Stalin's Loyal Executioner: People's Commissar Nikolai Ezhov, 1895–1940
by Marc Jansen and Nikita Petrov
Hoover Institution Press, 2002
Paper: 978-0-8179-2902-2 | eISBN: 978-0-8179-2903-9
Library of Congress Classification DK268.E93J36 2002
Dewey Decimal Classification 363.28/3/092


During the Great Terror (1937 to 1938), at least 1.5 million Soviet citizens were arrested for alleged crimes against the state. Some 700,000 of them were shot. A dozen years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, still-classified Soviet archives reveal for the first time the scope of communist terrorism under Joseph Stalin. This book illuminates the ongoing debate generated by our compelling need to understand how such horrors could unfold in modern history.

The gruesome facts in this story focus on one man. Nikolai Ezhov rose from obscurity to become Stalin's ruthless functionary in total charge of the era's massive purges. For fifteen months, Ezhov was a hero in the Politbureau. Less than three and a half years after his appointment, he was dead, his name obliterated from government files.

In 1998, the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court ruled that justice had been served by the secret trial and execution of Nikolai Ezhov, "enemy of the people." Using Ezhov's own papers meticulously documenting his loyalty to Stalin, the book reveals the full human tragedy encompassed in Ezhov's meteoric and bloody career. The following questions rivet our attention to an unprecedented era of bureaucratic madness.

  • Was Ezhov operating outside the scope of Stalin's authority or "just following orders"?
  • How were Stalin's "national operations" implemented?
  • How, in 1938, did Ezhov suddenly lose favor with Stalin?
  • What police actions were the aftermath of Ezhov's brief reign of terror?
  • How did Soviet national policies shift after 1938?

Marc Jansen teaches at Amsterdam University's Institute of Russian and East European Studies and has written numerous books and articles on Russian and Soviet history.

Nikita Vasil'evich Petrov, author of several books and numerous articles and an expert in Soviet terror history, is vice-chairman of Moscow's Memorial Scientific Research Center.

O.Khlevniuk, Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History - June 1, 2003
"...merits serious attention..."
    # List of Illustrations# Preface# Chapter 1: Early Career# Chapter 2: Directing the Purges and Supervising the NKVD# Chapter 3: State Security Chief# Chapter 4: The Great Terror# Chapter 5: Apogee# Chapter 6: Decline# Chapter 7: Fall# Chapter 8: Enemy of the People# Chapter 9: Concluding Remarks# Notes# Index

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