Joseph Stalin - The Great Purge

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
Иосиф Виссарионович Сталин
Joseph Stalin - The Great Purge

The Great Purge was a series of repressive measures in the Soviet Union in the late 1930s.
This involved a large-scale purge of the Communist Party and government officials, repression of peasants, Red Army leadership, and unaffiliated persons in an atmosphere of widespread surveillance and suspicion of "saboteurs."
Proportionately, most of the victims of the Great Purge were Old Bolsheviks.

Purges of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Purges (or simply purges, Russian: "чистка", chistka – "cleansing") with a "small-p" purge was one of the key rituals during which a periodic review of party members was conducted to get rid of the "undesirables".
Such purges were conducted especially during the Cultural Revolution in Soviet Union "bringing excitement into the workday bureaucratic routine".
Such reviews would start with a short autobiography from the reviewed person and then interrogation of him or her by the purge commission as well as the attending audience.
The first major purge of the 'Communist Party of the Soviet Union' ranks was performed by Bolsheviks as early as 1921.
About 220,000 members were purged or left the party in 1921.
The purge was justified by the necessity to get rid of the members who joined the Party simply to be on the winning side.
The major criteria were social origins (members of working classes were normally accepted without question) and contributions to the revolutionary cause.
The first purge of the Joseph Stalin era was performed in 1929–1930 according to the resolution of the XVI Party Conference.
Over 10% of the Party members were purged.

 Алексе́й Ива́нович Ры́ков
Alexey Ivanovich Rykov

 Алексе́й Ива́нович Ры́ков - Alexei Ivanovich Rykov  (25 February 1881 – 15 March 1938) was a Russian Bolshevik revolutionary and a Soviet politician most prominent as Premier of Russia and the Soviet Union from 1924–29 and 1924–30 respectively.
He played an active part in the 1905 Russian Revolution. Months prior to the October Revolution of 1917, he became a member of the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets, and was elected to the Bolshevik Party Central Committee in July–August of the same year, during the Sixth Congress of the Bolshevik Party. Rykov served many roles in the new government, starting October–November (old style) as People's Commissar for Internal Affairs on the first roster of the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom), which was chaired by Lenin.
During the Russian Civil War (1918–20), Rykov oversaw the implementation of the "War Communism" economic policy, and helped oversee the distribution of food to the Red Army and Navy.
After Lenin was incapacitated by his third stroke in March 1923 Rykov—along with Lev Kamenev—was elected by the Sovnarkom to serve as Deputy Chairman to Lenin. While both Rykov and Kamenev were Lenin's deputies, Kamenev was the acting Premier of the Soviet Union.
Lenin died from a fourth stroke on January 21, 1924 and on February 2 Rykov was chosen by the Council of People's Commissars as Premier of both the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and of the Soviet Union, which he served as until May 18, 1929 and December 19, 1930, respectively. On December 21, 1930 he was removed from the Politburo.
From 1931-37 Rykov served as People's Commissar of Communications on the Council he formerly chaired. On February 17, 1937—at a meeting of the Central Committee—he was arrested with Nikolai Bukharin. In March 1938 both were found guilty of treason and executed.

At the same time a significant number of new members, industrial workers, joined the Party.
The next systematic Party purge in the Soviet Union was declared in December 1932 to be performed during 1933.
During this period new memberships were suspended.

Никола́й Ива́нович Буха́рин
Nikolai Bukharin
Никола́й Ива́нович Буха́рин - Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin (9 October [O.S. 27 September] 1888 – 15 March 1938) was a Russian Marxist, Bolshevik revolutionary, and Soviet politician. He was a member of the Politburo (1924–1929) and Central Committee (1917–1937), chairman of the Communist International (Comintern, 1926–1929), and the editor in chief of Pravda (1918–1929), the journal Bolshevik (1924–1929), Izvestia (1934–1936), and the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. He authored Imperialism and World Economy (1918), The ABC of Communism (1919. co-authored with Yevgeni Preobrazhensky), and Historical Materialism (1921) among others. Initially a supporter of Joseph Stalin after Vladimir Lenin's death, he came to oppose a large number of Stalin's policies and was one of Stalin's most prominent victims during the "Moscow Trials" and purges of the Old Bolsheviks in the late 1930s.

A joint resolution of the Party Central Committee and Central Revision Committee specified the criteria for purge and called for setting special Purge Commissions, to which every communist had to report.
Also, this purge concerned members of the Central Committee, Central Revision Committee, which previously were immune to purges, because they were elected at Party Congresses.

In particular, Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Ivanovich Rykov, and Mikhail Tomsky had to try hard to defend themselves during this purge.

Михаи́л Па́влович То́мский
Mikhail Tomsky
Михаи́л Па́влович То́мский - Mikhail Pavlovich Tomsky (born Mikhail Pavlovich Yefremov – October 31, 1880 – August 22, 1936) was a factory worker, trade unionist and Bolshevik leader. He was the Soviet leader of the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions.
Tomsky as head of the trade union movement, 1920s
General Secretary of the Red International of Labour Unions
Tomsky attempted to form a trade union at his factory in St. Petersburg resulting in his dismissal.
His labour activities radicalized him politically and led him to become a socialist and join the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1904 and eventually join the Bolshevik faction of the party.
Tomsky headed the State Publishing House from May 1932 until August 1936, when he was accused of terrorist connections during the First Moscow Trial of Zinoviev and Kamenev. Rather than face arrest by the NKVD, Tomsky committed suicide by gunshot in his dacha in Bolshevo, near Moscow. He was posthumously accused of high treason and other crimes during the third (March 1938) show trial of Bukharin, Rykov and others. 

At this time, of 1.9 million members, about 18% were purged.
In itself, the term was innocent enough: within 1921–1933 in the Soviet Union, for example, some 800,000 people were purged or left the Party, but suffered no worse fate, but from 1936 onward,  during the 'Great Purge', the term changed its meaning, because being expelled from the Party came to mean almost certain arrest, imprisonment or even execution.
Following Stalin's death, purges as systematic campaigns of expulsion from the Party stopped and loss of the Party membership meant only loss of possible nomenklatura privileges.

номенклату́ра - the nomenklatura were a category of people within the Soviet Union who held various key administrative positions in all spheres of those countries' activity: government, industry, agriculture, education, etc., whose positions were granted only with approval by the communist party of each country or region.
Virtually all were members of the Communist Party.
Some authors who opposed the Soviet regime, such as Milovan Đilas, critically defined them as a new class. Trotskyism uses the term caste rather than class, because they saw the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers' state, not a new class society.


The term "repression" was officially used to describe the prosecution of people considered counter-revolutionaries and enemies of the people by the leadership of the Soviet Union.
The purge was motivated by the desire to remove dissenters from the Communist Party and to consolidate the authority of Joseph Stalin.
Most public attention was focused on the purge of the leadership of the Communist Party, as well as of government bureaucrats and leaders of the armed forces, most of whom were Party members.
The campaigns also affected many other categories of the society: intelligentsia, peasants and especially those branded as "too rich for a peasant" (kulaks), and professionals.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
A series of NKVD (the Soviet secret police - later known as the KGB) operations affected a number of national minorities, accused of being "fifth column" communities.
A number of purges were officially explained as an elimination of the possibilities of sabotage and espionage, mostly by a fictitious "Polish Military Organisation" and, consequently, many victims of the purge were ordinary Soviet citizens of Polish origin.
Nikita Khrushchev 1956 Speech
According to Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 speech, "On the Personality Cult and its Consequences," and more recent findings, a great number of accusations, notably those presented at the Moscow show trials, were based on forced confessions, often obtained by torture, and on loose interpretations of Article 58 of the RSFSR Penal Code, which dealt with counter-revolutionary crimes.
Due legal process, as defined by Soviet law in force at the time, was often largely replaced with summary proceedings by NKVD troikas.
Hundreds of thousands of victims were accused of various political crimes (espionage, wrecking, sabotage, anti-Soviet agitation, conspiracies to prepare uprisings and coups); they were quickly executed by shooting, or sent to the Gulag labor camps.
Many died at the penal labor camps of starvation, disease, exposure, and overwork.
Other methods of dispatching victims were used on an experimental basis.
One secret policeman, for example, gassed people to death in batches in the back of a specially adapted airtight van.

Genrikh Yagoda
Генрих Григорьевич Ягода
The Great Purge was started under the NKVD chief Genrikh Yagoda, but the height of the campaigns occurred while the NKVD was headed by Nikolai Yezhov, from September 1936 to August 1938, hence the name Yezhovshchina.

Ге́нрих Григо́рьевич Яго́да - Genrikh Grigoryevich Yagoda (7 November 1891–15 March 1938), born Enokh Gershevich Ieguda (Russian: Енох Гершевич Иегуда) was a director of the NKVD, the Soviet Union's security and intelligence agency, from 1934 to 1936. Appointed by Joseph Stalin, Yagoda supervised the arrest, show trial, and execution of the Old Bolsheviks Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev, events that manifested the beginnings of the Great Purge.
Like many Soviet secret policemen of the 1930s, Yagoda was ultimately a victim of the Purge himself. He was demoted from the directorship of the NKVD in favor of Nikolai Yezhov in 1936, and arrested in 1937. Charged with the crimes of wrecking, espionage, Trotskyism, and conspiracy, Yagoda was a defendant at the Trial of the Twenty-One, the last of the major Soviet show trials of the 1930s. Following his confession at the trial, Yagoda was found guilty and shot.

Никола́й Иванович Ежо́в
Nikolai Ivanovich Yezhov
The campaigns were carried out according to the general line, and often by direct orders, of the Party Politburo headed by Stalin.

Никола́й Иванович Ежо́в - Nikolai Ivanovich Yezhov or Ezhov - May 1, 1895 – February 4, 1940 was the chairman of the Soviet secret police NKVD who conducted Great Purge in the 1930s under Joseph Stalin. His reign is sometimes known as the "Yezhovshchina" (Russian: Ежовщина, "the Yezhov era"), a term coined during the de-Stalinization campaign of the 1950s. After presiding over mass arrests and executions during the Great Purge, Yezhov became its victim. He was arrested, confessed under torture to a range of anti-Soviet activity, and was executed in 1940.

The Great Purge has provoked numerous debates about its purpose, scale and mechanisms.
In the 1950s American scholars proposed a structural explanation of the 'Great Terror': as a totalitarian system, Stalin’s regime had to maintain its citizens in a state of fear and uncertainty, and recurrent random purging provided the mechanism (Brzezinski, 1958).
Robert Conquest emphasized Stalin’s paranoia, focused on the Moscow show trial of “Old Bolsheviks”, and analyzed the carefully planned and systematic destruction of the Communist Party leadership as the first step toward terrorizing the entire population. In the mid-1980s, John Arch Getty, an American historian of the revisionist school, contested Conquest’s interpretation.
He argued that the exceptional scale of the purges was the result of strong tensions between Stalin and regional Communist Party bosses who, in order to deflect the terror that was being directed at them, found innumerable scapegoats on which to carry out repressions.
In this way, they demonstrated their vigilance and intransigence in the struggle against the common enemy.
Thus, the 'Great Terror' developed into a “flight into chaos” (Getty, 1985).
Historians of both schools focused on the purge of political, intellectual, economic or military elites, and the struggle between the center and regional party cliques.
Mainly because of the scarcity of information on the subject, neither studied the mechanisms, organization, implementation of mass arrests and mass executions, or the sociology of the victims, who represented a much wider group than party elites or intelligentsia.
The previous theories have been fundamentally challenged by new information since the opening of the Soviet archives after the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, which allowed more research in new areas of materials.
Scholars have come to view the 'Great Purge' as a crucial moment – or rather the culmination – of a vast social engineering campaign started at the beginning of the 1930s (Hagenloh, 2000; Shearer, 2003; Werth, 2003).
It claimed about 1% of the USSR adult population as its victims, and many children suffered as collateral damage.
From 1930 onwards, the Party and police officials feared the “social disorder” caused by the upheavals of forced collectivization of peasants and the resulting famine of 1932–1933, as well as the massive and uncontrolled migration of millions of peasants into cities.
The threat of war heightened Stalin’s perception of marginal and politically suspect populations as the potential source of an uprising in case of invasion.
He began to plan for the preventive elimination of such potential recruits for a mythicalfifth column of wreckers, terrorists and spies.
The term "purge" in Soviet political slang was an abbreviation of the expression purge of the Party ranks.
In 1933, for example, the Party expelled some 400,000 people, but from 1936 until 1953, the term changed its meaning, because being expelled from the Party came to mean almost certain arrest, imprisonment, and often execution.

Никола́й Ива́нович Буха́рин
 Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin
 Leon Trotsky
The political purge was primarily an effort by Stalin to eliminate challenge from past and potential opposition groups, including the left and right wings led by Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin, respectively.

Никола́й Ива́нович Буха́рин - Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin (October [O.S. 27 September] 1888 – 15 March 1938) was a Russian Marxist, Bolshevik revolutionary, and Soviet politician. He was a member of the Politburo (1924–1929) and Central Committee (1917–1937), chairman of the Communist International (Comintern, 1926–1929), and the editor in chief of Pravda (1918–1929), the journal Bolshevik (1924–1929), Izvestia (1934–1936), and the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. He authored Imperialism and World Economy (1918), The ABC of Communism (1919. co-authored with Yevgeni Preobrazhensky), and Historical Materialism (1921) among others. Initially a supporter of Joseph Stalin after Vladimir Lenin's death, he came to oppose a large number of Stalin's policies and was one of Stalin's most prominent victims during the "Moscow Trials" and purges of the Old Bolsheviks in the late 1930s.

Following the Civil War and reconstruction of the Soviet economy in the late 1920s, veteran Communists no longer thought necessary the "temporary" wartime dictatorship, which had passed from Lenin to Stalin.
Stalin's opponents on both sides of the political spectrum chided him as undemocratic and lax on bureaucratic corruption.
These tendencies may have accumulated substantial support among the working class by attacking the privileges and luxuries the state offered to its high-paid elite.
The 'Ryutin Affair' seemed to vindicate Stalin's suspicions.
He enforced a ban on party factions and banned those party members who had opposed him, effectively ending democratic centralism.
In the new form of Party organization, the 'Politburo', and Stalin in particular, were the sole dispensers of communist ideology.
This required the elimination of all Marxists with different views, especially those among the prestigious "old guard" of revolutionaries.

Béla Kun
Михаи́л Никола́евич Тухаче́вский
Mikhail Tukhachevsky
As the purges began, the government (through the NKVD) shot Communist heroes, including Mikhail Tukhachevsky and Béla Kun, as well as the majority of Lenin's Politburo, for disagreements in policy.

 Михаи́л Никола́евич Тухаче́вский - Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky (February 16 [O.S. February 4] 1893 – June 12, 1937) was a Marshal of the Soviet Union, commander in chief of the Red Army (1925–1928), and one of the most prominent victims of Joseph Stalin's Great Purge.
Tukhachevsky - Jewish - was born at Alexandrovskoye, Safonovo, into a family of hereditary nobles. He graduated from the Aleksandrovskoye Military School in 1914, joining the Semyenovsky Guards Regiment.
He was known for using summary execution of hostages and poison gas in his suppression of peasant uprisings.

Béla Kun (1886-1938), born Béla Kohn, was a Jewish Hungarian revolutionary who led the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919. Following the fall of the Hungarian revolution, Kun emigrated to the Soviet Union, where he worked as a functionary in the Communist International bureaucracy.
During the Great Terror of the late 1930s, Kun was arrested, interrogated, tried, and executed in quick succession. 

Ramón Mercader
The NKVD attacked the supporters, friends, and family of these "heretical" Marxists, whether they lived in Russia or not.
The NKVD nearly annihilated Trotsky's family before killing him in Mexico; the NKVD agent Ramón Mercader was part of an assassination task force put together by Special Agent Pavel Sudoplatov, under the personal orders of Stalin.
In 1934, Stalin used the murder of Sergey Kirov as a pretext to launch the 'Great Purge', in which about a million people perished.
Some later historians came to believe that Stalin arranged the murder, or at least that there was sufficient evidence to reach such a conclusion.
Kirov was a staunch Stalin loyalist, but Stalin may have viewed him as a potential rival because of his emerging popularity among the moderates.
The 1934 party congress elected Kirov to the central committee with only three negative votes, the fewest of any candidate, while Stalin received 292 negative votes.
After Kirov's assassination, the NKVD charged the former oppositionists, an ever-growing group according to their determination, with Kirov's murder as well as a growing list of other offences, including treason, terrorism, sabotage, and espionage.

Серге́й Миро́нович Ки́ров - Sergei Mironovich Kirov (27 March [O.S. 15 March] 1886 – 1 December 1934), born Sergei Mironovich Kostrikov, was a prominent early Bolshevik leader in the Soviet Union. Kirov rose through the Communist Party ranks to become head of the Party organization in Leningrad.
Kirov had a Jewish wife - which troubled Stalin.
On 1 December 1934, Kirov was shot and killed by a gunman at his offices in the Smolny Institute. Most historians place the blame for his assassination at the hands of Stalin, and believe the NKVD organised its execution. Kirov's death served as one of the pretexts for Stalin's escalation of repression against dissident elements of the Party, culminating in the Great Purge of the late 1930s in which many of the Old Bolsheviks were arrested, expelled from the Party, and executed. Complicity in Kirov's assassination was a common charge to which the accused confessed in the show trials of the era.
The cities of Kirov, Kirovohrad, Kirovakan, and Kirovabad, as well as a few Kirovsks, were renamed in Kirov's honor after his assassination. Following the collapse of Soviet Union Kirovakan and Kirovabad returned to their original names: Vanadzor and Ganja, respectively.

Another justification for the purge was to remove any possible "fifth column" in case of a war.

Вячесла́в Миха́йлович Мо́лотов
Vyacheslav Molotov
Vyacheslav Molotov and Lazar Kaganovich, participants in the repression as members of the Politburo, maintained this justification throughout the purge; they each signed many death lists.

Вячесла́в Миха́йлович Мо́лотов - Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov (9 March [O.S. 25 February] 1890 – 8 November 1986) was a Soviet politician and diplomat, an Old Bolshevik and a leading figure in the Soviet government from the 1920s, when he rose to power as a protégé of Joseph Stalin, to 1957, when he was dismissed from the Presidium (Politburo) of the Central Committee by Nikita Khrushchev. 
Molotov had a Jewish wife. He served as Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars (Premier) from 1930 to 1941, and as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1939 to 1949 and from 1953 to 1956. Molotov served for several years as First Deputy Premier in Joseph Stalin's cabinet. He retired in 1961 after several years of obscurity.

Stalin believed war was imminent, threatened both by an explicitly hostile Nazi Germany and an expansionist Japan.
The Soviet press portrayed the country as threatened from within by Fascist spies.
From the October Revolution onward, Lenin had used repression against perceived enemies of the Bolsheviks as a systematic method of instilling fear and facilitating social control. Periods of heightened repression included the 'Red Terror', the deportation of kulaks who opposed collectivization, and a severe famine in Ukraine.

Kulaks - from the Russian for "fist", by extension "tight-fisted"; kurkuls in Ukraine, also used in Russian texts in Ukrainian contexts) were a category of relatively affluent farmers in the later Russian Empire, Soviet Russia, and early Soviet Union.
The word kulak originally referred to independent farmers in the Russian Empire who emerged from the peasantry and became wealthy following the Stolypin reform, which began in 1906.  During 1929-1933, the Stalin leadership's total campaign to collectivize the peasantry meant that "peasants with a couple of cows or five or six acres more than their neighbors" were being labeled 'kulaks'.
According to the political theory of Marxism-Leninism of the early 20th century, the kulaks were class enemies of the poorer peasants.
Vladimir Lenin described them as "bloodsuckers, vampires, plunderers of the people and profiteers, who batten on famine.”
Marxism-Leninism had intended a revolution to liberate poor peasants and farm laborers alongside the proletariat (urban and industrial workers).
In addition, the planned economy of Soviet Bolshevism required the collectivization of farms and land to allow industrialization or conversion to large-scale agricultural production.
In practice, these Marxist-Leninist theories led to the ruination of the agricultural economy as government officials violently seized kulak farms and murdered resistors; others were deported to labor camps.
Beginning in 1932-33, great famines ensued, with several million dying in the Ukraine famine alone.
Documents uncovered in recent decades from this time period show that "the Stalin leadership" was aware of what was occurring in the countryside, and were actually using the "famine as a means of terror, and of revenge, against the peasantry."

A distinctive feature of the 'Great Purge' was that, for the first time, members of the ruling party were included on a massive scale as victims of the repression.
Due to the scale of the terror, there were substantial victims of the purges were Communist Party members and office-holders.
The purge of the Party was accompanied by the purge of the whole society.
The following events are used for the demarcation of the period.
The second Moscow Trial, 1936.
1937 introduction of NKVD troikas for implementation of "revolutionary justice".
1937mm, passage of Article 58-14 about "counter-revolutionary sabotage".

Moscow Trials

The Moscow Trials were a series of three show trials held in the Soviet Union at the instigation of Joseph Stalin between 1936 and 1938.
The Moscow Trials included the Trial of the Sixteen, the Trial of the Anti-Soviet Trotskyist Center, and the Trial of the Twenty-One.
The defendants included most of the surviving Old Bolsheviks, as well as the former leadership of the Soviet secret police.
Most defendants were charged under Article 58 of the RSFSR Penal Code with conspiring with the western powers to assassinate Stalin and other Soviet leaders, dismember the Soviet Union, and restore capitalism.
The Moscow Trials led to the execution of many of the defendants, including most of the surviving Old Bolsheviks, and the trials are generally seen as part of Stalin's Great Purge.


Stalin, Grigory Zinoviev, and Lev Kamenev formed a ruling 'troika' in early 1923 after Vladimir Lenin had become incapacitated from a stroke.
The troika effected the marginalization of Leon Trotsky in an internal party power struggle.
A few years later, Zinoviev and Kamenev joined the United Front in an alliance with Trotsky which favored Trotskyism and opposed Stalin specifically.
Consequently, Stalin allied with Nikolai Bukharin and defeated Trotsky in a power struggle. Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1929 and Kamenev and Zinoviev temporarily lost their membership in the Communist Party.
Zinoviev and Kamenev, in 1932, were found to be complicit in the Ryutin Affair and again were temporarily expelled from the Communist Party.
In December 1934, Sergei Kirov was assassinated and, subsequently 15 defendants were found guilty of direct, or indirect, involvement in the crime and were executed.
Zinoviev and Kamenev were found to be morally complicit in Kirov's murder and were sentenced to prison terms of ten and five years, respectively.
Both Kamenev and Zinoviev had been secretly tried in 1935 but it appears that Stalin decided that, with suitable confessions, their fate could be used for propaganda purposes. Genrikh Yagoda oversaw the interrogation proceedings.
The trial was held from August 19 to August 24, 1936 in the small October Hall of the House of the Unions (chosen instead of the larger Hall of Columns, used for earlier trials) and there were 16 defendants.
The main charge was forming a terror organization with the purpose of killing Joseph Stalin and other members of the Soviet government.
They were tried by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR, with Vasili Ulrikh presiding, and the Prosecutor General being Andrei Vyshinsky.
Defendant Ivan Nikitich Smirnov, was blamed by his co-defendants for being the leader of the Center which planned Kirov's assassination.
He, however, had been in prison since January 1933 and refused to confess.
All the defendants were sentenced to death and were subsequently shot in the cellars of Lubyanka prison in Moscow.

Trial of the Sixteen

The Trial of the Sixteen was a staged trial of 16 leaders of the Polish Underground State held by the Soviet Union in Moscow in 1945.
The show trial of 16 leaders of the Polish wartime underground movement (including the Home Army and civil authorities) convicted of "drawing up plans for military action against the U.S.S.R.", Moscow, June 1945.
All of them had been invited to help organize the new "Polish Government of National Unity" in March 1945 and were subsequently captured by the NKVD.
Six years later, only two were still alive.
Some accounts say approaches were made in February with others saying March 1945.
The Government Delegate, together with most members of the Council of National Unity and the Commander-in-chief of the Armia Krajowa, were invited by Soviet general Ivan Serov with agreement of Joseph Stalin to a conference on their eventual entry to the Soviet-backed Provisional Government.
They were presented with a warrant of safety, but were instead arrested in Pruszków by the NKVD on 27 and 28 March.
Leopold Okulicki, Jan Stanisław Jankowski and Kazimierz Pużak were arrested on the 27th with 12 more the next day. Alexander Zwierzynski had been arrested earlier.
They were brought to Moscow for interrogation in the Lubyanka.
After several months of brutal interrogation and torture they were presented with the forged accusations of:
collaboration with Nazi Germany
carrying-over intelligence and sabotage at the rear of the Red Army
planning a military alliance with Nazi Germany
owning a radio transmitter, printing machines and weapons
propaganda against the Soviet Union
membership of underground organisation
The trial took place between 18–21 June 1945 with foreign press and observers from the United Kingdom and USA present.
The date was chosen carefully to be at the same time a conference on creation of the Soviet-backed Polish puppet government was organized.
Immediately after the kidnapping of all the leaders, the Polish government in exile sent a protest note to Washington and London demanding their release.
At first the Soviets declared that the whole case was a bluff by the “Fascist Polish government”. When they finally admitted that the leaders had been arrested (on 5 May), the American envoy of Harry S. Truman, Harry Lloyd Hopkins, was told by Joseph Stalin that “there is no point in linking the case of the Trial of the Sixteen with the support for the Soviet-backed government of Poland because the sentences will not be high.”
Both British and American governments shared this view.
All but one of the defendants were forced to admit to the alleged crimes, and on 21 June the verdict was issued.
According to international law the trial should not have taken place.
The Soviet Union kidnapped and sentenced a group of citizens of a foreign country whose alleged crimes were committed on a foreign land.
They were deprived of basic human rights and tortured.
General Okulicki's witnesses were not allowed to enter the court, which was a violation of Soviet law.
Only two of the kidnapees survived the next six years.
As a result of the trial, the Polish Secret State was deprived of most of its leaders.
Its structures were soon rebuilt, but were never able to fully recover.

Trial of the Anti-Soviet Trotskyist Center

The second trial occurred between January 23 and January 30, 1937.[16]
This second trial involved 17 lesser figures including Karl Radek, Yuri Piatakov and Grigory Sokolnikov. Thirteen of the defendants were eventually executed by shooting. The rest received sentences in labor camps.
Radek was spared as he implicated others, including Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, and Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, setting the stage for the Trial of Military and Trial of the Twenty One.
Radek provided the pretext for the purge on massive scale with his testimony that there was a "third organization separate from the cadres which had passed through [Trotsky's] school" as well as "semi-Trotskyites, quarter-Trotskyites, one-eighth-Trotskyites, people who helped us, not knowing of the terrorist organization but sympathizing with us, people who from liberalism, from a Fronde against the Party, gave us this help."
By the third organization, he meant the last remaining former opposition group called Rightists led by Bukharin, whom he implicated by saying: "I feel guilty of one thing more: even after admitting my guilt and exposing the organisation, I stubbornly refused to give evidence about Bukharin. I knew that Bukharin's situation was just as hopeless as my own, because our guilt, if not juridically, then in essence, was the same. But we are close friends, and intellectual friendship is stronger than other friendships. I knew that Bukharin was in the same state of upheaval as myself. That is why I did not want to deliver him bound hand and foot to the People's Commissariat of Home Affairs. Just as in relation to our other cadres, I wanted Bukharin himself to lay down his arms."
At the time, many Western observers who attended the trials said that they were fair and that the guilt of the accused had been established.
They based this assessment on the confessions of the accused, which were freely given in open court, without any apparent evidence that they had been extracted by torture or drugging. Joseph E. Davies, the U.S. ambassador, wrote in Mission to Moscow:
"In view of the character of the accused, their long terms of service, their recognized distinction in their profession, their long-continued loyalty to the Communist cause, it is scarcely credible that their brother officers...should have acquiesced in their execution, unless they were convinced that these men had been guilty of some offense.* It is generally accepted by members of the Diplomatic Corps that the accused must have been guilty of an offense which in the Soviet Union would merit the death penalty.
* The Bukharin trial six months later developed evidence which, if true, more than justified this action. Undoubtedly those facts were all full known to the military court at this time."

Case of Trotskyist Anti-Soviet Military Organization

The Case of Trotskyist Anti-Soviet Military Organization (Russian: "дело троцкистской антисоветской военной организации" or "дело антисоветской троцкистской военной организации", also known as the "Military Case" (Russian: "дело военных") or the "Tukhachevsky Case") was a 1937 secret trial of the high command of the Red Army, a part of the Great Purge.


The Case of Military was a secret trial, unlike the Moscow Show Trials.
It is traditionally considered one of the key trials of the Great Purge.
Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky and the senior military officers Iona Yakir, Ieronim Uborevich, Robert Eideman, August Kork, Vitovt Putna, Boris Feldman and Vitaly Primakov (as well as Yakov Gamarnik, who committed suicide before the investigations began) were accused of anti-Soviet conspiracy and sentenced to death; they were executed on the night of June 11–12, 1937, immediately after the verdict delivered by a Special Session (специальное судебное присутствие) of the Supreme Court of the USSR.
The Tribunal was presided over by Vasili Ulrikh and included marshals Vasily Blyukher, Semyon Budyonny and Army Commanders Yakov Alksnis, Boris Shaposhnikov, Ivan Belov, Pavel Dybenko, and Nikolai Kashirin. Only Ulrikh, Budyonny and Shaposhnikov would survive the purges that followed.
The trial triggered a massive subsequent purge of the Red Army. In September 1938 the People's Commissar for Defense, Kliment Voroshilov, reported that a total of 37,761 officers and commissars were dismissed from the army, 10,868 were arrested and 7,211 were condemned for anti-Soviet crimes.


The trial was preceded by several purges of the Red Army. In the mid-1920s, Leon Trotsky was removed as Commissar of War, and his known supporters were expunged from the military. Former Tsarist officers had been purged in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
The latter purge was accompanied by the "exposure" of the "Former Officers Plot".
The next wave of arrests of military commanders started in the second half of 1936 and increased in scope after the February–March 1937 Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), at which Vyacheslav Molotov called for more thorough exposure of "wreckers" within the Red Army, since they "had already been found in all segments of the Soviet economy".

Evidence, Arrest, and Secret Trial

General Mikhail Tukhachevsky was arrested on May 22, 1937 and charged, along with seven other Red Army commanders, with the creation of a "right-wing-Trotskyist" military conspiracy and espionage for Nazi Germany, based on confessions obtained from a number of other arrested officers.
Before 1990, it was frequently argued that the case against the eight generals was based on forged documents created by the Abwehr, documents which deluded Stalin into believing that a plot was being fomented by Tukhachevsky and other Red Army commanders to depose him, however, after Soviet archives were opened to researchers after the fall of the Soviet Union, it became clear that Stalin actually concocted the fictitious plot by the most famous and important of his Soviet generals in order to get rid of them in a believable manner.
At Stalin's order, the NKVD instructed one of its agents, Nikolai Skoblin, to pass to Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the German Nazi SD (Sicherheitsdienst) intelligence arm, concocted information suggesting a plot by Tukhachevsky and the other Soviet generals against Stalin.
Seeing an opportunity to strike a blow at both the Soviet Union and his arch-enemy Admiral Canaris of the German Abwehr, Heydrich immediately acted on the information and undertook to improve on it, forging a series of documents implicating Tukhachevsky and other Red Army commanders; these were later passed to the Soviets via Beneš and other neutral parties. Joseph Stalin's archives indeed contain a number of messages received during 1920–30s duly reporting the possible involvement of Tukhachevsky with the "German Nazi leadership".
While the Germans believed they had successfully deluded Stalin into executing his best generals, in reality they had merely served as useful and unwitting pawns of Stalin.
It is notable that the forged documents were not even used by Soviet military prosecutors against the generals in their secret trial, instead relying on false confessions extorted or beaten out of the defendants.
Afraid of the consequences of trying popular generals and war heroes in a public forum, Stalin ordered the trial also be kept secret, and that the defendants be executed immediately following their court-martial.
Tukhachevsky and his fellow defendants were probably tortured into confessions.
All convicts were rehabilitated on January 31, 1957 citing "absence of essence of an offence". It was concluded that arrests, investigations and trials were performed in violation of procedural norms and based on forced confessions, in many cases obtained with the aid of physical 

Reasons and Motives

There are no conclusive facts about the real rationale behind the forged trial.
Over the years, researchers and historians put forth the following hypotheses.
The central hypothesis, and the one with the widest support, is that Stalin had simply decided to consolidate his power by eliminating any and all potential political or military rivals.
Viewed from the broader context of the Great Terror which followed, the execution of the most popular and well-regarded generals in the Red Army command can be seen as a preemptive move by Stalin and Nikolai Yezhov, 'People's Commissar of State Security', to eliminate a potential rival and source of opposition to their planned purge of the nomenklatura.
The fall of the first eight generals was swiftly followed by the arrest of most of the People's Commissars, nearly all regional party secretaries, hundreds of Central Committee members and candidates, and thousands of lesser CPSU officials.
At the end, three of five Soviet Marshals, 90% of all Red Army generals, 80% of Red Army colonels, and 30,000 officers of lesser rank had been purged.
Virtually all were executed.
At first it was thought 25-50% of Red Army officers were purged, it is now known to be 3.7-7.7%.
Previously, the size of the Red Army officer corp was underestimated and it was overlooked that most of those purged were merely expelled from the Party. 30% of officers purged 1937-9 were allowed back.
Another suggestion is that Tukhachevsky and others did indeed try to conspire against Stalin. Leon Trotsky in his later works argued that while it was impossible to speak conclusively about the plot, he saw indications in Stalin's mania for involvement in every detail of Red Army organization and logistics that the military had real reasons for dissent, motives which may have eventually led to a plot, however, the revelations of Stalin's actions following the release of Soviet archival information have now largely discredited this theory.
While the military may well have had many secret reasons for their dislike of Stalin, there is now no credible evidence that any of them ever conspired to eliminate him.

The Trial of the Twenty-One

The Trial of the Twenty-One was the last of the Moscow Trials, show trials of prominent Bolsheviks, including Old Bolsheviks.
The Trial of the Twenty-One took place in Moscow in March 1938, towards the end of Stalin's Great Purge.
The third show trial, in March 1938, known as The Trial of the Twenty-One, is the most famous of the Soviet Union show trials because of persons involved and the scope of charges, which tied together all loose threads from earlier show trials.
It included 21 defendants alleged to belong to the so-called "Bloc of Rightists and Trotskyites":

The accused were all proclaimed members of the "right Trotskyist bloc" that intended to overthrow socialism and restore capitalism in Russia, among other things.
Meant to be the culmination of previous trials, it now alleged that Bukharin and others committed the following crimes:
murdering Sergey Kirov, Valerian Kuybyshev, State Political Directorate (OGPU) chair Vyacheslav Menzhinsky, and writer Maxim Gorky and his son
unsuccessfully trying to assassinate Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Yakov Sverdlov in 1918
plotting to assassinate Yakov Sverdlov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, Kliment Voroshilov and Stalin
conspiring to wreck the economy (by sabotaging mines, derailing trains, killing cattle, putting nails and glasses in butter) and the country's military power
Spying for British, French, Japanese, and German intelligence agencies
making secret agreements with Germany and Japan, promising to surrender Belarus, Ukraine, Central Asia and the Russian Far East to foreign powers
All of the defendants confessed to these charges during the show trial with a few notable, but limited, exceptions.

The Trial

The preparation for this trial was delayed in its early stages due to the reluctance of some party members to denounce their comrades.
It was at this time that Stalin personally intervened to speed up the process and replaced Yagoda with Nikolai Yezhov.
Stalin also observed some of the trial in person from a hidden chamber in the courtroom.
Only one defendant, Nikolai Krestinsky, initially refused to admit his guilt.
He changed his position within a day, however, telling Public Prosecutor Andrei Vyshinsky: "I fully and completely admit that I am guilty of all the gravest charges brought against me personally, and that I admit my complete responsibility for the treason and treachery I have committed."
Bukharin's confession was limited in a different fashion.
Observers have speculated that Bukharin had reached some sort of agreement with the prosecution: while he admitted guilt to general charges, he undercut that by denying any knowledge when it came to specific crimes.
Bukharin typically would admit only what was in his written confessions and refused to go any further; at one point in the trial, when Vyshinsky asked him about a conspiracy to weaken Soviet military power, Bukharin responded "it was not discussed, at least in my presence," at which point Vyshinsky dropped the question and moved to another topic.[3]
There is other evidence that Bukharin had reached an agreement to trade his confession for personal concessions of some sort. Anastas Mikoyan and Vyacheslav Molotov claim that Bukharin was never tortured.
Bukharin had been allowed to write four book-length manuscripts, including an autobiographical novel, 'How It All Began', a philosophical treatise, and a collection of poems – all of which were found in Stalin's archive and published in the 1990s – while in prison.
Bukharin also wrote series of very emotional letters to Stalin protesting his innocence and professing his love for Stalin, which contrasts with his critical opinion of Stalin and his policies expressed to others and his conduct in the trial.
Yet Bukharin appears to have strayed from that agreement at trial.
While he had accepted responsibility "even for those crimes about which I did not know or about which I did not have the slightest idea" on the theory that he was the head of the "Bloc of Rightists and Trotskyites", he testified that the Bloc did not exist and its members had never met.
The result was a curious mix of fulsome confessions and subtle criticisms of the trial.
After disproving several charges against him (one observer noted that he proceeded to demolish or rather showed he could very easily demolish the whole case) and saying that "the confession of accused is not essential. The confession of the accused is a medieval principle of jurisprudence" in the trial that was solely based on confessions, he finished his last plea with "the monstrousness of my crime is immeasurable especially in the new stage of struggle of the U.S.S.R. May this trial be the last severe lesson, and may the great might of the U.S.S.R become clear to all."
Other defendants apparently still hoped for clemency.
Yagoda, who had overseen the interrogations that led to the previous show trials, made a plea for mercy directly to Stalin, who may, according to Solzhenitsyn, have been observing the proceedings:
Just as though Stalin had been sitting right there in the hall, Yagoda confidently and insistently begged him directly for mercy: "I appeal to you! For you I built two great canals !"
And a witness reports that at just that moment a match flared in the shadows behind a window on the second floor of the hall, apparently behind a muslin curtain, and, while it lasted, the outline of a pipe could be seen.

The Verdict

All but three were found guilty "of having committed extremely grave state offenses covered by...the Criminal Code...sentenced to the supreme penalty—to be shot."
Pletnev was sentenced to 25 years in prison, Rakovsky to 20 years, and Bessonov to 15 years. By one account, Bukharin – who had asked to be poisoned, rather than shot – was forced to watch the execution of sixteen other defendants before being shot himself.

Reactions to the Trial

Even sympathetic observers who had stomached the earlier trials found it hard to swallow new charges as they became ever more absurd and the purge by now expanded to include virtually every living Old Bolshevik leader except Stalin.
For some prominent former communists, such as Bertram Wolfe, Jay Lovestone, Arthur Koestler, and Heinrich Brandler, the Bukharin trial marked their final break with communism and turned the first three into fervent anti-communists.
Bukharin's testimony became the subject of much debate among Western observers, inspiring Koestler's acclaimed novel 'Darkness at Noon' and a philosophical essay by Maurice Merleau-Ponty in 'Humanism and Terror', among others.
Koestler and others viewed Bukharin's testimony as a true believer's last service to the Party (while preserving a small amount of personal honor) whereas Bukharin biographer Stephen Cohen and Robert Tucker saw traces of Aesopian language, with which Bukharin sought to turn the table into trial of Stalinism, while keeping his part of bargain to save his family.
Bukharin himself speaks of his "peculiar duality of mind" in his last plea, which led to "semi-paralysis of the will" and Hegelian "unhappy consciousness", which presumably stemmed from the conflict between his knowledge of the reality of Stalinist rule and the threat of fascism, which led Bukharin and others to follow Stalin, who had become the personification of the Party.
Others were not so critical of the trial.
Ambassador Joseph Davies, author of 'Mission to Moscow', wrote that "It is generally accepted by members of the Diplomatic Corps that the accused must have been guilty of an offense which in the Soviet Union would merit the death penalty".
Beatrice Webb, the British Fabian, stated that she was happy that Stalin had "cut out the dead wood".
Bertolt Brecht, whose lover Clara Neher had disappeared after her return to the Soviet Union, reportedly said "The more innocent they are, the more they deserve to die".


All of the surviving members of the Lenin-era, except Stalin and Trotsky, were tried.
By the end of the final trial Stalin had arrested and executed almost every important living Bolshevik from the Revolution.
Of 1,966 delegates to the party congress in 1934, 1,108 were arrested.
Of 139 members of the Central Committee, 98 were arrested.
Three out of five Soviet marshals (Alexander Ilyich Yegorov, Vasily Blyukher, Tukhachevsky) and several thousands of the Red Army officers were arrested or shot.
The key defendant, Leon Trotsky, was living in exile abroad, but he still did not survive Stalin's desire to have him dead and was assassinated by a Soviet agent in Mexico in 1940.
While Khrushchev's Secret Speech denounced Stalin's personality cult and purges as early as 1956, rehabilitation of Old Bolsheviks proceeded at a slow pace.
Nikolai Bukharin and 19 other co-defendants were officially completely rehabilitated in February 1988. Yagoda, who was deeply involved in the great purge as the head of NKVD, was not included.
In May 1988, rehabilitation of Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, and co-defendants was announced.
After the death of Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev repudiated the trials in a speech to the Twentieth Congress of the Russian Communist Party:
"The commission has become acquainted with a large quantity of materials in the NKVD archives and with other documents and has established many facts pertaining to the fabrication of cases against Communists, to glaring abuses of Socialist legality which resulted in the death of innocent people. It became apparent that many party, Government and economic activists who were branded in 1937-38 as ‘enemies,’ were actually never enemies, spies, wreckers, etc., but were always honest Communists...They were only so stigmatized and often, no longer able to bear barbaric tortures, they charged themselves (at the order of the investigative judges – falsifiers) with all kinds of grave and unlikely crimes."
It is now known that the confessions were given only after great psychological pressure and torture had been applied to the defendants.
From the accounts of former GPU officer Alexander Orlov and others the methods used to extract the confessions are known: repeated beatings, torture, making prisoners stand or go without sleep for days on end, and threats to arrest and execute the prisoners' families.
For example, Kamenev's teenage son was arrested and charged with terrorism.
After months of such interrogation, the defendants were driven to despair and exhaustion.


In the 1920s and 1930s, 2,000 writers, intellectuals, and artists were imprisoned and 1,500 died in prisons and concentration camps.
After sunspot development research was judged un-Marxist, twenty-seven astronomers disappeared between 1936 and 1938.
The Meteorological Office was violently purged as early as 1933 for failing to predict weather harmful to the crops.
But the toll was especially high among writers.
Those who perished during the Great Purge include:
Pianist Khadija Gayibova executed in 1938.
The great poet Osip Mandelstam was arrested for reciting his famous anti-Stalin poem Stalin Epigram to his circle of friends in 1934.
After intervention by Nikolai Bukharin and Boris Pasternak (Stalin jotted down in Bukharin's letter with feigned indignation: “Who gave them the right to arrest Mandelstam?”), Stalin instructed NKVD to "isolate but preserve" him, and Mandelstam was "merely" exiled to Cherdyn for three years.
But this proved to be a temporary reprieve.
In May 1938, he was promptly arrested again for "counter-revolutionary activities".
On August 2, 1938, Mandelstam was sentenced to five years in correction camps and died on December 27, 1938 at a transit camp near Vladivostok.
Boris Pasternak himself was nearly purged, but Stalin is said to have crossed Pasternak's name off the list, saying "Don't touch this cloud dweller."
Writer Isaac Babel was arrested in May 1939, and according to his confession paper (which contained a blood stain) he "confessed" to being a member of Trotskyist organization and being recruited by French writer André Malraux to spy for France.
In the final interrogation, he retracted his confession and wrote letters to prosecutor's office stating that he had implicated innocent people, but to no avail.
Babel was tried before an NKVD troika and convicted of simultaneously spying for the French, Austrians, and Leon Trotsky, as well as "membership in a terrorist organization."
On January 27, 1940, he was shot in Butyrka prison.
Writer Boris Pilnyak was arrested on October 28, 1937 for counter-revolutionary activities, spying and terrorism.
One report alleged that "he held secret meetings with (André) Gide, and supplied him with information about the situation in the USSR. There is no doubt that Gide used this information in his book attacking the USSR."
Pilnyak was tried on April 21, 1938. In the proceeding that lasted 15 minutes, he was condemned to death and executed shortly afterward.
Theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold was arrested in 1939 and shot in February 1940 for "spying" for Japanese and British intelligence.
In a letter to Vyacheslav Molotov dated January 13, 1940, he wrote: "The investigators began to use force on me, a sick 65-year-old man. I was made to lie face down and beaten on the soles of my feet and my spine with a rubber strap... For the next few days, when those parts of my legs were covered with extensive internal hemorrhaging, they again beat the red-blue-and-yellow bruises with the strap and the pain was so intense that it felt as if boiling water was being poured on these sensitive areas. I howled and wept from the pain. I incriminated myself in the hope that by telling them lies I could end the ordeal. When I lay down on the cot and fell asleep, after 18 hours of interrogation, in order to go back in an hour's time for more, I was woken up by my own groaning and because I was jerking about like a patient in the last stages of typhoid fever."
His wife, the actress Zinaida Raikh, was murdered in her apartment by NKVD agents.
Georgian poet Titsian Tabidze was arrested on October 10, 1937 on a charge of treason and was tortured in prison.
In a bitter humor, he named only the 18th-century Georgian poet Besiki as his accomplice in anti-Soviet activities.
He was executed on December 16, 1937
His friend and poet Paolo Iashvili, having earlier been forced to denounce several of his associates as the enemies of the people, shot himself with a hunting gun in the building of the Writers' Union. (He witnessed and even had to participate in public trials that ousted many of his associates from the Writers' Union, effectively condemning them to death. When Lavrenty Beria chief of the Soviet security and secret police apparatus under Stalin and subsequently head of the NKVD, further pressured him with alternative of denouncing his lifelong friend Tabidze or being arrested and tortured by the NKVD, he killed himself.)
In early 1937, poet Pavel Vasiliev is said to have defended Nikolai Bukharin as "a man of the highest nobility and the conscience of peasant Russia" at the time of his denunciation at the Pyatakov Trial (Second Moscow Trial) and damned other writers then signing the routine condemnations as "pornographic scrawls on the margins of Russian literature". He was promptly shot on July 16, 1937.[42]
Jan Sten, philosopher and deputy head of the Marx-Engels Institute, was Stalin's private tutor when Stalin was trying hard to study Hegel's dialectic. (Stalin received lessons twice a week from 1925 to 1928, but he found it difficult to master even some of the basic ideas. Stalin developed enduring hostility toward German idealistic philosophy, which he called "the aristocratic reaction to the French Revolution".)
In 1937, Sten was seized on the direct order of Stalin, who declared him one of the chiefs of Menshevizing idealists.
On June 19, 1937, Sten was put to death in Lefortovo prison.

Ex-kulaks and other "Anti-Soviet Elements"

On July 2, 1937, Stalin sent a top-secret letter to all regional Party chiefs (with a copy to NKVD regional chiefs) ordering them to present, within five days, estimates of the number of kulaks and “criminals” that should be arrested, executed, or sent to camps.
Produced in a matter of days, these figures roughly matched those of “suspect” individuals already under police surveillance, although the criteria used to distribute the “kulak and criminal elements” among the two categories are not clear.
On July 30, 1937 the NKVD Order no. 00447 was issued, directed against "ex-kulaks" and other "anti-Soviet elements" (such as former officials of the Tsarist regime, former members of political parties other than the communist party, etc.).
They were to be executed or sent to GULAG prison camps extra-judicially  under the decisions of NKVD troikas.
The following categories were systematically tracked down: “ex-kulaks” previously deported to “special settlements” in inhospitable parts of the country (Siberia, Urals, Kazakhstan, Far North), former tsarist civil servants, former officers of the White Army, participants in peasant rebellions, members of the clergy, persons deprived of voting rights, former members of non-bolshevik parties, ordinary criminals, like thieves, known to the police and various other “socially harmful elements”.
However, many were also arrested at random in police sweeps, or as a result of denunciations or simply because they happened to be relatives, friends or just acquaintances of people already arrested.
Many railwaymen, workers, kolkhoz peasants, and engineers were arrested in the course of the Kulak Operation just because they had the misfortune of working in, or near, important strategic factories, railway or building sites, where, as a result of frantic rhythms and plans, many work accidents had occurred in previous years.
In 1937-1938, the NKVD reopened these cases and systematically ascribed them to “sabotage” or “wrecking” (Werth, 2009).
The orthodox clergy, including active parishioners, was nearly annihilated: 85% of the 35,000 members of the clergy were arrested. Particularly vulnerable to repression were also the so-called “special settlers” (spetzperesentsy) who were under permanent police surveillance and constituted a huge pool of potential “enemies” to draw on.
At least 100,000 of them were arrested in the course of the Great Terror.
One “sub-operation” targeted “the most vicious and stubborn anti-Soviet elements” in GULAG prison camps; they were all “to be put into the first category” - that is shot.
Order no. 00447 decreed 10,000 executions for this contingent, but at least three times more were shot in the course of the secret mass operation, the majority in March–April 1938 (Junge and Binner, 2003).
As soon as the Kulak Operation was launched (August 5, 1937), regional party and NKVD bosses, eager to show their zeal, demanded an increase in the quotas.
Accordingly, the quotas were increased.
But this was not only the result of demands from below.
The largest new allowances were distributed by Stalin and Ezhov on their own initiative: on October 15, 1937, for example, the Politburo passed a secret resolution increasing the number of people “to be repressed” by 120,000 (63,000 “in the first category” and 57,000 “in the second category”); on January 31, 1938, Stalin ordered a further increase of 57,200, 48,000 of whom were to be executed.
The police organized sweeps and round-ups of markets or railway stations where marginals and other social outcasts were likely to be found.
In order to carry out a growing number of arrests, the State Security personnel of NKVD – approximately 25,000 officers – were supplemented by ordinary policemen, sometimes by civilian Party or Komsomol (Young Communist League) members.
Every NKVD local unit had a “casework minimum” of arrests to perform but also of confessions to extract in order to “unmask conspiracies”.
Uninterrupted interrogation for days on end and merciless beatings were widely used to force prisoners to confess their alleged "counter-revolutionary crimes".
In order to speed up the procedure, prisoners were often even forced to sign blank pages of the pre-printed interrogation folios on which the interrogator later typed up the confession.
After the interrogations the files were submitted to NKVD troikas which pronounced the verdicts in the absence of the accused.
During a half-day long session a troika went through several hundred cases, delivering either a death sentence or a sentence to the GULAG labour camps.
Death sentences were immediately enforceable.
The executions were carried out at night, either in prisons or in a secluded area run by the NKVD and located as a rule on the outskirts of major cities.
The Kulak Operation was largest single campaign of repression in 1937-38, with 669,929 people arrested and 376,202 executed, more than half the total of known executions.

National operations of NKVD

A series of national operations of the NKVD was carried out during 1937–1940, justified by the fear of the fifth column in the expectation of war with "the most probable adversary", i.e., Germany, as well as according to the notion of the "hostile capitalist surrounding", which wants to destabilize the country.
The Polish operation of the NKVD was the largest and the first of this kind, setting an example of dealing with other targeted minorities.
Many such operations were conducted on a quota system. NKVD local officials were mandated to arrest and execute a specific number of "counter-revolutionaries," produced by upper officials based on various statistics.
The Polish operation also claimed the largest number of victims: 143,810 arrests and 111,091 executions, and at least eighty-five thousand of these were ethnic Poles.

Western Victims

Some of the victims of the terror were American immigrants to the Soviet Union, who had emigrated at the height of the Great Depression in order to find work.
At the height of the Terror, American immigrants besieged the US embassy, begging for passports so they could leave the Soviet Union.
They were turned away by embassy officials, only to be arrested on the pavement outside by lurking NKVD agents.
Many were subsequently shot dead at Butovo Field near Scherbinka, south of Moscow.
In addition, 141 American Communists of Finnish origin were executed and buried at Sandarmokh.
127 Finnish Canadians were also shot and buried there.

End of Yezhovshchina

By the summer of 1938, Stalin and his circle realized that the purges had gone too far; Yezhov was relieved from his post as head of the NKVD and was eventually purged himself.
Lavrenty Beria, a fellow Georgian and Stalin confidant, succeeded him as head of the NKVD. On November 17, 1938 a joint decree of Sovnarkom USSR and Central Committee of VKP(b) (Decree about Arrests, Prosecutor Supervision and Course of Investigation) and the subsequent order of NKVD undersigned by Beria cancelled most of the NKVD orders of systematic repression and suspended implementation of death sentences.
The decree signaled the end of massive Soviet purges.
Nevertheless, the practice of mass arrest and exile was continued until Stalin's death in 1953. Political executions also continued, but, with the exception of Katyn and other NKVD massacres during World War II, on a vastly smaller scale.
One notorious example is the "Night of the Murdered Poets", in which at least thirteen prominent Yiddish writers were executed on August 12, 1952.
Historians such as Michael Parrish have argued that while the Great Terror ended in 1938, a lesser terror continued in the 1940s.
In some cases, military officers arrested under Yezhov were later executed under Beria.
Some examples include Marshal of the Soviet Union A.I. Egorov, arrested in April 1938 and shot (or died from torture) in February 1939 (his wife, G.A. Egorova, was shot in August 1938); Army Commander I.F. Fed'ko, arrested July 1938 and shot February 1939; Flagman K.I. Dushenov, arrested May 1938 and shot February 1940; Komkor G.I. Bondar, arrested August 1938 and shot March 1939.
When the relatives of those who had been executed in 1937-38 inquired about their fate, they were told by NKVD that their arrested relatives had been sentenced to "ten years without the right of correspondence" (десять лет без права переписки).
When these ten-year periods elapsed in 1947-48 but the arrested did not appear, the relatives asked MGB about their fate again and this time were told that the arrested died in imprisonment.

Stalin's Role

A list from the Great Purge signed by Molotov, Stalin, Voroshilov, Kaganovich and Zhdanov
Historians with archival access have confirmed that Stalin was intimately involved in the terror. Theories about the elemental, spontaneous nature of the terror, about a loss of central control over the course of mass repression, and about the role of regional leaders in initiating the terror are simply not supported by the historical record.
Stalin personally directed Yezhov to torture those who were not making proper confessions.
In one instance, he told Yezhov "Isn’t it time to squeeze this gentleman and force him to report on his dirty little business? Where is he: in a prison or a hotel ?"
In another, while reviewing one of Yezhov's lists, he added to M. I. Baranov’s name, "beat, beat !"
In addition to authorizing torture, Stalin also signed 357 proscription lists in 1937 and 1938 which condemned to execution some 40,000 people, and about 90% of these are confirmed to have been shot.
While reviewing one such list, Stalin reportedly muttered to no one in particular: "Who's going to remember all this riff-raff in ten or twenty years time ? No one. Who remembers the names now of the boyars Ivan the Terrible got rid of ? No one."
Stalin's alleged remark may be compared with Hitler's famous admonition to his generals in 1939: "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians ?"

Number of People Executed

According to the declassified Soviet archives, during 1937 and 1938, the NKVD detained 1,548,366 victims, of whom 681,692 were shot - an average of 1,000 executions a day (in comparison, the Tsarists executed 3,932 persons for political crimes from 1825 to 1910 - an average of less than 1 execution per week).
Some experts believe the evidence released from the Soviet archives is understated, incomplete, or unreliable.
For example, Robert Conquest claims that the probable figure for executions during the years of the Great Purge is not 681,692, but some two and a half times as high.
He believes that the KGB was covering its tracks by falsifying the dates and causes of death of rehabilitated victims.
Historian Michael Ellman claims the best estimate of deaths brought about by Soviet repression during these two years ranges from 950,000 to 1.2 million, which includes deaths in detention and those who died shortly after being released from the Gulag, as a result of their treatment therein.


click below for information about