Nikolai Yezhov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on 1st May 1895. Just five foot tall with a crippled leg, Yezhov was nicknamed the "Dwarf". After leaving school he worked as a tailor's assistant. In 1915 he joined the Russian Army and saw action on the Eastern Front during the First World War.
Yezhov joined the Bolsheviks after the February Revolution. He was a member of the Red Army during the Civil War and from 1922 he worked as an administrator in the party. In 1927 he met Joseph Stalin. According to Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996), has pointed out: "The Boss (Stalin) had first seen Yezhov during his excursion to Siberia to speed up grain deliveries and had subsequently introduced him into the apparatus of the Central Committee. By the beginning of the thirties Yezhov was already head of its Cadres Department. At the Seventeenth Congress he was elected to the Central Committee and to the vice-chairmanship of the Central Control Commission. In 1935 he became chairman of that body, and a secretary of the Central Committee."
Genrikh Yagoda was in charge of the Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). One of his first tasks was to remove Stalin's main rival for the leadership of the party. Sergy Kirov had been a loyal supporter of Stalin but he grew jealous of his popularity. As Edward P. Gazur has pointed out: "In sharp contrast to Stalin, Kirov was a much younger man and an eloquent speaker, who was able to sway his listeners; above all, he possessed a charismatic personality. Unlike Stalin who was a Georgian, Kirov was also an ethnic Russian, which stood in his favour." According to Alexander Orlov, who had been told this by Yagoda, Stalin decided that Kirov had to die.
Yagoda assigned the task to Vania Zaporozhets, one of his trusted lieutenants in the NKVD. He selected a young man, Leonid Nikolayev, as a possible candidate. Nikolayev had recently been expelled from the Communist Party and had vowed his revenge by claiming that he intended to assassinate a leading government figure. Zaporozhets met Nikolayev and when he discovered he was of low intelligence and appeared to be a person who could be easily manipulated, he decided that he was the ideal candidate as assassin.
Zaporozhets provided him with a pistol and gave him instructions to kill Kirov in the Smolny Institute in Leningrad. However, soon after entering the building he was arrested. Zaporozhets had to use his influence to get him released. On 1st December, 1934, Nikolayev, got past the guards and was able to shoot Kirov dead. Nikolayev was immediately arrested and after being tortured by Genrikh Yagoda he signed a statement saying that Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and Ivan Smirnov had been the leaders of the conspiracy to assassinate Kirov.
According to Alexander Orlov: "Stalin decided to arrange for the assassination of Kirov and to lay the crime at the door of the former leaders of the opposition and thus with one blow do away with Lenin's former comrades. Stalin came to the conclusion that, if he could prove that Zinoviev and Kamenev and other leaders of the opposition had shed the blood of Kirov". Victor Kravchenko has pointed out: "Hundreds of suspects in Leningrad were rounded up and shot summarily, without trial. Hundreds of others, dragged from prison cells where they had been confined for years, were executed in a gesture of official vengeance against the Party's enemies. The first accounts of Kirov's death said that the assassin had acted as a tool of dastardly foreigners - Estonian, Polish, German and finally British. Then came a series of official reports vaguely linking Nikolayev with present and past followers of Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and other dissident old Bolsheviks."
Genrikh Yagoda now had the task of persuading Kamenev and Zinoviev to confess to their role in the death of Kirov as part of the plot to assassinate Stalin and other leaders of government. When they refused to do this Stalin had a new provision enacted into law on 8th April 1935 which would enable him to exert additional leverage over his enemies. The new law decreed that children of the age of twelve and over who were found guilty of crimes would be subjected to the same punishment as adults, up to and including the death penalty. This provision provided NKVD with the means by which they could coerce a confession from a political dissident simply by claiming that false charges would be brought against their children.
Edward P. Gazur, the author of Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General (2001), claims that Alexander Orlov later admitted: "In the months preceding the trial, the two men were subjected to every conceivable form of interrogation: subtle pressure, then periods of enormous pressure, starvation, open and veiled threats, promises, as well as physical and mental torture. Neither man would succumb to the ordeal they faced." Stalin was frustrated by Stalin's lack of success and brought in Nikolai Yezhov to carry out the interrogations.
Orlov, who was a leading figure in the NKVD, later admitted what happened. "Towards the end of their ordeal, Zinoviev became sick and exhausted. Yezhov took advantage of the situation in a desperate attempt to get a confession. Yezhov warned that Zinoviev must affirm at a public trial that he had plotted the assassination of Stalin and other members of the Politburo. Zinoviev declined the demand. Yezhov then relayed Stalin's offer; that if he co-operated at an open trial, his life would be spared; if he did not, he would be tried in a closed military court and executed, along with all of the opposition. Zinoviev vehemently rejected Stalin's offer. Yezhov then tried the same tactics on Kamenev and again was rebuffed."
In July 1936 Yezhov told Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev that their children would be charged with being part of the conspiracy and would face execution if found guilty. The two men now agreed to co-operate at the trial if Stalin promised to spare their lives. At a meeting with Stalin, Kamenev told him that they would agree to co-operate on the condition that none of the old-line Bolsheviks who were considered the opposition and charged at the new trial would be executed, that their families would not be persecuted, and that in the future none of the former members of the opposition would be subjected to the death penalty. Stalin replied: "That goes without saying!"
The trial opened on 19th August 1936. Five of the sixteen defendants were actually NKVD plants, whose confessional testimony was expected to solidify the state's case by exposing Zinoviev, Kamenev and the other defendants as their fellow conspirators. The presiding judge was Vasily Ulrikh, a member of the secret police. The prosecutor was Andrei Vyshinsky, who was to become well-known during the Show Trials over the next few years.
At the trial Zinoviev said: "I would like to repeat that I am fully and utterly guilty. I am guilty of having been the organizer, second only to Trotsky, of that block whose chosen task was the killing of Stalin. I was the principal organizer of Kirov's assassination. The party saw where we were going, and warned us; Stalin warned as scores of times; but we did not heed these warnings. We entered into an alliance with Trotsky."
Kamenev's final words in the trial concerned the plight of his children: "I should like to say a few words to my children. I have two children, one is an army pilot, the other a Young Pioneer. Whatever my sentence may be, I consider it just... Together with the people, follow where Stalin leads." This was a reference to the promise that Stalin made about his sons.
On 24th August, 1936, Vasily Ulrikh entered the courtroom and began reading the long and dull summation leading up to the verdict. Ulrikh announced that all sixteen defendants were sentenced to death by shooting. Edward P. Gazur has pointed out: "Those in attendance fully expected the customary addendum which was used in political trials that stipulated that the sentence was commuted by reason of a defendant's contribution to the Revolution. These words never came, and it was apparent that the death sentence was final when Ulrikh placed the summation on his desk and left the court-room."
The following day Soviet newspapers carried the announcement that all sixteen defendants had been put to death. This included the NKVD agents who had provided false confessions. Joseph Stalin could not afford for any witnesses to the conspiracy to remain alive. Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996), has pointed out that Stalin did not even keep his promise to Kamenev's sons and later both men were shot.
Joseph Stalin became angry with Genrikh Yagoda when he failed to obtain enough evidence to convict Nickolai Bukharin. In September, 1936, Yezhov replaced Yagoda as head of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). Yezhov quickly arranged the arrest of all the leading political figures in the Soviet Union who were critical of Stalin.
Nadezhda Khazina and her husband, Osip Mandelstam, met him after his appointment: "In the period of the Yezhov terror - the mass arrests came in waves of varying intensity - there must sometimes have been no more room in the jails, and to those of us still free it looked as though the highest wave had passed and the terror was abating... We first met Yezhov in the 1930s when Mandelstam and I were staying in a Government villa in Sukhumi. It is hard to credit that we sat at the same table, eating, drinking and exchanging small talk with this man who was to be one of the great killers of our time, and who totally exposed - not in theory but in practice - all the assumptions on which our humanism rested.... Yezhov was a modest and rather agreeable person. He was not yet used to being driven about in an automobile and did not therefore regard it as an exclusive privilege to which no ordinary mortal could lay claim. We sometimes asked him to get him to get a lift into town, and he never refused."
Boris Nicolaevsky was one of Stalin's opponents who managed to escape from the Soviet Union. In 1936 he recalled: "In the whole of my long life, I have never met a more repellent personality than Yezhov's. When I look at him I am reminded irresistibly of the wicked urchins of the courts in Rasterayeva Street, whose favorite occupation was to tie a piece of paper dipped in kerosene to a cat's tail, set fire to it, and then watch with delight how the terrified animal would tear down the street, trying desperately but in vain to escape the approaching flames. I do not doubt that in his childhood Yezhov amused himself in just such a manner and that he is now continuing to do so in different forms."
According to Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996): "Yezhov was typical of those who rose from nowhere to high positions in this period: semiliterate, obedient, and hardworking. His dubious past made him particularly eager to shine. Most important of all - he had made his career after the overthrow of the October leaders. Yagoda now served Stalin, but until recently had been the servant of the Party. Yezhov had served no-one but Stalin. He was the man to implement the second half of Stalin's scheme. For him there were no taboos. At the height of the Terror Yezhov would be portrayed on thousands of posters as a giant in whose hands enemies of the people writhed and breathed their last... Yezhov was merely a pseudonym for Stalin himself, a pathetic puppet, there simply to carry out orders. All the thinking was done, all the decisions were made, by the Boss himself."
In December 1936, Nikolai Yezhov established a new section of the NKVD named the Administration of Special Tasks (AST). It contained about 300 of his own trusted men from the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Yezhov's intention was complete control of the NKVD by using men who could be expected to carry out sensitive assignments without any reservations. The new AST operatives would have no allegiance to any members of the old NKVD and would therefore have no reason not to carry out an assignment against any of one of them. The AST was used to remove all those who had knowledge of the conspiracy to destroy Stalin's rivals. One of the first to be arrested was Genrikh Yagoda, the former head of the NKVD.
Within the administration of the ADT, a clandestine unit called the Mobile Groups had been created to deal with the ever increasing problem of possible NKVD defectors, as officers serving abroad were beginning to see that the arrest of people like Yagoda, their former chief, would mean that they might be next in line. By the summer of 1937, an alarming number of intelligence agents serving abroad were summoned back to the Soviet Union. Most of those, including Theodore Mally, were executed.
Ignaz Reiss was an NKVD agent serving in Belgium when he was summoned back to the Soviet Union. Reiss had the advantage of having his wife and daughter with him when he decided to defect to France. In July 1937 he sent a letter to the Soviet Embassy in Paris explaining his decision to break with the Soviet Union because he no longer supported the views of Stalin's counter-revolution and wanted to return to the freedom and teachings of Lenin. Orlov learnt of this letter from a close contact in France.
According to Edward P. Gazur, the author of Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General (2001): "On learning that Reiss had disobeyed the order to return and intended to defect, an enraged Stalin ordered that an example be made of his case so as to warn other KGB officers against taking steps in the same direction. Stalin reasoned that any betrayal by KGB officers would not only expose the entire operation, but would succeed in placing the most dangerous secrets of the KGB's spy networks in the hands of the enemy's intelligence services. Stalin ordered Yezhov to dispatch a Mobile Group to find and assassinate Reiss and his family in a manner that would be sure to send an unmistakable message to any KGB officer considering Reiss's route."
Reiss was found hiding in a village near Lausanne, Switzerland. It was claimed by Alexander Orlov that a trusted Reiss family friend, Gertrude Schildback, lured Reiss to a rendezvous, where the Mobile Group killed Reiss with machine-gun fire on the evening of 4th September 1937. Schildback was arrested by the local police and at the hotel was a box of chocolates containing strychnine. It is believed these were intended for Reiss's wife and daughter.
By the beginning of 1938, most of the intelligence officers serving abroad had been targeted for elimination had already returned to Moscow. Joseph Stalin now decided to remove another witness to his crimes, Abram Slutsky. On 17th February 1938, Slutsky was summoned to the office of Mikhail Frinovsky, one of those who worked closely with Nikolai Yezhov, the head of ADT. According to Mikhail Shpiegelglass he was called to Frinovsky's office and found him dead from a heart attack.
Simon Sebag Montefiore, the author of Stalin: The Count of the Red Tsar (2004): "Yezhov was called upon to kill his own NKVD appointees whom he had protected. In early 1938, Stalin and Yezhov decided to liquidate the veteran Chekist, Abram Slutsky, but since he headed the Foreign Department, they devised a plan so as not to scare their foreign agents. On 17 February, Frinovsky invited Slutsky to his office where another of Yezhov's deputies came up behind him and drew a mask of chloroform over his face. He was then injected with poison and died right there in the office. It was officially announced that he had died of a heart attack." Two months later Slutsky was posthumously stripped of his CPSU membership and declared an enemy of the people.
Alexander Orlov was ordered back to the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin in July 1938. Aware of the Great Purge that was going on and that several of his friends had been executed, Orlov fled to France with his wife and daughter before making his way to the United States. Orlov sent a letter to Nikolai Yezhov, the head of the NKVD, that he would reveal the organizations secrets if any action was taken against him or his family.
Under Yezhov, the Great Purge increased in intensity. In 1937 Yezhov arranged the arrest of Genrikh Yagoda, the former head of the NKVD. He was charged with Nickolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, Nikolai Krestinsky and Christian Rakovsky of being involved with Leon Trotsky in a plot against Joseph Stalin. They were all found guilty and were eventually executed. It is estimated that over the next year it is estimated that 1.3 million were arrested and 681,692 were shot for "crimes against the state". According to the historian, Emil Draitser, "during 1937 and 1938, 681,692 prisoners (353,074 and 328,618, respectively) received death sentences (nearly 1,000 per day)."
The NKVD broke prisoners down by intense interrogation. This included the threat to arrest and execute members of the prisoner's family if they did not confess. The interrogation went on for several days and nights and eventually they became so exhausted and disoriented that they signed confessions agreeing that they had been attempting to overthrow the government.
In January 1938 Hede Massing and Paul Massing, Soviet spies based in New York City, were interrogated by Mikhail Shpiegelglass and Vassili Zarubin. The Massings were angry about the murder of Ignaz Reiss, the man who had initially recruited them. They demanded to be allowed to return to the United States. However, Shpiegelglass and Zarubin, feared that they were no longer reliable agents and might provide evidence to the FBI on Soviet espionage in America.
Shpiegelglass arranged for Hede Massing to meet Yezhov. "The meeting took place in the Sloutski apartment, the same one where I had been at our first party. When we arrived, the important man was not yet there. There was an atmosphere of expectation. There was no vodka, as was usual before meetings. We sat and waited. There was not even flippant conversation. Finally he arrived. He, too, was in uniform. Though he had little glitter, still it was obvious that he was of a higher rank than my two companions. He was a man of about thirty-five, a Georgian, and fairly good looking in a foreign kind of way; to me, from the very first second, he was despicable. He took a seat on the other side of the room from me, crossed his legs, pulled out a heavy gold tabatiere, slowly tapped a cigarette on it - scrutinizing me throughout the process. Then he said in Russian what amounted to, Let her talk."
Zarubin told Hede Massing, "Tell your story, and I will interpret." Hede was so angry by Yezhov's attitude that she replied: "There is no story to tell. I'm tired of my story. I understood that I was brought here to ask this gentleman for my exit visa. All I am concerned with at this point is that my husband and I be able to leave for home. I've told my story time and again; I am sure that Mr. X can have access to it. So all I have to say now is - when am I going to leave?" Yezhov laughed out loud. "It infuriated me! I mimicked his laugh and said, 'It is not that funny, is it? I mean what I say!' He got up, said in Russian that the conference was ended, and without a word or a nod toward me, he left."
Joseph Stalin told Yezhov that he needed some help in running the NKVD and asked him to choose someone. Yezhov requested Georgy Malenkov but Stalin wanted to keep him in the Central Committee and sent him Lavrenty Beria instead. Simon Sebag Montefiore commented: "Stalin may have wanted a Caucasian, perhaps convinced that the cut-throat traditions of the mountains - blood feuds, vendettas and secret murders - suited the position. Beria was a natural, the only First Secretary who personally tortured his victims. The blackjack - the zhgtrti - and the truncheon - the dubenka - were his favourite toys. He was hated by many of the Old Bolsheviks and family members around the leader. With the whispering, plotting and vengeful Beria at his side, Stalin felt able to destroy his own polluted, intimate world."
Robert Service, the author of Stalin: A Biography (2004) has argued: "Yezhov understood the danger he was in and his daily routine became hectic; he knew that the slightest mistake could prove fatal. Somehow, though, he had to show himself to Stalin as indispensable. Meanwhile he also had to cope with the appointment of a new NKVD Deputy Commissar, the ambitious Lavrenti Beria, from July 1938. Beria had until then been First Secretary of the Communist Party of Georgia; he was widely feared in the south Caucasus as a devious plotter against any rival - and almost certainly he had poisoned one of them, the Abkhazian communist leader Nestor Lakoba, in December 1936. If Yezhov tripped, Beria was ready to take his place; indeed Beria would be more than happy to trip Yezhov up. Daily collaboration with Beria was like being tied in a sack with a wild beast. The strain on Yezhov became intolerable. He took to drinking heavily and turned for solace to one-night stands with women he came across; and when this failed to satiate his needs, he pushed himself upon men he encountered in the office or at home. In so far as he was able to secure his future position, he started to gather compromising material on Stalin himself.... On 17 November the Politburo decided that enemies of the people had infiltrated the NKVD. Such measures spelled doom for Yezhov. He drank more heavily. He turned to more boyfriends for sexual gratification."
On 23rd November 1938, Lavrenty Beria replaced Yezhov as head of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). Yezhov was arrested on 10th April, 1939. It is claimed by the authors of Stalin's Loyal Executioner (2002) that Yezhov quickly confessed under torture to being an "enemy of the people". This included a confession that he was an homosexual.
Nikolai Yezhov was executed on 4th February, 1940.
In the period of the Yezhov terror - the mass arrests came in waves of varying intensity - there must sometimes have been no more room in the jails, and to those of us still free it looked as though the highest wave had passed and the terror was abating. After each show trial, people sighed, "Well, it's all over at last." What they meant was: "Thank God, it looks as though I've escaped. But then there would be a new wave, and the same people would rush to heap abuse on the "enemies of the people."
We first met Yezhov in the 1930s when Mandelstam and I were staying in a Government villa in Sukhumi. It is hard to credit that we sat at the same table, eating, drinking and exchanging small talk with this man who was to be one of the great killers of our time, and who totally exposed - not in theory but in practice - all the assumptions on which our "humanism" rested.
Yezhov had a limp, and I remember Podvoiski, who liked to lecture people about the qualities of a true Bolshevik, scolding me for my laziness and telling me to follow the example of Yezhov who danced the gopak despite his lame leg.
Yezhov was a modest and rather agreeable person. We sometimes asked him to get him to get a lift into town, and he never refused.
Boris Pilnyak was writing The Volga Flows into the Caspian Sea. On his work-table I saw manuscripts under revision. It had been suggested to him that, to avoid banishment from Soviet literature, he should remodel Forest of the Isles, that 'counter-revolutionary' tale of his, into a novel agreeable to the Central Committee. The body's Cultural Section had assigned him a co-author who, page by page, would ask him to suppress this and add that. The helpmate's name was Yezhov, and a high career awaited him, followed by a violent death: this was the successor to Yagoda as head of the GPU.
When Yagoda contrived Kirov's death he had not realized that the Leader was thinking on the grand scale. He had envisaged no more than the removal of a single dangerous figure around whom hostile forces were beginning to rally.
The Leader had not initiated him into his cosmic plan. As a result, Yagoda hurried to arrest priests, ex-landowners, and so on, intending to lay Kirov's murder at the door of the usual culprits, the class enemy. Even the astute Radek missed the point, and started writing about the hand of the Gestapo killing a loyal Stalinist.
The Boss had to point out to Yagoda precisely where the main blow should fall: among the Zinovievites. Yagoda was too set in his ways and remained unconvinced. The Boss saw that he would never overcome his pious inhibitions when faced with the Leninist old guard. So he harnessed him to a diminutive fellow with a quiet voice, one Nikolai Yezhov, the chairman of the Party Control Commission.
Molotov described Yezhov as "Bolshevik from before the Revolution, worker by origin, never in any of the oppositions, Central Committee Secretary for some years, good reputation."
Secret file 510, in the archive of the former KGB, contains a curriculum vitae of this person of "good reputation":
"Yezhov, Nikolai Ivanovich. Bom May 1, 1895. Resident in Moscow, Kremlin. Social origin - worker. Education - incomplete primary.... In 1919 tried by military tribunal and sentenced to imprisonment for one year."
The Boss had first seen Yezhov during his excursion to Siberia to speed up grain deliveries and had subsequently introduced him into the apparatus of the Central Committee. In 1935 he became chairman of that body, and a secretary of the Central Committee.
Yezhov was typical of those who rose from nowhere to high positions in this period: semiliterate, obedient, and hardworking. For him there were no taboos.
At the height of the Terror Yezhov would be portrayed on thousands of posters as a giant in whose hands enemies of the people writhed and breathed their last. In the Central Asian republics, poets regularly described him as the batyr (epic hero). The epic hero was in reality a tiny man, almost a dwarf, with a feeble voice.
This was somehow symbolic.
Like Zhdanov, Malenkov, and others whom the Boss would from now on co-opt to the highest offices, Yezhov was merely a pseudonym for Stalin himself, a pathetic puppet, there simply to carry out orders. All the thinking was done, all the decisions were made, by the Boss himself.
While Yezhov familiarized himself with the way things were going, kept an eye on Yagoda, and gave him a prod when necessary, the Boss was drumming the plot of his thriller into the heads of his closest associates. And that is why afterward Bukharin said, "Two days after the murder Stalin sent for me and announced that the assassin, Nikolaev, was a Zinovievite."
Yezhov, the new Chairman of the KGB, was known to Orlov mainly by reputation, although they had met several times at various social events with mutual friends. Their relationship was superficial at best, yet Orlov had a definite disliking for the man, feeling that he displayed attitudes of petty jealousy and resentment towards his peers for the obvious reason that he was not intelligent and was conscious of this deficiency. Furthermore, his way of dealing with others displayed a vindictive characteristic that Orlov could not tolerate.
Yezhov's rise in the Party apparatus was due solely to his ability to ingratiate himself into Stalin's confidence rather than to the merits of his abilities. For a time he had been the Chief of the Personnel Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and, prior to his appointment to the KGB, had been appointed by Stalin to the post of Chairman of the Control Committee of the Communist Party, an all-powerful position that would well serve Stalin's stewardship. It would not be long before it was known that Yezhov was the person responsible for compiling Stalin's list of those marked for elimination under the purges. Suddenly, those who had scorned Yezhov and openly referred to him as "The Dwarf", and looked upon him as Stalin's lackey, now spoke of him in terms of reverence and were careful not to provoke him in any manner. Even those in the highest echelons of the Politburo were aware that their lives depended on the whims of the very same man they had once overlooked. At the height of the purges it became evident that not even the most loyal and trusted colleagues of Stalin were exempt from "Yezhov's List".
Yezhov was born either in Saint Petersburg, according to his official Soviet biography, or in southwest Lithuania (probably Veiveriai, Marijampolė or Kaunas). Yezhov's father Ivan Yezhov  came from a Russian peasant family  from the village of Volkhonshino. He worked as a musician, forest warden, head of a brothel, and as a housepainter.  His mother Anna Antonovna Yezhova was Jewish Lithuanian.  Despite writing in his official biographical forms that he knew Lithuanian and Polish, he denied these in his later interrogations. 
He completed only his elementary education. From 1909 to 1915, he worked as a tailor's assistant and factory worker. From 1915 until 1917, Yezhov served in the Imperial Russian Army. He joined the Bolsheviks on 5 May 1917, in Vitebsk, six months before the October Revolution. During the Russian Civil War (1917–1922), he fought in the Red Army. After February 1922, he worked in the political system, mostly as a secretary of various regional committees of the Communist Party. In 1927, he was transferred to the Accounting and Distribution Department of the Party where he worked as an instructor and acting head of the department. From 1929 to 1930, he was the Deputy People's Commissar for Agriculture. In November 1930, he was appointed to the Head of several departments of the Communist Party: department of special affairs, department of personnel and department of industry. In 1934, he was elected to the Central Committee of the Communist Party  in the next year he became a secretary of the Central Committee. From February 1935 to March 1939, he was also the Chairman of the Central Commission for Party Control.
In the "Letter of an Old Bolshevik" (1936), written by Boris Nicolaevsky, there is Bukharin's description of Yezhov:
In the whole of my—now, alas, already long—life, I had to meet few people who, by their nature, were as repellent as Yezhov. Watching him, I am frequently reminded of those evil boys from Rasteryayeva Street workshops, whose favorite form of entertainment was to light a piece of paper tied to the tail of a cat drenched with kerosene, and relish in watching the cat scamper down the street in maddening horror, unable to rid itself of the flames that are getting closer and closer. I have no doubt that Yezhov, in fact, utilized this type of entertainment in his childhood, and he continues to do that in a different form in a different field at present.
Nadezhda Mandelstam, in contrast, who met Yezhov at Sukhum in the early thirties, did not perceive anything ominous in his manner or appearance her impression of him was that of a "modest and rather agreeable person".  Yezhov was short, standing 151 centimetres (4 ft 11 + 1 ⁄ 2 in), and that, combined with his perceived sadistic personality, led to his nickname "The Poison Dwarf" or "The Bloody Dwarf". 
Yezhov married a Marxist Antonina Titova in 1919, but he later divorced her and married Yevgenia Feigenburg [ru] (Khayutina-Yezhova), a Soviet publishing worker and Chief Editor of USSR in Construction magazine who was known for her friendship with many Soviet writers and actors.  Yezhov and Feigenburg had an adopted daughter, Natalia, an orphan from a children's home. After Yevgenia's and Yezhov's deaths in late 1938 and 1940 respectively, Natalia was sent back to a local orphanage and was forced to relinquish the Yezhov surname. Subsequently, she was known by the name Natalia Khayutina. 
Accusation of homosexuality Edit
On April 24, 1939, Yezhov was accused of homosexuality, which was usually accompanied by drunkenness.  When Yezhov was arrested in 1939, during his interrogation, he stated that he had lived in Filipp Goloshchekin's apartment in Kzyl-Orda, in the latter half of 1925, when Goloshchekin served as the leader of the Kazakh ASSR, and that during those months, they were homosexual lovers. 
A turning point for Yezhov came with Stalin's response to the 1934 murder of the Bolshevik chief of Leningrad, Sergei Kirov. Stalin used the murder as a pretext for further purges and he chose Yezhov to carry out the task. Yezhov oversaw falsified accusations in the Kirov murder case against opposition leaders Kamenev, Zinoviev and their supporters. Yezhov's success in this task led to his further promotion and ultimately to his appointment as head of the NKVD. 
He became People's Commissar for Internal Affairs (head of the NKVD) and a member of the Central Committee on 26 September 1936, following the dismissal of Genrikh Yagoda. This appointment did not at first seem to suggest an intensification of the purge: "Unlike Yagoda, Yezhov did not come out of the 'organs', which was considered an advantage". 
Party leadership revocation and executions of those found guilty during the Moscow Trials was not a problem for Yezhov. Seeming to be a devout admirer of Stalin and not a member of the organs of state security, Yezhov was just the man Stalin needed to lead the NKVD and rid the government of potential opponents.  Yezhov's first task from Stalin was to personally investigate and conduct prosecution of his long-time Chekist mentor Yagoda, which he did with remorseless zeal. Ordered by Stalin to create a suitably grandiose plot for Yagoda's show trial, Yezhov ordered the NKVD to sprinkle mercury on the curtains of his office so that the physical evidence could be collected and used to support the charge that Yagoda was a German spy, sent to assassinate Yezhov and Stalin with poison and restore capitalism.  It is also claimed that he personally tortured both Yagoda and Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky to extract their confessions. 
Yagoda was but the first of many to die by Yezhov's orders. Under Yezhov, the Great Purge reached its height during 1937–1938. 50–75% of the members of the Supreme Soviet and officers of the Soviet military were stripped of their positions and imprisoned, exiled to the Gulags in Siberia or executed. In addition, a much greater number of ordinary Soviet citizens were accused (usually on flimsy or nonexistent evidence) of disloyalty or "wrecking" by local Chekist troikas and similarly punished to fill Stalin and Yezhov's arbitrary quotas for arrests and executions. Yezhov also conducted a thorough purge of the security organs, both NKVD and GRU, removing and executing not only many officials who had been appointed by his predecessors Yagoda and Menzhinsky, but even his own appointees as well. He admitted that innocents were being falsely accused, but dismissed their lives as unimportant so long as the purge was successful:
There will be some innocent victims in this fight against Fascist agents. We are launching a major attack on the Enemy let there be no resentment if we bump someone with an elbow. Better that ten innocent people should suffer than one spy get away. When you chop wood, chips fly. 
In 1937 and 1938 alone, at least 1.3 million were arrested and 681,692 were shot for 'crimes against the state'. The Gulag population swelled by 685,201 under Yezhov, nearly tripling in size in just two years, with at least 140,000 of these prisoners (and likely many more) dying of malnutrition, exhaustion and the elements in the camps (or during transport to them). 
Yezhov was appointed People's Commissar for Water Transport on 6 April 1938. During the Great Purge, acting on the orders from Stalin, he had accomplished liquidation of Old Bolsheviks and other potentially "disloyal elements" or "fifth columnists" within the Soviet military and government prior to the onset of war with Germany. From Stalin's perspective, Yezhov (like Yagoda) had served his purpose but had seen too much and wielded too much power to be allowed to live.  Defection to Japan of the Far Eastern NKVD chief, Genrikh Lyushkov on 13 June 1938, rightly worried Yezhov, who had protected Lyushkov from the purges and feared he would be blamed. 
On 22 August 1938, NKVD leader Lavrenty Beria was named as Yezhov's deputy. Beria had managed to survive the Great Purge and the "Yezhovshchina" during the years 1936–1938, even though he had almost become one of its victims. Earlier in 1938, Yezhov had even ordered the arrest of Beria, who was party chief in Georgia. However, Georgian NKVD chief Sergei Goglidze warned Beria, who immediately flew to Moscow to see Stalin personally. Beria convinced Stalin to spare his life and reminded Stalin how efficiently he had carried out party orders in Georgia and Transcaucasia. In a twist of fate, it was Yezhov who eventually fell in the struggle for power, and Beria who became the new NKVD chief. 
Over the following months, Beria (with Stalin's approval) began increasingly to usurp Yezhov's governance of the Commissariat for Internal Affairs. As early as 8 September, Mikhail Frinovsky, Yezhov's first deputy, was relocated from under his command into the Navy. Stalin's penchant for periodically executing and replacing his primary lieutenants was well known to Yezhov, as he had previously been the man most directly responsible for orchestrating such actions.
Well acquainted with typical Stalinist bureaucratic precursors to eventual dismissal and arrest, Yezhov recognized Beria's increasing influence with Stalin as a sign that his downfall was imminent, and he plunged headlong into alcoholism and despair. Already a heavy drinker, in the last weeks of his service, he reportedly was disconsolate, slovenly, and drunk nearly all of his waking hours, rarely bothering to show up to work. As anticipated, Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov, in a report dated November 11, sharply criticised the work and methods of the NKVD during Yezhov's tenure as chief, thus establishing the bureaucratic pretense necessary to remove him from power.
On 14 November, another of Yezhov’s protégés, the Ukrainian NKVD chief Alexander Uspensky, disappeared after being warned by Yezhov that he was in trouble. Stalin suspected that Yezhov was involved in the disappearance and told Beria, not Yezhov, that Uspensky must be caught (he was arrested on 14 April 1939).  Yezhov had told his wife, Yevgenia, on 18 September that he wanted a divorce, and she had begun writing increasingly despairing letters to Stalin, none of which was answered.  She was particularly vulnerable because of her many lovers, and for months people close to her were being arrested. On 19 November 1938, Yevgenia committed suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills.
At his own request, Yezhov was officially relieved of his post as the People's Commissar for Internal Affairs on 25 November, succeeded by Beria, who had been in complete control of the NKVD since the departure of Frinovsky on 8 September.  He attended his last Politburo meeting on 29 January 1939.
Stalin was evidently content to ignore Yezhov for several months, finally ordering Beria to denounce him at the annual Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. On 3 March 1939, Yezhov was relieved of all his posts in the Central Committee, but retained his post as People's Commissar of Water Transportation. His last working day was 9 April at which time the "People’s Commissariat was simply abolished by splitting it into two, the People’s Commissariats of the River Fleet and the Sea Fleet, with two new People’s Commissars, Z. A. Shashkov and S. S. Dukel’skii." 
On 10 April, Yezhov was arrested and imprisoned at the Sukhanovka prison the "arrest was painstakingly concealed, not only from the general public but also from most NKVD officers. It would not do to make a fuss about the arrest of 'the leader’s favourite,' and Stalin had no desire to arouse public interest in NKVD activity and the circumstances of the conduct of the Great Terror." 
Yezhov confessed to the standard litany of state crimes necessary to mark him as an "enemy of the people" prior to execution, including "wrecking", official incompetence, theft of government funds, and treasonous collaboration with German spies and saboteurs, none of which were likely or supported by evidence. Apart from these political crimes, he was also accused of and confessed to a humiliating history of sexual promiscuity, including homosexuality, that was later corroborated by witness reports and deemed true in some post-Soviet examinations of the case.  
On 2 February 1940, Yezhov was tried by the Military Collegium chaired by Soviet judge Vasili Ulrikh behind closed doors.  Yezhov, like his predecessor Yagoda, maintained to the end his love for Stalin. Yezhov denied being a spy, a terrorist, or a conspirator, stating that he preferred "death to telling lies". He maintained that his previous confession had been obtained under torture, admitted that he purged 14,000 of his fellow Chekists, but said that he was surrounded by "enemies of the people". He also said that he would die with the name of Stalin on his lips. 
After the secret trial, Yezhov was allowed to return to his cell half an hour later, he was called back and told that he had been condemned to death. On hearing the verdict, Yezhov became faint and began to collapse, but the guards caught him and removed him from the room. An immediate appeal for clemency was denied, and Yezhov became hysterical and wept. He soon had to be dragged out of the room, struggling with the guards and screaming. 
On 4 February 1940, Yezhov was shot by the future KGB chairman Ivan Serov (or by Vasily Blokhin, in the presence of N. P. Afanasev, according to one book source  ) in the basement of a small NKVD station on Varsonofevskii Lane (Varsonofyevskiy pereulok) in Moscow. The basement had a sloping floor so that it could be hosed down after executions, and had been built according to Yezhov's own specifications near the Lubyanka. The main NKVD execution chamber in the basement of the Lubyanka was deliberately avoided to ensure total secrecy.  
Yezhov's body was immediately cremated and his ashes dumped in a common grave at Moscow's Donskoi Cemetery.  The execution remained secret and as late as 1948, Time reported: "Some think he is still in an insane asylum". 
In Russia, Yezhov remains mostly known as the person who was responsible for atrocities of the Great Purge that he conducted on Stalin's orders.  Among art historians, he also has the nickname "The Vanishing Commissar" because after his execution, his likeness was retouched out of an official press photo he is among the best-known examples of the Soviet press making someone who had fallen out of favour "disappear". 
Due to his role in the Great Purge, Yezhov has not been officially rehabilitated by the Soviet and Russian authorities.  
A decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet on 24 January 1941 deprived Yezhov of all state and special awards.
Airbrushed out of history in the USSR - Part 1
A favourite line from the Russian propaganda manual is that nobody knows the truth and therefore lying and deceiving is another form of fact. The fictional 'Ministry of Truth' in George Orwell's 1984, probably did not require a lot of invention, as producing new versions of 'the truth' had already been perfected and used for decades in the USSR at the time of Orwell's writing.
Much of the manipulation of photos and information in the USSR only became known after the empire had collapsed. Altering images to adorn the facts and lie to the people took hold right after the October revolution. Some of the pictures taken during the Bolshevik revolution of fighters celebrating their victories were transformed into postcards after the war, undergoing telling alterations in the process.
Here is a postcard (bottom) made from a photo (top) taken in November 1917.
The background of the original photo includes a jewellery shop with a Russian sign saying "Watches, gold and silver".
The inscription was then altered to "Struggle for your rights", and a near solid (red coloured) flag changed to to a placard saying "Down with the monarchy - long live the Republic!" Obviously jewellery was not something available to most living in Russia in 1917. Pretty bourgeois perhaps too in the eyes of Lenin and his cohorts. The troops had already murdered the Tsar and its family. Stating that fact on the flag, which in a monochrome version did not look red (their symbol), was a mere confirmation of a crime that had already taken place, but served the revolution.
Stalin. and then there was the One
Sometimes, one image underwent numerous alterations in the course of ideological weather change. In the image above, we see, initially, standing from left to right Nikolay Antipov (People's Commissar for Posts and Telegraphs of the USSR), Joseph Stalin, Sergei Kirov and Nikolay Shvernik. After each of Stalin's comrades fell out of favour, they were removed from the picture. Eventually, only Joseph himself is left standing, embellished in the process and finally coloured in by Russian photo artists.
The original photo from 1926 saw Nikolay Komarov (who was at the extreme right) already cropped out of the top left photo.
Yezhov earned the nickname 'The Vanishing Commissar' among art historians for his disappearance from photographs after his execution in 1940. Below is the original photo of Soviet leaders posing by the Moscow canal. Some may recognise the man to Stalin's left, Vyacheslav Molotov, infamous for the pact with Nazi Germany's Ribbentrop that precipitated the brutal invasion of the Baltic States and Poland.
Yezhov, a particularly cruel and brutal man, was the Chairman of the Central Commission for Party Control from 1935 until his arrest in 1939. In 1935, he wrote a paper in which he argued that political opposition must eventually lead to violence and terrorism this became in part the ideological justification for Stalin's 1930s purges.
Yezhov's doctrine was responsible for killing hundreds of thousands, including about half of the Soviet political and military establishment suspected of disloyalty or 'wrecking'. They were arrested, imprisoned or shot. 'Wrecking' or sabotaging the government was an easy 'of the shelf' accusation during Stalin's reign of terror.
Ironically, Yezhov himself was eventually accused of 'excesses' and disloyalty. He was arrested on 10 April 1939 and executed on 4 February 1940. Stalin, who was in the habit of eliminating those who fell out of his grace not just physically, but out of official memory, had him airbrushed out of history.
To be continued
All pictures fall under Public Domain, being published prior to 1 January 1954.
All works belonging to the former Soviet government or other Soviet legal entities published before 1 January 1954 are in the public domain in Russia.
In the terrible years of the Yezhovshchina, I spent seventeen months in lines outside the prison in Leningrad [queuing to deliver food to or get news of imprisoned loved ones: in her case, her son Lev]. One day somebody in the crowd identified me. Standing behind me was a woman, with lips blue from cold, who had, of course, never heard me called by name before. Now she started out of the torpor common to us all and asked me in a whisper (everyone whispered there):
‘And can you describe this?’
And I said: ‘I can.’
Then something like a smile passed fleetingly over what had once been her face.
-Poet Anna Akhmatova
On this date in 1940, the first name in Stalin’s terror got his just deserts.
Well. The first name after Stalin’s own, a point energetically made by Nikolai Yezhov’s daughter* in her fruitless post-Soviet attempts to rehabilitate the man.
But clearing a fellow’s name is a tough task when that name is the mother tongue’s very metonym for political persecution: the Soviet Union’s mind-bending late-1930s witch hunt for internal enemies, known as the Yezhovshchina.
From late 1936, when he eliminated his predecessor Genrikh Yagoda (later executed, of course), until his own fall from power in at the end of 1938, Yezhov presided over the apex of Stalinist terror, averaging hundreds of political killings daily — perhaps north of 600,000 for the two-year period, plus a like number disappeared into the Gulag’s freezers. (Just browse this here site’s ’ tag for a taste.)
Departments and regions received quotas for executions as if they were tractor factories. Security officials well understood that their own heads would be next on the block for any perceived shortcoming Yezhov had thousands of them arrested, too. (pdf)**
We are launching a major attack on the Enemy let there be no resentment if we bump someone with an elbow. Better that ten innocent people should suffer than one spy get away. When you chop wood, chips fly.
The “Bloody Dwarf” — surely there is some of Yezhov in the Master and Margarita character Azazello, the Satan/Stalin figure’s murderous and diminutive attendant — rode this tiger unto his own destruction.
Stalin and other Soviet VIPs with (front right) Nikolai Yezhov.
The same photo ‘updated’ after Yezhov’s fall. (For a similarly chilling photographic disappearance, see Vladimir Clementis.)
As Yezhov had once displaced and killed his mentor Yagoda, so Yezhov’s own nominal underling Beria would displace Yezhov.
Power in the NKVD shifted towards Beria over the course of 1938 until Yezhov’s own resignation that November. The former boss was quietly arrested the next April and barely troubled his skilled torturers before copping to the usual litany of official self-denunciations: corruption, economic sabotage and “wrecking”, treasonable collaboration with the Germans, plus a bisexual personal life. (That last one was true.)
Bound for historical infamy, Yezhov salvaged a shred of dignity in the last, when he was “tried” a few hours before death and renounced those confessions — albeit from the twisted standpoint of a man still unquestioningly committed to the man and the system that had destroyed him.
It is better to die, but to leave this earth as an honorable man and to tell nothing but the truth at the trial. At the preliminary investigation I said that I was not a spy, that I was not a terrorist, but they didn’t believe me and applied to me the strongest beating. During the 25 years of my party work I have fought honorably against enemies and have exterminated them. I have committed crimes for which I might well be executed … But those crimes which are imputed to me by the indictment in my case I did not commit …
My fate is obvious. My life, naturally, will not be spared since I myself have contributed to this at my preliminary investigation. I ask only one thing: shoot me quietly, without tortures …Tell Stalin that I shall die with his name on my lips.
And indeed, Yezhov knew from plenty of personal experience how this script ended. It was called the Yezhovshchina for a reason.
The judges pretended to deliberate for half an hour. Ezhov fainted at the verdict, then scrawled a petition for mecy it was read out over the telephone to the Kremlin and rejected. Ezhov was taken in the dead of night to a slaughterhouse he himself had built near the Lubianka. Dragged screaming to a special room with a sloping cement floor and a log-lined wall, he was shot by the NKVD’s chief executioner, Vasili Blokhin. Beria gave Stalin a list of 346 of Ezhov’s associates to be shot. Sixty of them were NKVD officers, another fifty were relatives and sexual partners. (From Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him
* Natalia Khayutina is actually Yezhov’s adoptive daughter. Her birth parents were killed … in the Yezhovschina.
** “I purged 14,000 chekists,” Yezhov later said. “But my guilt lies in the fact that I did not purge enough of them.”
How much of the USSR's "dark history" under Stalin can actually be attributed to Yezhov?
At least for most of the West, many are brought up with Stalin as the "monster of the USSR", single-handedly killing "50 million innocent people", and blah blah.
Obviously there are drastically different statistics from the time about the amount of death that occurred for whatever reason, but ignoring the specific numbers - how much of the supposed ɻrutality' in the USSR could be attributed to his right-hand-man Yezhov?
Yezhov led the secret police, and I've heard he was in fact the one to order many of the executions and imprisonments during the 30's. Is there any truth to that?
There is a tendency to demonize Yezhov, but I don't think he was some sort of a monster. He was just a bureaucrat (a very effective one), who meticulously carried out orders he received from Stalin. At some point Yezhov probably went a bit further than it was required from him, but he should share the blame for that with Stalin and all Politburo members. Instead, they made him the main scapegoat and executed him - and all other NKVD officers who were involved in purges in 1937-1939. In short, Yezhov just curried out Stalin's orders. Whatever he did, Stalin shares responsibility for that.
I think Yezhov and his men bear more responsibility for the excesses of the Purges than Stalin. Yezhov didn't just go a little bit further than he was ordered. The current evidence suggests that Stalin did not know about Yezhov and his men's excesses when they were happening and when he found out, Yezhov was tried, confessed (he said he did it to sow discontent in hopes of undermining Stalin), and executed.
Grover Furr has provided the transcript of Yezhov's interrogations here. Yezhov confesses:
I must admit that, although I gave truthful confessions about my espionage work for Poland, I really did hide from the investigation my espionage ties with the Germans. .
I organized an anti-Soviet conspiracy and was preparing a coup dɾtat by means of terrorist acts against the leaders of the party and government. .
I decided to organize a conspiracy within the NKVD and to attract to it people through whom I could carry out terrorist acts against the leaders of the Party and government. .
I informed [Lazebny] that the murder of Stalin would save the situation in the country.
See also this article of Furr's:
When Lavrentii Beria was appointed as Ezhov's second-in-command Ezhov and his men understood that Stalin and the Party leadership no longer trusted them. They made one last plot to assassinate Stalin at the November 7, 1938 celebration of the 21st anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. But Ezhov's men were arrested in time.
Ezhov was persuaded to resign. An intensive investigation was begun and a huge number of NKVD abuses were uncovered. A great many cases of those tried or punished under Ezhov were reviewed. Over 100,000 people were released from prison and camps. Many NKVD men were arrested, confessed to torturing innocent people, tried and executed. Many more NKVD men were sentenced to prison or dismissed.
Under Beria the number of executions in 1938 and 1940 dropped to less than 1% of the number under Ezhov in 1937 and 1938, and many of those executed were NKVD men, including Ezhov himself, who were found guilty of massive unjustified repression and executions of innocent people.
Conquest, Robert. (1990). The Great Terror: A Reassessment. London: Hutchinson.
Getty, J. Arch, and Naumov, Oleg V. (1999). The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932 – 1939, tr. Benjamin Sher. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Jansen, Marc, and Petrov, Nikita. (2002). Stalin's Loyal Executioner: People's Commissar Nikolai Ezhov, 1895 – 1940. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.
Khlevnyuk, Oleg (1995). "The Objectives of the Great Terror, 1937 – 1938." In Soviet History, 1917 – 53: Essays in Honour of R.W. Davies, ed. Julian Cooper et al. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.
Medvedev, Roy. (1989). Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, rev. and expanded ed., tr. George Shriver. New York: Columbia University Press.
Starkov, Boris A. (1993). "Narkom Ezhov." In Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives, eds. J. Arch Getty and Roberta T. Manning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
3. The purge within the Red ArmyThe first five Marshals of the Soviet Union in November 1935. (l-r): Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Semyon Budyonny, Kliment Voroshilov, Vasily Blyukher, Aleksandr Yegorov. Only Voroshilov and Budyonny survived the Great Purge.
The purge of the Red Army and Military Maritime Fleet removed three of the five marshals (then equivalent to five-star generals), 13 of 15 army commanders (then equivalent to three- and four-star generals), eight of nine admirals (the purge fell heavily on the Navy, who were suspected of exploiting their opportunities for foreign contacts), 50 of 57 army corps commanders, 154 out of 186 division commanders, 16 of 16 army commissars, and 25 of 28 army corps commissars.
One of the most controversial verdicts within the purge was one concerning Mikhail Tukhachevsky, who was the hero of the civil war. At first, it was thought that between 25 % and 50 % of the Red Army officer corps was purged. Recent evaluations suggest that the real number was between 3.7 % and 7.7% The purge of the officers was far lighter in comparison to others, as many of them were merely stripped of their duties and expelled from the Party. Thirty percent of the officers that were expelled were allowed to return to their duties during WWII.
It's awesome being able to see how leaders in the past have used propaganda and censorship &ndash this makes you really wonder what happens in the government today. This is a 5 image comparison of some popular censored images that were altered during Stalin's rule of the USSR.
Photo of Nikolai Yezhov (Naval Commissar) and Stalin walking alongside the Moscow Canal. After Nikolai Yezhov fell from power, he was arrested, shot, and his image removed by the censors. [Source: Wikipedia]
On November 7, 1919 this image was snapped of the Soviet leadership celebrating the second anniversary of the October Revolution. After Trotsky and his allies fell from power, a number of figures were removed from the image, including Trotsky and two people over to Lenin's left, wearing glasses and giving a salute. Lev Kamenev two men over on Lenin's right was another of Stalin's opponents and below the boy in front of Trotsky, another bearded figure, Artemic Bagratovich Khalatov the one time Commissar of publishing, was also edited out. [Source: Wikipedia]
On May 5, 1920, Lenin gave a famous speech to a crowd of Soviet troops in Sverdlov Square, Moscow. In the foreground was Leon Trotsky and Lev Kamenev. The photo was later altered and both were removed by censors. [Source: Wikipedia]
During the Revolution a number of pictures were taken of successful fighters celebrating their victories. These were often used as postcards after the war. The background of the original image includes a store that says in Russian, "Watches, gold and silver". The image was then changed to read, "Struggle for your rights", and a flag that was a solid color before was changed to read, "Down with the monarchy - long live the Republic!". [Source: Wikipedia]
This picture is a meeting of the St. Petersburg chapter of the Union of Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class taken in February 1897. Shortly after the picture was taken the whole group was arrested by the Okhrana. The members were handed out various punishments with Lenin being arrested, held by authorities for fourteen months and then released and exiled to the village of Shushenskoye in Siberia, where he mingled with such notable Marxists as Georgy Plekhanov, who had introduced socialism to Russia.
To the left standing is Alexander Malchenko. At the time of this picture he was an engineering student and his mother would let Lenin hide out at her house. After his arrest he spent some time in exile before returning in 1900 and abandoning the revolution. He moved to Moscow where he worked as a senior engineer in various state departments before in 1929 being arrested, wrongfully accused of being a "wrecker" and executed on November 18, 1930. After his arrest and execution he was airbrushed out of all reproductions of this image. In 1958 he was posthumously rehabilitated and was allowed to reappear in reproductions of the image. [Source: Wikipedia]
Interrogations of Nikolai Ezhov, former People's Commissar for Internal Affairs.
We do not know how many interrogations of Ezhov are in existence. All the prosecution materials concerning virtually all the important matters of the later 1930s in the USSR are still top-secret, kept in the Presidential Archives of the Russian Federation. I have simply translated those texts that have been published as of this date (July 2010).
I have compiled and translated these confessions from the following "semi-official" sources:
Briukhanov, Boris Borisovich, and Shoshkov, Evgenii Nikolaevich. Opravdaniiu ne podlezhit. Ezhov i Ezhovshchina 1936-1938 gg. Sankt-Peterburg: OOO "Petrovskii Fond" 1998.
Polianskii, Aleksei. Ezhov. Istoriia «zheleznogo» stalinskogo narkoma. Moscow: «Veche», «Aria-AiF», 2001.
Pavliukov, Aleksei. Ezhov. Biografiia. Moscow: Zakharov, 2007.
I term these sources "semi-official" since they are quoted unproblematically by all the anticommunist scholars. These scholars ignore them almost completely, and ignore their implications completely, but they do not consider the documents false.
In addition I have used these sources, which are more or less "official":
Lubianka. Stalin i NKVD – NKGB – GUKR «SMERSH». 1939 – mart 1946. Moscow: «Materik», 2006.
Petrov, Nikita, and Iansen [Jansen], Mark. «Stalinskii pitomets» -- Nikolai Ezhov. Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2008.
A few remarks have been taken from other sources, mainly Vassilii Soima, Zapreshchennyi Stalin, Chast' 1. Moscow: OLMA-PRESS, 2001. Where possible I have checked the text with the versions online at http://perpetrator2004.narod.ru/ , "Documents of Soviet Power and of Soviet-Communist Terror", which has used the sources above.
Here I only present them in English translation for interested students. Naturally they must be studied. I’m doing that but I do not present my results here.
NOTE: We have one very important confession by Mikhail Frinovskii, Ezhov's Assistant Commissar -- that of April 11, 1939. Also published in the Lubianka volume cited above, I have put a translation of it online here.
It should be read in connection with Ezhov's confessions.
Ezhov interrogation 04.18 – 04.20.39
According to Pavliukov, this is the 1st Ezhov confession in his file. QQ 519-520 & n. 481 p. 564. Summarized 520-521.
"Question: You have been arrested as a traitor to the party and an enemy of the people. The investigation possesses sufficient facts to expose you completely at the first attempt to conceal your crimes. We propose that you not wait to be exposed but proceed to confessions of your black traitorous work against the party and Soviet power.
Answer: It is hard for one such as I, who only lately enjoyed the party’s trust, to confess to betrayal and treason. But now that I am faced with answering before the investigation for my crimes, I wish to be thoroughly frank and truthful.
I am not the person the party took me for. Hiding behind a mask of party loyalty, for many years I have deceived and been two-faced while conducting a ferocious hidden struggle against the party and the Soviet State."
Summary of other parts of Ezhov’s statement.
"Ezhov started the history of his ‘fall into sin’ in 1921, when he worked in Tartaria and under the influence of anarcho-syndicalist ideas supposedly joined the local group of the ‘Workers’ Opposition.’ In the following years, the period of inner-party discussions of the 1930s, he also supposedly expressed differences in his political views with the general line of the party. However, the investigators showed no interest in digging so deeply into the garbage-heap of history, and they did not permit Ezhov to deviate long from the basic theme."
"Question: What is the point of this expansive story about these or those ‘political waverings’ of yours? As a long-time agent of foreign intelligence services you must confess about your direct espionage work. Talk about that!
Answer: All right, I will go directly to the moment when my espionage ties were formed."
"Ezhov related that he was drawn into espionage work by his friend F.M. Konar*, who had long been a Polish agent. Konar learned political news from Ezhov and gave them to his bosses in Poland and on one occasion told Ezhov about this and proposed that he volunteer to begin working for the Poles. Since Ezhov had in fact already become an informant of Polish intelligence, since he had transmitted to them via Konar many significant party and state secrets, he supposedly had no other choice than to agree with this proposal.
* F.M. Konar – An assistant Commissar of Agriculture, he was among those convicted and executed in March 1933 for sabotage in agriculture at the height of the serious famine. Konar had also been a friend of the poet Osip Mandel’shtam, according to his daughter Nadezhda (Memoirs).
The Poles supposedly shared a part of the intelligence received from Ezhov with their allies the Germans, and so after a time an offer of collaboration from the latter was also made.
According to Ezhov Marshal A.I. Egorov, first assistant Commissar for Defense, acted as the middleman [between Ezhov and the Germans]. He met with Ezhov in the summer of 1937 and told him that he knew about the latter’s ties with the Poles, that he himself was a German spy who on orders from the German authorities had organized a group of conspirators in the Red Army, and that he had been given a directive to establish close working contact between his group and Ezhov.
Ezhov agreed with this proposal and promised to protect Egorov’s men from arrest."
Ezhov interrogation 04.23.39 (04.24.39)
Quotes are same as beginning and end of Ezhov conf. dated April 24, 1939 in Petrov & Iansen, 365-6 and Pavliukov, 522-523.
Pavliukov says 10 pages in length. P&Ia cite same archive, different location, 4 pages in length.
Pavliukov – no sign this confession was forced, or even asked about this (522).
"I think it essential that I inform the investigation of a series of new facts concerning my moral-personal dissoluteness. I mean my longtime vice of homosexuality.
This began in my early youth when I lived as an apprentice to a tailor. At about the age of 15 or 16 years I had a few instances of perverse sexual acts with other apprentices of my own age of the same tailor shop. This vice renewed itself in the old Tsarist army in frontline conditions. Aside from one chance contact with one of the solders of our company I had relations with a certain Filatov, my friend from Leningrad with whom we served in the same regiment. Our relations were "mutual", that is the "female" part was played first by one side, then by the other. Afterwards Filatov was killed at the front.
In 1919 I was appointed commissar of the 2 nd base of radio-telegraph formations. My secretary was a certain Antoshin. I know that in 1937 he was still in Moscow and was working somewhere as chief of a radio station. He is an engineer radio technician. In 1919 I had mutual homosexual relations with this same Antoshin.
In 1924 I was working in Semiplatinsk [now the city of Semei, Kazakhstan – GF]. My old friend Dement’ev went there with me. On several occasions in 1924 I had homosexual relations with him in which only I played the active role. [Ezhov apparently means Dement’ev played the "female" role. – GF]
In 1925 in Orenburg I established homosexual relations with a certain Boiarskii, at that time the chairman of the Kazakh oblast’ trade union council. As far as I know he is now working as the director of an artistic theater in Moscow. Our relations were mutual.
At that time he and I had just arrived in Orenburg and were living in the same hotel. Our relations were shot-lived, until the arrival of his wife, who arrived quickly.
In the same year 1925 the capital of Kazakhstan was transferred from Orenburg to Kzyl-Orda, whence I also went to work. Soon F.I. Goloshchekin arrived there as the secretary of the regional [Party] committee (he is now employed as a chief arbiter). He arrived as a bachelor, without a wife, and I was also living as a bachelor. Before my departure for Moscow (for about 2 months) I had de facto moved into his apartment and often spent the night there. I quickly established homosexual relations with him as well, and they continued off and on until my departure. As with the others, our relations were mutual.
In 1938 I had two instances of homosexual activity with Dement’ev, with whom I had also had relations in 1924, as I stated above. These relations were in Moscow in the autumn of 1938 in my apartment, after I had already been dismissed from the post of Commissar of Internal Affairs. Dement’ev lived with me at that time about two months.
A little later, also in 1938, there occurred two instances of homosexual activity between myself and Konstantinov. I have known Konstantinov since 1918 in the army. He worked with me before 1921. Since 1921 we hardly saw each other at all. In 1938 on my invitation he began to visit me often at my apartment and two or three times he was at my dacha. He came twice with his wife the other visits were without wives. He often stayed the night with me. As I have said above, at that time he and I had two instances of homosexual relations. Our relations were mutual. I should also say that during one of his visits to my apartment with his wife I also had sexual relations with her.
All of this was accompanied, as a rule, with heavy drinking.
I give this information to the investigation as an additional detail characterizing my moral dissolution.
April 24, 1939. N. Ezhov.
Ezhov interrogation of 04.26.1939 (published separately)
Ezhov interrogation 04.30.39
Ezhov interrogation, Pavliukov 525-6 & n. 489 p. 564. Short Q from interrogation on 525-6.
Acc. to Pavliukov 526, Ezhov named 66 names of fellow conspirators in this one interrogation.
"The first stage of the investigation was completed on April 30, 1939. In the course of the interrogation that took place on that day Ezhov told about the method of recruiting his subordinates in the Cheka into the anti-Soviet conspiracy and about the basic direction of the sabotage work in the NKVD. This sabotage consisted in massive arrests without any basis, falsification of investigative materials, forgeries, and reprisals against undesirable elements."
"All this was done in order to cause widespread dissatisfaction in the population with the leadership of the Party and the Soviet government and in that way to create the most favorable base for carrying out our conspiratorial plans."
Ezhov interrogation 05.05.1939
Pavliukov summarizes it 526. No QQ, no note.
"…at his interrogation of May 5 1939 Ezhov recounted the work of the ‘conspirators’ in the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. Here at that same time took place the beginning of the large-scale purge (after the removal of M.M. Litvinov, the director of the division of foreign political affairs). Therefore the theme of subversive activity in the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs was especially timely in those days.
Ezhov stated that the goal of this activity was the creation of conditions for the victory of Germany and Japan in the inevitable war with the USSR. Specifically, they undertook attempts to create disagreements between the Chinese government of Chiang Kai-shek and the Soviet authorities, for the purpose, in the last analysis, of facilitating Japanese seizure of the Soviet Far East.
At the beginning of May 1939 confessions were obtained from several arrested NKVD employees concerning the fabrication, at Ezhov’s instruction, of the so-called mercury poisoning. Interrogated on this point Ezhov confirmed the fact of the falsification and explained that this initiative was undertaken with the goal of raising his authority even higher in the eyes of the country’s leadership."
Ezhov interrogation May 11 1939 by Kobulov
Long quotes in Polianskii 222-226. Acc to Polianskii, this is where Kuz’min’s report of Dec. 12 1938 about Sholokhov and Ezhova is located.
"It is not altogether clear why the closeness of these persons to Ezhova [Ezhov’s wife – GF] appeared suspicious to you.
Ezhova’s closeness to these people was suspicious insofar as Babel, for example, as I knew, had written almost nothing during the past few years, circulating all the time in a suspicious Trotskyist milieu and, besides that, had close ties to a series of French writers who could by no means be considered among those who were sympathetic to the Soviet Union. Not to mention the fact that Babel demonstratively refused to write off his wife, who had been living in Paris for many years, but preferred to go to see her. Ezhova had a special friendship with Babel. I suspect – in truth, just on the basis of my personal observations – that there must have been ties of espionage between my wife and Babel.
On what factual basis do you make this statement?
I know from my wife’s own words that she had been acquainted with Babel since 1925. She always insisted that she had never had intimate relations with him. Their ties were limited to her desire to maintain an acquaintance with a talented, singular writer. Babel visited us at home a few times at her invitation, where, of course, I also made his acquaintance.
I observed that in his relationship with my wife Babel was demanding and rude. I saw that my wife was simply afraid of him. I understood that this was not a question of my wife’s literary interests, but of something more serious. I excluded any intimate relations because I thought that Babel would hardly treat my wife with such rudeness when he knew what social position I occupied. To my questions to my wife whether she had the same kind of relations with Babel as she had with Kol’tsov she either remained silent or weakly denied it. I always supposed that with this indefinite answer she simply wished to hide from me her espionage ties with Babel, evidently not wishing to confide the numerous channels of this kind of relationship with me…
What you have said about Babel is not a sufficient basis for suspecting him of taking part in espionage for England. Aren’t you just slandering Babel?
I am not slandering him. Ezhova definitely never said that she was linked with Babel in her work for English intelligence. In this case I am only expressing that supposition, based upon my observation of the nature of the mutual relations between my wife and the writer Babel.
What do you think in general about, shall we say, Ezhova’s friendship with cultural figures?
This whole specific milieu of people who were tied with the interests of the Soviet people with very thin threads, could not fail to arouse my suspicions.
What can you tell us about her relations with the writer Sholokhov?
I seem to recall that, I think last spring, my wife told me that she had meet Sholokhov, who had come to Moscow and dropped in at the journal "SSSR na stroike". There was nothing surprising in this, Ezhova always tried to meet writers and never missed an opportunity to do so. I was very well informed about this.
Good. And what did you do when you found out about the intimate relations between Ezhova and Sholokhov?
I did not know anything about such relations this is the first time I have heard about them.
Don’t lie, Ezhov. In June and August of last year upon your instructions Alekhin arranged to monitor the letter "N" at the phone number of the Hotel "Nationale", where Sholokhov was staying.
For Alekhin see http://www.memo.ru/history/NKVD/kto/biogr/gb13.htm
I issued no such instructions. Ezhova may have showed up under the letter "N" solely by chance.
But you did know that the intimate relations of Sholokhov with your wife were recorded. Here, take a look at this.
[Here reads Kuz’min report of Dec. 12 1938, acc. to Polianskii 224-5]
Do you admit that a few days after you received the transcript you brought it home and showed the document to your wife, and then berated her for betraying you?
No such event happened. No one ever gave me this transcript of the intimate relations between Ezhov and Sholokhov, and in general I never showed my wife documents from my work and never told her what they contained.
Of course you can deny this, Ezhov. But we have the confessions of Glikina, Ezhova’s close friend and a German spy, who is now arrested and is under investigation. Glikina confesses that Ezhova was beaten by you and complained to her and told her about everything. Therefore let me remind you that lying will not help you!"
The following short extract from Ezhov's interrogation-confession of May 11, 1939 is printed in Viktor Fradkin, Delo Kol'tsova. Moscow: Vagrius / Mezhdunarodnyi Fond "Demokratiia", 2002. Published under the auspices of the "Memorial" society, there is every reason to believe that the documents reproduced in this volume are genuine.
Question: Besides Zinaida Glikina, whom you have already named, was anyone else connected with your wife Ezhova E.S. [Evgeniia Solomonovna - GF] in espionage work?
Answer: I can only reply with more or less precise suppositions. After the journalist M. Kol'tsov arrived from Spain his friendship with my wife grew much stronger. This friendship was so close that my wife even visited him in the hospital when he was ill.
Kol'tsov also worked in the commission -- or committee -- on foreign literature, that is, where Glikina also worked and, as far as I know, Kol'tsov obtained this job for Glikina upon Ezhova's recommendation.
I became interested in the reasons for my wife's closeness with Kol'tsov and once asked her about this. My wife at first put me off with general phrases, but then said that this closeness was connected with her work. I asked her, with which work, the literary or the other, and she answered: "With both the first and the second."
I understood that Ezhova was connected with Kol'tsov in her espionage work for England.
Ezhov interrogation 05.17.39
Interrogation re: murder of Slutsky, organized by Ezhov. Pavliukov 527. No QQ, no note. See Pavliukov 531-2 on Frinovskii’s testimony at Ezhov’s trial on February 3, 1940, where Frinovskii discussed Slutsky’s murder.
"The interrogation of May 17 1939 was devoted to the circumstances surrounding the death of the former head of the Foreign division of the GUGB of the NKVD M. M. Slutsky. Ezhov informed us that the murder of Slutskii was organized according to his instructions, and was done because of the feat that Slutsky, whose arrest had become inevitable, might reveal during his interrogation the facts he knew about the criminal activity of the conspirators. "
Ezhov interrogation 06.16.39 by Rodos, selections – Polianskii 230-233
"Do you confirm Kosior’s confessions about your collaboration in working for Polish intelligence? Where, when and what secret information did you transmit to Kosior, and whom else did you recruit for this work?"
Perhaps you did not know Radek and Piatakov well and did not receive any instructions from Trotsky through them?
I never received any instructions from Trotsky from anybody. I knew Radek very poorly, I met him at Piatakov’s apartment a few times, but that was about ten years ago!
Were you friends with Piatakov?
Never. Mar'iasin, the president of the Gosbank, introduced us. We would get together for a drinking bout sometimes at his place, sometimes at Piatakov’s. And then I always got angry with Piatakov.
All right, then. When was this?
In 1930 or 1931, I can’t remember now.
And what did you do with him?
When he was drunk Piatakov often played the hooligan, made fun of those present. Once I was sitting next to him at the table. Piatakov quietly stuck me with a pin and then pretended that it was not he who had done it. A little while later he did it again even harder. I did not hold back and hit Piatakov in the face and split his lip. That evening I went away angry with him and never made it up with him and never had any doings with him at all.
You lie well, you bastard. Only I am not Piatakov, I won’t stick you with a pin, but I will force you to tell the truth.
I’ll tell you everything, don’t beat me. My guilt before the party and the people is so great that it’s senseless to justify myself."
Ezhov interrogation June 19 1939
No QQ. Re: nephews Viktor and Anatolii, and Mikhail Blinov, husband of his niece.
"In particular, during the course of the interrogation of June 19 1939 Ezhov told about his conversations of a counterrevolutionary nature, which he supposedly had with his nephews Viktor and Anatolii, and also with the husband of his niece Mikhail Blinov. They supposedly agreed completely with his anti-Soviet views, and Viktor also shared, in Ezhov’s words, even his terrorist intentions, although he [Ezhov] never gave him any assignments of that nature."
"As has already been mentioned earlier, during the course of the interrogation of June 19 1939 confessions were beaten out of Ezhov according to which Anatolii and Viktor shared his anti-Soviet views and even sympathized with his terrorist orientation. After that they went after his nephews in a serious way. They succeeded in breaking Anatolii first. He not only ‘confessed’ that he knew about Ezhov’s terrorist orientations but also stated that together with his brother Viktor he was read to do anything to help bring about these criminal plans."
[There is NO evidence that Ezhov beaten or tortured to get these confessions – only "supposed" by Pavliukov, 527 bot. - GF]
"As concerns confessions of a personal nature, to obtain some of them the investigators, probably, had to have recourse to the practice of interrogation "with partiality" [i.e. to beat Ezhov – GF]. Otherwise it is hard to understand now, for example, they were able to obtain from Ezhov confessions compromising his nearest relations."
Ezhov interrogation 06.21.39 by Rodos, fm Polianskii 235-238
- summarized by Pavliukov 527 bot.
"If you intend to lie again and make fun of the investigation, then we will not waste our time. I’d prefer to send you back to prison for a week or so to think it over."
Ezhov had already thought about the beginning of his dialog with the investigator and began to talk quickly:
"I admit that I was connected with Zhukovskii in espionage work for Germany since 1932. The fact that I tried to conceal that circumstance from the investigation can be explained only by my cowardice, which I showed at the beginning of the investigation when I tried to minimize my personal guilt, and since my espionage link with Zhukovskii concealed my even earlier ties with German intelligence, it was hard for me to speak [about them] at the first interrogation."
"When did you become a German spy?
I was recruited in 1930. In Germany, in Königsberg.
How did you happen to be there?
I was sent to Germany by the People’s Commissariat of Agriculture. In Germany I was well treated and shown every attention. The most assiduous attention I received from the prominent official of the Economic Ministry of Germany Artnau. Having been invited to his estate near Königsberg I spent the time happily enough, partaking excessively of alcoholic drinks. In Königsberg Artnau often paid the restaurant bills for me. I did not protest. All these circumstances made me feel close to Artnau and often without holding back I blurted out to him all kinds of secrets about the situation in the Soviet Union. Sometimes, when I was drunk, I was even more frank with Artnau and gave him to understand that I personally was not wholly in agreement with the Party’s line and with the existing Party leadership. Things got to the point that during one of the conversations I directly promised Artnau to discuss a series of questions in the government of the USSR concerning the purchase of livestock and agricultural machinery, in which Germany and Artnau were very much interested.
And how did German intelligence recruit Zhukovsky? Did his recruitment take place through you?
I established espionage ties with Zhukovskii in 1932 under the following circumstances. Zhukovskii was then working as assistant trade representative of the USSR in Germany. At that time I was the chairman of the Raspredotdel of the Central Committee of the Party. When he somehow found himself in Moscow Zhukovskii applied to me with the request to take him along to the negotiations. Before this I had not been acquainted with Zhukovskii and saw him for the first time in my office at the CC. I was astonished that Zhukovskii began to report to me about the situation in the Berlin trade representative office of the USSR concerning questions which had nothing to do with my position. I understood that the basic reason for Zhukovsky’s visiting me was, obviously, not to initiate me into the situation of the affairs of the office of the Soviet trade representative in Berlin but in something else entirely, about which he preferred to remain silent for the time being, awaiting my initiative. Not long before Zhukovsky’s arrival there arrived at the office of foreign groups, which at that time was also a part of the Raspredotdel of the CC of the Party and was under my supervision, there had arrived materials that characterized Zhukovskii in an extremely negative way. From these materials it was obvious that Zhukovskii had carried out a number of trade operations that had been unprofitable for the Commissariat of Foreign Trade. From these materials it was also obvious that in Berlin Zhukovskii was involved with the Trotskyists and spoke in their defense even at official Party gatherings of the Soviet colony. On that basis the Party organization of the Soviet colony insisted that Zhukovskii be recalled from Berlin. Knowing that these materials would have to come before me Zhukovskii obviously expected that I would be first to begin a talk with him concerning his further work abroad. After Zhukovskii had finished his report I reminded him about the failures in his work. Zhukovskii gave me his explanations and at the end of the conversation asked me my opinion as to whether he might continue his work in the office of the Soviet trade representative or be recalled to Moscow. I avoided any answer and promised to deal with the materials and report the results. At the same time I decided to transmit all the compromising materials on Zhukovskii to Berlin so that Artnau might be able to use them and to recruit Zhukovskii to collaboration with German intelligence. I considered Zhukovskii my man, and he unhesitatingly fulfilled all my assignments concerning espionage for Germany. Zhukovskii had the essential conditions of free access to all materials of the Commission of Party Control, and he made use of them whenever German intelligence demanded from him materials on this or that question. I also created for him in the NKVD such conditions that he was able to use for espionage work information through the secretariat of the NKVD on any questions.*
* Senior major of State Security Semion Borisovich Zhukovskii was shot on January 24, 1940. He has been rehabilitated (Polianskii, p. 393).
Ezhov confession 06.25.39 Rodos re poisons
- fm perpetrator2004 Yezhov1.doc Soima Polianskii 241-245.
FROM THE TRANSCRIPT OF THE INTERROGATION OF N.I. EZHOV BY INVESTIGATOR RODOS ON JUNE 25 1939:
"How did you use this NKVD laboratory in your espionage and conspiratorial activities?" asked Rodos, glancing at Kobulov who was sitting beside him.
"ANSWER: I knew that such a laboratory existed and that Iagoda made use of it in his conspiratorial activities. But when I came to the NKVD Frinovskii explained to me that we could not do without the activities of this laboratory, and that it was necessary for our intelligence activities in the Foreign Division abroad. But I did not know anything about what they were doing. I did not even hear about all these experiments about which Zhukovskii spoke, probably Frinovskii allowed him all this. True, once – I don’t remember when – Frinovskii told me that Alekhin had in the laboratory some substance which, if a person ingested it, would cause death like that from a heart attack. Such a substance is essential when it’s necessary to eliminate enemies abroad. But it had to be tested to see whether it would leave traces on the organism that could be discovered by experts upon autopsy. Frinovskii said that they had a doctor who for this purpose needed to carry out research on the corps of a person who had died from this substance. The doctor needed to carry out experiments on three or four persons. What’s the difference how they die, poison is even easier than a bullet in the back of the head. Therefore I agreed, but I never heard anything more about this laboratory and about what they were doing there.
QUESTION: Once again your answer is not to the point. Name the persons whom you liquidated in your espionage and conspiratorial activities by the use of the poisons which you received from this laboratory.
ANSWER: I have no idea about these poisons, I have never seen them.
KOBULOV: Ezhov is lying again, he thinks that somebody will believe him. We remind him that he gave the directive to poison Slutsky. Both Frinovskii and Alekhin have given testimony about this.
Did you hear what we are asking you about? How did you organize the poisoning of Slutsky? – asked Rodos.
Frinovskii actively spoke against Slutsky. He said that this was Iagoda’s man and that we could never trust him under any circumstances.
But here Frinovskii does not view Slutskii at all in the way you do – Kobulov suddenly said. Slutskii head the INO (International section) and could have had access to information from abroad about your espionage links. You feared that and poisoned Slutskii after putting your own agent Shpigel’glas in his place. But you didn’t manage to cover your tracks. Shpigel’glas figured everything out, uncovered your whole band of spies. You had to take care of your agents in the INO and abroad in the most meticulous manner.
Tell us in detail how you organized the murder of your wife Evgeniia Solomonovna Ezhova by means of poisoning.
I did not organize such a poisoning. She died from a sedative, she drank a large dose.
And here your chauffer confessed in the investigation that a day before Ezhova’s death you asked him to take chocolate candies and fruit to her in the hospital. You poisoned these products. Who gave you the poison? Zhukovsky? Alekhin?
My wife died November 21. At that time both of them had already been arrested. And then, I don’t’ remember that I sent my chauffer to her with a present.
KOBULOV: Don’t play the fool, Ezhov, we are not children here, and we will not believe that such a hardened bandit and spy as you are did not keep poison and did not know how to use it.
I do not recall the exact date when I saw my wife in the hospital for the last time. Probably it was the 17 th or 18 th . She told me that she did not want to live, that in any case they would soon arrest her, that she felt there were serious crimes on her account. She asked me that I bring her some kind of poison the next time…
Did you arrange your wife’s suicide?
Yes. She knew a lot about my subversive activities, my accomplices, and my criminal plans. But I decided not to give her poison. I did not have any special poison. Normal poison I could of course obtain, but such a poisoning could have brought suspicion upon me, that I had put her to death myself or through accomplices, or simply had given her poison for suicide. I knew that a large dose of sedative could cause death. I told her that I did not have any poison, but I did have a very great deal of sedative. She understood everything.
On the 20 th I took a box of chocolate candies and put a packet of Luminal in it. Then I put the box into a basket with grapes and apples and told my chauffer to take all this to the hospital. Of course I committed a serious crime, but she herself asked me about this. She wanted to end her life."
[Soima: "Earlier he had confirmed to Rodos that with the aid of poison Ezhov had put his wife to death.]
Ezhov interrogation 06.29.39 by Rodos re Kedrov’s report
Tell us about your espionage connections with the agent of German intelligence Mnatsakanov.
I never had such connections with him.
And if you think about it the right way. When did you become acquainted with him?
That was, it seems, in 1935. I was going to Vienna for treatment together with my wife. Then I was already a secretary of the Central Committee and Slutskii had the task of security for our trip abroad. He, so to speak, attached this Mnatsakanov to me. He had been a consul or a vice-consul, had an automobile, and drove us around the town.
Yee-es. And he drove you around so well that once you were Commissar you immediately dragged this villain to a leading post in the INO knowing that he was a German spy, that his wife was linked to Polish intelligence, and that his brother was an experienced Trotskyist provocateur!
I didn’t know any of this. Slutskii had simply worked with him in Vienna, had a high opinion of him, and decided to take him into the INO apparatus. I supported Slutsky, not because I knew Mnatsakanov a bit. I did not spend much time on INO matters and completely relied on Slutskii in matters of cadre.
So it turns out that it was Slutskii who is to blame. He foisted a German agent onto you, and you knew nothing about him. Is that the way things were?
I do not wish to blame Slutskii for anything. He did not foist Mnatsakanov onto me. In my opinion I did not see this Mnatsakanov in the NKVD even once. In the INO at that time I only met with Slutskii about the work, sometimes with Shpigel’glas, and with Boris Berman.
Why then did Mnatsakanov call you and ask you to intercede for him when they unmasked him and began to expel him from the Party?
He could not have called me. I had a direct connection only with the heads of departments and their assistants. Who among them would even let Mnatsakanov near such a telephone, much less since they wanted to expel him from the Party. That is impossible.
I remind you that he called at that time from Kedrov’s office.
About Kedrov I know that he was just a simple worker in the INO. From his telephone it was also impossible to reach me.
That’s all, we are finished with lying. You have two days to think hard about your espionage work with Mnatsakanov, to remember all the details. And especially how you warned him in Duilov’s office not to give any confessions. If you continue to lie and mock me, I’ll have your head.
Ezhov interrogation 07.02.39 by Rodos re Mnatsakanov
When and how did Mnatsakanov enter into espionage relations with you?
This was in 1935 when I went to Vienna for the second time to get treatment for my lung disease.
You had been there before, when?
In 1934, I was alone then, and the next time I went with my wife. I was treated the whole time by the famous Professor Norden.
German intelligence summoned you to him, he was an agent of theirs?
Not. The Kremlin medical directorate sent me to him. Many important workers and their wives were treated by him. He had been in Moscow several times, already in the 1920s. And Norden could hardly have been connected with German intelligence. I was told while still in Moscow that this professor was a monarchist and supporter of Franz-Josef and no lover of Hitler, that’s why he moved from Berlin to Vienna, so the fascists could not persecute him. And also, he is very old.
Tell us about your first trip to Vienna, with whom did you meet there?
In Vienna Slutskii met me. He had received a special directive about this from Iagoda.
From Iagoda? That is interesting. Did you yourself ask Iagoda to do this?
No. I did not talk with Iagoda about this. At that time I was an assistant department head in the CC and traveled to Austria under a false name. Therefore the CC gave a directive to Iagoda that he should take care of guaranteeing my security.
Well, and who was it who took care of your security then, Mnatsakanov?
No, then Mnatsakanov was not yet working in Vienna, I think. It was Slutskii himself who brought me to Norden at first, and then, twice, some collaborator of his. To be honest I do not remember his name and never met him again.
And when did Mnatsakanov approach you?
In 1935. He met Evgeniia Solomonovna and myself at the station and drove us to the plenipotentiary’s office to Slutsky. Then he took us to Norden and showed us the city. He was very polite and kind to us.
I’ll bet. Did he connect with you by some code word in the name of German intelligence?
No. He gave me a greeting from Artnau and I understood everything. Thereupon I communicated secret political information to him.
What kind of information?
I don’t remember exactly now, but in my opinion Mnatsakanov was interested in information about industry and about the weaponry of the Red Army. Not long before this I headed the industrial division of the CC, and I was very familiar with this information. Probably that’s why the Germans asked me such questions.
He gave you tasks of a subversive and sabotage character?
Yes, he did. But in general.
What do you mean "in general"?
At that time I had already become a secretary of the CC, head of the department of leading Party organs, chairman of the Party Control Commission, and chairman of the Commission on Foreign Assignments. German intelligence knew this very well, and I received from Mnatsakanov the task of performing sabotage while in these positions, of subverting Party work.
Be more concrete.
Well, how shall I say it? In my hands at that time was in fact all the work of reassigning of leading cadres. Choosing their activities, punishments, directing them for work abroad. So I did everything that a saboteur could do in such positionis. I directed to leading positions people who were weak in professional, political, and moral sense, people who could ruin production, undermine the fulfillment of the Five-Year Plan. To compromise the Party. In the Party Control Commission I managed things so as to cover-up and not disclose elements hostile to the Party, and to deprive of Party membership and shut out in every way those who were loyal to the Party. Abroad I tried to send those who would probably become spies or non-returnees.
What a scoundrel you were anyway, Ezhov – hissed Rodos with pleasure through his teeth. Why, after that there is no place for you on this earth.
I understand that I caused enormous harm to the Party and the country, I repent fully of my crimes and am ready to bear the punishment I deserve for them, -- said Ezhov, as if by rote, glancing in fear at the investigator.
Were you familiar with Mnatsakanov’s wife, Erna Boshkovich?
Yes, he introduced us to her in Vienna.
Did you know that her first husband was a Polish spy and that she herself works for Polish intelligence?
No. I did not even know that she had been married before Mnatsakanov.
Did your wife meet with her alone?
I seem to remember that not long before our departure Mnatsakanov and Boshkovich took her shopping, and at that time I was in the office of the trade representative.
What do you think? Could Ezhova have established espionage connections with Boshkovich in Vienna? What information do you have about that?
I have no information about that. Evgeniia and I never spoke about Boshkovich. She never told me anything about espionage connections either with her or with Mnatsakanov.
That doesn’t mean that there were no such connections. It is already proven now that Ezhova was an English spy and you even confirmed this to the investigation. Tell us honestly, do you know about any meetings with Boshkovich after her arrival in Moscow?
My wife told me almost nothing about her espionage work. But I concede that she might have had espionage connections with Boshkovich in Moscow, since the English and Polish intelligence services often work together.
You called Mnatsakanov to Moscow specially in order through him to get into contact with the Gestapo. Did he ask you about this?
Yes. Before my own departure from Vienna he expressed such a wish and I ordered Slutskii to have him recalled for work in the NKVD as soon as I became the Commissar.
Did you conduct your conspiratorial contact with him in the NKVD building?
Yes, we had that kind of contact right up until his exposure and arrest.
What tasks did Mnatsakanov give you? Did you hand over to him secret NKVD information?
He was not interested in secret NKVD information. In the leadership of the Commissariat on the level of heads of departments and their assistants were Gestapo agents. Then many of them were exposed, as was Mnatsakanov himself. These agents knew more detailed information than I did. So I told him about Politburo sessions, CC plenums, conversations with Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovich and other leaders, related to him the contents of secret letters and telegrams of the Central Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars.
You did good work. And why didn’t you rescue him when he fell? For he asked you to help him.
There was nothing I could do because he was completely exposed and confessed his espionage work.
Were you afraid that he would give you up?
No. No one would have believed him.
You are lying, Ezhov! We have evidence against you. When investigator Dulov was interrogating Mnatsakanov you went specially to his office and told your collaborator: "You are writing? Well, write, write." This meant you were warning him in this way that he should keep silent about you, and then arranged it so that he would be shot as quickly as possible. Wasn’t it like that?
Yes, I remember what happened. I was afraid that Mnatsakanov would expose me as a German spy. I wanted him to be shot as quickly as possible, and I achieved that.
On this occasion Rodos was satisfied with his suspect. His confessions fit into the plan that had been thought out in advance and covered many unclear points. He nodded to Ezhov, who had deserved a cigarette, to the packet lying on the table. While the former Commissar lit up Rodos took a copy of a typewritten text from a file.
This was some kind of unrelated and unidentified communication from either a suspect or an interrogator, and perhaps just an excerpt from an anonymous denunciation. In the NKVD it was considered impermissible to take an interest in the source of operational information and, having received this paper from Kobulov, Rodos did not add any details to it.
Someone had informed about an amorous contact between Ezhov and a certain Stefforn, a Czech and German female spy, that had taken place in 1934. Before this Rodos had read the text about three times but still did not understand who this Stefforn was – an NKVD collaborator, the wife of a colleague in the INO in Berlin, or both at the same time. Supposedly Ezhov had asked her to marry him but she had refused, and then regretted it. But soon she found herself a new husband, one Petrushev. When Stefforn was imprisoned for espionage Petrushev had asked Evgeniia Ezhova to intercede for her with her husband, but that did not help. That was all the information.
Rodos thought. Ezhov had already named about ten German spies with whom he was working in Moscow, therefore the Czech woman Stefforn was hardly essential here. But she might have played a role in Ezhov’s moral dissolution, which was now very important.
Did you know a woman named Stefforn?
Perhaps. Remind me who she is.
I will. She was your lover, a Czech whom you even wanted to marry, but she preferred somebody named Petrushev to you.
Maybe that’s Elena Petrusheva, a friend of Evgeniia, they had met in Germany at the end of the 1930s. But…
Tell me about her in detail.
My wife told me that Lena’s father was a German Jew from Prague and her mother was either a Czech or a Pole. She was married to a Soviet citizen working abroad and lived with him for some time in Germany.
Was this husband an employee of the INO of the OGPU?
I don’t know, that wasn’t mentioned in the conversation. Sometime in 1930 she left him and went to Moscow. I don’t know the husband’s last name. Then she married Petrushev. I met them a couple of times, a respectable-looking man. He said that his father had been a well-known pre-Revolutionary photographer, the best one in Russia, and very rich. And Petrushev himself worked in some publishing house or other either as a photographer or, maybe, as an artist. The wife told me that he could draw very well, his pictures were hanging in their home.
Don’t go off on me about pictures, stay with the main point of the question. Petrushev asked your wife to get you to help his wife Stefforn when she was arrested for espionage on behalf of Germany.
Evgeniia Solomonovna never said anything about that to me. In general she and I agreed that she would not ask me about government employees and saboteurs who were under arrest. Once she did ask me to help the husband of a friend, who had been seized for sabotage in a factory, and I told her that I could not do that because my real activities might be uncovered and then we would both burn. Since that time she did not trouble me with such questions.
Be that as it may, Ezhov. But you are avoiding the question about your amorous relations with this Stefforn, or Petrusheva. Tell me now about that.
Elena was an interesting woman and she pleased me. She came to our apartment a few times – that was, it seems, at the end of 1934. With her there was another woman. We drank. When she and I were smoking together in another room I began to embrace her and wanted to arrange to meet at her apartment since she had said that her husband Petrushev was resting at a spa in Kislovodsk. I asked for her telephone number so I could call her the next day. But she said that they had no telephone. I remembered that my wife had called her at home. That meant that she did not want to get together with me.
What, she didn’t work and sat at home all the time?
As I remember she was a typist at home, but I might be mistaken.
And what, you didn’t meet with her again. Was it really that hard to get her to go to bed?
I didn’t try to do that again. After 1934 I didn’t see her again. Zhenia [= Evgeniia] did not invite her to our place any more.
Elena had unpleasant conversations with her, anti-Party, politically harmful. About the hunger in the Ukraine, where some of her relatives lived. No doubt she was trying to see how my wife would react to that. In addition Evgeniia heard from one of her friends that Petrusheva had gotten a little drunk and hinted to her that she was collaborating with the NKVD.
Ezhov, there is no point in lying. We have information and evidence that you lived for a long time with this woman, wanted to leave your wife for her, gave her expensive gifts and told her state secrets when you were drunk. I don’t have the time to drag every word out of you. Today in this room you’ll be given a pencil and paper, and you write in detail about your grimy ties with this slut. And don’t forget to tell had your complete moral degeneration led to your becoming a spy and traitor.
And something else. For a long time you have been hiding your attraction to men, what’s called homosexuality. But this became known after you agreed to the shameful affair of citizen V. from the Commissariat of Water Transport in your apartment, and before that in V’s presence you amused yourself with his wife in bed. Do you understand how far you have fallen? You are simply a monster, Ezhov, a filthy person and a pervert. I’m disgusted to look at you.
At that time I was very drunk…
What’s that, justification?
No, but I don’t remember anything, I woke up in the morning and they were no longer there. The chauffer then told me that he took them away at 3 a.m. I could have done anything at all then…
I’m not interested in that. But we know that you told V. about your passion for homosexuality since childhood and that men could completely replace women for you. You should write in detailed when you became a homosexual and with whom you then became involved in this filthy business…
Ezhov interrogation 07.08.39 by Rodos
"Tell us how and when you recruited Uspenskii in the espionage-sabotage organization in the NKVD that you had created.
I turned my attention to Uspenskii already at the beginning of 1936.
That was when he was still the assistant commandant of the Moscow Kremlin for internal security?
Where did you find out about Uspenskii’s hostile anti-Soviet views. Did he express them to you himself?
No. Veinshtok and Frinovskii told me about that. They knew him well and believed that he’d be very suitable for espionage work.
Did you recruit Uspenskii personally?
Yes. That was right after my arrival in the Commissariat. He quickly agreed and I told him that we needed our own men in the provinces. That was why I sent him to Western Siberia.
What kinds of assignments did you given him then?
He was supposed to recruit agents into our organization from among the Chekist cadre and to promote them to leading positionis so that they could seize power in the event of war or a coup.
In November 1937 you sent Uspenskii a coded message with the following content: "If you think you are going to sit in Orenburg for five years, you are mistaken. Very soon, it seems, I will have to promote you to a more responsible post. What is the meaning of this message?
At that time the leadership of our organization decided to move to active measures. There was a lot of evidence against Leplevskii and Zakovskii showing that they were spies and enemies of the people. It was impossible to hide such matters, and we had to get rid of these people, we couldn’t use them, they could cause everything to fail. We decided to replace them with Uspenskii and Litvin. I gave Uspenskii a coded message so that he would find out about his forthcoming departure from Orenburg and would switch all the sabotage-espionage work over to other people whom he had been able to recruit there.
OK. And now tell us how you warned Uspenskii about the fact that they wanted to arrest him.
Did Dagin tell you about the fact of Uspenskii's forthcoming arrest?
Yes, I think it was he. He came to my office and told me about that.
And didn’t he tell you that he had listened in on the telephone conversation between comrades Stalin and Khrushchev about Uspenskii?
Yes, I remember that he told me about the telephone conversation about Uspenskii which he had listened in on, but he did not say that that was Stalin’s conversation. Dagin, on my instructions, listened in on all telephone conversations of the Politburo and immediately told me about them so that I would be up to date.
After that you called Kiev and warned Uspenskii. What did you tell him?
I said: ‘You are being recalled, your situation is bad.’ Something like that. I was afraid to send him a coded message, they could intercept it, since I had already lost trust and was under suspicion among the Party [leaders] as a hostile element.
Did Dagin also tell you about the recall of Litvin from Leningrad?
I did not know anything about the recall of Litvin to Moscow and did not warn him. There was no need to do so.
Why was that?
I had an agreement with him that in the event he was exposed he would commit suicide.
Was that your order?
No. In September of that year Litvin was in Moscow and used to come to my dacha. He told me that the arrival of Beria at the NKVD was the beginning of the end and soon we would all be arrested, since the Party was most likely aware about our plot. And he also said that he would not give himself up alive and that if they unexpectedly recalled him to Moscow he would shoot himself. That’s what happened.
Did you support him in this intention?
No. But I didn’t try to dissuade him either.
That means that you admit that you de-facto gave your accomplice an order to commit suicide in the event of failure?
Yes, that was de-facto the case.
When did you include Litvin in your espionage work?
That was in 1931, when I transferred him to Moscow.
Why did he agree to become a spy?
Already in the 1920s when I was getting together with Litvin I noticed his inexplicable relationship to Trotskyism. Openly he was not a supporter of Trotsky, but in his circle at that time there were many exposed Trotskyists and I think that in his inner being he had always been a Trotskyist.
You wish to say that even then Litvin was a double-dealer?
Yes. He was a double-dealer and, as later turned out, was a supporter of the Trotskyist-Zinovievist line. Therefore he willingly agreed to my proposal to become a German spy. I think because at that time the Left opposition had already suffered its final failure and Trotsky had been driven out of the USSR altogether.
In 1933 Litvin upon your recommendation was named the chief of the cadre section of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Ukraine. Was that done on the instruction of German intelligence?
Yes, I received that instruction from Artnau.
What directives about espionage did Litvin receive from you?
These directives were of a subversive and sabotage nature. I asked him to appoint to leading positions people who could by their actions cause arouse the dissatisfaction of the population of the Ukraine, people who would carry out sabotage, ruin foodstuff and livestock, disrupt the fulfillment of industrial plans. These were hidden Right and Left Oppositionist, who also carried out assignments for Zinoviev, Bukharin, Rykov and other enemies.
Litvin was included by you in the basic plan for sabotage that German intelligence gave you? Did you also take him into the NKVD upon the assignment of the fascists in order to organize there the espionage-conspiratorial organization?
Yes, that’s how it was.
When you came to work in the NKVD you also brought with you there another of your collaborators, Isaac Shapiro. * When was he recruited by you?
I had known Shapiro since 1930. He worked in the cadre section of the Commissariat of Agriculture in which I was a chief. He and I had a good friendship and I valued his zeal and literacy. And when Artnau recruited me and asked me to find people for espionage work I thought right away about Shapiro, who was personally devoted to me and it had always seemed to me that he did not like Soviet power very much and disapproved of the political line of the Party.
Did Shapiro carry out sabotage activity in the Commissariat of Agriculture on your instruction?
Yes, he did. But for a short time only. I decided to take him into the Central Committee, since there I needed people for subversive work.
He knew that you were a German spy?
Yes, I told him that together we would work for German intelligence, so as later to overthrow the government and come to power if there were a war with Germany.
What assignments of yours did Shapiro carry out in the NKVD?
He was de-facto my main assistant. Indeed I first appointed him the chief of the secretariat, and then made him also chief of the first special section. He had a lot of possibilities for sabotage in the NKVD and he carried out all my assignments of an espionage-subversive nature, both mine and Frinovskii's. And when Beria arrived at the NKVD he immediately found out that Shapiro was an enemy and arrested him in November of ’38.
I know that. It would be better for you to tell me how you recruited Liushkov and how you helped him escape to Japan.
I recruited Liushkov right after his return from Leningrad from the investigation of Kirov’s murder. At that time I was already secretary of the Central Committee and Liushkov knew that I was beginning to oversee the NKVD. Therefore, when I called him to my office and hinted that I had information about his ties with the Petliurovists during the civil war in the Ukraine and other incriminating facts, he was frightened and immediately agreed to work for me as a German-Japanese intelligence man.
Did you really have that kind of information?
No, I did not have. I made it all up in order to recruit Liushkov. But I guessed that he was a hostile element with a foul past, and turned out to be correct. Liushkov agreed to become a spy.
How did you order Liushkov to flee to the Japanese?
Ezhov thought for a few seconds. He could not think of a reason why Frinovskii, one of the leaders of the conspiratorial group in the NKVD, had suggested arresting his colleague Liushkov. But then he found a solution.
Frinovskii often told me that he did not like Liushkov. He was cowardly and could betray us all at any moment. Upon our orders he was carrying out important espionage tasks for Japanese intelligence and knew a great deal about our subversive and sabotage work. Frinovskii said that we had to get rid of him, that means, kill him. And he told me that he would take care of that himself. I decided not to hinder him.
Did Frinovskii say how he wanted to kill Liushkov?
No. But I think that he wanted to arrest him first, and then in the inner prison to poison him or put him to death somehow.
What a gang! And who warned Liushkov anyway about the danger?
I don’t know. But Frinovskii wanted to appoint Gorbach from Novosibirsk to Liushkov’s place and recall the latter to Moscow, supposedly for a new job, but in reality to arrest him. Liushkov, most likely, found out that Gorbach was already on route to Khabarovsk, and fled across the border.
Ezhov ochnaia stavka w. Zhukovskii 07.21.39 – Rodos & Esaulov present
["ochnaia stavka" = "face-to-face confrontation"]
- Polianskii 269-272 B&S 138-139.
Do you know this man?
Who is it?
Nikolai Ivanovich Ezhov.
And you? Rodos asked Ezhov.
Yes, that is Semion Borisovich Zhukovsky.
Suspect Ezhov. Confirm your confessions concerning the conspiratorial, sabotage, and terrorist activities of the former assistant Commissar of the NKVD Zhukovsky, that you gave at the interrogation of July 17 of this year.
Investigator: When did you become a German spy?
Ezhov: I was recruited in 1930 in Germany, in Königsberg.
[Here Ezhov repeats word for word the confession included above in the section "Ezhov interrogation 06.21.39 by Rodos, fm Polianskii 235-238" ]
In Germany I was well treated and shown every attention. The most assiduous attention I received from the prominent official of the Economic Ministry of Germany Artnau. Having been invited to his estate near Königsberg I spent the time happily enough, partaking excessively of alcoholic drinks… (In Königsberg Artnau) often paid the restaurant bills for me… I did not protest… All these circumstances made me feel close to Artnau and often without holding back I blurted out to him all kinds of secrets about the situation in the Soviet Union… Sometimes, when I was drunk, I was even more frank with Artnau and gave him to understand that I personally was not wholly in agreement with the Party’s line and with the existing Party leadership. Things got to the point that during one of the conversations I directly promised Artnau to discuss a series of questions in the government of the USSR concerning the purchase of livestock and agricultural machinery, in which Germany and Artnau were very much interested….
[Here the source continues with new material, not printed earlier as a part of this confession.]
Since I knew about Zhukovsky’s cowardice and stubbornness I did not consider it necessary to keep him up to date about conspiratorial matters. I only introduced him fully to these matters in the Spring of 1938. Then he was appointed my assistant and headed the whole accounting of the NKVD and the GULAG. We conspirators had special plans about the GULAG about which I have given detailed confessions, and I decided to bring Zhukovskii up to date. By this time the people who could have exposed Zhukovskii along the lines of his Trotskyist and espionage connections were already condemned and the danger of Zhukovsky’s arrest had passed. I told Zhukovskii about the existence of the conspiracy in the NKVD, that the conspiratorial organization is connected with governmental circles of Germany, Poland, and Japan. I don’t remember exactly now, but I think that I told him about our desire to get into contact with the English. Then I told him about the leading members of the conspiratorial organization and about our plans, specifically about our terrorist plans…
What assignments did you give Zhukovskii concerning the GULAG?
The conspiratorial assignments concerning the GULAG that I gave to Zhukovskii consisted in this: we sent to work the GULAG a very great quantity of compromised people. We could not leave them in the operational work, but we kept them in the GULAG for the purpose of forming a sort of reserve for conspiracies in the case of a coup in the country. I assigned Zhukovskii to maintain these people, but not to connect himself with them along conspiratorial lines, but to carry out all conspiratorial assignments that came to the GULAG through these people…
Investigator: Did you give these terrorist assignments to Zhukovskii at the time of his work in the section of operational technology? Did you talk with him about the terrorist tasks of the conspiracy.
Ezhov: Yes, I talked to him. There were two variants of our plans. The first variant: in the case of war, when we proposed to carry out the arrests of the members of the government and their physical removal. And the second variant: if there were no war in the immediate future, then to get rid of the leadership of the Party and the government, especially Stalin and Molotov, by carrying out terrorist acts against them. I firmly remember that I told Zhukovskii about this after I had entrusted him with the existence of the conspiracy.
Investigator: Suspect Zhukovsky, did you receive from Ezhov the criminal assignments about which he has just spoken?
Zhukovsky: I did not receive any such criminal assignments and am hearing about terrorist tasks for the first time at this face-to-face confrontation.
You have nothing else that you want to tell the investigation? [ asked Rodos to Zhukovskii and, having received a negative answer, pushed the button to call the guards to take them away.]
Ezhov interrogation 07.24.39 by Rodos, including a quotation from a Frinovskii interrogation
Recently Frinovskii gave confessions about your terrorist activity. Now I shall read them to you: "When Zhukovskii was chief of the 12 th section, Ezhov gave him an assignment to develop poisons with the aim of using them in carrying out terrorist acts. Ezhov, speaking with Zhukovskii in my presence, said that it was necessary to work on the question of poisons that would work instantaneously, which could be used on people but without [leaving] visible traces of poisoning. Ezhov also clearly said that we needed these poisons for use within the country."
Do you confirm his confession, Ezhov?
I cannot confirm that. At one of the interrogations I said that I had no relation to this laboratory. Frinovskii and Zhukovskii took care of it. I did not give them any tasks concerning poisons and did not have any conversations about these poisons.
Stop lying! You are incriminated not only by Frinovskii but by Zhukovsky, Alekhin and Dagin. You stood at the head of the conspiracy and gave directions to prepare poisons for the villainous murder of leaders of the Party and government. Here is some more of what Frinovskii confessed about this:
"I must say that the open use of servants for a terrorist act was not essential, servants could be used secretly, because the laboratory and the preparation of products were in the hands of Barkan and Dagin, they could poison the products in advance, and the servant, not knowing the products were poisoned, could give them to the members of the Politburo.
Ezhov gave Zhukovskii directives about the preparation of poisons, after he left the 12 th department Zhukovskii transmitted these directives to Alekhin, and I and Ezhov confirmed these directives more than once. In 1937 and 1938 there were several joint conversations in Ezhov’s office between myself, Ezhov, and Alekhin. We were constantly concerned with how to carry out this work in the laboratory. The point is that those poisons that were being developed in the laboratory had had some kind of taste or left traces of their use in the human organism. We set the task of developing in the laboratory poisons that would be without any taste, so that they could be used in wine, drink and food, without changing the taste and color of the food and the drink. We proposed to invent separately poisons of instantaneous and of delayed action, and also whose use would not cause any visible destruction in the human organizing so that it could not be determined by autopsy of the body of the person killed by poison that poisons had been used to murder him.
What do you say to this?
I seem to remember a few conversations with Frinovskii about poisons. But I do not remember that I gave him any directives about their preparation and use.
But you will remember, think about it. I am convinced that the memory of traitors and scoundrels such as yourself is quickly restored in punitive cells and isolation cells. Everybody remembers after a few days.
The use of poisons for the purpose of terror against the government was discussed by use, when our original plan of a coup d’état and seizure of power fell apart.
Tell us about this in more detail.
Already in the summer of last year [1938 – GF] our organization took the decision to organize a military coup on the 7 th of November.
Who was present at this assembly and where did it take place?
It took place at my dacha. Present were Frinovskii, Evdokimov, Dagin, Zhurbenko, Zhukovsky, and Nikolaev-Zhurid. That was, so to speak, the general staff of our subversive organization. Oh, I forgot, Litvin was also there, he was coming to Moscow at that time on official business.
Did you call together this meeting specially so that your general staff of bandits could take part?
Yes. The staff’s presence was essential, as the coup was to take place also in Leningrad and the staff was supposed to guarantee everything.
It was for this purpose that you also moved Zhurbenko to be the head of the UNKVD for Moscow and Moscow oblast’, so that he could be there to guarantee your treasonous conspiracy?
Yes, that is so. I specially appointed Zhurbenko to this position before Beria’s arrival in the NKVD.
Continue. What did you discuss there at the dacha?
We decided that the interior troops [of the NKVD – GF] that were in Moscow and were under the command of Frinovskii as first assistant to the Commissar would carry out the coup. As for him, he should prepare a fighting group that would annihilate the members of the government in attendance at the parade. Then we decided to confirm a final plan for the coup in September or October and to send around directive to our people in the republics and oblasts’ about what they should do on the seventh of November.
And this meeting took place, who was present at it?
There were only three of us: Frinovskii, Zhukovsky, and I. Either the end of September or the beginning of October we met in my office.
And what did you discuss?
At that time the possibilities of our organization had been seriously disrupted by the arrival of Beria in the NKVD. He replaced Frinovskii, and we could no longer use the internal troops.
But why, he must have had his agents there?
Yes, he did have his agents, but obviously Beria already had information about our conspiracy and arrested almost all of them in September. I could not prevent these arrests or I would have exposed myself. Then Frinovskii proposed that we put off the coup and take power by means of poisoning the members of the government and in the first place Stalin, Molotov and Voroshilov. Their deaths would have immediately caused confusion in the country and we would have taken advantage of this and seized power. We calculated that we could then arrest all the people in the government and the NKVD who were unsuitable for us, and to claim that they were conspirators guilty in the deaths of the leaders.
What low-lifes! What could have stopped you hoodlums?
Frinovskii then said that Dagin would carry out the poisoning, and that Alekhin and Zhukovskii would give him the poisons. But it would be necessary to prepare the poisons, and we decided to carry out this terrorist act when the requisite poisons were collected. We agreed to meet when Dagin had the poisons and to put together a detailed plan for the coup. But Zhukovskii was unexpectedly arrested, a few days after this meeting, and after him Alekhin and Dagin, and I do not know whether or not Dagin received the poisons.
Ezhov interrogation 08.02.39 by Rodos
- Polianskii 275-280 (plain text) Briukhanov & Shoshkov 139-142 (italics) in both of them (underlined).
Tell us in detail about the sabotage activities that were carried out by you and your colleagues on the economic properties of the NKVD – said Rodos, preparing to write down the confessions.
In addition to the large quantity of economic properties that had been under the direction of the NKVD under Iagoda and which had developed greatly during the years 1937-1938, that is Kolyma, Indigirka, Norilstroi and others, I succeeded in significantly increasing the economic activity of the NKVD by means of new properties.
During these years I succeeded in carrying forth in the government the question about the transfer to the direction of the NKVD of many forest regions of the Commissariat of Forests, in connection with which the production program of the forest camps of the NKVD in the preparation and export of wood products in 1938 comprised almost half of the whole program of the Commissariat of Forests.
Into the direction of the NKVD were transferred the construction of railroad lines that had the most important defense significance, such as the Baikal-Amur railway, the line from Ulan-Ude to Naushi, the Soroka-Pliasetskaia, the Ukhto-Pecherskaia line, and others.
Among the purely defense-oriented properties I achieved the transfer under the direction of the NKVD of the construction of the Archangel shipbuilding factory and almost all the powder cellulose factories in Archangel, Solikamsk and other places, at the same time having organized the construction of ten smaller cellulose factories. On the initiative of the NKVD, on top of the programs confirmed by the government, the NKVD was given the construction of the world’s largest hydroelectric station – the Kuibyshev hydro network.
Sabotage and mismanagement in the construction sites flourished with complete impunity. We managed to go over completely to questions of defense construction, achieving practical control over a significant part of it. This gave us the possibility in case of need in our conspiratorial goals to vary and carry out different subversive measures which could help accomplish the defeat of the USSR in wartime and our coming to power.
…The greatest population of prisoners was the border regions of the far Eastern borders. Here it was very easy for us to take over different economic tasks of a defense nature because of the lack of workers. However the camps of the Far Eastern Region were situated not only near to the borders but we sent there mostly prisoners sentenced for espionage, diversion, terror and other more serious crimes, and we sent almost no so-called "ordinary" prisoners.
In this way along the borders of the FER, in the direct rear of the Red Army was prepared the most active and embittered counterrevolutionary force, which we planned to use in the widest possible manner in case of complication or of war with the Japanese… A significant quantity of prisoners were concentrated on our western borders of Ukraine, Belorussia, the Leningrad oblast’, and the Karelian ASSR, especially in road construction.
… The whole conspiratorial plan of the regime we created for the prisoners consisted in that the most privileged conditions were created for the prisoners sentenced for the most serious crimes (espionage and terrorism), since that was the qualified force that would often be used for directing the administrative and economic work in the camps. In their hands was concentrated also all the cultural and educational work of the prisoners. It is clear in what spirit they were educated. Finally the regime created in the camps often permitted the counterrevolutionary activity of the prisoners to continue with complete impunity.
In the camps the work of the so-called 3 rd sections was so badly organized and the camps were guarded so poorly, that the prisoners had the possibility of creating their own counterrevolutionary groups in the camps and to associate with each other at will. Facts like this were many. The guard of the camps was extremely small, made up of unreliable people, the material situation of the soldiers and the command staff was very poor, and, finally, the prisoners themselves were used in many cases in the capacity of guards. As a result of a security organized like this there were many cases of mass escapes from the camps. We fought against this evil poorly and did so consciously, in the hopes that the escapees from the camps would continue their counterrevolutionary activity and would become a force that would spread all kinds of anti-Soviet agitation and rumors.
I achieved the transfer under the direction of the NKVD a series of working factors of the defense industry. The reason for that could not have been the use of the labor of prisoners, since among them were the Pavshinskii factory, the Tushinskii factory of aviation motor construction, and others. Besides that, the NKVD organized a series of new factories on its own initiative, which carried out defense production…
What, do you think we called you here to report on behalf of the NKVD about the successful fulfillment of the Five-Year Plan! You are a bandit, a conspirator, a saboteur, a terrorist, and a traitor. Answer the question asked you to the point.
Sabotage and mismanagement in the construction sites flourished with complete impunity.
I’ll bet, with a Commissar like that. – said Rodos with a grimace, not stopping his note-taking.
We managed to go over completely to questions of defense construction, achieving practical control over a significant part of it…
Who is this "we"?
Well, our conspiratorial organization. Myself, Zhukovsky, Frinovskii, and others. I have already named them all earlier.
This gave our organization the possibility in case of need in our conspiratorial goals to vary and carry out different subversive measures which could help accomplish the defeat of the USSR in wartime and our coming to power.
In which areas was the subversive activity of your organization mainly distributed?
The greatest population of prisoners was the border regions of the far Eastern borders. Here it was very easy for us to take over different economic tasks of a defense nature because of the lack of workers. However the camps of the Far Eastern Region were situated not only near to the borders but we sent there mostly prisoners sentenced for espionage, diversion, terror and other more serious crimes, and we sent almost no so-called "ordinary" prisoners.
In this way along the borders of the FER, in the direct rear of the Red Army was prepared the most active and embittered counterrevolutionary force, which we planned to use in the widest possible manner in case of complication or of war with the Japanese.
Did you send Liushkov there specially. What assignments did you give him?
At the beginning of 1937 Frinovskii and I conferred with each other and decided that we had to have our own man in the Far East, through whom we could maintain contact with Japanese intelligence. In the event of an attack by the Japanese he was to let the counterrevolutionaries out of the camps, seize with their help the stores of arms and military supplies, and then head terrorist-diversionist work in the rear of the Red Army. We thought about this and chose Liushkov for these purposes, whom I had already recruited to our organization in 1936. Then I transferred him from the Azovo-Chernomorskii region and made him the head of the NKVD in the Far Eastern Region.
In which other areas did you create the same kind of espionage-diversionist centers?
We also did this in the western borders of the USSR. A significant quantity of prisoners were concentrated on our western borders of Ukraine, Belorussia, the Leningrad oblast’, and the Karelian ASSR.
In Leningrad oblast and Karelia Litvin was in charge for you, of course?
Yes. I sent him there specially at the beginning of 1938 instead of Zakovskii, whom I could not fully trust.
And in the Ukraine?
There Uspenskii all the assignments, including contact with Polish and German intelligence. That is why I made him Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Ukraine.
When was he recruited by you?
At the beginning of 1937. He came to Moscow from Novosibirsk before he was appointed to the position of chief of the UNKVD for the Orenburg oblast. I knew that Uspenskii was anti-Soviet, anti-party, and for that reason he immediately agreed to work in our organization.
In Belorussia you sent Boris Berman? Did you know that he was an old German agent?
Yes. Artnau told me that Berman was working for German intelligence as soon as I became Commissar of Internal Affairs. He had been recruited at the beginning of the ‘thirties, when he was
[Soviet] resident in Germany. I immediately established espionage contact with him, then he was the assistant chief of the INO. In 1937 I specially sent him from our organization to Belorussia and made him Commissar of Internal Affairs. There he met with German agents and received assignments and instructions.
That means your widespread espionage organization in the case of an attack on the USSR by Japan and Germany could seize power not only in Moscow but in border areas, opening the road to the invaders. Do I understand this correctly from your confessions?
Yes. That was exactly what we had planned. It’s useless to deny such things.
Tell me, was counterrevolutionary work carried on by your confederates in the camps for the purpose of establishing there bases for sabotage and anti-Soviet activity?
In the camps the work of the so-called 3rd sections was so badly organized and the camps were guarded so poorly, that the prisoners had the possibility of creating their own counterrevolutionary groups in the camps and to associate with each other at will. Facts like this were many. The guard of the camps was extremely small, made up of unreliable people, the material situation of the soldiers and the command staff was very poor, and, finally, the prisoners themselves were used in many cases in the capacity of guards. As a result of a security organized like this there were many cases of mass escapes from the camps. We fought against this evil poorly and did so consciously, in the hopes that the escapees from the camps would continue their counterrevolutionary activity and would become a force that would spread all kinds of anti-Soviet agitation and rumors…
[At that moment the telephone on Rodos’s table started to ring.]
I am leaving right away, I will be back at four o’clock for sure.
We shall continue the interrogation tomorrow, and you remember what concretely sabotage work you carried out with your confederates in the economic properties of the NKVD.
Ezhov interrogation 08.03.39 by Rodos
"The overwhelming majority of the prisoners were so-called vicious "refusers", as a rule people who had not fulfilled the assigned norm of work, in connection with which these latter were deliberately extremely poorly provided, something we also did for sabotage purposes. This circumstance, and a series of other subversive measures of the conspiratorial organization caused the necessity of more and more prisoners being brought to Kolyma. The government every year devoted enormous expenses to the development of Kolyma, spending hundreds of millions of rubles. If these means had been rationally spent, the mining at the rich Kolyma sites could have been significantly mechanized. Mechanization would not only have reduced the necessity of holding a large quantity of prisoners in Kolyma and of bringing to them a huge amount of foodstuffs and other supplies, but would have increased the yield of metal and sharply lowered its cost. Meanwhile mechanization was slowed down by sabotage and all the extraction was based on muscle power alone. As a result already in 1938 more than 100,000 prisoners were brought to Kolyma. The whole area of Kolyma is rich not only in gold, but in many other ores. Specifically, in Kolyma there are huge supplies of coal and other forms of fuel. With any kind of careful economic approach to the matter it would have been possible without any difficulty to satisfy the demands of Kolyma with coal and even with oil without the costly transporting of them from the European part of the USSR. However the coal deposits of Kolyma are not exploited at all. In Kolyma it would unquestionably be possible to wholly cease the importation even of explosive materials and of the simplest equipment, which also is brought in every year in great quantities. For this purposes it would be necessary to build in Kolyma a very simple mechanical factory of modest size or, even better, workshops that could manufacture the simplest equipment and spare parts. Just as easily and quickly could and should be built in Kolyma an explosives factory of modest size, since almost all raw materials necessary for this exist there. Finally, in Kolyma the importation of foodstuffs could be significantly reduced. Such a possibility is completely obtainable for Kolyma, where meat, fish and even vegetable production could be developed. All this was deliberately ignored by us, and the supply of Kolyma was wholly laid upon the shoulders of the state. I have already said that the region of Kolyma together with the gold-bearing regions are rich also in a whole series of other rare ores. So, for example, there are rich industrial supplies of tin, antimony, copper, micas, and other ores. These extremely valuable ores that have enormous economic and defense significance are not worked at all or are extracted in tiny quantities, like tin, while in Kolyma there are all the possibilities of setting up the extraction of these ores at the same time as that of gold, the more so since the regions with these ores are nearby.
It is clear that the parallel extraction of gold and of other valuable ores that are so territorially adjacent where, consequently, it would be possible to set up a unified, energetic, mechanical economic unit, and to reduce to a significant extent the cost of gold and of other rare metals. These questions we deliberately and as an act of sabotage ignored, and did not even present to the government.
What role in this was played by the foreign intelligence services with which you were collaborating?
They, of course, knew what we were doing and encouraged and supported our subversive work in every way. But as far as I know they did not specially give any assignments either to me or to their other agents, since, no doubt, they were certain that we ourselves knew where we should best carry out the sabotage.
Name the concrete properties where sabotage was carried out according to your instructions.
The construction of the Ukhto-Pechersk road has a decisive meaning for the development of the extraction of coal, oil, and other valuable products, without which the economic development of the Northern region as a whole is impossible. Meanwhile the construction of this road was retarded by us deliberately and in every way, under various pretexts and the resources allotted to it were spread over a large area of work and did not have any effect. The retardation in the construction of the Ukhto-Pechersk railroad is explained in the main by the lack of a satisfactory plan, which the Commissariat of Roads and Rails should present. The saboteurs in the GULAG and in the Commissariat of Roads and Rails with our support organized a never-ending dispute about the choice of the direction of the roads, which has been going on for a long time now, and the planning and even the exploratory works in many sectors have not been begun to this day. Finally, it was essential not to spread out our resources over a broad front of works, but to concentrate on the decisive sections for the export of production. And precisely the construction of the Ukhto-Pechersk line should have been strictly divided into several stages. In the first part should have been concentrated all the forces and resources to finish the construction of the Vorkuta-Abez’ section, for the purpose of exporting coal. But we hindered that, insofar as all decisions were mine. Further, the construction of the section from the oil-bearing areas of Ukhta to Kotel’nich should have been organized, and these works could have been fully developed from two directions, both from Kotel’nich and from Ukhta. Only in the final stage could have been finished those sections that unite the coal-rich Vorkuta areas with the oil-bearing Ukhta areas and that give in this way an outlet for coal and oil in two directions. But nothing of this was done because of our sabotage.
What subversive, espionage and sabotage activity did you carry out in the GULAG itself?
* We understood, that the expansion of the economic functions of the NKVD must express themselves in the worsening of our basic operative work. We proposed to widely use the system of camps so as to send there the compromised part of NKVD workers. There are not only drunkards, idlers and wastrels. Among them were people with a Trotskyist past, Rights who sympathized with Bukharin, and Iagoda’s people. De-facto they were all recruited by us since, in sending them to the GULAG, we were hinting to them that we had evidence against them that could be investigated at any moment. In this manner we created a special reserve of people read to carry out any conspiratorial task.
But there were many anti-Soviet elements in the GULAG even without this. The conspiratorial leadership of the GULAG remained, for all practical purposes, unreplaced. At the time of my arrival in the NKVD the GULAG was headed by the conspirator of Iagoda’s group Matvei Berman, Boris Berman’s older brother. He had put together a large anti-Soviet group of people who occupied more or less responsible posts in the GULAG. Among these people were a great many Trotskyists, Zinovievists, Rights, and it was easy to attract them to our side after Berman left when the GULAG was headed by Ryzhov, a participant of the conspiracy recruited by men, who was sent to this work on my initiative in order to carry out sabotage assignments. And after his departure for the Commissariat of Forests, the GULAG was headed by the conspirator and spy Zhukovsky, who was connected with me and who was at the same time my assistant.
In the summer of 1938 the Central Committee of the Party more than once pointed my attention to the fact that I was surrounded by suspicious people who had come with me to work in the NKVD. In the Central Committee the question of removing Tsesarskii was raised, it was proposed to me that I remove Shapiro, Zhukovsky, and Litvin from the work. That put me on my guard, inasmuch as all these men were my confederates, and that meant that something might be known to the Party about the conspiracy. In order to somehow conceal my anti-government activity I had to agree with the demands of the Central Committee and I decided to send Zhukovskii packing without any fuss, away to the countryside. I carried out this attempt but it did not succeed, since about that time Beria began to work and Zhukovsky, instead of going to the place I had assigned him as director of the Ridder polymetallic combine, was arrested."
*From this point on the text given in Polianskii here is given in B&S but attributed to Ezhov’s August 2 1939 interrogation.