It was a period of great violence. The Great Terror held the Soviet society at its throat. Between the years of 1936 and 1938, three main show trials would occur. During each, high ranking Soviet intelligentsia, military officers, and government officials would meet swift judgment and execution. During this time, thousands of people were murdered and imprisoned at the hands of the Soviet Secret police, the NKVD. Leading the NKVD was Nikolai Ezhov.
A picture of Nikolai Ezhov in his uniform
Ezhov had served as a political commissar during the 1917 revolution. He had risen through the ranks and gained Stalin’s favor. In 1933 he was placed on the central Purge Commission, charged with removing members from the party. By 1936 he had replaced NKVD Chief Genrikh Yagoda. The days of bloodless purges were over.
He was to be charged with Stalin’s Great Purge, “the NKVD and its commissar, N. I. Ezhov, were the ruthless executors of Stalin’s designs, and indeed the entire period is sometimes referred to as the ‘Ezhovshchina’ (the evil epoch of Ezhov)” (Freeze). With this new found power, he set quotas, “177,500 exiled and 72,950 executed” these totals were eventually surpassed.
His search for dissidents and enemies of the state eventually “created a vicious cycle of accusation, denunciations, and arrests that decimated the ranks of the party and certain high profile professions” (freeze). By 1938 Ezhov had fallen from Stalin’s grace, many speculated he was working for himself, but up through his trial, he claimed he had the utmost loyalty for Stalin. He was removed from his position and received the same fate as the many he had rounded up. After closed-door proceedings, he was executed.
I chose to discuss Nikolai Ezhov because I see him as an example of how the West views Russia, as a backward country. To me, the idea of not being able to trust the Chief architecture of the NKVD, leading to his own execution, shows the paranoid and backward thinking used by Stalin and the Soviet system. Why did they ever think the world would perceive this level of violence as necessary? This violence would come to haunt the Soviet Union for years to come….(Comrade’s Corner)
Sources not hyperlinked:
Freeze, Gregory L.. Russia: A History (p. 365). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.
Freeze, Gregory L.. Russia: A History (p. 366). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.