Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Lynne Viola's "Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial"

Lynne Viola is University Professor at the University of Toronto. She is the author of The Best Sons of the Fatherland: Workers in the Vanguard of Soviet Collectivization, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin: Collectivization and the Culture of Peasant Resistance, and The Unknown Gulag: the Lost World of Stalin’s Special Settlements.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial: Scenes from the Great Terror in Soviet Ukraine, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial, we find ourselves in Room 21 of the Uman NKVD offices in Ukraine. A nightmare unfolded in this small, multi-ethnic town in the course of 1937 and 1938 during Stalin’s “Great Terror.” Here, the local NKVD organs created a special “laboratory”—Room 21—for interrogations, beatings, and forced confessions. According to the NKVD indictment against the Uman NKVD perpetrators, “the task of this so-called laboratory...was to obtain from prisoners confessions about their supposed counterrevolutionary activities...Almost no one did not confess...20 to 30 people were called simultaneously into the room [for preliminary interrogations]...”. Those who “confessed,” were transferred to formal interrogation sessions; those who did not, were beaten until they did.

Room 21, however, was only the tip of the iceberg of atrocities committed during the Great Terror in Uman. Here, prisoners suffocated to death in the overcrowded holding cells. The chief executioner was said to have hacked out gold teeth from corpses with the barrel of his revolver. The commandant of the local prison was arrested and tried in a closed court hearing for, among other things, the pillaging of corpses following executions. The leaders of the Uman NKVD would later be arrested for these actions once Stalin called a halt to the terror. Stalin would scapegoat them for “violations of socialist legality.”

What happened in Uman was repeated, in variations of technique, across the Soviet Union. A select group of NKVD perpetrators were subject to arrest at this time. They were charged and placed on trial throughout the country. This “purge of the purgers” allowed Stalin to avoid blame for the terror as well as to wipe out various clientele networks within the NKVD. NKVD cadres blamed for “violations of socialist legality” were interned in the Gulag or subject to execution. On 7 December 1941, the new NKVD chief Beria would request permission from Stalin to free from the Gulag 1,610 former NKVD cadres punished in the “purges of the purgers” so that they could fight in the war.

The criminal files of these purged NKVD cadres, now declassified in what was formerly the Ukrainian KGB archives, allow us, for the first time, to enter the world of the Soviet perpetrators, following them into the darkest recesses of the terror, including the interrogation rooms, the prison cells, and the execution chambers.
Learn more about Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Unknown Gulag.

--Marshal Zeringue