1941: Olga Kameneva, Christian Rakovsky, Maria Spiridonova and many others by the NKVD

On this date in 1941, as Nazi armies surged into the USSR, the Soviet NKVD summarily executed a reported 157 prisoners held in the soon-to-be-Nazi-occupied city of Oryol (Orel).



Kameneva (top), Rakovsky (middle) and Spiridonova.

Most prominent among them were:

  • Olga Kameneva, a pol in the 1920’s, she was the sister of recently-murdered Communist heretic/Stalin gadfly Leon Trotsky, and she was the widow of executed Old Bolshevik Lev Kamenev.
  • Christian Rakovsky, internationalist Bulgarian revolutionary turned Soviet diplomat. Rakovsky, Dmitry Pletnyov and Sergei Bessonov had been the only three to avoid execution at the Trial of the 21, one of Stalin’s red-letter purges. But all three were shot together this day.
  • Prominent Left SR Maria Spiridonova, a revolutionary who had taken four decades of beatings from tsarist and Bolshevik alike, and who Emma Goldman saluted as “one of the most sincere, well-poised, and convincing” opponents of the Soviet regime.

Many other political transgressors less memorable than these went along with them, leftover targets of opportunity from a generation’s internecine purges and counterpurges.

Why bother to spend the resources evacuating an enemy of the people? By this time, Operation Barbarossa was nearly three months old, and mass prisoner executions ahead of the advancing Germans were a practiced art. One difference this day: this hecatomb was not in the western Soviet Republics, but in Russia proper.

In the autumn of 1941, the Left SRs Spiridonov, Izmailovich, and Mayorov, the Maximalist Nestroyev, and the SR Timofeyev were among the 157 prisoners shot in the Medvedevsky woods. (A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia

As many of them might have been denounced as “fascist” in their time for not hewing the correct revolutionary line, one doubts they would have enjoyed any more comfortable treatment at the hands of the Wehrmacht, which overran Oryol on Oct. 3.