, he wanted to go to the mountains with a group, for which he took a certificate from the VKFS from a personal file at the Institute of Philosophy, where his participation in the Chatkal expedition was highly appreciated. But because of the ban from the VKFS he was refused. He left for the Caucasus alone and went to the "Shelter of the Eleven", where he wrote a suicide note: "No one is to blame for my death, I’m leaving for the Elbrus pass."

There is no better place to commit suicide. One has only to sit down, unfasten the jacket, and then a frost of 30-50 degrees (-20-58F) will quickly do its job, the wind (up to 50 m/s) will carry the body through the icy desert to the nearest crack. But some climbers found the note and went to the pass. Cursing and slapping Schneider on the face, they brought him to his senses and forced him to go down. The famous mountaineer Boris Rukodelnikov, a member of that rescue expedition, told Yuri Vavilov about this story. At a gathering with friends climbers in his house, scientist Rukodelnikov recalled Schneider as a modest and delicate person. He had a chance to talk with him back in the shelter.

I tried to find out what happened with Schneider. It is useless to look for his descendants since he was not married. The house in which he lived in the 1940 was evicted back in the 60s. I tried to set the date of his death by the time of redemption of the party ticket. Here the staff of the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History helped. It turned out that Boris Ivanovich was getting his party membership cards renewed in 1953 and 1974. But his account card remained outstanding. This meant that Schneider lived to see the liquidation of the CPSU, when the district and party committees ceased to regularly transfer documents to the archives. Only after 1946 did he not go climbing. He could only envy those, "others with peaks still ahead".