Saturday, September 21, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Stalin’s Ethnic Executions During the Great Terror Detailed

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – Between 1936 and 1939, Stalin ordered the arrest of more than a million people on the basis of their nationality alone – although he did accuse such people of spying and diversionary actions. Of these, 247,000 were shot, a measure of the viciousness of his regime and one of the measures of the roles that ethnicity played in Stalin’s crimes.

            Stalin’s subsequent deportation of entire nations – what Robert Conquest has called “the punished peoples” – is relatively well-known at least in the West, and the Soviet dictator’s antipathy toward certain groups, such as Jews and Ukrainians, has been documented. But his willingness to ignore class in favor of ethnic criteria during the great terror is less widely known.

            Indeed, even today, defenders of Stalin generally stress Stalin’s class-based approach both to suggest that his actions were being part of a broader transformation of society and to distinguish him from Hitler whose policies were largely but not exclusively based on irrational hatreds of Jews and other ethnic minorities.

            That makes the recent publication of two documents from the 1930s especially instructive. The first is a compilation of Soviet directives from April 1937 to September 1938 alone for the arrest and execution of people on the basis of ethnicity alone, and the second is a January 1938 Politburo order that such ethnic-based purges be continued.

            In a new book, “1937 Without Lying” (in Russian; Moscow, 2013; 288 pages), Andrey Burovsky calls attention on pp.260-261 to Stalin’s arrest and execution of people on the basis of their nationality alone on the basis of orders that were generally kept secret at the time and have not been treated as a central aspect of Stalin’s method of governance.

            As reported by Aleksey Roshchin on his Portal Analitika Facebook page (, these orders included the following:

***“On July 25, 1937, Yezhov signed order No. 00439 which required local organs of the NKVD within five days to arrest all German subjects, including political emigres … 30,608 cases were brought, and 24,858 of those arrested were sentenced to be shot.

***“On August 11, 1937,Yezhov signed order no. 00485 [which called for] the complete liqudation of local organizations of the ‘Polish Military Organization.”  On the basis of that, 103,489 cases were opened, and 84,471 of those arrested were sentenced to be shot.

***“On August 17, 1937, an order was issued about conducting a ‘Romanian operation’ against emigres and refguees from Romania and Moldavia in Ukraine.” 8292 cases were opened and 5439 people were sentenced to be executed.”

***“On November 30, 1937, an NKVD directive was issued on conducting an operation against refugees from Latvia as well as activists in Latvian clubs and societies.” 21,300 people were arrested, of whom 16,575 were shot.

***“On December 11, 1937, an NKVD directive was issued concerning Greeks.” 12,557 people were arrested, of whom 10,545 were sentenced to be shot.

***“On December 14, 1937, an NKVD directive was issued for repression ‘along the Latvian line’ for Estonians, Lithuanians, Finns and also Bulgarians. Along the ‘Estonian line’ were condemned 9735 people, of whom 7998 were sentenced to be shot; along the ‘Finnish line’ were condemned 11,066, of whom 9078 were sentenced to be shot.”

***“On January 29, 1938, an NKVD directive was issued about ‘an Iranian operation.’ 13,297 people were condemned of  whom 2048 were sentenced to be shot.”

***“On February 16, 1938, an NKVD directive was issued about arrests along ‘the Afghan line.’ 1557 were condemned, of whom 366 were sentenced to be shot.”

These were in addition to deportation orders sending 70,000 Poles and Germans from Ukraine to Kazakhstan (April 28, 1936) and 171,781 Koreans from the Russian Far East into Central Asian and Kazakhstan.

In presenting these citations, Roshchin suggests that they should lay to rest the notion that Bolshevism was “anti-Russian” more than anti-everyone.  In fact, he says, “the regime was in its own way genuinely international. This is, it killed everybody, of course, in the name of the happiness of all humanity.”

                A second document, this was available at, shows that such ethnically based purges were not the work of the NKVD acting on its own but reflected the policies of the highest levels of the Soviet state.  It consists of a Politburo decision on January 31, 1938, calling for such purges to continue.
            Specifically, the Politburo orders the NKVD “to continue until April 15, 1938, the operation for the destruction of the espionage and diversionary contingents of Poles, Latvians, Germans, Estonians, Finns, Greeks, Iranians, Harbin residents, Chinese and Romanians, both foreign subjects and Soviet citizens.”

No comments:

Post a Comment