1937: Alexander Yulevich Tivel

On this date in 1937 — probably — one of the numberless obscurities consumed by Stalin’s purges was convicted and presumably shot for “preparing to commit a terrorist act against [NKVD head] Yezhov.”

Alexander Yulevich Tivel, a Jewish bureaucrat who had the misfortune to have been in a party organ too close to Zinoviev, was disappeared by the NKVD one day in 1936.

His fate forms the opening hook for J. Arch Getty’s The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939 — “the story of the Stalinist terror writ small.” (Here’s a review)

We do not know whether he was physically tortured by his interrogators, but there is ample evidence that countless others were. Even high-ranking officials under arrest were beaten or, as Molotov would put it, “worked over.” Ten years later, a high-ranking police official described interrogation procedures in a letter to Stalin. First, prisoners were offered better conditions — better food, mail, and so on — in return for a confession. If that failed, appeals to the prisoner’s conscience and concern for his family followed. The next step was a solitary-confinement cell without exercise, a bed, tobacco, or sleep for up to twenty days … Finally, the use of “physical pressure” was authorized …

Tivel was probably executed on the same day [of his conviction]. Unlike many others who were badgered and tortured by the NKVD, he had not confessed.

His wife and mother-in-law to internal exile. His son would suffer the stigma of being the child of an executed traitor.

The widow Eva Tivel, reports Getty, grappled for years with the unresponsive bureaucracy until she finally cleared Sasha Tivel’s name.

On 23 May 1957, twenty years after Tivel’s execution and after Eva’s many letters and appeals, Tivel’s sentence and party expulsion were overturned … [as] “based on contradictory and dubious materials.”

On this day..