STALIN AND HIS HANGMEN: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him

Article excerpt

STALIN AND HIS HANGMEN: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him, Donald Rayfield, Random House, New York, 2004, 541 pages, $29.95.

Joseph Stalin's dictatorship survived by instilling terror and societal paranoia throughout the country and systematically arranging one purge after another. Stalin's henchmen carried out mass murder within virtually every ethnicity and institution inside the Soviet Union, including clergy, scholars, poets, doctors, scientists, military officers, writers, actors, political rivals and nonrivals, and even Stalin's own dreaded secret services.

Eventually, even the executioners were executed and a new wave of terror occurred under new organizations. Whether it was by Extraordinary Commission (Cheka) or the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD), the mass killings of thousand of innocent people continued for decades.

Unlike Adolf Hitler, Stalin almost exclusively murdered his own countrymen. Between 1937 and 1938, he massacred approximately 750,000 Soviet citizens (many loyal to his own Communist Party), and he imprisoned twice that many in Siberian camps-most never heard from again.

Stalin's defeat in Finland in 1940 and his retreat from Hitler's forces in 1941 came from purging his own army. …