Jacobi's Stay in Moscow:
August 23 to September 5, 1932
(September 5 to 8, 1932, Jacobi was in Michurinsk, Russia)
September 8 to October 21, 1932
January 1 to February 1(?), 1933
By August 23, 1932, the first date recorded in her USSR daybook, or journal, Jacobi had arrived in Moscow, the capital of the USSR. She was based in this historic city until taking the train on October 21st to Stalinabad (now Dushanbe), Tajikistan. On January 1, 1933, Jacobi returned to Moscow for a month at the end of her trip, though the exact date of her departure for Berlin is unknown. Jacobi arrived at a time of great change in the political, physical, and cultural makeup of the city. Her contacts with politicians and journalists, some made in Berlin before her trip, both facilitated and enhanced her engagement with many people there, as well as with the city and its surroundings.
The history of the area around Moscow goes back to hunter-gathers in the neolithic period, but by at least the 10th century, Slavic tribes had settled there. By the 12th century, it was a fortified city with a moat, but it couldn’t withstand the Mongol Invasion in the 13th century, when it was burned to the ground. Under a succession of Grand Dukes, beginning with Daniel (1261-1303) from Vladimir, east of Moscow, to the 16th century, Moscow became the powerful political capital of the area, as well the center of the Russian Orthodox church. Except for the period from when Peter the Great established the capital of the Russian Empire in St. Petersburg in 1713 until Vladimir Lenin moved it back in 1918, Moscow has been the capital of Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union, and Russia since the mid-sixteenth century.
Straddling the Moskva River, this vibrant cultural, political, and economic center displayed remarkable historical architecture dating back to the fourteenth century, including Red Square and the Kremlin, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, in the late 1920s, Stalin pushed forward a program for the modernization of Moscow’s architecture and urban planning. Many buildings were demolished with the intention of building modern government buildings and housing, and wide boulevards in the mode of Baron Haussmann’s nineteenth-century Paris. When Jacobi was there in the early 1930s, the central area of Moscow showed this process of physical transformation with a mishmash of architecture. In addition to historical architecture, she observed new buildings in the Soviet classical-modernist style, buildings under construction, and even gaping holes in the ground, as was the case of the site where the colossal nineteenth-century Cathedral of Christ the Savior had recently stood (it was rebuilt in the 1990s).
Jacobi could also see the cultural diversity and social transformation that came under Stalin’s rule. As Moscow was the center of power during the Russian Empire and the early decades of the Soviet Union, people from many lands and cultures came to this city looking for employment or as tourists. In doing so, they wove various ethnicities and cultures into the fabric of the city. For example, she could observe Russian workers, the Soviet military, and poor people from rural areas across the Soviet Union mingling with foreign intellectuals and tourists on the streets of the city. Jacobi was also well connected with cultural and political leaders wherever she went.
Many of the subjects Jacobi photographed in Moscow followed the guidelines of the VOKS and Intourist itineraries meant to showcase the progress of Stalin’s First Five-Year Plan. She visited people in new government buildings, such as the House of Government, built in 1931, where the Soviet elite lived in government-owned apartments. She was taken to factories, schools, and other standard places by government VOKS and Intourist guides.
The subjects that Jacobi photographed in Moscow from the very first days of her trip would be typical of her subjects in the other cities she visited in Russia and in Central Asia over the following six months. These subjects can be roughly divided into four categories: people of note; architecture and city views; industry and agriculture; and scenes of everyday life.
Contributor: Eleanor M. Hight
Clark, Katerina. Moscow: The Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Evolution of Soviet Culture, 1931-1941. Harvard University Press, 2011.
David-Fox, MIchael. Showcasing the Great Experiment: Cultural Diplomacy and Western Visitors to the Soviet Union, 1921-1941. Oxford University Press, 2012.
Intourist. A Pocket Guide to the Soviet Union. Moscow and Leningrad: Vneshtorgisdat, 1932.
Kisch, Egon Erwin. Asien gründlich verändert (Changing Asia). Berlin: Erich Reiss Verlag, 1932. English version: Changing Asia. Trans. Rita Reil. New York: Knopf, 1935.
Jacobi, Lotte. Daybook. Unpublished journal from Lotte Jacobi’s trip to the USSR, 1932-1933. Located in the Lotte Jacobi Archives, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire.
Slezkine, Yuri. The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution. Princeton University Press, 2017.