Saturday 6 October 2007.

Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him by Donald Rayfield (Digest de ce livre )

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. There were female Cheka killers who were just as sadistic as their male counterparts. Vera Grebeniukova (aka Dora) in two months mutilated 700 prisoners before shooting them. Rozalia Zemliachka and her lover Bela Kun murdered 50,000 White officers (with Lenin’s approval). They were tied in pairs to planks and burned alive in furnaces; or drowned in barges that she sank offshore. Cheka murderers also included convicts, such as Irovsky, the murderer of the Tsar and his family and Johnston, the sole black in the Cheka, who enjoyed flaying his victims alive. 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 Germans, Kalmyks, Karachai, Ingush, Crimean Taters, Chechens - accused of "collaboration" with the Germans. When the population couldn’t be deported, they were sometimes killed. In one incident at Khainakh, one of Beria’s henchmen, Mikeil Gvishiani, locked several hundred villagers, from newborn babies to men over 100, in stables and set fire to them, gunning down those who broke out.

Rayfield points to a disturbing trend in Russia today. Unlike in Germany, where Nazi hangmen are universally condemned and even denying the Holocaust is punishable by prison time, Russia seems to be glorifying its genocidal killers. The mayor of Moscow has proposed restoring the statue of Feliks Dzierzynski in front of the Lubianka. In 2002 the Russian post office issued a set of stamps: "The 80th Anniversary of Soviet counterintelligence." The stamps include portraits of Sergei Puzitsky, who organized the mass murder of 500,000 Cossacks in 1931; Vladimir Styrne, who butchered thousands of Uzbeks in the 1920’s; Vsevolod Balitsky, a torturer and rapist who purged the Ukraine and enslaved the peasantry. This received little comment abroad. World reaction would have been much different had Germany issued stamps of Heinrich Himmler’s or Reinhard Heydrich’s minions. It’s because of this shameless double standard in atrocity that books such as this one are so important. Otherwise the crimes against humanity committed by Stalin and his hangmen, which are indeed some of the worst in human existence, might vanish into history’s black hole. Somebody once said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Looking at Putin’s actions in Russia and Chechnya today it seems that’s exactly what’s happening.


-   Red Terror in Russia (4-4) by Serge Petrovich Melgunov

The Bolshevik Bloodbath, 9 Jul 2005 This book was written by Russian historian and emigre Sergey Petrovich Melgounov during the years 1923 and 1924 and he thoroughly documents the gruesome tortures and mass murders committed by the Bolshevik "Extraordinary Commission" (Che-Ka) during the so-called "Red Terror." There are 15 photographs depicting murder victims, the murderers themselves (including women) and other niceties such as "human gloves" (flayings of human hands) and an execution cell floor "littered with chips of skull, clots of brain, etc." The atrocities described within are so depraved and inhuman that it defies the imagination. One of the most bizarre examples of torture was practiced by the Kiev Che-Ka. After a victim was bound, an iron tube was clamped to his torso and then a rat was inserted into the other end and closed off with wire netting. The tube was then held over a flame until the rat became so maddened that it began gnawing through the victim’s guts in an effort to escape the heat. This torture could last for hours - sometimes all through the night into the following day, and in any event until the victim died. This is just the tip of the iceberg. In pursuit of utopia and their glorious ’new’ world, the Communists felt any amount of barbarism was justified, which is why they set the record for mass murder in the 20th century, sending nearly 100 million people to their deaths.