Mass Crimes under Stalin (1930-1953)

14 March, 2008
Werth Nicolas

«Liquidation of kulaks as a social group» through mass deportations of farmers (1930-1932)****

Forced collectivization of rural areas, decided at the November 1929 Central Committee of the Communist Party Plenum, led to the «liquidation of the kulaks as a social group,» a process also known as «Dekulakization.» The collectivization campaign supported a double objective: firstly, to «extract» (term used in confidential instructions) all elements prone to actively oppose forced collectivization and secondly, to «colonize» vast inhospitable regions of Siberia, the Great North, the Ural and Kazakhstan. The first objective followed the Bolshevik belief, which had been clearly stated ever since they had taken power, that the peasantry, abounding with class antagonisms, concealed «capitalist elements» (kulaks) and was thus irrecoverably hostile to the regime. The second objective was in accordance with the 1st Five Year Plan (launched in 1929) emphasizing development of unpopulated but resource rich regions with penal or deported labor. «Dekulakization» mainly consisted in expropriation followed by deportation of millions of farmers.

1930; January 30: Communist Party Politburo Resolution "on measures to be taken for the liquidation of kulak ownership in complete collectivization regions." This Resolution determines "Dekulakization quotas" in "1st" and "2nd" categories for each region or republic. An initial estimate of 60,000 "1st category kulaks" defined as "activists, engaged in counter-revolutionary activities," were to be arrested and sent to labor camps after "a brief appearance before the troika" (political police extraordinary jurisdiction). The "most harmful and tenacious activists" were to be sentenced to death whereas "2nd category kulaks" defined as "exploiters, but less actively engaged in counter-revolutionary activities" and estimated at 129,000 to 154,000 families, were to be deported as families to "distant" regions of the country, following simple administrative procedures. Deprived of their civic rights, deported, administratively considered as "specially displaced," they were assigned to residence in "special villages" run by the OGPU (NKVD as of 1934).

1930; Beginning of February - end of September: Mass arrests of "1st category Kulaks"

During this period, 284,000 persons were arrested as "1st category kulaks," five times the original estimate. This was in part due to unexpected opposition to collectivization on behalf of farmers as well as non-farmers. Only 44% of those arrested were farmers; others were members of the clergy, tradesmen, former Czarist civil servants, former landowners, teachers or other representatives of the "rural intelligentsia," who had been close to the Socialist-Revolutionary party in the past (Danilov & Berelowitch, eds, 2003, vol III/1). These contingents were sent to Gulag labor camps. The OGPU troika sentenced approximately 20,000 persons to death in 1930 (GARF 9401/1/4157/201).

1930; Beginning of February - end of May: First wave of "2nd category kulaks" deportations.

In a matter of four months, 560,000 persons (115,000 families) were arrested and expropriated from the richest agricultural regions (where resistance to forced collectivization was strongest) - Ukraine, Kuban, Lower and Middle Volga, Black Soil Central Region - and deported to the North (province of Arkhangelsk), the Ural and Western Siberia. In order to manage these deportations, military logistics mobilized 280 railway convoys and deployed thousands of special unit OGPU personnel (Danilov & Berelowitch, eds, 2003, vol III/1). During the first wave of deportation there was little coordination between militarized OGPU procedures and settlement procedures managed by overwhelmed local authorities. This first wave often amounted to an unprecedented level of "deportation-abandon”: deportees were abandoned in temporary barracks along railroad tracks or in the steppes and taiga. Mortality was extremely high, particularly among children and the elderly. Approximately 15% of deported died in the months following deportation. Amidst this deadly chaos, a large portion of deported (between 15 and 20%) managed to flee (Poliakov, ed, 2000, vol 1, p. 278 sq; OGPU regional administrative documents in Danilov & Berelowitch, eds, 2003, vol III/1).

1930; End of September - October: Second wave of "2nd category kulaks" deportations

During the agitated summer of 1930 - 8 million farmer families left the kolkhozes after the publication in early March of Stalin's famous article condemning "the vertigo of success" and blaming local authorities for "abuses" that occurred during collectivization - large scale "Dekulakization" was interrupted at the end of May. "Dekulakization" specifically resumed end of September 1930, after the harvest. Some 16,500 families (about 60,000 persons) were deported from regions adjacent to Poland on the border of Belarus and Western Ukraine, strategic border regions where major peasant uprisings had taken place in the spring (Telegram from Messing to Balitskii and Rappoport on September 22, 1930, in Danilov & Berelowitch, eds, 2003, vol III/1). Deported were sent to Kazakhstan and the Ural.

1931; May-September: Third wave of "2nd category kulaks" deportations

Taking advantage of the favorable context created by the particularly successful 1930 harvest, the Politburo and the OGPU directorate decided to launch a new wave of deportations in the beginning of 1931. The 1930 procurement campaign allowed the State to recover over 21 million tons of cereal (twice the amount recovered before forced collectivization in 1927-1928), several million peasant families having been forced to join kolkhozes over the last months of 1930. On February 20, 1931, the Politburo adopted an ambitious new deportation plan: starting in the spring of 1931, between 200,000 and 300,000 families were to be deported mainly to Southern Kazakhstan (Politburo Resolution of February 20, 1931, in Danilov, Manning & Viola, eds, 2003: vol III, 90).

On March 11, 1931, the Politburo created a special commission directed by A. Andreev, vice-president of the Council of People's Commissars. This new commission was in charge of supervising and coordinating the entire deportation process by organizing "rational and efficient management of specially displaced persons in order to avoid the recurrence of tremendous waste and disarray in the use of labor force as noted in previous deportation procedures." On May 15, 1931, the Andreev Commission transferred the entire economic, administrative and organizational management of the "special population" to the OGPU. In this "third wave" of "Dekulakization," a total of 1,244,000 persons (265,000 families) were deported, mainly to the Ural, Western Siberia, the Northern Region and Kazakhstan. As in 1930, human loss was extremely high. The first general census of the "specially displaced" population on January 1, 1932 recorded only 1,317,000 individuals when 1,804,000 had been deported in 1930-1931, indicating a loss of nearly half a million individuals over a two year period. This loss was evenly shared between flight and death (Danilov & Berelowitch, eds, 2003: vol. III/1, 771; Poliakov, ed, 2000: 279-280).

Deportation of the Ukrainian and Kuban farming communities as part of the autumn 1932 "collection campaign"****

In the autumn of 1932, during the particularly frantic "procurement campaign" which was launched in the great grain producing regions (Ukraine, Kuban, Lower and Middle Volga) in order to achieve the exportation program in this last year of the 1st Five Year Plan, not merely kulak families but entire peasant communities, accused of "sabotaging the procurement campaign," were deported. Thus, in November-December 1932, three Cossack stanitsy (large boroughs) of Kuban (Medvedovskaya, Umanskaya, Poltavskaya) were entirely emptied of their population, which was deported to Siberia, the Ural and Kazakhstan (45,600 deported). Shortly thereafter, demobilized soldiers of the Red Army settled in these stanitsy with their families. This collective deportation (the only precedent of which had been the deportation of Terek Cossacks at the end of 1920 was) signaled a major shift between the 1930-1931 Dekulakization and ethnic deportations of entire communities as of 1935 (Martin, 1998: 300; Shapoval & Vassiliev, 2001: 119-120).

The 1931-1933 famines***

Since Robert Conquest’s 1986 pathbreaking book, The Harvest of Sorrow, a number of Western but also Russian, Ukrainian and Kazakh studies based on newly available archives have explained the mechanisms leading to the terrible famines of 1931-1933. In spite of diverging opinions regarding the sequence of events or the importance of various factors, historians agree that these famines were not the result of poor weather conditions but directly caused by regime policies in place since 1930. Forced collectivization carried out against the will of the vast majority of farming communities led to a catastrophic drop in livestock and a strong decline in agricultural production. The State strongly increased its levy on harvests and livestock products once market mechanisms (still more or less functional under the NEP) had been broken down. The country’s speedy industrialization was indeed supposed to be financed by massive agricultural exports requiring such predatory levies on harvests that the entire productive cycle was disrupted. The situation was exacerbated in Kazakhstan with forced sedentarization of nomad and semi-nomad stockbreeders took place, and in the Ukraine with the Stalin’s “national interpretation” (T.Martin) developed in the summer of 1932 regarding the specific status of this federate state.

It is thus in Kazakhstan and in the ethnic Ukrainian regions (Ukraine and Kuban) that famine was most widespread. Regional specificities however remained.

Beginning 1931-beginning 1933: Famine in Kazakhstan.

As elsewhere in the USSR, forced collectivization and "Dekulakization" since 1930 had brought about great upheaval in Kazakhstan where moreover a vast plan of sedentarization was underway. In this cattle rearing and transhumance region, the creation of kolkhozes and sovkhozes was indeed supposed to force nomad and semi-nomad stockbreeders to settle. Measures were taken to guide Kazakh economy from a "natural economy" to a "socialist economy." The development of a cereal-based agriculture was intended to break down clannish structures that, according to the communists in charge, maintained "Kazakh masses" in a state of oppression. Achieving a record of forced collectivization and forced sedentarization as well as tripling mandatory meat deliveries led to a strong decrease in livestock. At the end of the 1920’s, the largest livestock count in the entire USSR was in Kazakhstan. An 85% reduction over three years (1929-1931) resulted in great impoverishment of the Kazakh population.

As of the summer of 1930, Kazakh authorities received confidential reports from the OGPU concerning the rise of "food shortages." At the beginning of 1931, Stalin was informed by Soviet consular authorities in China of mass migrations of Kazakhs to Xinjiang. In 1931, Kazakh nomads, dispossessed of their herds, accelerated the exodus in particular towards Western Siberia. Until the summer of 1932, the leaders of the Kazakh Communist Party failed to admit the reasons of mass exodus and refused to mention "food shortages." The first aid released by Moscow in July 1932 was absurd, barely 50,000 tons of cereal, some ten kilos per person. Four months later, Stalin accused the Kazakh Communists of "engaging in kulak sabotage of the agricultural produce delivery plan" (Telegram from Stalin to the leadership of the Kazakh Communist Party, November 21, 1932, in Danilov, Manning & Viola, eds, 2003: vol III, 548-549).

It has been established that the population of Kazakhstan decreased by 1.7 to 2 million people between 1931 and 1933. Approximately 600,000 had fled areas, which were devastated by famine; the others - between 1.1 and 1.4 million died of hunger or epidemics. At the end of 1920, the population of Kazakhstan was estimated at 6,5 million people, of which 3,8 million were Kazakh, the great majority nomadic or semi-nomadic stockbreeders. It was precisely these Kazakh stockbreeders who were most severely struck by famine that caused the death of approximately one third of the indigenous population - a proportion without equivalent in any region of the USSR (Tatimov, Kozybaev & Abylhozin, eds, 1991; Ohayon, 2006).

1932-1933: Famine in the Ukraine and Kuban.

Famines in the Ukraine were different from other famines occurring in the Soviet Union between 1931 and 1933. Ideologically motivated policies implemented since the end of 1929 were indeed directly responsible for the Ukrainian famines even if they had not originally been considered or programmed as such. In 1931, the Ukraine, Kuban and the Central Region of the Black Soil delivered a great portion of their agricultural production to the State. The Ukraine, for instance, contributed 42% of its total harvest, an exceptionally high levy that fully disrupted a production cycle already strained by forced collectivization and dekulakization. For the year 1932, at the same time as the first famines were breaking out in the provinces of Kharkov, Kiev, Dniepropetrovsk and Odessa, the Soviet government set mandatory deliveries at an even higher level as in 1931 (7 million tons for the Ukraine). Until the summer of 1932, famine in the Ukraine had fit into the general pattern of famine resulting from forced collectivization. With Stalin’s "national interpretation of the famine" (Martin, 2001) in the summer of 1932, famine in the Ukraine changed in its very nature. Indeed, Stalin had duly noted Ukrainian opposition to the collection plan, which the Ukrainian communists had rejected as "unrealistic" during the IIIrd Conference of the Ukrainian Communist Party (July 6-10, 1932). Recently published correspondence between Stalin and his main collaborators shows how, in the summer of 1932, Stalin convinced himself that a vast resistance front, from simple kolkhoz workers to Ukrainian communist leaders, was preventing the agricultural produce necessary for urban food supply and for export from being delivered to the State (Stalin i Kaganovic, Perepiska 1931-1936, 2001). He thus decided to use hunger as a weapon to punish Ukrainian peasantry well aware of its national specificity and refusing the "new serfdom" imposed by the central power. Stalin undertook a targeted policy of repression against the Ukraine and Kuban, mainly populated by Ukrainians. His two closest collaborators, Viacheslav Molotov and Lazar Kaganovich, were sent as "plenipotentiaries" to the Ukraine and to the Northern Caucasus with the mission to "purge" local communist organizations and to complete the "collection plan." Armed detachments of "activists" from Russia and political police units engaged in punitive actions throughout Ukrainian kolkhozes in order "to collect grain by storm," even taking the grain needed for future seeding as well as the small "advances" kolkhoz workers received in kind for their year-long labor. Villages, which had not completed the "collection plan," were "blacklisted:" shops were shut down and imports of foodstuffs or manufactured goods were prohibited. Lastly, in order to avoid a massive rush of famished peasants towards cities and to prevent the news of famine from spreading, sale of train tickets was suspended and army detachments along with the political police were deployed around famished zones to halt any exodus. Stalin in person had written the circular ordering the blockade of the Ukrainian countryside on January 22, 1933. In February 1933 alone, 220,000 Ukrainian peasants who had tried to flee their villages were stopped by OGPU troops; 190,000 were sent back to their homes, thus condemned to certain death; the remainder were either sent to camps or deported. While millions of farmers were dying of hunger, the Soviet government exported 1,800,000 tons of cereal in order to honor debts contracted toward Germany and buy foreign machinery, which was supposed to enable the achievement of the accelerated industrialization plans. Strategic State reserves, stored in the event of war, exceeded three million tons for the year 1933. This quantity was more than sufficient to save millions of famished farmers. The estimated number of death by famine in the Ukraine and in Kuban varies from four million to four and a half million (Shapoval & Vassiliev, 2001; Danilov, Manning & Viola, eds, 2003, vol. III).

1932-1933: Famine in the Volga region.

Apart from the Ukraine and Kuban, other great grain producing regions were struck by famine. These more localized famines were also not due to bad weather conditions, but rather to disproportionate levies on kolkhoz production. The most afflicted areas were the Lower and Middle Volga where excess mortality reached 300,000 to 400,000 in 1933 (Kondrasin & Penner, eds, 2002).

1933: Famine in the "special settlements" (Northern Region, the Ural, Western Siberia). Following a drastic reduction in "standards of rationing" allocated by the administration to the "specially displaced", food shortages and famines became recurrent in a great number of "special settlements" of the Northern Region, Karelia, the Ural and Western Siberia. According to centralized statistics from the Department of Special Settlements of the Gulag, 151,000 "specially displaced" persons died in 1933, amounting to a 14% death rate (on January 1, 1933, 1,110,000 persons were registered as "specially displaced"). Even the authorities recognized that the majority of deaths were due to "food dystrophy" (Zemskov, 2003: 22-26; Viola, 2005: 5-22)

1933-1935: Deportations of "socially harmful elements" and "people of the past" from a number of Soviet cities ***

At the beginning of 1933, the Soviet government launched a vast "cleansing" campaign to rid the major cities "of all the superfluous elements not related to production, kulak elements, criminals and other socially harmful elements." Those "elements" that had been denied the right to reside in "special regime" cities (Moscow, Leningrad and a dozen important and relatively well supplied cities) were raided by the police and immediately deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan on simple administrative procedures. Amidst great chaos, convoys of deportees were unloaded in the middle of nowhere, as evidenced by the tragic episode of some 6,000 "socially harmful elements," shipped by convoy from Moscow and Leningrad towards Tomsk (Siberia) in April 1933. Upon arrival at their destination, these deportees were transported by barge to a small deserted island in the middle of the Ob River where they were left without food or tools. 4,000 died of hunger and exhaustion (Werth, 2006/a). In the course of 1933, over 100,000 "socially harmful elements" were deported from "special regime" cities on expedited administrative procedures. This was approximately 40% of the total number (268,000) of 1933 deportees. The remaining 60% were mostly peasants who had been caught trying to flee famine, or kolkhoz deportees, at times entire villages accused of having "sabotaged the collection plan" (Zemskov, 2003: 24 sq). One such "cleansing" operation intended to rid Soviet cities of "undesired inhabitants," took place in February and March of 1935, shortly after the assassination of S. Kirov (December 1, 1934). 4,833 "heads of households" labeled "people of the past" (byvsie) - former officials and ex-czarist officers, ex-nobility and in general, all those who had belonged to the political or social elites of the Old Regime, as well as members of the clergy - in total 11,200 persons (including family members), were expelled from Leningrad and exiled to small provincial towns in the Volga region. For the majority of these deportees, exile was merely the first step on a road leading to the "Great Terror" of 1937-1938 when deportees were either sent to labor camps or executed (Ivanov, 1998: 118-130).

1935-1937: Deportations of ethnic minorities in view of "cleansing" the border regions of the USSR***

From 1935 on, the Soviet government kept increasing "cleansing" operations in border regions, which were increasingly perceived as a front line.

In February and March of 1935, some 3,500 Finnish, Latvian and Estonian families were deported to Kazakhstan, Siberia and Tadjikistan as part of the first operation, which took place in the Leningrad area (Martin, 2001: 333 sq). At the same time, 8,300 families (41,650 people) were deported from border districts of the Kiev and Vinnitsa area. The majority of deportees were Soviet citizens of Polish and German origin. Others were categorized as "socially foreign elements." In these first few operations, which were still limited and selective, the ethnic criterion was "mixed" with class considerations, in line with communist political culture.

In 1936, "cleansing" operations in border regions were continued and amplified. In April and May of 1936, a second group of 5,000 families of Finnish origin was deported from the Leningrad area. In June and September of 1936, 15,000 families of Polish and German origin residing in Western Ukraine, along the border with Poland, were deported to Kazakhstan. The greatest deportations began in September-October 1936 when the entire Korean community from Soviet Far East border regions (Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Birobidjan) was deported. In a secret resolution of the central Committee of the Communist Party, dated August 21, 1937, such mass deportation was justified by the belief that the Korean population constituted "a breeding ground for spies and diversionists for the Japanese secret service." For the first time, an entire national minority, 172,000 individuals in total, was deported. In order to manage such an operation within a predetermined two-month deadline, the NKVD had to mobilize 124 railway convoys, which were used to transport the Korean deportees to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (Polian, 2001: 87-92).

August 1937-November 1938: Mass arrests and executions during the "Great Terror"

Within sixteen months, over one and a half million persons were arrested. Half of these persons (800,000) were sentenced to death, the other half to ten years of forced labor in the Gulag by emergency tribunals (troiki - "three member commissions," dvoiki - "two member commissions," Special Conference, Military College of the Supreme Court). These emergency courts would examine the cases as they were presented to them by the NKVD, with no defense and in the absence of the accused. Recent research focused on this paroxysm of Stalinist repression has rejected two widely circulated ideas, firstly that denunciations emanating from the community allowed an "uncontrolled outburst" of terror; secondly that the main victims were Communists and Party executives (Nikita Khrushchev’s thesis in his "Secret Report" to the XXth Congress of February 1956). In reality, the "Great Terror" was essentially the result of "secret mass repression operations," which were decided and planned by Stalin in person, assisted by Nikolai Yezhov, Commissary of the People for the Interior, and systematically carried out by a colossal State security apparatus. These "secret mass repression operations" appear as the radical and murderous product of a series of social engineering operations in place since the beginning of the 1930’s. Such secret terrorist operations should be clearly distinguished from the purges of political, economic, military and intellectual elites and dignitaries, which were being carried out in parallel, by means of different extra-judicial procedures, with different objectives and a different political function. These purges were highly ‘popularized’ through public ‘discoveries’ of countless plots and acts of sabotage, arrests amidst the communist leadership and executions following ‘pedagogic’ public political trials. Although they were a spectacular and politically significant public face of the "Great Terror," nevertheless accounted for only a small fraction of the 1937-1938 victims: 40,000 to 50,000 of a total of 800,000 executed. The "Great Purges," as some historians continue to label this paroxysm of Stalinist extermination, is thus a misleading characterization. The term "Purge" should be reserved to describe political purges, which were recurrent but seldom fatal within the Soviet system.

1937; July 30: NKVD Secret Operational Order n° 00447 "On repression operations against ex-kulaks, criminals and other counter-revolutionary elements." The purpose of these operations was "to eradicate once and for all" (according to Nikolai Yezhov’s own words in the Preamble to Order n° 00447) a broad range of what could be called "traditional" enemies of the regime: in particular, "ex-kulaks returned after completing their sentences or after escaping deportation," "recidivists," "former members of non-Bolshevik parties," "former czarist officials or gendarmes," "anti-Soviet elements among White, Cossack or clerical groups," as well as "sectarians or clergymen engaging in anti-Soviet activities." Quotas of individuals to be shot or sent to labor camp for ten years were attributed to each region, amounting to a total of 76,000 "1st category elements" (death penalty) and 193,000 "2nd category elements" (ten years internment). However, regional Party and NKVD officials kept asking Moscow for more and more "supplements," to the extent that the "initial objectives" were multiplied by two for "2nd category individuals to repress" and by five for "1st category individuals to repress" during the sixteen months of the operation (instead of the initially planned four months). From August 1937 to November 1938, in total 767,000 people were sentenced under "operation 00447" alone, among which 387,000 were shot (Junge & Binner, 2003; Werth, 2002, p. 118-140).

1937; July 25: NKVD Secret Operational Order n° 00439 ("German Operation")

The purpose of this operation was to eliminate "German agents and spies," in particular "those who infiltrated military factories." In reality, the operation was specifically aimed at Soviet citizens of German origin, German emigrants (including communist emigrants), as well as anybody who might have had professional or personal ties with Germany, a country considered as particularly hostile to the USSR. In the sixteen months of the "German operation," 55,000 people were arrested and convicted, 42,000 of which were sentenced to death (Okhotin & Roginskii, in Scherbakova, ed, 1999).

1937; August 11: NKVD n° 00485 Secret operational Order ("Polish Operation")

This operation was aimed at eliminating agents of a mythical "Polish military Organization" allegedly engaged in "espionage and sabotage activities" in the USSR. In reality, the operation was particularly aimed at Soviet citizens of Polish origin, Polish emigrants (including communist emigrants) as well as anybody who might have had professional or personal ties or might have simply lived in geographical proximity (inhabitants of border regions were particularly vulnerable) with Poland, a country considered as particularly hostile to the USSR. In the sixteen months of the "Polish Operation", 140,000 people were arrested and convicted, including 111,000 who were sentenced to death (Petrov & Roginskii, in Gurianov, ed, 1997).

1937; August 15: NKVD Secret Operational Order n°00486 "On repression against the wives of traitors to the Fatherland and on providing for their children." Among the many "mass operations" that took place during the " Great Terror," this particular operation gained much attention by the fact that it not only targeted the individuals suspected of counter-revolutionary crimes, but also their family members. The collective responsibility principle had already been applied to include family members during "dekulakization" expropriation-deportation actions and when certain social groups were expelled from "special regime" cities, as well as during the deportation operations targeted at border region minorities as of 1935. However, an additional step was taken in August 1937, when the principle of collective responsibility was applied to certain categories of people who had been condemned by a special jurisdiction. Initially, members of the communist nomenklatura (Party leadership, Red Army officers, leaders of the economy, senior officials and "specialists") were judged, for the majority of them, by the Military College of the Supreme Court or by special tribunals, and condemned as "traitors to the Fatherland," or "members of right-wing Trotskyist espionage and sabotage organizations." Their wives "or concubines" - except if they were the denunciators themselves - were condemned to five to eight years of camp, depending on their degree of "social threat," and their children were sent to orphanages that were distant from their homes. These measures were in fact applied to much broader categories than originally designated in order n°00486: close relatives, wives, and children of a certain number of persons condemned within "national operations" were also arrested and condemned. In total, close to 40,000 "wives" were arrested and condemned, and some twenty thousand children of "repressed parents" were placed in orphanages (Werth, 2006/b: 132-136).

1937; September 20: NKVD Secret Operational Order n°00593 "On the repression of former Chinese Eastern Railway civil servants."

This third "national operation" was aimed at another group suspected of maintaining ties with a foreign enemy Power, Japan. The suspects were "Harbinites," ex-employees and railway attendants of the Chinese Eastern Railway Company, based in Harbin, who had been repatriated to the USSR as Soviet citizens, after the surrender of the Railway to the Japanese. These Harbinites were accused of "terrorist and diversionist activities, financed by the Japanese secret service." During this operation, a total of 33,108 people were condemned, of whom 21,200 were executed (Razumov et al, eds, 1998: vol III, 583-585; Werth, 2006/b: 124-126).

1937; November 30: Secret NKVD Circular n° 49990 ("Latvian Operation")

This fourth "national operation" was aimed at Soviet citizens of Latvian origin, Latvian emigrants (even the political emigrants) accused of espionage on behalf of Latvia, a State that was considered as hostile to the USSR. During this operation, which lasted from December 1937 to November 1938, 22,360 people were condemned, including 16,573 who were sentenced to death (Okhotin & Roginskii, 2000: 5-6).

Because of the Great Terror’s extremely diverse groups of victims, this crime is difficult to characterize and remains unique in its ‘category’ - 800,000 people executed with a shot in the head, after a parody of justice, in a matter of sixteen months - 50,000 executions per month, or 1,700 per day for nearly 500 days. We will thus use a "minimal" designation – that of "mass crime" perpetrated by the Stalinist State against approximately one per cent of its entire adult population.

Deportations and mass executions in territories annexed by the USSR after the Soviet-German Pact of August 23, 1939

For the first time, the same repressive practices that had been extensively experimented on Soviet society were also exported. Their brutality deeply scarred Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian societies who were subjected to sovietization; but for the occupying authorities, the policies that were put in place merely duplicated, almost in a routine manner, measures that were commonly applied to Soviet citizens, with no further violence threshold being crossed. Three main forms of repression took place under Soviet occupation-annexation: mass arrests, followed by labor camp sentences (approximately 110,000 arrested in occupied Poland); collective deportations (320,000 Poles, 80,000 Balts and Moldovans) where deportees were considered as "specially displaced" with the same assignment and labor regime usually applied to this category of Soviet citizens; mass executions of Polish elite (over 25,000).

1939; December 4: Politburo Resolution on the deportation of "Polish military settlers and foresters."

1940; February 10-14: Deportation of 27,000 families (139,600 people) to 24 regions of the USSR (from Arkhangelsk to Irkutsk). In reality, a far greater contingent than just the category of "military settlers and foresters" (who had received land on the boarder with the USSR as compensation from the Polish State for service rendered during the Polish-Soviet war of 1920): landowners, industrialists, Polish civil servants and other "class enemies" (Gurianov, ed, 1997: 114-136).

1940; March 5: Letter to Stalin from L. Beria, the People's Commissar for Internal Affairs, soliciting the execution of 25,700 former officers, senior officials, great landowners, industrialists, senior police officers and other "members of Polish counter-revolutionary organizations."

1940; April: Execution of 25,700 Poles, officers, senior officials, members of the military, civil and economic elites, who had been incarcerated in the three "special camps" of Kozelsk, Ostashkov and Starobelsk. Katyn was one of several locations where these executions took place (Pikhoia & Kozlov, eds, 1997).

1940; April 2: Politburo Resolution on the deportation of three categories of Poles: family members of officers, senior officials, industrialists, great landowners who had already been arrested; prostitutes; refugees from the Western part of Poland (under German occupation) who had crossed over to the East, into Soviet occupied zone.

1940; April 12-13: Deportation to Kazakhstan of 61,000 people belonging to Poles belonging to one of the three "categories" defined by the April 2, 1940 Politburo Resolution (Gurianov, ed, 1997).

1940; June 28-29: Deportation to "special villages" in Siberia of 75,000 Polish refugees from the German occupation zone who had crossed to the east, into the Soviet occupation zone.

1941; May 16: Politburo Resolution on the deportation of nine categories of people (members of counter-revolutionary parties; former police officers, senior officials, judges and attorneys, landowners, industrialists, wholesale tradesmen; former officers; criminal elements; prostitutes; family members of categories 2 to 4; family members of category 1; Polish refugees) from the German occupation zone, from the three Baltic States, which had been absorbed by the USSR in 1940, and from Moldavia, which had been annexed to the USSR in August 1940.

1941; May 22-June 20: Implementation of the 4th great deportation planned by the Politburo Resolution of May 16, 1941. Within one month, 107,000 people were arrested, 86,000 of whom were deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan while the remainder were sent to Gulag labor camps (Gurianov, ed, 1997).

Total ethnic deportations of "punished peoples" during the "Great Patriotic War"

During the "Great Patriotic War," over two million Soviet citizens belonging to ethnic minorities accused of either offering a breeding ground for potential agents of the Nazi invader (Soviet citizens of German origin), or of having "collaborated with the occupant" (Chechens, Ingush, Kalmyks, Balkars, Karachays, Crimean Tatars), were deported and assigned to reside as "special deportees" in various inhospitable regions of the country. Compared to previous deportations, some specific properties of the 1941-1944 deportations are noteworthy, in particular, "the ethno-historic excision" (Francine Hirsch) of entire nationalities that were collectively declared as "enemies of the Soviet regime." Every single member of a "punished" ethnic group was subjected to various discriminations, ranging from deportation to forced labor; all administrative structures were abolished in "punished" regions and autonomous republics; in short, once a "punished" nationality was thus excluded from the "great family of Soviet socialist nationalities," it simply ceased to exist. A Supreme Soviet Praesidium Decree of February 1948 specified that the "punished peoples" were deported "for ever”.

End of August 1941-March 1942: Deportation of Soviet citizens of German origin.

1941; August 28: Supreme Soviet Presidium Decree on the collective "preventive" deportation of the entire Volga German population (from the autonomous republic of Volga Germans, Stalingrad and Saratov regions). Fourteen more decrees were issued between August 30, 1941 and March 20, 1942 on the deportation of Soviet citizens of German origin from Moscow, Leningrad, Tula, Gorki, Rostov, Zaporozhie, Krasnodar, Ordzhonikidze, Voronezh, Voroshilovgrad, Odessa, Crimea as well as from the Georgian and Armenian Soviet Socialist Republics. On December 25, 1941, 894,600 people had already been deported. By the end of March 1942, the Gulag Special Settlements Department had registered 1,209,430 deportees, representing 82% of the Soviet population of German origin recorded in 1939. Kazakhstan, Siberia and the Far North (Vorkuta) were the main deportation destinations. In order to ensure the most complete "cleansing" possible, the NKVD arrested several tens of thousands of soldiers and officers of German origin who had been in the Soviet army. Approximately 30% of deportees who were considered most able to work (men from age 17 to 50, and, as of October 1942, women from age 16 to 45) were turned over to battalions of the "Labor Army," where they encountered similar living and working conditions as in Gulag camps. The mines of Vorkuta, Karaganda and the Kuzbass were the main production sites where this forced labor was used (Polian, 2001: 102-115; Scherbakova, ed, 1999: 118-127).

1943; October: Deportation of the Karachays.

1943; October 12: Supreme Soviet Praesidium Decree on the collective deportation of the Karachays for their "collaboration with the Nazi occupant" and on the "liquidation of the Karachay Autonomous Region."

1943; October 20-27: 68,327 people deported by railway convoy to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (Polian, 2001: 118-119).

1943; December: Deportation of the Kalmyks.

1943; December 27: Supreme Soviet Praesidium Decree on the collective deportation of Kalmyks for their "collaboration with the Nazi occupant" and on the "liquidation of the Autonomous Socialist Republic of Kalmykia."

1943; December 28-31: 93,139 people (26,359 families) deported by 46 railway convoys to the Altai, areas of Krasnoyarsk, Omsk and Novosibirsk in Siberia (Polian, 2001: 120-121; Werth & Mironenko, eds, 2004: 477-481).

1944; February: Deportation of the Chechens and Ingush.

February 23-28: 521,247 people deported by 194 railway convoys towards Kazakhstan. 119,000 special NKVD troops were mobilized for this exceptionally extensive operation (Bugai, 1995: 102 sq; Werth & Mironenko, eds, 200: 486-494). Due to bad weather conditions on February 27, General Gvishiani’s troops, in the mountain village of Khaibach, could not deliver their load of deportees on time to the railway gathering point. Instead, they locked several hundred people up in the kolkhoz stables, which they then set on fire (Polian, 2001: 123).

1944; March 7: Supreme Soviet Praesidium Decree on the collective deportation of the Chechens and Ingush for their "collaboration with the Nazi occupant" and on the "liquidation of the Autonomous Socialist Republic of Chechnya-Ingushetia."

1944; March: Deportation of the Balkars.

1944; March 5: State Defense Committee Decree on the collective deportation of the Balkars for their "collaboration with the Nazi occupant."

1944; March 9-11: Deportation of 37,103 people by 23 railway convoys from the Autonomous Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

1944; April 8: Supreme Soviet Praesidium Decree on the "liquidation of the Autonomous Socialist Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria" (Werth & Mironenko, eds, 2004: 481-485).

1944; May: Deportation of the Crimean Tatars.

1944; April 13: Operational Order n°00419/00137 of the NKVD/NKGB "On how to rid the Autonomous Socialist Republic of Crimea of anti-Soviet elements."

1944; May 11: State Defense Committee Decree on the collective deportation of the Crimean Tatars for their "collaboration with the Nazi occupant."

1944; May 18-20: Deportation of 180,014 Crimean Tatars to Uzbekistan (Bugai, 1997: 45-64).

1944; June: Deportation of the Bulgarians, Greeks and Armenians from Crimea.

1944; June 2: State Defense Committee Decree on the deportation of the Bulgarian, Greek and Armenian minorities from Crimea for their "collaboration with the occupant."

1944; June 24-28: Deportation of 37,083 Greeks, Bulgarians and Armenians from Crimea to Kemerovo, Sverdlovsk and the Bashkir Autonomous Socialist Republic (Gonov, 1999; Werth & Mironenko, eds, 2004: 494-505).

1944; November: Deportation of Meskheti Turks, Kurds and Khemchin from the border districts of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia.

1944; September 20: State Defense Committee Decree on the deportation of Meskheti Turks, Kurds and Khemchin from the border districts of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia.November 15 to 25: Deportation of 91,095 people to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan (Gonov, 1999; Bugai, 1997; Werth & Mironenko, eds, 2004: 505-512).

Mass deportations as part of the resovietization of the Baltic States, Western Ukraine and Moldavia (1947-1949) **

Resovietization of territories that were first annexed by the USSR in 1939-1940 after the Soviet-German pact, then occupied by Germany as of July 1941, begins in the autumn 1944 with a true pacification war when faced by resistance of Baltic and Ukrainian nationalist guerrillas. Confrontations between special units ("extermination battalions") of the Ministry for the Interior and "partisans" ("bandits" according to Soviet authorities) were extremely violent and lengthy, lasting until the end of the 1940’s and even until the early 1950’s in certain areas. In two secret memoranda of May 26, 1953, a few weeks after Stalin’s death, Beria, the head of State Security, made the following assessment to the Central Committee’s Praesidium on the "war" that had been waged in Western Ukraine from 1944 to 1952: 153,000 killed in armed confrontations, 134,000 condemned to Gulag sentences, 203,000 deported. In Lithuania, this amounted to 50,000 killed, 70,000 condemned, 150,000 deported (Yakovlev, Naumov & Sigachev, eds, 1999: 46-49). As in any pacification war of this kind where the civilian population is caught between crossfires, it is evidently impossible to give a full account of all the victims of massacres, punitive treatments and tortures. It will suffice to cite major centralized repressive operations against the civilian population, which took the shape of mass deportations.

1947; September 10: USSR Council of Ministers Resolution on the "deportation of family members of OUN (Organization of the Ukrainian Nationalists) partisans and of Ukrainian bandits."

October 1947-January 1948: Approximately 40,000 "family members of OUN partisans" were deported to regions of Karaganda (Kazakhstan), Kemerovo, Tyumen, Kirov, Sverdlovsk, Chelyabinsk.

1948; February 21: USSR Council of Ministers Resolution on the "deportation of bandit and nationalist family members as well as their accomplices and kulaks from the Soviet Socialist Republic of Lithuania."

1948; May 22-23: Operation "Spring": arrest and deportation of 36,932 men, women and children were arrested and deported to Siberia (areas of Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Tomsk) as "family members of bandits, nationalists and kulaks." In the following weeks, over 7,000 more were deported (Zemskov, 2003: 155; Bugai, 1997: 188 sq; Werth & Mironenko, eds, 2004: 513-514).

1948; October 4: USSR Council of Ministers Resolution on the "deportation of family members of OUN partisans and Ukrainian bandits."

October 1948-end 1949: Approximately 50,000 "family members of OUN partisans" were deported to Kazakhstan, the Ural and Siberia. At the beginning of 1953, the Gulag’s Special Settlement Department registered over 175,000 "family members of OUN partisans" (Zemskov, 2003: 155, 226).

1949; January 29: USSR Council of Ministers Resolution on the "deportation of kulaks and their families, as well as family members of bandits and nationalists from of the Soviet Socialist Republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia."

1949; March 25-May 10: Deportation of 94,779 people (30,630 families) from the Soviet Socialist Republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Tomsk and the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Buriatia-Mongolia (Werth & Mironenko, eds, 2004: 517-521).

1949; April 6: USSR Council of Ministers Resolution on the "deportation of kulaks, former landowners, former wholesale tradesmen, collaborators, members of fascist organizations and religious sects from the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldavia."

1949; July 6-7: Deportation of 40,850 people (11,280 families) from the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldavia to Kurgansk, Tyumen, Irkutsk and Altai (Werth & Mironenko, eds, 2004, p. 524-528; Polian, 2001: 133-135).

Deportations of national minorities as part of the USSR border "cleansing" and "securing."

Parallel to "punitive" deportations of family members of opponents to sovietization in the Baltic States, Western Ukraine and Moldavia, USSR border "cleansing" and "securing" operations continued throughout 1949, in particular along the Caucasus borders. This deportation policy was initiated in the middle of the 1930’s and was continued in 1944-1945.

1949; May 29: USSR Council of Ministers Resolution on the "deportation of Turks, Greeks and former members of the Dashnak party from the Soviet Socialist Republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as the coastal area of the Black Sea."

1949; June 14-18: Deportation of 57,680 people from the Soviet Socialist Republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan and Siberia (Werth & Mironenko, eds, 2004, p. 533-539).

Last deportations of "hostile" and "socially foreign elements" (1951-1952)

1951; January 23: USSR Council of Ministers Resolution on the "deportation of kulaks from Volhynia, Drogobych, Rovno, Lvov, Stanislav, Ternopol, Chernovitsy in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine."

1951; February: Deportation of 8,461 "kulaks" from Western Ukraine to Krasnoyarsk (Siberia).

1951; March 3: USSR Council of Ministers Resolution on the "deportation of the members of Jehovah’s Witnesses sect from the Western areas of the Soviet Socialist Republics of Ukraine and Belarus, as well as from the Soviet Socialist Republics of Moldavia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia."

1951; March-April: Deportation of 9,825 Jehovah’s Witnesses to Irkutsk and Omsk (Siberia).

1951; November 29: USSR Council of Ministers Resolution on the "deportation of hostile elements from the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia."

December 1951-February 1952: Deportation of 6,300 people ("repatriated persons, family members of emigrants, collaborators, ex-prisoners of war") to Southern Kazakhstan (Polian, 2001, p. 137-143; Bugai, 1995: 241-249).


Brovkin, V., 1994, Behind the Front Lines of the Civil War, Princeton University Press

Bugai, N., 1995, L. Beria-I. Stalinu : "Soglasno Vashemu ukazaniju," Moscow, AIRO-XX

Bugai, N., 1997, Deportatsia narodov Kryma, Moscow

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Danilov, V.P., Manning, R, Viola, L. (eds), 1999-2006, Tragedia sovetskoi derevni. Dokumenty i materialy, 1927-1939, 5 vol, Mosco: Rosspen

Danilov, V.P., Berelowitch, A. (eds), 2000-2007, Sovetskaia derevnia glazami VCK,OGPU, NKVD, 1918-1939, 5 vol, Moscow: Rosspen

Ejenedelnik VCK, 6 Issues published between September 22, 1918 and October 27, 1918

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Gonov, A., 1999, Narody v eselonax, Moscow.

Gurianov, A. (ed), 1997, Repressii protiv Poliakov i pol’skikh grazdan, Moscow: Zvenia,

Heifetz, E., 1921, The Slaughter of the Jews in the Ukraine in 1919, New York: T. Seltzer.

Holquist, P, 1997, "‘Conduct merciless, mass terror’. Decossackization on the Don, 1919," in Cahiers du Monde russe, n° 38 (1-2), 27-162

Ivanov, V., A., 1998, "Operatsia byvsie ljudi v Leningrade, fevral’-mart 1935," in Novyi Casovoi, 1998, n°6-7

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Martin, T., 2001, The Affirmative Action Empire. Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939, Cornell University Press

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3 - The 1930’s

a) Document compilations

Danilov, V.P., Berelowitch, A (eds), 2000-2007, Sovetskaia derevnia glazami VCK,OGPU, NKVD, 1918-1939, 5 vol, Moscow: Rosspen

Danilov, V.P., Manning, R, Viola, L (eds), 1999-2006, Tragedia sovetskoi derevni. Dokumenty i materialy, 1927-1939, 5 vol, Moscow: Rosspen

Danilov, V.P., Krasilnikov S.A (eds), 1992-1994, Spetzpereselentsy v Zapadnoï Sibiri, 3 vol, 1930-1938, Novossibirsk: EKO

Golovkova, L.A., Liubimova, K.F. et al (eds), Butovskii Poligon, 1937-1938. Kniga pamiati zhertv politiceskix repressii, vol 1-5, Moscow: Memorial

Graziosi, A., 1989, "La famine en Ukraine et dans le Caucase du Nord à travers les rapports des diplomates italiens, 1932-1934," Cahiers du Monde russe et soviétique, 30 (1-2), 5-106

Kokurin, A., Petrov, N., 2000, GULAG, 1917-1960, Moscow: MFD

Kondrasin, V., Penner, D. (eds), 2002, Golod 1932-1933 v sovetskoi derevne, Samara-Penza

Kul’cyckyj, S.V. (ed), 1990, Holod 1932-1933 rokiv na Ukraïni Kiev

Kul’cyckyj, S.V. (ed), 1993, Holodomor 1932-1933 v Ukraïni: prycyny i naslidky, Kiev

Litvin, V.M., (ed), 2003, Holod 1932-33 rokiv v Ukraïni, Kiev

Pikhoia, R., Kozlov, V. (eds), 1997, Katyn, Moscow: MFD

Razumov, A. et al, 1995-1999, Leningradskii Martirolog, 1937-1938, vol 1-4, St Petersburg: Memorial

Shapoval, Y., Vassiliev, V. (eds), 2001, Komandiri velikogo golodu, Kiev: Geneza

Tatimov, M.B., Kozybaev, M.K., Abylhozin, Z.B. (eds), 1991, Golod v Kazakhskoï stepi. Pis’ma trevogi i boli, Alma-Ata

Werth, N., Mironenko, S. (eds), 2004, Massovye repressii v SSSR, Istoria Stalinskogo Gulaga, vol I, Moscow: Rosspen

Xaustov, V., Naumov, V., Plotnikova, N. (eds), 2003-2005, Loubianka. Stalin i VCK-GPU-OGPU-NKVD, vol 1, 1922-1936; vol 2, 1937-1938, Moscow: MFD

b) Studies

Conquest, R., 1995, Sanglantes Moissons ; La Grande Terreur, : R. Laffont

Davies, R.W., Wheatcroft, S.G., 2004, The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931-1933, New York: Praeger

Gurianov, A. (ed), 1997, Repressii protiv Poliakov i pol’skikh grazdan, Moscow: Zvenia

Ilic, M. (ed), 2006, Stalin’s Terror Revisited, London: Palgrave MacMillan

Ivnitskij, N., 1996, Kollektivizacija i raskulacivanie, Moscow: AIRO-XX

Junge, M., Binner, R., 2003, Kak Terror stal bolshim, Moscow: AIRO-XX

Khlevniuk, O., 1995, "The objectives of the Great Terror, 1937-1938," in Cooper, J., Perrie, M. & Rees E.A. (eds), Soviet History, 1917-1953: Essays in honour of R.W. Davies, London: MacMillan

Khlevniuk, O., 1998, "Les mécanismes de la Grande Terreur des années 1937-1938 au Turkménistan," in Cahiers du Monde russe, n° 39 (1-2), 197-209

Mcloughlin, B., Mcdermott, K. (eds), 2003, Stalin’s Terror: High Politics and Mass Repression in the Soviet Union, London: Palgrave MacMillan

Martin, T., 2001, The Affirmative Action Empire. Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939, Cornell University Press

Martin, T., 1998, "The Origins of Soviet ethnic cleansing," The Journal of Modern History, n° 70, 813-861

Ohayon, I., 2006, Du nomadisme au socialisme : Sédentarisation, collectivisation et acculturation des Kazakhs en URSS, 1928-1945, : Maisonneuve

Piancola, N., 2004, "Famine in the steppe. The Collectivization of Agriculture and the Kazakh Herdsmen, 1928-1934," in Cahiers du Monde russe, n° 45 (1-2), 137-192

Pohl, J.O., 1997, The Stalinist penal system: A statistical history of Soviet repression and terror, 1930-1953, Jefferson, NC, Mc Farland & Co Publishers

Poliakov, Y. (ed), 2001, Naselenie Rossii v XX veke, tom. 1, 1900-1939, Moscow: Nauka

Samosudov, V.M., 1998, Bolshoi terror v Omskom Priirtychie, 1937-1938, Omsk

Scherbakova, I. (ed), 1999, Nakazannyi narod. Repressii protiv Rossiiskix Nemtsev, Moscow: Zvenia

Werth, N., 2002, "Repenser la Grande Terreur," in Le Débat, n° 122, 118-141

Werth, N., 2006, L’Ile aux cannibales. 1933. Une déportation-abandon en Sibérie, : Perrin

Werth, N., 2007, La Terreur et le désarroi. Staline et son système, : Perrin

Zemskov, V., 2003, Spetzposelentsy v SSSR, 1930-1960, Moscow: Nauka

3 - The 1940’s and early 1950’s

Bugai, N., 1995, L. Beria - I. Stalinu : "Soglasno Vashemu ukazaniju," Moscow: AIRO-XX

Bugai, N., Gonov, A, 1998, Kavkaz. Narody v eselonakh (20-60ye gody), Moscow: OGI

Nekrich, A., 1979, The Punished Peoples. The Deportation and Fate of Soviet Minorities at the End of the Second World War, New York: Norton

Pohl, O., 1999, Ethnic cleansing in the USSR, 1937-1949, Westport: CT

Polian, P., 2001, Ne po svoiei vole, Istoria i geografia prinuditel’nyx migratsii v SSSR, Moscow, OGI-Memorial

Cite this item

Werth Nicolas, Mass Crimes under Stalin (1930-1953), Mass Violence & Résistance, [online], published on: 14 March, 2008, accessed 17/05/2021,, ISSN 1961-9898
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