sábado, agosto 04, 2018

South African engineer executed by the soviet regime

South African engineer Robert Sassone lived in the Soviet Union when he was arrested by the NKVD on December 3, 1937. He was executed at Butovo field, near Moscow, only nineteen days later, on December 22, 1937.

Little is known about Robert Sassone, who was Afrikaner (Boer), possibly of French origin. He was born in Pretoria in 1888. He graduated from a military academy, also possibly in South Africa. His father´s name was Richard, so the Soviets authorities attributed to Robert a patronymic name and changed the initial letter S from his family name to Z. Therefore, Soviet identification documents identified him as Robert Richardovich Zassone (Роберт Ричардович Зассонэ).

We don’t have details on how, why, and when Robert Sassone moved to the Soviet Union. We can entertain two more probable hypotheses. First, he moved on his own will being a naive sympathizer of the left-wing ideas. Second, Robert came through some British military mission, since the Union of South Africa (founded on May 31, 1910) was the domain of the British Empire.

At the time of his arrest by the NKVD on December 3, 1937, Robert Sassone was 50 years old. He had no political affiliation, and he served as the chief of the wood department in the construction of the Moscow Canal (which until 1947 was called the Moskva-Volga Canal), one of the Stalin´s Pharaonic construction sites. He lived in the locality of Dedenevo (house № 102), located in Dmitrovski district, in the Moscow region.
Early release certificate (issued by the NKVD) from Dmitlag labor camp
for accelerated work for the construction of the Moscow-Volga canal | Wikipedia
As in a many other works of the Soviet communist regime of that time, the government used the semi-slave labor of soviet prisoners, both political and ordinary ones at the construction of the canal. On September 14, 1932, the Soviet concentration camp of Dmitlag was established for the construction of the canal. This camp operated until 1938, and its population reached 192,000 prisoners in 1935-1936. It was the absolute record in terms of number of prisoners in the Soviet GULAG system of the time. There is no exact data on the number of prisoners who died in Dmitlag, but according to several sources, this figure ranges from 10,000 to 30,000 people [source].

Several “freely contracted” people (i.e. the civilian workers) worked at similar construction sites as well. Many of them were ex-prisoners who decided to stay and work at the same workplace upon their release. It is not clear if Robert Sassone was among them, but there is as a strong possibility.

Robert Sassone was arrested by the NKVD on December 3, 1937.
His case № 20897 (volume II, p.166) is stored in the Russian Federation State Archive (it is possible to consult its data online in Russian HERE or HERE). Robert Sassone is smiling in his archive photo. He did not suspect that his fate had already been decided, and he would be swallowed up by the relentless Great Soviet Terror machine...

He was accused of “anti-soviet agitation and terrorist intentions”, condemned by the NKVD “troika” on December 20, 1937. It is unknown whether Robert confessed his alleged “crimes”. He was executed at Butovo field, near Moscow, two days later, on December 22, 1937. The short period of two days between the date of conviction and the date of execution naturally implies that the convicted person had no opportunity to appeal the conviction, much less rely on the assistance of a lawyer.
Robert Sassone was rehabilitated posthumously on July 15, 1989.

Our blog would like to thank Ms. Iryna Andrews for the linguistic revision of the text.

Our blog also thanks readers for any additional information about Robert Sassone.

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