Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023445, Sat, 3 Nov 2012 14:03:22 -0400

Re: Sergei Nabokov
Dear List,

In reference to Fran Assa and Jan Stottmeister's recent posts, I would add
that during research for my forthcoming book, I spent time at the
Neuengamme concentration camp memorial. (Neuengamme was the camp where
Sergei Nabokov died.) The archivist at the Memorial let me set up shop on
site and use the memorial's copiers and computer databases. He spent most
of the time I was there working with me. He has answered follow up
questions without hesitation. On that local level, at least, the German
government was not hiding information at all--quite the opposite.

Similarly, the Gestapo's arrest warrant for Sergei Nabokov was part of a
Berlin exhibition fifteen years ago (see
which indicates an openness to documenting his life in a broader sense as

But given the massive destruction of records that was ordered in early
1945, one of the challenges of doing this kind of research is the
difficulty of linking up all the pieces of an individual's arrest,
detention, and his or her life in a camp. Neuengamme sits in the far north
of Germany, and so it was liberated very, very late in the war. Camp
officials had weeks during which to destroy camp records before the British
arrived. The Neuengamme archivist mentioned to me that the only reference
to many of those known to have perished in the camp was a single mention
preserved in medical test results or the Book of the Dead, both of which
were hidden away by prisoners, who knew they would need evidence to back up
their claims of what had happened there.

There can, however, be a good deal of bureaucracy around requesting
information about where/when/how people were arrested and held before their
entry into the camp. Perhaps there is some new relaxation of the
regulations that limited access police information--that might be news. But
as far as my own research into Sergei's fate, no official hampered that
research in any way or refused me anything, except for information which in
all likelihood burned into cinders back in 1945 and is beyond retrieval.


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