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Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2005

    Crimes of the Century

    This is an interesting and well researched work (which uses a large range of sources - recently released archives, private letters, memoirs, etc.) that focuses more on Stalin's 'hangmen' than the dictator himself. Feliks Dzierzynski, Viacheslav Menzhinsky, Genrikh Iagoda, Nikolai Ezhov, and Lavrenti Beria were the five heads of the secret police that propped up Stalin's criminal regime. This book, like many other recent books on Soviet terror (Koba the Dread, A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia, The Black Book of Communism, The Unknown Lenin, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, etc.), makes clear that the campaign of torture and mass murder that ravaged Russia started well before Stalin was in charge (Lenin himself had argued for the hangings of rich peasants, priests and landowners, so that the public could better contemplate the corpses). Dzierzynski formed the bloody Cheka immediately after the Bolshevik coup detat in 1917. This ruthless machine of terror unleashed a holocaust that destroyed hundreds of thousands of innocent lives during the Red Terror and Russian civil war. The atrocities recounted are indeed horrific, ranging from the shooting of all Moscow's Boy Scouts and the members of the lawn tennis club to the genocidal extermination of the Don Cossacks and the use of flamethrowers and machine guns on women and children. Not surprisingly, many Chekists went insane after torturing and killing so many people (similar to the Ensatzgruppen killers who went mad carrying out Hitler's 'war of extermination' in the East during 'Operation Barbarossa'). Saenko, a notorious sadist who worked in a special torture chamber in Kharkov, attacked his superiors and was shot. A Hungarian woman in the Kiev Cheka was consigned to a psychiatric ward after she began shooting not just prisoners but witnesses. While Dzierzynski himself had no problem ordering thousands to be executed, he didn't like killing people personally. He only did once - shooting a drunken sailor who was swearing at him. He had a convulsive fit afterwards (this reminds me of Hitler's hangman Heinrich Himmler nearly fainting after witnessing a mass execution). Menzhinsky, although not quite as notorious as the other four, was responsible for more deaths than any of them (ironic considering he never held a revolver or watched an execution). He was in charge of the OGPU and enforced Stalin's brutal policies of collectivization, dekulakization and forced famine in the early 30's, which obliterated an estimated 7.2 to 10.8 million human lives. At Stalin's behest he confiscated grain from starving regions and excess piles were left rotting in the rain. Thanks to Stalin's draconian 'of five ears of corn' law, starving peasants caught taking even a handful of grain were imprisoned or shot by the OGPU. Within a year 6,000 had been executed and tens of thousands imprisoned. The other three hangmen are somewhat better known. Iagoda, who came from a Polish Jewish family, called himself 'a guard dog on a chain.' It was on his initiative that the White Sea canal was constructed with the OGPU's political prisoners (forced laborers); the death toll was well over 100,000. Ezhov (aka 'the Bloody Dwarf,' 'Blackberry') carried out the bloodbath known as the 'Great Terror' of 1937-38, in which around 750,000 were executed and twice as many were sentenced to slow death in the camps. During this dark time the NKVD ran out of paper to record sentences and executions. Beria (aka 'Stalin's Himmler') was a depraved sadist who personally tortured and killed many people. He was also a sexual predator who was guilty of many rapes and of violating young girls. Surprisingly, as head of the NKVD from 1938-53 executions were reduced from the chaotic Ezhov years, but he still carried out some of Stalin's worst crimes: the deportations and massacres in the Baltic States, Western Ukraine and Poland during the Nazi-Soviet pact and the ethnic cleansing of minorities in the USSR - Volga German

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2011

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