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Forgotten Name in the History of the Library

Forgotten Name in the History of the Library
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June 14 marks the 130th anniversary of the birth of Karl Shkilter (1891-1941), historian, journalist, editor, bibliographer, publicist, political and public figure, candidate of historical sciences, professor, acting director of the State Library of BSSR named after V.I. Lenin in 1937.

Karl Shkilter was born in northern Latvia into a working-class family. Before the revolution, he worked on the construction of railways, in the regional consumer's association in Vladivostok. Member of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (b) since 1917. A supporter of the ideas of the October Revolution, he took an active part in the establishment of Soviet power in the Far East and Siberia. A member of the Civil War, one of the organizers of the armed struggle against the army of Admiral A.V. Kolchak and Japanese interventionists.

He graduated from the Communist University named after J.M. Sverdlov in Moscow (1926). He worked as a secretary of the Central Commission for the Study of Latvian Colonies in the USSR. By order of the party was sent to Belarus. Since 1927 he was secretary of the Latvian Commission (since 1931, the Latvian section) of the Institute of Belarusian Culture. Since 1934, after the unification of academic national sections into the institute, he worked as Head of the Latvian section of the proletarian culture of the Institute of National Minorities of the BSSR (the Institute was liquidated in 1936). In 1936, he became a researcher in the Western Section of the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of BSSR. 


Working session of the Latvian section of the Academy of Sciences of BSSR. K.Yu Shkilter, head of the Section, is in the centre. Minsk. 1930s

K.Yu. Shkilter was an organizer, leader and participant of scientific expeditions to places of compact residence of the Latvian population in Belarus in order to fully study the situation of Latvian colonies and collect materials on history, economy, statistics, demographics, ethnography and everyday life (Polack and Viciebsk district settlements, 1929, 1930, 1931). As a result of the expeditions, their detailed description was compiled, as well as a valuable photo archive. Comprehensive analysis of the collected material became the basis of scientific works published between 1931 and 1935.


Working session of the staff of the Latvian Commission of Inbelcult on the results of the first scientific expedition to Viciebsk district. 2nd from left, K.J. Shkilter, Secretary of the Commission. Lashneva village of the Viciebsk District, June 1929

Karl Shkilter was is the author of publications in Belarusian, Russian and Latvian on the history of Latvia, national politics in general and Latgale national issue, Latvian-Belarusian relations, socio-economic situation of the Latvian minority in Belarus: "Latkoloniju wēsture" (Moscow, 1928), "Civil Was and Latvian Colonists" (Minsk, 1928), Latweešu kloniju pētišahas programa" (Minsk, 1929), "Latvian Colonies in Belarus: Historical Development of Rural Households" (Minsk, 1931), "Pilsoņu karš un latvju kolonisti 1917.–1921. g.g.» (Moscow, 1931), "Latgales nacionalais jautajums = Latgale National Issue" (Minsk, 1934), "Latvju zemneeks Baltkreevijā pirms un pēc Oktobra revolucijas: vēsturiska monografija = Latvian countryman in Belarus before and after the October Revolution" (Minsk, 1935) et al. His works were also published in Latvian and Belarusian magazines and newspapers "Celtne" ("Building", journal of science, art, literature and criticism, in Latvian, Moscow), "Soviet Country" (Minsk), "Kalhasnik of Belarus" (Minsk), gave bibliographic reviews. He was the responsible editor of a number of scientific and journalistic publications. In addition to scientific activities, he was actively engaged in community work.

In the 1930s he worked as Deputy Director of the State Library and the BSSR library institute named after V.I. Lenin, and in 1937 he was appointed interim director.

At the end of 1937, Karl Shkilter came under the rink of political repression. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison (Ukhta-Izhemsky Correctional And Laboгr Camp, Komi ACSR). He died in February 1941 from croupous pneumonia. Rehabilitated on June 24, 1957.


Karl Shkilter (1891-1941). A photo from a personal file, Minsk. The 2nd half of the 1930s

To this day, much of his biography remains unknown, brief information about him is presented only in separate reference and encyclopedic publications and biographical dictionaries. Historians M.G. Karaliou and D.A. Krent explore the activities of K.J. Shkilter in the context of the study of the Latvian population of Belarus. The collections of the National Library of Belarus contain a number of printed works by K.Yu. Shkilter, which can be found through the electronic catalogue. The most complete information about the Latvian-speaking heritage of the scientist is provided by the electronic catalogue of the Latvian National Library. Brief factual information is contained in the online encyclopaedia “Belarus in Persons and Events” and in the National Database of Authoritative / Regulatory Records.

Bibliology Research Department


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