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Nikolai Yezhov

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Nikolai Yezhov
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| term_start2 = 27 January 1937| term_end2 = 25 November 1938| predecessor2 =| successor2 =NKVD>People's Commissar for Internal Affairs| term_start1 = 26 September 1936| term_end1 = 25 November 1938Ministers of Internal Affairs. Ministry of the Russian Federation. accessed 17 July 2017| predecessor1 = Genrikh Yagoda| successor1 = Lavrentiy BeriaPeople's Commissariat for Water Transport>People's Commissar for Water Transport| term_start = 8 April 1938| term_end = 9 April 1939| predecessor = Nikolay Pakhomov| successor = None (position abolished)17th Politburo of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)>17th Politburo| term_start3 = 12 October 1937| term_end3 = 3 March 1939|birth_name=Nikolai Ivanovich Yezhov17th Politburo and the 17th Secretariat of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)>17th Secretariat| term_start4 = 1 February 1935| term_end4 = 3 March 193918951|df=y}}| birth_place = St. Petersburg, Russian Empire194045df=y}}| death_place = Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet UnionSoviet people>SovietCommunist Party of the Soviet Union>Russian Communist Party (1917-1939)| spouse = Antonia Titova (1919-1930)Yevgenia Feigenberg (1930-1938; her death; 1 child)| children = Natalia Nikolaevna Yezhova, later Natalia Khayutina (adopted)| signature = Nikolai Yezhov Signature 1938.png}}Nikolai Ivanovich Yezhov (; 1 May 1895 – 4 February 1940) was a Soviet secret police official under Joseph Stalin who was head of the NKVD from 1936 to 1938, during the most active period of the Great Purge.Having presided over mass arrests and executions during the Great Purge, Yezhov eventually fell from Stalin's favour and power. He was arrested, confessed to a range of anti-Soviet activity, later claiming he was tortured into making these confessions, and was eventually executed in 1940 among with most other responsible for the Purge.

Early life and career

Yezhov was born either in Saint Petersburg, according to his official Soviet biography, or in southwest Lithuania (probably Veiveriai, MarijampolÄ— or Kaunas), however, Petersburg is given as his official place of birth. In a form filled out in 1921, Yezhov claimed some ability to speak Polish and Lithuanian.He completed only his elementary education. From 1909 to 1915, he worked as a tailor's assistant and factory worker. From 1915 until 1917, Yezhov served in the Imperial Russian Army. He joined the Bolsheviks on 5 May 1917, in Vitebsk, six months before the October Revolution. During the Russian Civil War, 1919–1921, he fought in the Red Army. After February 1922, he worked in the political system, mostly as a secretary of various regional committees of the Communist Party. In 1927, he was transferred to the Accounting and Distribution Department of the Party where he worked as an instructor and acting head of the department. From 1929 to 1930, he was the Deputy People's Commissar for Agriculture. In November 1930, he was appointed to the Head of several departments of the Communist Party: department of special affairs, department of personnel and department of industry. In 1934, he was elected to the Central Committee of the Communist Party;WEB,weblink N.I. Yezhov: Biographical Notes, in the next year he became a secretary of the Central Committee. From February 1935 to March 1939, he was also the Chairman of the Central Commission for Party Control.In the "Letter of an Old Bolshevik" (1936), written by Boris Nicolaevsky, there is Bukharin's description of Yezhov: Nadezhda Mandelstam, in contrast, who met Yezhov at Sukhum in the early thirties, did not perceive anything ominous in his manner or appearance; her impression of him was that of a "modest and rather agreeable person".N. Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope (Collins & Harvill Press, 1971), page 322. Yezhov was short, standing {{convert|151|cm|ftin|frac=2}}, and that, combined with his perceived sadistic personality, led to his nickname "The Poison Dwarf" or "The Bloody Dwarf".BOOK,weblink Stalinist Russia, Heinemann, 2000, 12 August 2015, Steve Phillips, 42, 0435327208,

Personal life

(File:Yevgenia Ezhova (nee Feigenberg 1904-1938) with child.jpg|thumb|right|Yezhov's wife Yevgenia with their adopted daughter) Yezhov married Marxist Antonia Titova in 1919, but he later divorced her and married w: (Khayutina-Yezhova), a Soviet publishing worker and Chief Editor of "USSR in Construction" magazine who was known for her friendship with many Soviet writers and actors.Unknown roman of Mikhail Sholokov, by Aleksei Pavlukov, Ogoniok. Khayutina-Ezhova was a friend and had intimate relationships with several Soviet writers including Mikhail Sholokhov. Yezhov and Feigenburg had an adopted daughter, Natalia, an orphan from a children's home. After Yezhov's death, Natalia was sent back to a local orphanage and was forced to relinquish the Yezhov surname. Subsequently, she was known by the name Natalia Khayutina.NEWS, Magadan, Mark Franchetti, "Daughter fights to clear Stalin's hitman",weblink Times of London, 30 September 2018,

Head of the NKVD

(File:Nikolai Yezhov conferring with Stalin.jpg|thumb|180px|left|Yezhov (left) and Stalin) A turning point for Yezhov came with Stalin's response to the 1934 murder of the Bolshevik chief of Leningrad, Sergey Kirov. Stalin used the murder as a pretext for further purges and he chose Yezhov to carry out the task. Yezhov oversaw falsified accusations in the Kirov murder case against opposition leaders Kamenev, Zinoviev and their supporters. Yezhov's success in this task led to his further promotion and ultimately to his appointment as head of the NKVD.Pons, Silvio; Service, Robert (editors) A Dictionary of 20th Century Communism, Princeton University Press 2010.He became People's Commissar for Internal Affairs (head of the NKVD) and a member of the Central Committee on 26 September 1936, following the dismissal of Genrikh Yagoda. This appointment did not at first seem to suggest an intensification of the purge: "Unlike Yagoda, Yezhov did not come out of the 'organs', which was considered an advantage".Jansen and Petrov, Stalin's Loyal Executioner, p. 56. Yagoda became a target because he had been suspected of killing innocents and protecting anti-soviet conspirators by the NKVD. Party leadership revocation and executions of those found guilty during the Moscow Trials was not a problem for Yezhov, granted he himself was later found guilty of the same actions Yagoda had been doing beforehand. Seeming to be a devout admirer of Stalin and not a member of the organs of state security, Yezhov was just the man Stalin needed to lead the NKVD and rid the government of potential opponents.WEB, Basseches, Nikolaus, Stalin by Nikolaus Basseches,weblink Yezhov's first task from Stalin was to personally investigate and conduct the prosecution of his long-time Chekist mentor Yagoda, which he did with remorseless zeal. Ordered by Stalin to create a suitably grandiose plot for Yagoda's show trial, Yezhov ordered the NKVD to sprinkle mercury on the curtains of his office so that the physical evidence could be collected and used to support the charge that Yagoda was a German spy, sent to assassinate Yezhov and Stalin with poison and restore capitalism.Sebag-Montefiore, 219. It's also claimed that he personally tortured both Yagoda and Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky to extract their confessions.Sebag-Montefiore, 222.Yagoda was but the first of many to die by Yezhov's orders. Under Yezhov, the Great Purge reached its height during 1937–1938. 50–75% of the members of the Supreme Soviet and officers of the Soviet military were stripped of their positions and imprisoned, exiled to the Gulag's camps in Siberia or executed. In addition, a much greater number of ordinary Soviet citizens were accused (usually on flimsy or nonexistent evidence) of disloyalty or "wrecking" by local Chekist troikas and similarly punished to fill Stalin and Yezhov's arbitrary quotas for arrests and executions. Yezhov also conducted a thorough purge of the security organs, both NKVD and GRU, removing and executing not only many officials who had been appointed by his predecessors Yagoda and Menzhinsky, but even his own appointees as well. He admitted that innocents were being falsely accused, but dismissed their lives as unimportant so long as the purge was successful: In 1937 and 1938 alone, at least 1.3 million were arrested and 681,692 were shot for 'crimes against the state'. The Gulag population swelled by 685,201 under Yezhov, nearly tripling in size in just two years, with at least 140,000 of these prisoners (and likely many more) dying of malnutrition, exhaustion and the elements in the camps (or during transport to them).Figes, Orlando (2007) The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia {{ISBN|0-8050-7461-9}}, page 234.File:19360927-newspaper-Perekovka-reforging.jpg|thumb|180px|The Gulag newspaper, Perekovka ("Reforging"), front page announcing the replacement of Genrikh YagodaGenrikh Yagoda

Fall from power

Yezhov was appointed People's Commissar for Water Transport on 6 April 1938. During the Great Purge, acting on the orders from Stalin, he had accomplished the liquidation of Old Bolsheviks and other potentially "disloyal elements" or "fifth columnists" within the Soviet military and government prior to the onset of war with Germany. From Stalin's perspective, Yezhov (like Yagoda) had served his purpose but had seen too much and wielded too much power to be allowed to live.NEWS, Faria, MA, Stalinism, Bolsheviks, and the Revolution's Fatal Statistics,weblink 5 September 2012, Macon Telegraph, p. 4-D, January 8, 2012, The defection to Japan of the Far Eastern NKVD chief, Genrikh Lyushkov on 13 June 1938, rightly worried Yezhov, who had protected Lyushkov from the purges and feared he would be blamed.Jansen and Petrov, Stalin's Loyal Executioner, pp. 143-44.

Final days

On 22 August 1938, NKVD leader Lavrenty Beria was named as Yezhov's deputy. Beria had managed to survive the Great Purge and the "Yezhovshchina" during the years 1936–1938, even though he had almost become one of its victims. Earlier in 1938, Yezhov had even ordered the arrest of Beria, who was party chief in Georgia. However, Georgian NKVD chief Sergei Goglidze warned Beria, who immediately flew to Moscow to see Stalin personally. Beria convinced Stalin to spare his life and reminded Stalin how efficiently he had carried out party orders in Georgia and Transcaucasia. In a twist of fate, it was Yezhov who eventually fell in the struggle for power, and Beria who became the new NKVD chief.WEB, Faria, MA, Book Review of Beria — Stalin's First Lieutenant by Amy Knight.,weblink 5 September 2012, Dec 23, 2011, Over the following months, Beria (with Stalin's approval) began increasingly to usurp Yezhov's governance of the Commissariat for Internal Affairs. As early as 8 September, Mikhail Frinovsky, Yezhov's first deputy, was relocated from under his command into the Navy. Stalin's penchant for periodically executing and replacing his primary lieutenants was well known to Yezhov, as he had previously been the man most directly responsible for orchestrating such actions.Well acquainted with the typical Stalinist bureaucratic precursors to eventual dismissal and arrest, Yezhov recognized Beria's increasing influence with Stalin as a sign that his downfall was imminent; and he plunged headlong into alcoholism and despair. Already a heavy drinker, in the last weeks of his service, he reportedly was disconsolate, slovenly, and drunk nearly all of his waking hours, rarely bothering to show up to work. As anticipated, Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov, in a report dated November 11, sharply criticised the work and methods of the NKVD during Yezhov's tenure as chief, thus creating the bureaucratic pretense necessary to remove him from power.On 14 November, another of Yezhov’s protégés, the Ukrainian NKVD chief Alexander Uspensky, disappeared after being warned by Yezhov that he was in trouble. Stalin suspected that Yezhov was involved in the disappearance and told Beria, not Yezhov, that Uspensky must be caught (he was arrested on 14 April 1939).Jansen and Petrov, Stalin's Loyal Executioner, pp. 166-70. Yezhov had told his wife, Yevgenia, on 18 September that he wanted a divorce, and she had begun writing increasingly despairing letters to Stalin, none of which were answered.Jansen and Petrov, Stalin's Loyal Executioner, pp. 163-66. She was particularly vulnerable because of her many lovers, and people close to her were being arrested for months. On 19 November 1938, Yevgenia committed suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills.At his own request, Yezhov was officially relieved of his post as the People's Commissar for Internal Affairs on 25 November, succeeded by Beria, who had been in complete control of the NKVD since the departure of Frinovsky on 8 September.Jansen and Petrov, Stalin's Loyal Executioner, pp. 151-52. He attended his last Politburo meeting on 29 January 1939.Stalin was evidently content to ignore Yezhov for several months, finally ordering Beria to denounce him at the annual Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. On 3 March 1939, Yezhov was relieved of all his posts in the Central Committee, but retained his post as People's Commissar of Water Transportation. His last working day was 9 April at which time the "People’s Commissariat was simply abolished by splitting it into two, the People’s Commissariats of the River Fleet and the Sea Fleet, with two new People’s Commissars, Z. A. Shashkov and S. S. Dukel’skii."Jansen and Petrov, Stalin's Loyal Executioner, p. 181.

Arrest

On 10 April, Yezhov was arrested and imprisoned at the Sukhanovka prison; the "arrest was painstakingly concealed, not only from the general public but also from most NKVD officers... It would not do to make a fuss about the arrest of 'the leader’s favourite,' and Stalin had no desire to arouse public interest in NKVD activity and the circumstances of the conduct of the Great Terror."Jansen and Petrov, Stalin's Loyal Executioner, p. 182.Yezhov confessed to the standard litany of state crimes necessary to mark him as an "enemy of the people" prior to execution, including "wrecking", official incompetence, theft of government funds, and treasonous collaboration with German spies and saboteurs, none of which were likely or supported by evidence. Apart from these political crimes, he was also accused of and confessed to a humiliating history of sexual promiscuity, including homosexuality, that was later corroborated by witness reports and deemed true in some post-Soviet examinations of the case.Sebag-Montefiore, 275.Kudrinskikh, A. Nikolai Yezhov: Bloody dwarf Moscow, 2006.

Trial

On 2 February 1940, Yezhov was tried by the Military Collegium chaired by Soviet judge Vasili Ulrikh behind closed doors.Jansen and Petrov, Stalin's Loyal Executioner, p. 187. Yezhov, like his predecessor Yagoda, maintained to the end his love for Stalin. Yezhov denied being a spy, a terrorist, or a conspirator, stating that he preferred "death to telling lies". He maintained that his previous confession had been obtained under torture, admitted that he purged 14,000 of his fellow Chekists, but said that he was surrounded by "enemies of the people". He also said that he would die with the name of Stalin on his lips.Jansen and Petrov, Stalin's Loyal Executioner, p. 187-188.After the secret trial, Yezhov was allowed to return to his cell; half an hour later, he was called back and told that he had been condemned to death. On hearing the verdict, Yezhov became faint and began to collapse, but the guards caught him and removed him from the room. An immediate appeal for clemency was denied, and Yezhov became hysterical and wept. He soon had to be dragged out of the room, struggling with the guards and screaming.Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him {{ISBN|0375757716}}

Execution

{{Multiple image|align = right|direction = vertical|width = 220|image1 = |image2 = |caption2 = In the original version of this photo (top), Yezhov is visible on the right of the photograph. The later version (bottom) was altered by censors, removing his presence.}}On 4 February 1940, Yezhov was shot by the future KGB chairman Ivan Serov (or by Blokhin, in the presence of N. P. Afanasev, according to one book sourceMontefiore, ch. 29, p. 324) in the basement of a small NKVD station on Varsonofevskii Lane (Varsonofyevskiy pereulok) in Moscow. The basement had a sloping floor so that it could be hosed down after executions, and had been built according to Yezhov's own specifications near the Lubyanka. The main NKVD execution chamber in the basement of the Lubyanka was deliberately avoided to ensure total secrecy.Jansen and Petrov, Stalin's Loyal Executioner, p. 188-189.WEB,weblink The Great Game, Random House Digital, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, Dec 18, 2007, March 23, 2013, Simon Sebag Montefiore, 324, 0307427935, Yezhov's body was immediately cremated and his ashes dumped in a common grave at Moscow's Donskoi Cemetery.Montefiore, 288 The execution remained secret and as late as 1948, Time reported: "Some think he is still in an insane asylum".NEWS,weblink Time, COMMUNISTS: The Hunter, March 22, 1948, May 20, 2010,

Legacy

In Russia, Yezhov remains mostly known as the person who was responsible for atrocities of the Great Purge that he conducted on Stalin's orders.Marc Jansen and Nikita Petrov, Stalin's Loyal Executioner: People's Commissar Nikolai Ezhov, 1895-1940 (Hoover Institution Press, 2002: {{ISBN|0-8179-2902-9}}), p. 210. Among art historians, he also has the nickname "The Vanishing Commissar" because after his execution, his likeness was retouched out of an official press photo; he is among the best-known examples of the Soviet press making someone who had fallen out of favor "disappear".WEB,weblink "The Commissar Vanishes" in The Vanishing Commissar, The Newseum, Sep 1, 1999, Sep 30, 2012, Because of his role in the Great Purge, Yezhov has not been officially rehabilitated by the Soviet and Russian authorities.BOOK,weblink Women of the Gulag: Portraits of Five Remarkable Lives, Gregory, Paul R., 2013-09-01, Hoover Institution Press, 9780817915766, en, Jansen and Petrov, Stalin's Loyal Executioner, p. 190.

Honors and awards

A decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet on 24 January 1941 deprived Yezhov of all state and special awards.

See also

Notes

{{Reflist|30em}}

Cited works

  • BOOK, Nicolaevsky, Boris I., Boris Nicolaevsky, Power and the Soviet elite: "The letter of an old Bolshevik," and other essays, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, Mich, 1975, 0-472-09196-4,
  • BOOK, Medvedev, Roy Aleksandrovich, Shukman, Harold, Roy Medvedev, All Stalin's Men, August 7, 1985, Blackwell Publishers, 0-631-14187-1,
  • BOOK, Montefiore, Simon Sebag, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, September 13, 2005, Vintage, 1-4000-7678-1,
  • BOOK, Petrov, Nikita, Jansen, Marc, Nikita Petrov, Stalin's Loyal Executioner: People's Commissar Nikolai Ezhov, 1895-1940 TLE, April 5, 2002, Hoover Institution Press, 0-8179-2902-9,weblink
  • BOOK, Getty, J. Arch, Naumov, Oleg V., J. Arch Getty, Yezhov: The Rise of Stalin's "Iron Fist", 2008, Yale University Press, 978-0-300-09205-9,

External links

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