Nikolai Yezhov

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Nikolai Yezhov : biography

May 1, 1895 – February 4, 1940

Yagoda was but the first of many to die by Yezhov’s orders. Under Yezhov, the Great Purge reached its height during 1937–1938, with 50-75% of the members of the Supreme Soviet and officers of the Soviet military being stripped of their positions and imprisoned, exiled to the Siberian gulags or executed, along with a greater number of ordinary Soviet citizens, accused (usually on flimsy or nonexistent evidence) of disloyalty or "wrecking" by local Chekist troikas in order to satisfy 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 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: 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).Orlando Figes The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia, 2007, ISBN 00805074619 , page 234.

The apex of Yezhov’s career was reached on 20 December 1937, when the party hosted a giant gala to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the NKVD at the Bolshoi Theater. Enormous banners with portraits of Stalin hung side-by-side with those of Yezhov. On a stage crowded with flowers, Anastas Mikoyan, dressed in a dark caucasian tunic and belt, praised Yezhov for his tireless work. "Learn the Stalin way to work", he said, "from Comrade Yezhov, just as he learned and will continue to learn from Comrade Stalin himself". When presented, Yezhov received an "uproarious greeting" of thunderous applause. He stood, one observer wrote, "eyes cast down and a sheepish grin on his face, as if he wasn’t sure he deserved such a rapturous reception." Yezhov may well have also realized the danger he was in from such a lavish display of independent public praise; Stalin was always deeply suspicious of the public popularity and political ambitions of his immediate subordinates, and he was present at the event, observing the scene "silently and without expression" from his private box.

Personal life

Yezhov had married the educated and sincerely Marxist Antonia Titova in 1919, but he later divorced her and married Yevgenia Feigenburg (Khautina-Ezhova)., by Aleksei Pavlukov, Ogoniok. Khautina-Ezhova was a friend and had intimate relationships with several Soviet writers including Mikhail Sholokhov Yezhov and Feigenburg had an adopted daughter, Natasha, an orphan from a children’s home.

Popular culture

  • The following "paean of praise" by the Kazakh people’s poet Jambyl Jabayev was translated by K. Altaysky and published in Pionerskaya Pravda (Pioneer’s Truth, #171) on December 20, 1937:

Narkom Yezhov

The million-voiced sonorous word flies from the peoples to batyr Yezhov: "Thanks, Yezhov, for raising the alarm, You stand on the guard for the country and Chief!" .. … Here, everybody loves you, Comrade Yezhov! And the people repeat, gathering around: "Greetings to you, Stalin’s faithful friend!" …

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Нарком Ежов

Мильонноголосое звонкое слово Летит от народов к батыру Ежову: – Спасибо, Ежов, что, тревогу будя, Стоишь ты на страже страны и вождя!.. … Здесь все тебя любят, товарищ Ежов! И вторит народ, собираясь вокруг: – Привет тебе, Сталина преданный друг!…

Honours and awards

  • Order of Lenin
  • Order of the Red Banner (Mongolia)
  • Badge of "Honorary security officer"

A decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet on 24 January 1941 deprived Yezhov of all state and special awards.