1943: The last five Young Guards shot in Krasnodon

Add comment February 9th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1943, days before their city was liberated, five members of the anti-occupation resistance were shot in Krasnodon in the Donbass.

That eastern Ukrainian city* had fallen under German-Italian-Romanan occupation in July 1942.

In response, some 100 local teens banded together into an anti-fascist underground — the Molodaya Gvardiya, or Young Guard. (English Wikipedia entry) | Russian) Most of their number would give their lives in resistance.

During the few months of occupation, the Young Guards managed an impressive record of sabotage operations and propaganda coups. It busted 90 people out of the Germans’ concentration camp, and got the hammer and sickle hung up on government buildings to mark the silver anniversary of Red October. In December, the Young Guards managed to destroy the labor bureau (and its list of intended conscripts) on the eve of a planned deportation, sparing 2,000 people that dreadful fate.

The Germans finally got their hooks into the Young Guards and started mass arrests at the start of January. They brought in most of the Young Guards for torture and execution — smashing up the organization in their very last weeks in town.

The five put to death this date were the last of those martyrs, and the more tragic in that the occupiers were even then gearing up to evacuate as the Red Army closed in. (The Soviets took the city on February 15.) They were:


Oleg Koshevoy’s interrogation. Image from MolodGuard.ru’s stupendous images collection.

In September 1943, three Soviet citizens were publicly executed in the liberated city on charges of having aided the Germans in suppressing the Young Guards.

The Young Guards’ youth and intrepidity made them extremely congenial to the Soviets’ wartime demand for martyrs. At the urging of his Ukrainian deputy Nikita Khrushchev — who himself hailed from the Donbass — Stalin approved a number of the Young Guards (including this date’s Koshevoy and Shevtsova) as Heroes of the Soviet Union.

The Guards valorized in a 1945 novel, and then a 1948 film based on that novel. (Russian links, both.)

They’ve featured in postage stamps, public artwork, and every manner of patriotic commemoration ever since. They’ve even come in for a bit of post-Soviet “ownership” conflict (over the Guards’ degree of Communist Party affiliation) between Ukraine’s Russian- and Soviet-leaning east and the nationalist-sympathizing west.

Today the “Molodaya Gvardiya” brand might be most immediately recognizable as a youth organ of Vladimir Putin’s party — no connection to the young partisans, of course.

* Not to be confused with the Russian city of Krasnodar.

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1940: Robert Indrikovich Eikhe, “believing in the truth of Party policy as I have believed in it during my whole life”

1 comment February 4th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1940, the former Soviet People’s Commissar for Agriculture was shot for treason.

The 1930’s were a scary time in the USSR, but the agricultural posts — forced collectivizations, production quotas, and screw-ups that starved thousands — were particularly fraught.

R.I. Eikhe inherited the job from a fellow purged in the trial of the 21. And, unsurprisingly, he went the same way.

It was another former agricultural commissar (of Ukraine), Nikita Khrushchev, who managed to succeed Stalin.

When, in 1956, Khrushchev made his “secret speech” denouncing the savagery of his predecessor, the fate of his old comrade Eikhe was lamented in detail.

Excerpted below is the relevant portion of Khrushchev’s report, as cited here.


The great modesty of the genius of the revolution, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, is known. Lenin had always stressed the role of the people as the creator of history, the directing and organizational role of the party as a living and creative organism, and also the role of the central committee.

Lenin never imposed by force his views upon his coworkers. He tried to convince; he patiently explained his opinions to others. Lenin always diligently observed that the norms of party life were realized, that the party statute was enforced, that the party congresses and the plenary sessions of the central committee took place at the proper intervals.

In addition to the great accomplishments of V. I. Lenin for the victory of the working class and of the working peasants, for the victory of our party and for the application of the ideas of scientific communism to life, his acute mind expressed itself also in this that lie detected in Stalin in time those negative characteristics which resulted later in grave consequences. Fearing the future fate of the party and of the Soviet nation, V.I. Lenin made a completely correct characterization of Stalin, pointing out that it was necessary to consider the question of transferring Stalin from the position of Secretary General because of the fact that Stalin is excessively rude, that he does not have a proper attitude toward his comrades, that lie is capricious, and abuses his power. . . .

Vladimir Ilyich said:

“Stalin is excessively rude, and this defect, which can be freely tolerated in our midst and in contacts among us Communists, becomes a defect which cannot be tolerated in one holding the position of the Secretary General. Because of this, I propose that the comrades consider the method by which Stalin would be removed from this position and by which another man would be selected for it, a man, who above all , would differ from Stalin in only one quality, namely, greater tolerance, greater loyalty, greater kindness, and more considerate attitude toward the comrades, a less capricious temper, etc.”

As later events have proven, Lenin’s anxiety was justified …

Stalin originated the concept enemy of the people. This term automatically rendered it unnecessary that the ideological errors of a man or men engaged in a controversy be proven; this term made possible the usage of the most cruel repression, violating all norms of revolutionary legality, against anyone who in any way disagreed with Stalin, against those who were only suspected of hostile intent, against those who had bad reputations. This concept, enemy of the people, actually eliminated the possibility of any kind of ideological fight or the making of one’s views known on this or that issue, even those of a practical character. In the main, and in actuality, the only proof of guilt used, against all norms of current legal science, was the confession of the accused himself, and, as subsequent probing proved, confessions were acquired through physical pressures against the accused. . . .

Lenin used severe methods only in the most necessary cases, when the exploiting classes were still in existence and were vigorously opposing the revolution, when the struggle for survival was decidedly assuming the sharpest forms, even including a civil war.

Stalin, on the other hand, used extreme methods and mass repressions at a time when the revolution was already victorious, when the Soviet state was strengthened, when the exploiting classes were already liquidated, and Socialist relations were rooted solidly in all phases of national economy, when our party was politically consolidated and had strengthened itself both numerically and ideologically. It is clear that here Stalin showed in a whole series of cases his intolerance, his brutality, and his abuse of power.

Stalin’s willfulness vis-a-vis the party and its central committee became fully evident after the 17th party congress, which took place in 1934. . . .

It was determined that of the 139 members and candidates of the party’s Central Committee who were elected at the 17th congress, 98 persons, that is, 70 percent, were arrested and shot (mostly in 1937-38). [Indignation in the hall.] . . .

The majority of the Central Committee members and candidates elected at the 17th congress and arrested in 1937-38 were expelled from the party illegally through the brutal abuse of the party statute, because the question of their expulsion was never studied at the Central Committee plenum.

Now when the cases of some of these so-called spies and saboteurs were examined it was found that all their cases were fabricated. Confessions of guilt of many- arrested and charged with enemy activity were gained with the help of cruel and inhuman tortures. . . .

An example of vile provocation of odious falsification and of criminal violation of revolutionary legality is the case of the former candidate for the central committee political bureau, one of the most eminent workers of the party and of the Soviet Government, Comrade Eikhe, who was a party member since 1905. [Commotion in the hall.]

Comrade Eikhe was arrested on April 29, 1938, on the basis of slanderous materials, without the sanction of the prosecutor of the USSR, which was finally received 15 months after the arrest.

Investigation of Eikhe’s case was made in a manner which most brutally violated Soviet legality and was accompanied by willfulness and falsification.

Eikhe was forced under torture to sign ahead of time a protocol of his confession prepared by the investigative judges, in which he and several other eminent party workers were accused of anti-Soviet activity.

On October 1, 1939, Eikhe sent his declaration to Stalin in which be categorically denied his guilt and asked for an examination of his case. In the declaration he wrote:

“There is no more bitter misery than to sit In the jail of a government for which I have always fought.”

On February 2, 1940, Eikhe was brought before the court. Here he did not confess any guilt and said as follows:

“In all the so-called confessions of mine there is not one letter written by me with the exception of my signatures under the protocols which were forced from me. I have made my confession under pressure from the investigative judge who from the time of my arrest tormented me. After that I began to write all this nonsense. The most important thing for me is to tell the court, the party and Stalin that I am not guilty. I have never been guilty of any conspiracy. I will die believing in the truth of party policy as I have believed in it during my whole life.”

On February 4 Eikhe was shot. [Indignation in the hall.] It has been definitely established now that Eikhe’s case was fabricated; he has been posthumously rehabilitated.

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1939: Stanislav Kosior, Vlas Chubar and Pavel Postyshev

4 comments February 26th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1939, a couple of “New Bolsheviks” recently flying high after helping purge the Old Bolsheviks had their own reversals of fate culminate with a bullet to the head.

Stanislav Kosior* (or Kossior), a Pole who ran the Ukrainian Communist Party for much of the 1930’s, and Vlas Chubar, a Ukrainian politburo member who had once served as Prime Minister, were shot this day along with Pavel Postyshev,** once Stalin’s personal representative to the Ukraine.

Left to right: Kosior, Chubar, and Postyshev — the first and last on post-rehabilitation Soviet stamps.

Though these obviously died because of parochial party politics under the terrifying reign of Stalin — and all were accordingly rehabilitated after Stalin’s death — posterity has another bone to pick with them: the Ukrainian famine known as the Holodomor.

Their portfolios included carrying out the forced collectivization to which the famine is generally attributed. Participation was strongly encouraged.

“Join the collective farm or else off to the Solovets Islands.”

-Chubar

It was a grim time: starving peasnts dared not touch collectivized foodstuffs slated for use elsewhere on pain of execution themselves.† (Kosior won the Order of Lenin for his achievements in agriculture.) These Soviet VIPs themselves faced very similar pressure to implement Moscow policy and party line with exactitude … and very similar consequences for any perceived failure. (Kosior, too steely to succumb to torture, finally broke when his captors raped his teenage daughter in front of him.)

State organs adapted to the fall of these powerful men with Orwellian aplomb. “Radio Kosior” was renamed “Radio Kiev” overnight with its namesake’s arrest. Secret police chief Lavrenty Beria personally expropriated Chubar’s dacha. And

there is an account of a case in the Ukraine in which fifty students were charged with forming an organization to assassinate Kossior, who had been named as one of the senior intended victims in the great Moscow Trials. A year’s work on this case, which was a structure of great intricacy, had been performed by the interrogators. In 1938, however, it became known that Kossior himself had been arrested as a Trotskyite. Everyone thought that the students would be released. But a new interrogation immediately started, and they were beaten up for having lied to the NKVD. After a few days, the stool pigeons in the cells let them know what they were supposed to confess this time. It was to change their deposition, putting the name of Kaganovich for that of Kossior. The NKVD could not face the trouble of constructing a completely new fabrication. Finally everything was in order, and the students were sent off to labor camps.

A Ukrainian court recently named Kosior, Chubar and Postyshev among eight individuals personally responsible for the Holodomor.

* When Kosior was assigned to Moscow in 1938, he was replaced in the Ukraine by a good friend: future Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. (According to Nikita’s son.) To judge by the ferocity and extent of the purges Khrushchev oversaw, he took to heart the lesson from his predecessors’ fall.

** But on the plus side, Russians’ and eastern Slavs’ (continuing) tradition of putting up New Year’s trees in at least partly attributable (Russian link) to a Postyshev epistle to Pravda in 1935 calling for same. (The New Year’s yolka was a religious/tsarist tradition that had been discontinued after the Russian Revolution, but like many such cultural artifacts proved amenable — with Postyshev’s nudging — to secular/Communist reappropriation.)

† The nature of the Holodomor is the subject of furious present-day wrangling: can the mass starvation accurately be classed as a “genocide”? Especially given that such a finding could expose Russia and/or Russians to legal liability, there’s something of a difference of opinion on the matter between Kiev and Moscow.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Politicians,Posthumous Exonerations,Russia,Shot,Torture,Treason,Ukraine,USSR

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1953: Lavrenty Beria, Stalin henchman

6 comments December 23rd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1953, Stalin’s feared minister Lavrenty Beria was shot — finally on the receiving end of the cruelty he had administered to countless Soviet citizens.

Lavrenty Pavlovich was, like Stalin, a Georgian peasant, albeit one generation younger.

He won his way into Stalin’s confidence from the 1920’s, and in 1938 replaced Nikolai Yezhov as head of the KGB predecessor NKVD. Yezhov did much of the bloody work of the Great Purge, and was himself in turn purged. The cunning Beria must have taken note.

Though his initial project was to clean up the excesses of the Yezhovshchina — releasing thousands of innocent convicts, making the gulag camps less homicidal and more effective and keeping prisoners alive long enough to get some work out of them, that sort of thing — it wasn’t long before Beria cast a terrifying shadow of his own. (Beria was Yezhov’s deputy, so it’s not like he walked into the job without the requisite qualifications for mass murder.) He wrote the memo proposing the execution of Polish officers that led to the Katyn massacre.

To the more everyday repressive operations of the Soviet secret police, Beria added his notorious (perhaps propagandistically exaggerated?) personal peccadilloes: nothing to trouble the boss, just a little penchant for seducing, or raping, and at his pleasure murdering, comely young lasses.

Soviet author Sergei Dovlatov sketched his character in this imagined vignette (translated by Executed Today friend Sonechka from the Russian original here):

As is well known, winsome high school girls were delivered to Lavrenty Beria’s house. Then his chauffeur presented a bouquet of flowers to the next victim. And rendered her home. This was an established ceremony. Suddenly, one of the damsels became unruly. She began to struggle and scratch. In short, held her ground and did not succumb to the charms of the Internal Affairs minister. Beria told her:

-You can leave.

The young woman descended the stairs. The chauffeur, not expecting such a turn of events, handed her over the prepared bouquet. The girl, somewhat more composed now, addressed the minister who was standing on the balcony:

-You see, Lavrenty Pavlovich! Your chauffeur is more courteous than you are. He gave me a bouquet of flowers.

Beria sneered and dully uttered:

-You are mistaken. It is not a bouquet. It is a funeral wreath.

More consequential for his fate was his position among the handful of Stalin’s closest associates, in which capacity he maintained himself for a remarkably extended period of time. This made him one of the people with a shot at succeeding Stalin, which in turn put him in the middle of the furious political infighting Uncle Joe was pleased to subject his subordinates to.

And the natural enmity between sovereign and heir — the one whose interest is the other’s death — may have even led Beria to poison Stalin in March 1953 when he was on the verge of a falling-out himself. Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (he of the pact, and the cocktail) remembered in his memoir Beria boasting after Stalin’s sudden and mysterious death,

“I did him in! I saved all of you!”

Briefly the official #2 man in the post-Stalin state, he would again preside over a political liberalization that belied his monstrous personal reputation.

But this pallbearer of Stalin soon followed his former master to the grave. Outmaneuvered by rivals Nikita Khrushchev, Georgy Malenkov, and Molotov, Beria was purged as a traitor in the summer of 1953 and secretly executed Dec. 23, 1953 with six confederates after a summary trial before the Supreme Court. (One of the expedients laid at his feet in that affair was a set of executions he had ordered in a 1941 purge).

According to a chapter by Michael Ross and Anne E. Wilson in Memory, Brain and Belief, after Beria’s fall, subscribers to the Great Soviet Encyclopedia

were instructed to destroy the article on Beria and were provided additional information on the Bering Strait to fill the gap in the pages.

Beria’s heirs actually applied to the post-Soviet government for a reversal of the conviction under laws granting victims of politically motivated prosecutions right of redress. The Russian judiciary turned them down.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Infamous,Politicians,Power,Russia,Shot,The Worm Turns,Torture,USSR

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