1968: Nguyen Van Lem 1915: Veljko Cubrilovic, Danilo Ilic and Misko Jovanovic, Archduke Ferdinand’s assassins

1940: Vsevolod Meyerhold

February 2nd, 2009 Headsman

It is thought to be on this date in 1940 that the Soviet theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold was shot on a fabricated espionage charge.

Meyerhold costumed as Ivan the Terrible.

Meyerhold (English Wikipedia page | Russian) was one of Russia’s great theatrical innovators in the early 20th century.

Pioneering non-representational theater — and a training method, “biomechanics”, to facilitate them — his star shone bright in the avant garde firmament of the early Bolshevik Republic.

But Meyerhold’s schtick was most definitely not Uncle Joe’s fave, socialist realism.

And that meant, come the 1930’s, Meyerhold had a problem.

His career (Russian link) died out over that chill decade and the director himself was arrested in 1939 and tortured into confessing to spying.

(Shortly after his arrest, his wife was “mysteriously” killed.*)


Meyerhold in custody.

Meyerhold recanted the confession and sent Foreign Minister Molotov a pitiable appeal detailing his treatment.

I was made to lie face down and beaten on the soles of my feet and my spine with a rubber strap … For the next few days, when those parts of my legs were covered with extensive internal haemorrhaging, they again beat the red-blue-and-yellow bruises with the strap and the pain was so intense that it felt as if boiling water was being poured on these sensitive areas. I howled and wept from the pain … When I lay down on the cot and fell asleep, after 18 hours of interrogation, in order to go back in an hour’s time for more, I was woken up by my own groaning and because I was jerking about like a patient in the last stages of typhoid fever

The director was officially rehabilitated in the post-Stalin thaw, but some of his work — like a collaboration with another artistic heretic, Prokofiev, on Boris Godunov — is only now being found and staged.

More about Meyerhold at the Moscow Meyerhold Memorial Museum

* According to The Secret File of Joseph Stalin:

Her body had 17 knife wounds, and her eyes had been cut out, apparently from the superstitious fear that they retained the image of her murderers. The only things taken from the apartment were documents.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Famous,History,Intellectuals,Popular Culture,Posthumous Exonerations,Russia,Shot,Torture,USSR,Wrongful Executions

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