1973: Mimi Wong Weng Siu, jealous hostess 1938: Vladimir Kirshon, Bulgakov antagonist

Daily Double: Scenes from the Purge

July 28th, 2014 Headsman

Most any sequence of days on the calendar would do for capturing Soviet citizens destroyed in Stalin’s terrible purges of the late 1930s. There are, of course, the great names — Zinoviev, the Old Bolshevik senior to Stalin; the Red Army Marshal Tukhachevsky; eventually, inevitably, also the security minister who had run the bloodbath at its peak.

1937 propaganda poster: “Eradicate spies and saboteurs! Trotsky-Bukharin agents of fascism. (via)

Beneath the headline names are people by the aching thousands whose tragedies blacken date after date.

From our distance, they are little but a blur in the impossibly vast register of fatalistic mugshots — men and women high and low ripped from the forgotten banality of their lives, delivered to unspeakable tortures lost in the lines of endless dusty archives. Those we touch the next two days were loyal Communist functionaries and people of national importance in their spheres.

To be fair, only the specialist today has any cause to remember the names of their 1930s opposite numbers in France, Britain, or America, political operatives with competent careers who faded away giving university lectures instead of being beat all to hell and shot in a cellar. But to contemporaries in Stalin’s Russia these were people who wielded authority and prestige; their destructions would have been stunning were not midnight knocks emptying Muscovite apartments by the thousands in those days, and anyone — everyone — understood that he might be next.

On this day..

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