Nikolai Yezhov

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Nikolai Yezhov : biography

May 1, 1895 – February 4, 1940

Arrest

On April 10, he 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."Jansen and Petrov, Stalin’s Loyal Executioner, p. 182. Amongst his main accusations the former Narkom was accused in accordance with Article 154 of the Soviet Criminal Code ("sodomy, committed with violence or the use of the dependent status of the victim").Jansen and Petrov, Stalin’s Loyal Executioner, p. 183.Literaturnaya Gazeta #7, 1992.Kudrinskikh, A. Nikolai Yezhov: Bloody dwarf. Moscow, 2006.

Yezhov supposedly broke quickly under torture, and confessed to the standard litany of state crimes necessary to firmly establish a Soviet political prisoner’s status 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 unlikely political crimes, he also confessed to a humiliating history of sexual promiscuity, including homosexuality, that was (unusually, in contrast with other condemned Bolshevik officials) later corroborated by witness reports and deemed mostly true in post-Soviet examinations of the case.Sebag-Montefiore, 275.

Among the many people dragged down in Yezhov’s fall was Isaak Babel: "In May 1939 Ezhov confessed that Babel’ had committed espionage together with [Yezhov’s wife] Evgeniia. Within a week the writer was arrested; during interrogation he in his turn testified against the Ezhovs."Jansen and Petrov, Stalin’s Loyal Executioner, p. 185. However, Yezhov’s first wife, Antonina Titova, his sister, Evdokiia, and his mother all survived.Jansen and Petrov, Stalin’s Loyal Executioner, p. 191.

Trial

On February 2, 1940, Yezhov was tried by the Military Collegium chaired by Soviet judge Vasili Ulrikh behind closed doors.Jansen and Petrov, Stalin’s Loyal Executioner, p. 187. 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, but admitted that he purged 14,000 of his fellow Chekists stating that he was surrounded by "enemies of the people." He also stated that he would die with the name of Stalin on his lips.Jansen and Petrov, Stalin’s Loyal Executioner, p. 187-188. After the secret trial, Yezhov was allowed to return to his cell but 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 declined, and Yezhov became hysterical and weeping. This time he had to be dragged out of the room, struggling with the guards and screaming. Yezhov was shot later that night in an execution chamber with sloping floor for hosing that had been built according to his own specifications near the Lubianka headquarters.Jansen and Petrov, Stalin’s Loyal Executioner, p. 188-189.

Execution

Just before the execution, Yezhov was ordered to undress himself and then was brutally beaten by guards at the order of Beria, the new NKVD chief, just as Yezhov had ordered the guards to beat and humiliate his predecessor Yagoda before his execution only two years before. Yezhov had to be carried into the execution chamber semi-conscious, coughing and weeping uncontrollably.

On February 4, he was executed by the future KGB chairman Ivan Serov (or by Blokhin, in the presence of N.P. Afanasev, according to one book source) in the basement of a small NKVD station on Varsonofevskii Lane in Moscow. The main NKVD execution chamber in the basement of the Lubyanka was deliberately avoided to ensure total secrecy.