October 30, 2015

Stars and Purges

Stars and Purges

Eighty years ago, on October 25, 1935, crowds gathered to watch as the second diamond-encrusted Soviet star was hoisted onto the Trinity Tower in the Kremlin. The first had gone up the day before; two more went up the day after. Gilded, shiny new stars replaced the tsarist eagles and celebrated Soviet political power. But was it all worth celebrating? On this October 30, the Day of Memory for Victims of Political Repression, let’s take a look at what else was happening that day.

A few people were getting arrested:

  • One was Ivan Grigorievich Ogorodnikov, from Perm, up in the Ural mountains. Over a year later he was finally sentenced to four years in prison for anti-Soviet “agitation.”
  • Another was Kaspar Ermandovich Nizen, a Volga German living in the aptly named Volga German ASSR near Saratov. Several months later he got a whopping ten years for anti-Soviet activities, and was probably not around to witness the destruction of his native ASSR in 1941, fueled by anti-German sentiment.
  • Not too far away, near Samara, Semyon Akimovich Biryukov was also being arrested. His arrest record included the distinctively Soviet job description: “serves in a religious cult, i.e. is a priest.”

A few others were being sentenced:

  • In Eastern Kazakhstan, Moisei Isaakovich Kratsman, an accountant from Pavlodar, was being sentenced by a special meeting of the NKVD. Kratsman could now look forward to three years of exile under the infamous Article 58-10.
  • Out west, in Belarus, an illiterate security guard, Petr Ustinovich Papkovsky from Minsk, was getting his sentence from a mere court judge. For “agitation,” he, too, got three years, but in the GULAG.
  • Near Baikal, the military tribunal of the Trans-Baikal Railway was sentencing woodworker Petr Martynovich Kozlov to two years in prison, also under Article 58-10. Oddly enough, he came out of prison less than a year later and was rehabilitated.
  • Back in Kazakhastan, another railroad, the Turkestan-Siberia Railway, was sentencing a stationmaster with the unusual name Fillipovich Yakovlevich. Four years in the GULAG, also for Article 58-10.

And in one very lucky and unusual case, one Aleksandr Fyodorovich Kulikov was being rehabilitated on this very day after being arrested and immediately sentenced under Article 58-10 back in August. The court was ordered to drop the case and erase the record “for lack of evidence.” (Historically, almost never an issue in political trials.)

Purge directive with signatures
Typical of the Great Terror: a resolution to purge non-Russians
throughout the Soviet Union as potential spies, covered in the
approving signatures of Stalin and other leaders.

For a period when over half a million people were arrested every year, these pickings are surprisingly sparse – maybe the political repression machine was taking it easy on that Friday (not to mention that the records are almost definitely incomplete). Just ten months after the assassination of party leader Sergei Kirov, things were still heating up – and the horrors of the “Great Terror” (1937-1938) were yet to come. It’s hard to imagine: how many people watching the raising of the new Kremlin stars were thinking of these arrests – or even knew about them?


Case records source: Memorial

Image credit: “Moscow Kremlin Star 2011” by Alexey Vikhrov, via Wikimedia Commons

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