Purge or the Great Terror (Russian: Большо́й
терро́р) was a campaign of political repression in the Soviet
Union which occurred from 1936 to 1938. It involved a large-scale
purge of the Communist Party and government officials, repression of
peasants and the
Red Army leadership, widespread police surveillance,
suspicion of "saboteurs", "counter-revolutionaries", imprisonment, and
arbitrary executions. In Russian historiography, the period of the
most intense purge, 1937–1938, is called Yezhovshchina (Russian:
Ежовщина; literally, "Yezhov phenomenon",[note 1] commonly
translated as "times of Yezhov" or "doings of Yezhov"), after Nikolai
Yezhov, the head of the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, who was
himself later killed in the purge. Mobile gas vans were used to
execute people without trial. It has been estimated that at
least 600,000 people died at the hands of the Stalin-led Soviet
government during the Purge.
In the Western world, Robert Conquest's 1968 book The Great Terror
popularized that phrase. Conquest's title was in turn an allusion to
the period called the
Reign of Terror
Reign of Terror during the French Revolution
(French: la Terreur, and, from June to July 1794, la Grande Terreur,
the Great Terror).
3 Moscow Trials
3.1 First and Second Moscow Trials
3.1.1 Dewey Commission
3.1.2 Implication of the Rightists
3.2 Third Moscow Trial
3.2.1 Bukharin's confession
Purge of the army
5 The wider purge
5.2 Ex-kulaks and other "anti-Soviet elements"
5.3 Campaigns targeting nationalities
5.4 Western émigré victims
5.5 Mongolian Great Purge
Xinjiang Great Purge
5.7 Timeline of the Great Purge
6 End of The Great Purge
7 Western reactions
9 Number of people executed
10 Stalin's role
11 Soviet investigation commissions
12 Mass graves and memorials
13 Historical interpretations
14 See also
16 References and further reading
17 External links
NKVD Order No. 00447
A list from the Great
Purge signed by Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovich,
Voroshilov, Mikoyan, and Chubar.
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 at the time, Joseph Stalin. The
purge was motivated by the desire to remove dissenters from the
Communist Party and to consolidate the authority of Stalin. Most
public attention was focused on the purge of certain parts 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. A series of NKVD
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, by the
Polish Military Organisation
Polish Military Organisation and, consequently, many
victims of the purge were ordinary Soviet citizens of Polish origin.
According to Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 speech, "On the Cult of
Personality 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 through
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
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.
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. The campaigns were carried out according to the general
line, and often by direct orders, of the Party
Politburo headed by
See also: Purges of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
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 mythical "fifth column of
wreckers, terrorists and spies." (Hagenloh, 2000; Shearer, 2003).
Leon Trotsky, in 1929, shortly before being driven out of the Soviet
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.
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. Following the Civil War and reconstruction of the Soviet
economy in the late 1920s, veteran Bolsheviks 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. This opposition to current leadership 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 ideology. This required the
elimination of all Marxists with different views, especially those
among the prestigious "old guard" of revolutionaries. As the purges
began, the government (through the NKVD) shot
Mikhail Tukhachevsky and Béla Kun, as well as the majority
of Lenin's Politburo, for disagreements in policy. The
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
Leningrad party leader
Sergei Kirov with Stalin (and his daughter
Svetlana) in 1934.
In 1934, Stalin used the murder of
Sergey Kirov as a pretext to launch
the Great Purge, in which about a million people perished (see
§ Number of people executed). 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
votes against, the fewest of any candidate, while Stalin received 292
votes against. 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.
Another justification for the purge was to remove any possible "fifth
column" in case of a war.
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. Stalin believed war was imminent, threatened both by an
explicitly hostile 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, especially during the
campaign commonly referred to as the Red Terror. This policy continued
and intensified under Stalin, periods of heightened repression
including the deportation of kulaks who opposed collectivization, and
a severe famine in Ukraine. 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, the 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 first Moscow Trial, 1936.
1937, introduction of
NKVD troikas for implementation of
1937, passage of Article 58-14 about "counter-revolutionary sabotage".
Main article: Moscow Trials
First and Second Moscow Trials
Bolshevik revolutionaries Leon Trotsky,
Lev Kamenev and Grigory
Between 1936 and 1938, three very large
Moscow Trials of former senior
Communist Party leaders were held, in which they were accused of
conspiring with fascist and capitalist powers to assassinate Stalin
and other Soviet leaders, dismember the
Soviet Union and restore
capitalism. These trials were highly publicized and extensively
covered by the outside world, which was mesmerized by the spectacle of
Lenin's closest associates confessing to most outrageous crimes and
begging for death sentences.
The first trial was of 16 members of the so-called
Bloc", held in August 1936, at which the chief
Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, two of the most
prominent former party leaders. Among other accusations, they were
incriminated with the assassination of
Sergey Kirov and plotting to
kill Stalin. After confessing to the charges, all
were sentenced to death and executed.
The second trial in January 1937 involved 17 lesser figures known as
the "anti-Soviet Trotskyite-centre" which included Karl Radek, Yuri
Piatakov and Grigory Sokolnikov, and were accused of plotting with
Trotsky, who was said to be conspiring with Germany. Thirteen of the
defendants were eventually executed by shooting. The rest received
sentences in labor camps where they soon died.
There was also a secret trial before a military tribunal of a group of
Red Army commanders, including Mikhail Tukhachevsky, in June 1937.
Andrey Vyshinsky (centre), reading the 1937
Karl Radek during the 2nd Moscow Trial
Some 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. The British lawyer and
Member of Parliament D.N. Pritt, for example, wrote: "Once again the
more faint-hearted socialists are beset with doubts and anxieties",
but "once again we can feel confident that when the smoke has rolled
away from the battlefield of controversy it will be realized that the
charge was true, the confessions correct and the prosecution fairly
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
OGPU officer Alexander Orlov and others,
the methods used to extract the confessions are known: such tortures
as repeated beatings, simulated drownings, 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.
Zinoviev and Kamenev demanded, as a condition for "confessing", a
direct guarantee from the
Politburo that their lives and that of their
families and followers would be spared. This offer was accepted, but
when they were taken to the alleged
Politburo meeting, only Stalin,
Kliment Voroshilov, and Yezhov were present. Stalin claimed that they
were the "commission" authorized by the
Politburo and gave assurances
that death sentences would not be carried out. After the trial, Stalin
not only broke his promise to spare the defendants, he had most of
their relatives arrested and shot.
The chief executioner of the NKVD, Vasili Blokhin, carried out some of
the high-profile executions during the purges.
In May 1937, the Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made against
Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials, commonly known as the Dewey
Commission, was set up in the United States by supporters of Trotsky,
to establish the truth about the trials. The commission was headed by
the noted American philosopher and educator John Dewey. Although the
hearings were obviously conducted with a view to proving Trotsky's
innocence, they brought to light evidence which established that some
of the specific charges made at the trials could not be true.
Georgy Pyatakov testified that he had flown to
December 1935 to "receive terrorist instructions" from Trotsky. The
Dewey Commission established that no such flight had taken place.
Another defendant, Ivan Smirnov, confessed to taking part in the
Sergei Kirov in December 1934, at a time when he had
already been in prison for a year.
Dewey Commission later published its findings in a 422-page book
titled Not Guilty. Its conclusions asserted the innocence of all those
condemned in the Moscow Trials. In its summary, the commission wrote:
"Independent of extrinsic evidence, the Commission finds:
That the conduct of the
Moscow Trials was such as to convince any
unprejudiced person that no attempt was made to ascertain the truth.
That while confessions are necessarily entitled to the most serious
consideration, the confessions themselves contain such inherent
improbabilities as to convince the Commission that they do not
represent the truth, irrespective of any means used to obtain them.
Trotsky never instructed any of the accused or witnesses in the
Moscow trials to enter into agreements with foreign powers against the
Soviet Union [and] that
Trotsky never recommended, plotted, or
attempted the restoration of capitalism in the USSR.
The commission concluded: "We therefore find the
Moscow Trials to be
Implication of the Rightists
In the second trial,
Karl Radek provided (or more accurately was
forced to provide) the pretext for greater purge to
come on a 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
By the "third organization", he meant the last remaining former
opposition group called the 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.
Third Moscow Trial
NKVD chiefs responsible for conducting mass repressions: Yakov
Agranov, Genrikh Yagoda, Stanislav Redens. All three were themselves
eventually arrested and executed
The third and final trial, in March 1938, known as The Trial of the
Twenty-One, is the most famous of the Soviet show trials, because of
persons involved and the scope of charges which tied together all
loose threads from earlier trials. Meant to be the culmination of
previous trials, it included 21 defendants alleged to belong to the
so-called "Bloc of Rightists and Trotskyites", led by Nikolai
Bukharin, the former chairman of the Communist International, former
premier Alexei Rykov, Christian Rakovsky,
Nikolai Krestinsky and
Genrikh Yagoda, recently disgraced head of the NKVD.
The fact that Yagoda was one of the accused showed the speed at which
the purges were consuming their own. It was now alleged that Bukharin
and others sought to assassinate
Lenin and Stalin from 1918, murder
Maxim Gorky by poison, partition the U.S.S.R and hand her territories
to Germany, Japan, and Great Britain, and other preposterous charges.
Even previously sympathetic observers who had stomached the earlier
trials found it harder to swallow these new allegations as they became
ever more absurd, and the purge expanded to include almost every
Bolshevik leader except Stalin. No other crime of the
Stalin years so captivated Western intellectuals as the trial and
execution of Bukharin, who was a Marxist theorist of international
standing. For some prominent communists such as Bertram Wolfe, Jay
Lovestone, Arthur Koestler, and Heinrich Brandler, the Bukharin trial
marked their final break with communism, and even turned the first
three into fervent anti-Communists eventually. To them,
Bukharin's confession symbolized the depredations of communism, which
not only destroyed its sons but also conscripted them in
self-destruction and individual abnegation.
The preparation for this trial, which took over a year, 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
Nikolai Bukharin, Russian
Bolshevik revolutionary executed in 1938
On the first day of trial, Krestinsky caused a sensation when he
repudiated his written confession and pleaded not guilty to all the
charges. However, he changed his plea the next day after "special
measures", which dislocated his left shoulder among other things.
Anastas Mikoyan and
Vyacheslav Molotov later claimed that Bukharin was
never tortured, but it is now known that his interrogators were given
the order, "beating permitted," and were under great pressure to
extract confession out of the "star" defendant. Bukharin initially
held out for three months, but threats to his young wife and infant
son, combined with "methods of physical influence" wore him down. But
when he read his confession amended and corrected personally by
Stalin, he withdrew his whole confession. The examination started all
over again, with a double team of interrogators.
Bukharin's confession in particular became subject of much debate
among Western observers, inspiring Koestler's acclaimed novel Darkness
at Noon and philosophical essay by
Maurice Merleau-Ponty in Humanism
and Terror. His confessions were somewhat different from others in
that while he pleaded guilty to "sum total of crimes", he denied
knowledge when it came to specific crimes. Some astute observers noted
that he would allow only what was in written confession and refuse to
go any further.
The result was a curious mix of fulsome confessions (of being a
"degenerate fascist" working for "restoration of capitalism") and
subtle criticisms of the trial. After disproving several charges
against him, one observer noted that Bukharin "proceeded to demolish
or rather showed he could very easily demolish the whole case." He
continued by saying that "the confession of the accused is not
essential. The confession of the accused is a medieval principle of
jurisprudence" in a trial that was solely based on confessions, he
finished his last plea with the words: "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."
Romain Rolland and others wrote to Stalin seeking clemency for Nikolai
Bukharin, but all the leading defendants were executed except Rakovsky
and two others (who were killed in
NKVD prisoner massacres in 1941).
Despite the promise to spare his family, Bukharin's wife, Anna Larina,
was sent to a labor camp, but she survived to see her husband
rehabilitated by the Soviet state under
Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988.
Purge of the army
Further information: Case of Trotskyist
The first five Marshals of the
Soviet Union in November 1935. (l-r):
Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Semyon Budyonny, Kliment Voroshilov, Vasily
Blyukher, Aleksandr Yegorov. Only Voroshilov and Budyonny survived the
The purge of the
Red Army and Military Maritime Fleet removed three of
five marshals (then equivalent to five-star generals), 13 of 15 army
commanders (then equivalent to three- and four-star generals), eight
of nine admirals (the purge fell heavily on the Navy, who were
suspected of exploiting their opportunities for foreign contacts),
50 of 57 army corps commanders, 154 out of 186 division commanders, 16
of 16 army commissars, and 25 of 28 army corps commissars.
At first it was thought 25–50% of
Red Army officers had been purged;
the true figure is now known to be in the area of 3.7–7.7%. This
discrepancy was the result of a systematic underestimation of the true
size of the
Red Army officer corps, and it was overlooked that most of
those purged were merely expelled from the Party. Thirty percent of
officers purged in 1937–39 were allowed to return to service.
The purge of the army was claimed to be supported by German-forged
documents (said to have been correspondence between Marshal
Tukhachevsky and members of the German high command). The claim is
unsupported by facts, as by the time the documents were supposedly
created, two people from the eight in the Tukhachevsky group were
already imprisoned, and by the time the document was said to reach
Stalin the purging process was already underway. However the actual
evidence introduced at trial was obtained from forced confessions.
The wider purge
Eventually almost all of the Bolsheviks who had played prominent roles
Russian Revolution of 1917, or in Lenin's Soviet
government, were executed. Out of six members of the original
Politburo during the 1917
October Revolution who lived until the Great
Purge, Stalin himself was the only one who remained in the Soviet
Union, alive. Four of the other five were executed. The fifth, Leon
Trotsky, had been forced into exile outside the
Soviet Union in 1929,
but was assassinated in Mexico by Soviet agent
Ramón Mercader in
1940. Of the seven members elected to the
Politburo between the
October Revolution and Lenin's death in 1924, four were executed, one
(Tomsky) committed suicide and two (Molotov and Kalinin) lived.
However, the trials and executions of the former
while being the most visible part, were only a minor part of the
purges. A series of documents discovered in the Central Committee
archives in 1992 by
Vladimir Bukovsky demonstrate that there were
quotas for arrests and executions as for all other activities in the
NKVD arrest photo of the poet Osip Mandelstam, who died in a
NKVD photo of writer
Isaac Babel made after his arrest.
Theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold's photo, taken at the time of his
Botanist Nikolai Vavilov's photo, taken at the time of his arrest.
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
Pianist Khadija Gayibova, executed in 1938.
Paleontologist and geologist Dmitrii Mushketov, executed in 1938.
Osip Mandelstam was arrested for reciting his famous anti-Stalin
Stalin Epigram to his circle of friends in 1934. After
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
"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 2 August 1938, Mandelstam was sentenced to five
years in correction camps and died on 27 December 1938 at a transit
camp near Vladivostok. 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."
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
André Malraux to spy for France. In the final
interrogation, he retracted his confession and wrote letters to the
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 27 January
1940, he was shot in Butyrka prison.
Boris Pilnyak was arrested on 28 October 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 21 April 1938. In the proceeding that lasted 15
minutes, he was condemned to death and executed shortly afterward.
Vsevolod Meyerhold was arrested in 1939 and shot in
February 1940 for "spying" for Japanese and British intelligence. His
wife, the actress Zinaida Raikh, was murdered in her apartment. In
a letter to
Vyacheslav Molotov dated 13 January 1940, Meyerhold 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.
Titsian Tabidze was arrested on 10 October 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 16 December 1937.
Tabidze's lifelong friend and fellow 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 was even forced 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 Iashvili with the alternatives of denouncing Tabidze or
being arrested and tortured by the NKVD, Iashvili killed himself.
In early 1937, poet Pavel Nikolayevich Vasiliev is said to have
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 16 July
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 19
June 1937, Sten was put to death in Lefortovo prison.
Nikolai Klyuev was arrested in 1933 for contradicting Soviet
ideology. He was shot in October 1937.
Russian linguist Nikolai Durnovo, born into the Durnovo noble family,
was executed on 27 October 1937. He created a classification of
Russian dialects that served as a base for modern scientific
Mari poet and playwright
Sergei Chavain was executed in
11 November 1937. The State prize of
Mari El is named after Chavain.
Ukrainian theater and movie director Les Kurbas, considered by many to
be the most important Ukrainian theater director of the 20th century,
was shot on 3 November 1937.
Russian writer and explorer
Maximilian Kravkov was arrested on a
charge of his alleged participation in the "Japanese-SR Terrorist
Subversive Espionage Organization". He was executed on 12 October
Esperanto writer and translator Nikolai Nekrasov was arrested
in 1938, and accused of being "an organizer and leader of a fascist,
espionage, terrorist organization of Esperantists". He was executed on
4 October 1938.
Playwright and avant-garde poet
Nikolay Oleynikov was arrested and
executed for "subversive writing" on 24 November 1937.
Yakut writer Platon Oyunsky, seen as one of the founders of modern
Yakut literature, died in prison in 1939.
Russian dramaturge Adrian Piotrovsky, responsible for creating the
synopsis for Sergei Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet, was executed
on 21 November 1937.
Boris Shumyatsky, de facto executive producer for the Soviet film
monopoly from 1930 to 1937, was executed as a "traitor" in 1938,
following a purge of the Soviet film industry.
Julian Shchutsky was convicted as a "Japanese spy" and
executed on 2 February 1938.
Russian linguist Nikolai Nevsky, an expert on a number of East Asian
languages, was arrested by the
NKVD on the charge of being a "Japanese
spy". On November 24, 1937 he was executed, along with his Japanese
wife Isoko Mantani-Nevsky.
Ukrainian drama writer
Mykola Kulish was executed on 3 November 1937.
He is considered to be one of the lead figures of Executed
Ex-kulaks and other "anti-Soviet elements"
On 2 July 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 30 July 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 extrajudicially, under the decisions of
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,
Yevgeny-Ludvig Karlovich Miller, one of the remaining leaders of the
White movement, was kidnapped by the
NKVD in 1937 and executed 19
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" (spetzpereselentsy) 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
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 (5 August 1937), regional
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 Yezhov on their own initiative: on 15
October 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 31
January 1938, Stalin ordered a further increase of 57,200, 48,000 of
whom were to be executed.
Memorial events in Bykovnya Graves reserve.
The police organized sweeps and round-ups of markets or railway
stations where marginals and other social outcasts were likely to be
found. To carry out a growing number of arrests, the State Security
NKVD – approximately 25,000 officers – were
supplemented by ordinary policemen, sometimes by civilian Party or
Komsomol (Young Communist League) members.
NKVD local unit had a "casework minimum" of arrests to perform,
and also of confessions to extract to "unmask conspiracies." The NKVD
used uninterrupted interrogation for days on end and merciless
beatings to force prisoners to confess their alleged
"counter-revolutionary" crimes. 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
After the interrogations the files were submitted to
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
camps. Death sentences were immediately enforceable. The executions
were carried out at night, either in prisons or in a secluded area run
NKVD and located as a rule on the outskirts of major
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.
Campaigns targeting nationalities
Polish-born Soviet politician Stanislav Kosior, a contributor to the
1932-33 famine in Ukraine, was executed in 1939.
A series of mass operations of the
NKVD was carried out from 1937
through 1938 until the Soviet invasion of
Poland in 1939 targeting
specific nationalities within the Soviet Union, based on NKVD
directives against the so-called diversionist element, according to
the notion of the "hostile capitalist surrounding" as defined by
Nikolai Yezhov. The Polish operation of the
NKVD was the largest of
this kind. Over 111,000 of arrested Poles were executed. Their
wives and children were dealt with by the
NKVD Order № 00486. The
women were sentenced to forced labour for 5 or 10 years. Their
minor children were put in orphanages. All possessions were
confiscated. Extended families were purposely left with nothing to
live on, which usually sealed their fate as well, affecting up to
200,000–250,000 people of Polish background depending on size of
NKVD national operations were conducted on a quota system using
album procedure. The officials were mandated to arrest and execute a
specific number of so-called "counter-revolutionaries," compiled by
administration using various statistics but also telephone books with
names sounding non-Russian. The Polish operation claimed the
largest number of the
NKVD victims: 143,810 arrests and 111,091
executions according to records. Snyder estimates that at least
eighty-five thousand of them were ethnic Poles. The remainder were
'suspected' of being Polish, without further inquiry.
Western émigré victims
Some victims of the terror were American immigrants to the Soviet
Union, who had emigrated at the height of the
Great Depression 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
Mongolian Great Purge
Main article: Stalinist repressions in Mongolia
Monument dedicated to the victims of the repressions in Ulaanbaatar,
During the late 1930s, Stalin dispatched
NKVD operatives to the
Mongolian People's Republic, established a Mongolian version of the
NKVD troika, and proceeded to execute tens of thousands of people
accused of having ties to "pro-Japanese spy rings." Buddhist lamas
made up the majority of victims, with 18,000 being killed in the
terror. Other victims were nobility and political and academic
figures, along with some ordinary workers and herders. Mass graves
containing hundreds of executed Buddhist monks and civilians have been
discovered as recently as 2003.
Xinjiang Great Purge
Xinjiang War (1937)
Xinjiang War (1937) and Sheng Shicai
The pro-Soviet leader
Sheng Shicai of
Xinjiang province in China
launched his own purge in 1937 to coincide with Stalin's Great Purge.
Xinjiang War (1937)
Xinjiang War (1937) broke out amid the purge. Sheng received
assistance from the NKVD. Sheng and the Soviets alleged a massive
Trotskyist conspiracy and a "Fascist Trotskyite plot" to destroy the
Soviet Union. The Soviet Consul General Garegin Apresoff, General Ma
Hushan, Ma Shaowu, Mahmud Sijan, the official leader of the Xinjiang
province Huang Han-chang and
Hoja-Niyaz were among the 435 alleged
conspirators in the plot.
Xinjiang became under virtual Soviet
control. Stalin opposed the Chinese Communist Party.
Sergei Korolev shortly after his arrest, 1938
Timeline of the Great Purge
Main article: Timeline of the Great Purge
Purge of 1936–1938 can be roughly divided into four
October 1936 – February 1937
Reforming the security organizations, adopting official plans on
purging the elites.
March 1937 – June 1937
Purging the elites; adopting plans for the mass repressions against
the "social base" of the potential aggressors, starting of purging the
"elites" from opposition.
July 1937 – October 1938
Mass repressions against "kulaks", "dangerous" ethnic minorities,
family members of oppositionists, military officers, saboteurs in
agriculture and industry.
November 1938 – 1939
Stopping of mass operations, abolishing of many organs of
extrajudicial executions, repressions against some organizers of mass
End of The Great Purge
In this famous image,
Nikolai Yezhov is shown with Voroshilov,
Molotov, and Stalin inspecting the White Sea Canal. The image was
later altered to remove Yezhov completely.
In the summer of 1938 Yezhov was relieved from his post as head of the
NKVD and was eventually tried and executed. Lavrentiy Beria, a fellow
Georgian and Stalin confidant, succeeded him as head of NKVD. On 17
November 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 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 12 August 1952. Historians such as Michael Parrish
have argued that while the Great Terror ended in 1938, a lesser terror
continued in the 1940s.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (a Soviet Army
officer who became a prisoner for a decade in the
presents in The
Gulag Archipelago the most holistic view of the
timeline of all the Leninist and Stalinist purges (1918–1956), in
which the 1936–38 purge may have been simply the one that got the
most attention from people in a position to record its magnitude for
posterity—the intelligentsia—by directly targeting them, whereas
several other waves of the ongoing flow of purges, such as the
1928–33 collectivization and dekulakization, were just as huge and
just as devoid of justice but were more successfully swallowed into
oblivion in the popular memory of the (surviving) Soviet public.
For example, in one such passage Solzhenitsyn mentions 1938 and says
that 1948 was in some ways hardly better.
In some cases, high military command arrested under Yezhov were later
executed under Beria. Some examples include Marshal of the Soviet
Union Alexander Yegorov, arrested in April 1938 and shot (or died from
torture) in February 1939 (his wife, G. A. Yegorova, was shot in
August 1938); Army Commander Ivan Fedko, arrested July 1938 and shot
February 1939; Flagman Konstantin Dushenov (ru), arrested May
1938 and shot February 1940; Komkor G. I. Bondar, arrested August 1938
and shot March 1939. All the aforementioned have been posthumously
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
Although the trials of former Soviet leaders were widely publicized,
the hundreds of thousands of other arrests and executions were not.
These became known in the West only as a few former gulag inmates
reached the West with their stories. Not only did foreign
correspondents from the West fail to report on the purges, but in many
Western nations (especially France), attempts were made to silence or
discredit these witnesses; according to Robert Conquest, Jean-Paul
Sartre took the position that evidence of the camps should be ignored
so the French proletariat would not be discouraged. A series of
legal actions ensued at which definitive evidence was presented that
established the validity of the former labor camp inmates'
Robert Conquest in his 1968 book The Great Terror:
Purge of the Thirties, with respect to the trials of former
leaders, some Western observers were unable to see through the
fraudulent nature of the charges and evidence, notably Walter Duranty
of The New York Times, a Russian speaker; the American Ambassador,
Joseph E. Davies, who reported, "proof...beyond reasonable doubt to
justify the verdict of treason" and Beatrice and Sidney Webb,
authors of Soviet Communism: A New Civilization. While "Communist
Parties everywhere simply transmitted the Soviet line", some of the
most critical reporting also came from the left, notably The
Manchester Guardian. The American journalist H. R. Knickerbocker
also reported on the executions. He called them in 1941 "the great
purges", and described how over four years they affected "the top
fourth or fifth, to estimate it conservatively, of the Party itself,
of the Army, Navy, and Air Force leaders and then of the new Bolshevik
intelligentsia, the foremost technicians, managers, supervisors,
scientists". Knickerbocker also wrote about dekulakization: "It is a
conservative estimate to say that some 5,000,000 [kulaks] ... died at
once, or within a few years."
Evidence and the results of research began to appear after Stalin's
death. This revealed the full enormity of the Purges. The first of
these sources were the revelations of Nikita Khrushchev, which
particularly affected the American editors of the Communist Party USA
newspaper, the Daily Worker, who, following the lead of The New York
Times, published the Secret Speech in full.
Main article: Rehabilitation (Soviet)
Posthumously rehabilitated, Tukhachevsky on a 1963 postage stamp of
the Soviet Union
Purge was denounced by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev
following Stalin's death. In his secret speech to the 20th CPSU
congress in February 1956 (which was made public a month later),
Khrushchev referred to the purges as an "abuse of power" by Stalin
which resulted in enormous harm to the country. In the same speech, he
recognized that many of the victims were innocent and were convicted
on the basis of false confessions extracted by torture. To take that
position was politically useful to Khrushchev, as he was at that time
engaged in a power struggle with rivals who had been associated with
the Purge, the so-called Anti-Party Group. The new line on the Great
Purges undermined their power, and helped propel him to the
Chairmanship of the Council of Ministers. Starting from 1954, some of
the convictions were overturned.
Mikhail Tukhachevsky and other
generals convicted in the Trial of
Red Army Generals were declared
innocent ("rehabilitated") in 1957. The former
Politburo members Yan
Stanislav Kosior and many lower-level victims were also
declared innocent in the 1950s.
Nikolai Bukharin and others convicted
Moscow Trials were not rehabilitated until as late as 1988.
Leon Trotsky, considered a major player in the
Russian Revolution and
a major contributor to
Marxist Theory was never rehabilitated by the
USSR. The book Rehabilitation: The Political Processes of the
1930s–50s (Реабилитация. Политические
процессы 30-50-х годов) (1991) contains a large amount
of newly presented original archive material: transcripts of
interrogations, letters of convicts, and photos. The material
demonstrates in detail how numerous show trials were fabricated.
Number of people executed
According to the declassified Soviet archives, during 1937 and 1938,
NKVD detained 1,548,366 persons, 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).
NKVD statistics, from July 1937 to November 1938, 335,513
persons were sentenced by troikas in the course of the implementation
of the National Operations. Among them, 247,157 (or 73.6%) were
executed by shooting.
Several experts believe the evidence released from the Soviet archives
is understated, incomplete, or unreliable. For example,
Robert Conquest claimed 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 and cited a figure of 1,750,000 given by both the Head
of the Russian Archives and a spokesman for the Security Ministry. He
believes that the
KGB was covering its tracks by falsifying the dates
and causes of death of rehabilitated victims. A common practice
of falsification for lowering the execution numbers was disguising
executions with the sentence ten years without the right of
correspondence. All of the bodies identified from the mass graves at
Kuropaty were of individuals who had received this
sentence. However, the lower figure did roughly confirm Conquest's
original 1968 estimate of 700,000 "legal" executions and in the
preface to the 40th anniversary edition of The Great Terror, Conquest
claimed that he had been "correct on the vital matter—the numbers
put to death: about one million." Australian historian Stephen G.
Wheatcroft, by contrast, says that prior to the opening of the
archives for historical research, "our understanding of the scale and
the nature of Soviet repression has been extremely poor" and that some
specialists who wish to maintain earlier high estimates of the
Stalinist death toll are "finding it difficult to adapt to the new
circumstances when the archives are open and when there are plenty of
irrefutable data" and instead "hang on to their old Sovietological
methods with round-about calculations based on odd statements from
emigres and other informants who are supposed to have superior
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. He also states that this is the estimate historians
and teachers of Russian history should use. Soviet Professor Iosif
G. Dyadkin estimated 1.42 million unnatural deaths were brought about
by the Great
Purge during 1937–1938 in his demographic study on
unnatural deaths in the
Soviet Union under Stalin. Jonathan Brent
and Vladimir P. Naumov were less specific simply saying "Millions
perished in the Yezhovshchina."
The extent of the Great
Purge has been questioned by revisionist
scholars in the West, especially after the (partial) opening of the
relevant Soviet files of the period in the early 1990s.
Jerry F. Hough claims, regarding the numbers executed in the Great
Purge, "a figure in the low hundreds of thousands seems much more
probable than one in the high hundreds" and that a lower figure of
only "tens of thousands" was "even probable". Sheila Fitzpatrick
also placed the numbers executed in the "low hundreds of
Robert W. Thurston allows for 681,692 executions.
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. Russian historian Oleg V. Khlevniuk
states "…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 some cases Stalin would personally help Yezhov torture
prisoners. Witnesses say his hands were often stained with blood.
In addition to authorizing torture, Stalin also signed 357 lists in
1937 and 1938 authorizing executions of 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
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?"
Stephen G. Wheatcroft posits that while the 'purposive deaths' caused
by Hitler constitute 'murder', those caused by Stalin fall into the
category of 'execution'. He elaborates:
Stalin undoubtedly caused many innocent people to be executed, but it
seems likely that he thought many of them guilty of crimes against the
state and felt that the execution of others would act as a deterent to
the guilty. He signed the papers and insisted on documentation.
Hitler, by contrast, wanted to be rid of the Jews and communists
simply because they were Jews and communists. He was not concerned
about making any pretence at legality. He was careful not to sign
anything on this matter and was equally insistent on no
Soviet investigation commissions
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Opening of monument to victims of political repressions, Moscow, 1990
At least two Soviet commissions investigated the show-trials after
Stalin's death. The first was headed by Molotov and
included Voroshilov, Kaganovich, Suslov, Furtseva, Shvernik, Aristov,
Pospelov, and Rudenko. They were given the task to investigate the
materials concerning Bukharin, Rykov, Zinoviev, Tukhachevsky, and
others. The commission worked in 1956–1957. While stating that the
accusations against Tukhachevsky et al. should be abandoned, it failed
to fully rehabilitate the victims of the three Moscow trials, although
the final report does contain an admission that the accusations have
not been proven during the trials and "evidence" had been produced by
lies, blackmail, and "use of physical influence". Bukharin, Rykov,
Zinoviev, and others were still seen as political opponents, and
though the charges against them were obviously false, they could not
have been rehabilitated because "for many years they headed the
anti-Soviet struggle against the building of socialism in USSR".
The second commission largely worked from 1961 to 1963 and was headed
by Shvernik ("Shvernik Commission"). It included Shelepin, Serdyuk,
Mironov, Rudenko, and Semichastny. The hard work resulted in two
massive reports, which detailed the mechanism of falsification of the
show-trials against Bukharin, Zinoviev, Tukhachevsky, and many others.
The commission based its findings in large part on eyewitness
testimonies of former
NKVD workers and victims of repressions, and on
many documents. The commission recommended rehabilitating every
accused with the exceptions of Radek and Yagoda, because Radek's
materials required some further checking, and Yagoda was a criminal
and one of the falsifiers of the trials (though most of the charges
against him had to be dropped too, he was not a "spy", etc.). The
Stalin committed a very grave crime against the Communist party, the
Soviet people and worldwide revolutionary movement...
Together with Stalin, the responsibility for the abuse of law, mass
unwarranted repressions and death of many thousands of wholly innocent
people also lies on Molotov, Kaganovich, Malenkov....
Mass graves and memorials
Main article: Mass graves in the Soviet Union
In the late 1980s, with the formation of the
Memorial Society and
similar organisations across the
Soviet Union it became possible not
only to speak about the Great Terror, but also to begin locating the
killing grounds of 1937-1938 and identifying those who lay buried
In 1988, for instance, the mass graves at
Kurapaty in Belarus were the
site of a clash between demonstrators and the police. In 1990, a
boulder stone was brought from the former
Solovki prison camp
Solovki prison camp in the
White Sea, and erected next to
KGB headquarters in Moscow as a
memorial to all "the victims of political repression" since 1917.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, many more mass graves
filled with executed victims of the terror were discovered and turned
into memorial sites. Some, such as the killing
Bykivnia near Kiev, are said to contain up to 200,000
corpses.[better source needed]
In 2007, one such site, the
Butovo firing range
Butovo firing range near Moscow, was
turned into a shrine to the victims of Stalinism. Between August 1937
and October 1938, more than 20,000 people were shot and buried
On 30 October 2017, President Vladimir Putin opened the Wall of
Sorrow, an official but controversial recognition of the crimes of the
Kuropaty mass grave site near Minsk, Belarus
Memorial cemetery Krasny Bor near Petrozavodsk, Russia
Memorial to Polish victims of Stalinist repression, Tomsk, Russia
Monument to victims of political repressions in Donetsk, Ukraine
Memorial to victims of Stalinist repression in Tomsk, Russia
Purge has provoked numerous debates about its purpose, scale
and mechanisms. According to one interpretation, Stalin's regime had
to maintain its citizens in a state of fear and uncertainty to stay in
power (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. Some others 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).
Index of Soviet Union-related articles
History of the Soviet Union
History of the Soviet Union (1927–53)
Armenian victims of the Great Purge
Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries
Doctors' plot, a 1952–53 purge directed against mostly Jewish
doctors, officials and others.
Night of the Murdered Poets, the 1952 execution of thirteen Soviet
Jews arrested in 1948–49.
Soviet repression in Belarus
^ According to the dictionary (Т.Ф. Ефремова Новый
словарь русского языка. Толково-
словообразовательный), the suffix -shchina in this
case produces a word which refers to some kind of phenomenon
associated with the word to which the suffix is attached. Quote: "1.
образующая имена существительные
женского рода, которые обозначают
бытовое или общественное явление,
идейное или политическое течение,
Juraj Sipko (Sipko J. Etnopsyholingvisticke predpoklady
slovensko-ruskych a rusko-slovenskych porovnavani, Presov, 2003)
comparing Russian and Slovak languages, points out that in Russian the
suffix -shchina (in meaning 1 given by Efremova) most commonly bears
openly negative or derisive connotations.
^ a b c Gellately 2007.
^ Figes 2007, pp. 227–315.
^ Yevgenia Albats, KGB: The State Within a State. 1995, page 101
^ Robert Gellately. Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social
Catastrophe. Knopf, 2007 ISBN 1-4000-4005-1 p. 460
^ Catherine Merridale. Night of Stone: Death and Memory in
Twentieth-Century Russia. Penguin Books, 2002 ISBN 0-14-200063-9
^ a b c Communism: A History (Modern Library Chronicles) by Richard
Pipes, pg 67
^ a b Life and Terror in Stalin's Russia: 1934–1941. – book
reviews[dead link] by Robert Conquest, 1996, National Review
^ a b Soviet Repression Statistics: Some Comments by Michael Ellman,
^ "Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reassessment: 40th Anniversary
Edition, Oxford University Press, USA, 2007. p. 339"
^ Helen Rappaport (1999). Joseph Stalin: A Biographical Companion.
ABC-CLIO. p. 110. ISBN 1576070840. Retrieved 29 September
^ Conquest 2008, pp. 250, 257–8.
^ Conquest 2008, p. 121 which cites his secret speech.
^ Conquest 2008, p. 286.
^ Merridale 2002, p. 200.
^ Colton 1998, p. 286.
^ a b Werth, Nicolas. "Case Study:The
NKVD Mass Secret Operation n°
00447 (August 1937 – November 1938)". Mass Violence and Resistance
– Research Network.
^ Andrew & Mitrokhin 2000, pp. 86–7.
^ a b Conquest 1987, pp. 122–38.
^ Figes 2007, p. 239.
^ Robert Gellately, Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social
Catastrophe, 2007, Knopf, 720 pages. ISBN 1-4000-4005-1
^ McLoughlin & McDermott 2002, p. 6.
^ Rogovin (1998), pp. 17–18
^ a b Rogovin (1998), pp. 36–38
^ Conquest 2008, p. 87.
^ Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. Basic
Books, 2010. ISBN 0-465-00239-0 p. 137
^ Snyder 2010, p. 137.
^ Dewey, John (2008). Not guilty : report of the Commission of
Inquiry Into the Charges Made Against
Leon Trotsky in the Moscow
Trials. 1859-1952. New York: Sam Sloan and Ishi Press International.
pp. 154–155. ISBN 0923891315. OCLC 843206645.
^ a b British Embassy Report: Viscount Chilston to Mr. Eden, 6
^ Conquest 2008, p. 164.
^ a b Corey Robin, "Fear", Page 96
^ Bertram David Wolfe, "Breaking with communism", p. 10
^ Koestler 1940, p. 258.
^ Conquest 2008, p. 352.
^ Conquest 2008, p. 364–5.
^ Report by Viscount Chilston (British ambassador) to Viscount
Halifax, No.141, Moscow, 21 March 1938
^ Robert Tucker, "Report of Court Proceedings in the Case of the
Anti-Soviet "Block of Rights and Trotskyites", Pg.667–68
^ Conquest 2008, p. 211.
^ Courtois 1999, p. 198.
^ Stephen Lee, European Dictatorships 1918–1945, page 56.
^ Conquest 2008, pp. 198–9 (a Soviet book, Marshal
Tukhachevskiy by Nikulin, pp. 189–94 is cited).
^ Conquest 2008, p. 200–2.
^ The Bukovsky Archives, "A Quota for Killings".
^ Conquest 2008, p. 295.
^ N.N.: Osip Emilevich Mandelstam, PoemHunter.com. URL. Retrieved 20
^ Caxtonian, Collecting Mandelstam, November 2006
^ Robert C. Tucker, "Stalin in Power", Page 445
^ a b c The Independent, "The History of Hell", 8 January 1995
^ Kern, Gary. A Death in Washington: Walter G. Krivitsky and the
Stalin Terror. Enigma Books, 2003. ISBN 1-929631-14-6 pg 111
^ Tarkhan-Mouravi, George (19 January 1997), 70 years of Soviet
Georgia. Retrieved 14 May 2007.
^ Suny, Ronald Grigor (1994), The Making of the Georgian Nation: 2nd
edition, p. 272. Indiana University Press, ISBN 0-253-20915-3
^ Tarkhan-Mouravi, George (19 January 1997), 70 years of Soviet
^ Conquest 2008, p. 301.
^ Roy Medvedev, "Let history judge", p. 438
^ "Biography of Nikolai Durnovo" (in Russian).
^ Nicolas WerthCase Study:The
NKVD Mass Secret Operation n° 00447
(August 1937 – November 1938)
^ Nicolas WerthCase Study:The
NKVD Mass Secret Operation n° 00447
(August 1937 – November 1938)
^ Figes 2007, p. 240.
^ a b Snyder 2010, pp. 103–4.
^ a b Michał Jasiński (2010-10-27). "Zapomniane ludobójstwo
stalinowskie (The forgotten Stalinist genocide)". Gliwicki klub Fondy.
Czytelnia. Archived from the original on 23 March 2012 – via
Internet Archive. CS1 maint: Unfit url (link)
^ Courtois 1999.
^ Н.В.Петров, А.Б.Рогинский. "Польская
операция" НКВД 1937–1938 гг. (in Russian). НИПЦ
«Мемориал». Retrieved May 27, 2012. Original title: О
диверсионной, пораженческой и
польской разведки в СССР
^ Tim Tzouliadis. Nightmare in the workers paradise BBC, 2 August 2008
John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr. American Communists and Radicals
Executed by Soviet Political Police and Buried at
to in Denial: Historians, Communism and Espionage).
^ Haynes & Klehr 2003, p. 117.
^ Kuromiya 2007, p. 2.
^ Christopher Kaplonski, Thirty thousand bullets, in: Historical
Injustice and Democratic Transition in Eastern Asia and Northern
Europe, London 2002, p.155-168
^ Mass grave uncovered in Mongolia RTÉ News, Thursday, 12 June 2003
^ Allen S. Whiting and General Sheng Shicai. " Sinkiang: Pawn or
Pivot? " Michigan State University Press, 1958
^ Andrew D. W. Forbes (1986). Warlords and Muslims in Chinese Central
Asia: a political history of Republican Sinkiang 1911–1949.
Cambridge, England: CUP Archive. pp. 151, 376.
ISBN 0-521-25514-7. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
^ N.G. Okhotin, A.B. Roginsky "Great Terror": Brief Chronology
^ Parrish 1996, p. 32.
^ Solzhenitsyn 1973.
^ Parrish 1996, p. 33.
^ "Московский мартиролог". memo.ru.
^ Conquest 2008, pp. 472–3.
^ Conquest 2008, p. 472.
^ Conquest 2008, p. 472–4.
^ Conquest 2008, p. 468.
^ Conquest 2008, p. 469.
^ Conquest 2008, p. 465, 467.
^ Knickerbocker, H.R. (1941). Is Tomorrow Hitler's? 200 Questions on
the Battle of Mankind. Reynal & Hitchcock. pp. 133–134.
^ On Leaving the Communist Party by Howard Fast, 16 November 1957
NKVD Mass Secret National Operations (August 1937 - November
1938) Nicolas Werth, Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, published
on 20 May 2010, accessed 1 January 2014, ISSN 1961-9898
Stalinism in Post-Communist Perspective: New Evidence on Killings,
Forced Labour and Economic Growth in the 1930s by Steven Rosefielde,
1996. See also: Documented Homicides and Excess Deaths: New Insights
into the Scale of Killing in the USSR during the 1930s. Communist and
Post-Communist Studies, Vol. 30, No. 3, pp 321–333, 1997. University
^ Comment on Wheatcroft by Robert Conquest, 1999
^ Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum, pg 584
^ Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reassessment: 40th Anniversary
Edition, Oxford University Press, USA, 2007. p. 287
^ Robert Conquest, Preface, The Great Terror: A Reassessment: 40th
Anniversary Edition, Oxford University Press, USA, 2007. p. xvi
^ Wheatcroft 1996, p. 1330.
^ Wheatcroft 2000, pp. 1143–1159.
^ Iosif G. Dyadkin, Unnatural Deaths in the USSR, 1928–1954, 1983,
^ "Jonathan Brent and Vladimir P. Naumov, Stalin's Last Crime: The
Plot Against the Jewish Doctors, 1948-1953, HarperCollins Publishers,
USA, 2003. p. 174"
^ Haynes & Klehr 2003, pp. 15–7.
^ John Keep. Recent Writing on Stalin's Gulag: An Overview. 1997
^ Rosefielde 2009, pp. 173–213.
^ a b Haynes & Klehr 2003, p. 17.
^ Haynes & Klehr 2003, p. 23–24.
^ Oleg V. Khlevniuk. Master of the House: Stalin and His Inner Circle.
Yale University Press, 2008. ISBN 0-300-11066-9 p. xix
^ a b Marc Jansen, Nikita Vasilʹevich Petrov. Stalin's Loyal
Commissar Nikolai Ezhov, 1895–1940. Hoover
Institution Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8179-2902-9 p. 111
^ Michael Ellman, Stalin and the Soviet Famine of 1932–33 Revisited
Europe-Asia Studies, Routledge. Vol. 59, No. 4, June 2007, 663–693.
^ Quoted in Dmitri Volkogonov, Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy (New York,
1991), pg 210.
Richard J. Evans
Richard J. Evans (4 November 2010). "Who remembers the Poles?".
London Review of Books. 32 (21). Retrieved 4 February 2012.
^ Wheatcroft 1996, p. 1348.
^ "Pictorial essay: Death trenches bear witness to Stalin's purges"
CNN, 17 July 1997
^ "Mass grave found at Ukrainian monastery", BBC, 12 July 2002
^ "Wary of its past, Russia ignores mass grave site", by Fred Weir,
The Christian Science Monitor, 10 October 2002
^ Stalin-era mass grave yields tons of bones Reuters. 9 June 2010
^ "WAR STATS REDIRECT". erols.com.
^ "Former Killing Ground Becomes Shrine to Stalin’s Victims" by
Sophia Kishkovsky, The New York Times, 8 June 2007
References and further reading
Andrew, Christopher; Mitrokhin, Vasili (2000) . The Sword and
the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB.
New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-00312-9.
A. Artizov, Yu. Sigachev, I. Shevchuk, V. Khlopov under editorship of
acad. A. N. Yakovlev. Rehabilitation: As It Happened. Documents of the
CPSU CC Presidium and Other Materials. Vol. 2, February 1956–Early
1980s. Moscow, 2003.
Chase, William J. (2001). Enemies within the Gates?: The Comintern and
the Stalinist Repression, 1934–1939. New Haven, CT: Yale University
Press. ISBN 0-300-08242-8.
Colton, Timothy J. (1998). Moscow: Governing the Socialist Metropolis.
Belknap Press. ISBN 0-674-58749-9.
Conquest, Robert (1973) . The Great Terror: Stalin's
the Thirties (Revised ed.). London: Macmillan.
Conquest, Robert (1987). Stalin and the Kirov Murder. New York: Oxford
University Press. ISBN 0-19-505579-9.
Conquest, Robert (2008) . The Great Terror: A Reassessment.
Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-531700-8.
Courtois, Stéphane (1999). The Black
Book of Communism: Crimes,
Terror, Repression. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Figes, Orlando (2007). The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's
Russia. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0-7139-9702-6.
Gellately, Robert (2007). Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social
Catastrophe. Knopf. ISBN 1-4000-4005-1.
Haynes, John Earl; Klehr, Harvey (2003). In Denial: Historians,
Communism, and Espionage. Encounter Books.
Hoffman, David L., ed. (2003). Stalinism: The Essential Readings.
Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 0-631-22890-X.
Ilic, Melanie, ed. (2006). Stalin's Terror Revisited. Basingstoke:
Karlsson, Klas-Göran; Schoenhals, Michael (2008). Crimes against
humanity under communist regimes – Research review (PDF). Forum for
Living History. ISBN 978-91-977487-2-8. Archived from the
original (PDF) on 2010-08-24.
Koestler, Arthur (1940). Darkness at Noon.
Kuromiya, Hiroaki (2007). The Voices of the Dead: Stalin's Great
Terror in the 1930s. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Lyons, Eugene (1937). Assignment in Utopia. Harcourt Brace and
McLoughlin, Barry; McDermott, Kevin (2002). Stalin's Terror: High
Politics and Mass Repression in the Soviet Union. Basingstoke:
Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-0119-8.
Merridale, Catherine (2002). Night of Stone: Death and Memory in
Twentieth-Century Russia. London: Penguin.
Naimark, Norman M. (2010). Stalin's Genocides (Human Rights and Crimes
against Humanity). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Parrish, Michael (1996). The Lesser Terror: Soviet state security,
1939–1953. Westport, CT: Praeger Press.
Rogovin, Vadim (1996). Two Lectures: Stalin's Great Terror: Origins
Leon Trotsky and the Fate of Marxism in the USSR.
Mehring books. ISBN 0-929087-83-6.
Rogovin, Vadim (1998). 1937: Stalin's Year of Terror. Mehring Books.
Rosefielde, Steven (2009). Red Holocaust. London: Routledge.
Snyder, Timothy (2005). Sketches from a Secret War: A Polish Artist's
Mission to Liberate Soviet Ukraine. New Haven, CT: Yale University
Press. ISBN 978-0-300-10670-1.
Snyder, Timothy (2010). Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.
New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-00239-0 – via Google
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I. (1973). The
Gulag Archipelago, 1918–1956:
In Three Volumes. New York: Harper and Row.
Thurston, Robert (1998) . Life and Terror in Stalin's Russia,
1934–1941. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Tzouliadis, Tim (2008). The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's
Russia. London: Penguin. ISBN 1-59420-168-4.
Wheatcroft, Stephen (1996). "The Scale and Nature of German and Soviet
Repression and Mass Killings, 1930–45" (PDF). Europe-Asia Studies.
48 (8): 1319–1353. doi:10.1080/09668139608412415.
Wheatcroft, Stephen (2000). "The Scale and Nature of Stalinist
Repression and its Demographic Significance: On Comments by Keep and
Conquest" (PDF). Europe-Asia Studies. 52 (6): 1143–1159.
Yakovlev, Alexander N., ed. (1991). Реабилитация.
Политические процессы 30-50-х годов
[Rehabilitation: Political Trials of the 1930s–50s]. Moscow:
Yakovlev, Alexander N. (2004) . A Century of Violence in Soviet
Russia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Eternal Memory: Voices from the Great Terror. 1997. 81 minute
documentary film directed by Pultz, David. Narrated by Meryl Streep.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Great Purge.
The Case of Bukharin—Transcript of Nikolai Bukharin's testimonies
and last plea; from "The Case of the
Anti-Soviet Block of Rights and
Trotskyites", Red Star Press, 1973, pages 369–439, 767–779
Actual video footage from Third Moscow Trial on YouTube
Nicolas Werth Case Study: The
NKVD Mass Secret Operation n° 00447
(August 1937 – November 1938)
"Documenting the Death Toll: Research into the Mass Murder of
Foreigners in Moscow, 1937–38" by Barry McLoughlin, American
Historical Association, 1999
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