Episode 4: A New Purge

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.

11 thoughts on “Episode 4: A New Purge

  1. Regarding your last paragraph, the Soviet Union, Russia today, is still under scrutinzation for many questionable plots. Violence and secrecy has been their forte for decades now. The most recent is the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy, which many believe was carried out by none other than Russia.



  2. Great post! I think it’s crazy that he set quotas – I have to wonder where he got the numbers from. How do you decide how many politically suspicious people there are in a society? It seems like quota systems never really work out well; as you mentioned, in this case it resulted in false accusations made just to avoid becoming one of the required executions.


  3. The purges of the Intelligentsia by Stalin and the Soviets seem to be counter-productive in my mind, which allows me to understand why people view him and his policies as backward. In order for a society to thrive, an educated high class is necessary. Killing them out of fear is like cutting off the legs of your country. Do you think the Intelligentsia or the working class has the most effect on the stability of a society?


  4. Always look for your post every week and it did not disappoint. I like how you focused on this topic I feel like we kind of glossed over it and downplayed it so I’ve been doing a little bit more research on it. It is absolutely insane what happened during these purges and it definitely needs to be highlighted more.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a very good post that shows information on a very interesting and important man in Soviet history. The quotas that were created for arrests and executions are very interesting and grim fact as well.


  6. I thought your post was really interesting to read, and was an interesting perspective. Rather than just focusing on the purges or the NKVD in total, you chose the man who was primarily responsible for the decisions that caused so many deaths. I thought your closing remark was also important, how actions by only a few men could haunt Russia for decades and create a stereotype that would haunt them.


  7. I don’t have much to add, except I never thought I’d hear John Williams and Shostakovich in the same soundtrack. Nicely done! Seriously, this post is a wonderful addition to the lecture on the purges.


  8. When people think of the Soviet Union, the first thing that comes to most minds is the purges. This level of repression is pretty amazing in a sick sort of way. Even worse is that these purges continue to happen throughout the Soviet Union’s life time.


  9. I think it’s great how these purges end up biting Stalin in the butt during World War II. Most high ranking officials that could be a political threat are also competent in their job and are needed for the general success of the country.


  10. Your discussion on Nikolai really shows how dangerous it was to hold a position of power during the time. It seemed to backfire on a lot of leaders (like the Red Army commander we watched in the assigned film). Good post!


  11. That is an interesting statement that Ezhov represents the backwardness of the Soviet Union. After Stalin, we will see a switch from executing every suspect to leniency towards open dissenters. Hopefully, this would be a marked switch away from backwardness. Finally, your statement, “This violence would come to haunt the Soviet Union for years to come…” could not be more true. The effects of the purges will be a leading cause of the Soviet’s poor performance in the Winter War and the beginning of World War II. Great post!


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