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Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial: Scenes from the Great Terror in Soviet Ukraine

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Between the summer of 1937 and November 1938, the Stalinist regime arrested over 1.5 million people for "counterrevolutionary" and "anti-Soviet" activity and either summarily executed or exiled them to the Gulag. While we now know a great deal about the experience of victims of the Great Terror, we know almost nothing about the lower- and middle-level Narodnyi Komissariat Between the summer of 1937 and November 1938, the Stalinist regime arrested over 1.5 million people for "counterrevolutionary" and "anti-Soviet" activity and either summarily executed or exiled them to the Gulag. While we now know a great deal about the experience of victims of the Great Terror, we know almost nothing about the lower- and middle-level Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (NKVD), or secret police, cadres who carried out Stalin's murderous policies. Unlike the postwar, public trials of Nazi war criminals, NKVD operatives were tried secretly. And what exactly happened in those courtrooms was unknown until now. In what has been dubbed "the purge of the purgers," almost one thousand NKVD officers were prosecuted by Soviet military courts. Scapegoated for violating Soviet law, they were charged with multiple counts of fabrication of evidence, falsification of interrogation protocols, use of torture to secure "confessions," and murder during pre-trial detention of "suspects" - and many were sentenced to execution themselves. The documentation generated by these trials, including verbatim interrogation records and written confessions signed by perpetrators; testimony by victims, witnesses, and experts; and transcripts of court sessions, provides a glimpse behind the curtains of the terror. It depicts how the terror was implemented, what happened, and who was responsible, demonstrating that orders from above worked in conjunction with a series of situational factors to shape the contours of state violence. Based on chilling and revelatory new archival documents from the Ukrainian secret police archives, Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial illuminates the darkest recesses of Soviet repression -- the interrogation room, the prison cell, and the place of execution -- and sheds new light on those who carried out the Great Terror.


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Between the summer of 1937 and November 1938, the Stalinist regime arrested over 1.5 million people for "counterrevolutionary" and "anti-Soviet" activity and either summarily executed or exiled them to the Gulag. While we now know a great deal about the experience of victims of the Great Terror, we know almost nothing about the lower- and middle-level Narodnyi Komissariat Between the summer of 1937 and November 1938, the Stalinist regime arrested over 1.5 million people for "counterrevolutionary" and "anti-Soviet" activity and either summarily executed or exiled them to the Gulag. While we now know a great deal about the experience of victims of the Great Terror, we know almost nothing about the lower- and middle-level Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (NKVD), or secret police, cadres who carried out Stalin's murderous policies. Unlike the postwar, public trials of Nazi war criminals, NKVD operatives were tried secretly. And what exactly happened in those courtrooms was unknown until now. In what has been dubbed "the purge of the purgers," almost one thousand NKVD officers were prosecuted by Soviet military courts. Scapegoated for violating Soviet law, they were charged with multiple counts of fabrication of evidence, falsification of interrogation protocols, use of torture to secure "confessions," and murder during pre-trial detention of "suspects" - and many were sentenced to execution themselves. The documentation generated by these trials, including verbatim interrogation records and written confessions signed by perpetrators; testimony by victims, witnesses, and experts; and transcripts of court sessions, provides a glimpse behind the curtains of the terror. It depicts how the terror was implemented, what happened, and who was responsible, demonstrating that orders from above worked in conjunction with a series of situational factors to shape the contours of state violence. Based on chilling and revelatory new archival documents from the Ukrainian secret police archives, Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial illuminates the darkest recesses of Soviet repression -- the interrogation room, the prison cell, and the place of execution -- and sheds new light on those who carried out the Great Terror.

30 review for Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial: Scenes from the Great Terror in Soviet Ukraine

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chaston Pfingston

    A fantastic historical investigation, however, a bit tough to get into. The level of concentration needed to process the information is more than I would’ve expected from such a small volume.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lucy Meeker

    This book had amazing depth, with solid research backing it and at the same time very well written and engaging. I deeply enjoyed it. I won a copy of this book in a goodreads giveaway.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Katya Kazbek

    A fantastic product of research. It is a little dry to read just for pleasure, however, includes a wealth of information for those interested in the banality of evil. I am very concerned with the ways in which citizens become perpetrators under totalitarian regimes, and reading this book has been fascinating and enlightening. An account of the trials of some of NKVD's scapegoats (guilty but singled out for the wrong reason) provides a window into the minds of people who tortured others to extrac A fantastic product of research. It is a little dry to read just for pleasure, however, includes a wealth of information for those interested in the banality of evil. I am very concerned with the ways in which citizens become perpetrators under totalitarian regimes, and reading this book has been fascinating and enlightening. An account of the trials of some of NKVD's scapegoats (guilty but singled out for the wrong reason) provides a window into the minds of people who tortured others to extract false convictions and the way they reason with themselves and the others when the tables are turned. I can't wait when the larger project, of which this is part, will come out: Prof. Viola wrote it together with other Stalinist time historians, and it will be in Russian and Ukrainian, one of which I can read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    James Taylor

  5. 4 out of 5

    D

  6. 4 out of 5

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  7. 5 out of 5

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  8. 4 out of 5

    Russell O. Redman

  9. 5 out of 5

    Logan Borges

  10. 5 out of 5

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  11. 4 out of 5

    Bri

  12. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  13. 5 out of 5

    psczhs

  14. 4 out of 5

    Inna

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  16. 4 out of 5

    Susan Walker

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lynne McCall

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rowan

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  21. 5 out of 5

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  22. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

  23. 5 out of 5

    David Kellner

  24. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Allen

  25. 4 out of 5

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  26. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  27. 4 out of 5

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  28. 4 out of 5

    ellen grace

  29. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mardon Nacar

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