NKVD Head Nikolai Yezhov Personally Approves List of Victims Awaiting Trial


Nikolai Yezhov was a secret police official under Joseph Stalin. He was head of the NKVD from 1936 to 1938, during the most deadly period of Stalin's "Great Purge." His time in office came to be known as the "Yezhovshina", a term coined during the de-Stalinization campaign of the 1950s. After presiding over mass arrests and executions during the Great Purge, Yezhov became a victim of it himself. He was arrested, confessed under torture to a range of anti-Soviet activities, and was executed in 1940. Photographs of Stalin with Yezhov were retouched to remove Yezhov's image.  This document, dated September 29, 1938, is a "List of Persons Awaiting Trial of The War Commission of The USSR Supreme Court." These individuals were all charged with "crimes against the State" and were either executed or sent off to the gulags to die of cola and starvation. This document is signed in pencil by I.I. Shapiro, Chief of the NKVD First Department and a deputy to Yezhov. The list is counter-signed by Lazar Kaganovich, one of Stalin's closest associates who, at that time, headed up the War Commission and personally chose Yezhov to be his deputy. I.I. Shapiro was later executed by Lavrenti Beria who succeeded Yezhov after he was ousted.

Photograph of Nikolai Yezhov with Stalin inspecting a dam in 1938. After Yezhov was executed, he was airbrushed out of this picture.


Cartoon dating from Yezhov's incumbency as secret chief police during the height of Stalin's Great Purge. The caption below the picture, which translates as "Yezhov's gloves of steel", is a friendly pun on Tezhov's surname, a common one derived from the word for "hedghog", i.e., "deal harshly with" or "Rule with an iron hand." The reptilian creature being squeezed to death in Yehov's hand has three human heads, caricatures of Trotsky (then in exile), as well as Bukharin and Rykov, both forced to confess to being "muderers and fascist agents" at a 1938 Moscow show trial. The tail of the creature ends in a Nazi swastika.