Lavrentiy Beria - Biography
Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria (Лавре́нтий Па́влович Бе́рия; 29 March 1899 – 23 December 1953) was a Georgian Soviet politician and state security administrator, chief of the Soviet security and secret police apparatus (NKVD) under Joseph Stalin during World War II, and Deputy Premier in the postwar years (1946-1953).
Beria was the longest lived and most influential of Stalin's secret police chiefs, wielding his most substantial influence during and after World War II. He simultaneously administered vast sections of the Soviet state and served as de facto Marshal of the Soviet Union in command of the NKVD field units, responsible for anti-partisan operations against anti-Soviet ethnic groups and Nazi collaborators, and the apprehension and summary execution of thousands of "turncoats, deserters, cowards and suspected malingerers". Beria administered the vast expansion of the Gulag slave labor camps, and was primarily responsible for the Katyn massacre. He also played the decisive role in coordinating the Soviet partisans, developing an impressive intelligence and sabotage network behind German lines, thus contributing mightily to the ultimate Soviet victory. He attended the Yalta Conference with Stalin, who introduced him to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt as "my Himmler". After the war, he organized the communist takeover of the countries of Central Europe and Eastern Europe, usually through coup d'etat. Beria's uncompromising ruthlessness in his duties and skill at producing results by intimidating his subordinates culminated in his success in overseeing the Soviet atomic bomb project. Stalin gave it absolute priority and the project was completed in under five years, despite the purge of leading physicists in the late 1930s. Forming an alliance with Georgy Malenkov, Beria personally controlled the NKVD; his violent nature made him feared and notorious even among other Politburo members, whose wives, family members and friends were often arrested by Beria's NKVD in retaliation for opposing his political manoeuvres.
Beria was widely seen as the most dangerous and ambitious of Stalin's inner circle during his final years. As he had promised, after Stalin's death in 1953, Beria elevated himself to First Deputy Premier, where he carried out a brief campaign of liberalization. The economic realities of the Soviet alliance with the West during World War II, as well as Stalin's especially irrational hatred in his final years, had disillusioned Beria for ideology; he spoke of "de-Bolshevization" and craved the renewed wealth and resources which a lucrative strategic peace with the US would provide. He was briefly a part of the ruling "troika" with Georgy Malenkov and Vyacheslav Molotov. Beria's overconfidence in his position after Stalin's death led him to misjudge the feelings of his associates, many of whom still had relatives in his prisons. In addition, his proposals to free East Germany and normalize relations with the United States alarmed other Politburo members, especially in the wake of the 1953 East German uprising which was put down only after an invasion by Soviet troops. Led by Nikita Khrushchev and assisted by the military forces of the immensely influential Marshal Georgy Zhukov, they formed an alliance to remove and kill Beria. In that same year, he was arrested on trumped-up charges of treason by Zhukov's soldiers during a meeting in which the full Politburo condemned him. The compliance of the NKVD was ensured by Zhukov's troops, and after interrogation by his own NKVD torturers, Beria was taken to the basement of the Lubyanka and shot by General Pavel Batitsky.
Early life and rise to power
Beria was born out of wedlock in Merkheuli, near Sukhumi, in the Sukhumi district of Kutaisi governorate of modern Abkhazia (then part of Imperial Russia). He was a member of the Georgian Mingrelian ethnic group and grew up in a Georgian Orthodox family. Beria's mother, Marta Ivanovna, was a deeply religious, church-going woman (she spent so much time in church that she died there); she was previously married and widowed before marrying Beria's father, Pavel Khukhaevich Beria, a landowner from Abkhazia. He also had a brother (name unknown), and a sister named Anna who was born deaf-mute. In his biography, he mentioned only his sister and his niece, implying that his brother (or any other siblings for that matter) either was dead or had no relationship with Beria after he left Merkheuli. Beria was educated at a technical school in Sukhumi and joined the Bolsheviks in March 1917 while a student in the Baku Polytechnic. As a student, Beria trained to be an architect, distinguished himself in mathematics and the sciences, but was considered cunning and devious.
Beria hedged his bets by also working for the anti Bolshevik Mussavists in Baku. After the city's capture in April 1920, Beria was saved from execution only because there was no time to arrange it and Sergei Kirov saved him. While in prison he fell in love with Nina Gegechkori, his cellmate's niece, they eloped on a train. She was 17, a trained scientist from an aristocratic family. She was fanatically loyal, refusing to believe the stories of his womanizing.
In 1919, when he was twenty years old, Beria started his career in state security, working in the security service of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. In 1920 or 1921 (accounts vary), Beria joined the Cheka – the original Bolshevik secret police. At that time, a Bolshevik revolt took place in the Menshevik-controlled Democratic Republic of Georgia, and the Red Army subsequently invaded. The Cheka was heavily involved in the conflict, which resulted in the defeat of the Mensheviks and the formation of the Georgian SSR. By 1922, Beria was deputy head of the Georgian branch of Cheka's successor, the OGPU.
In 1924, he led the repression of a Georgian nationalist uprising, after which up to 10,000 people were executed. For this display of "Bolshevik ruthlessness", Beria was appointed head of the "secret-political division" of the Transcaucasian OGPU and was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
In 1926, Beria became head of the Georgian OGPU and was introduced to fellow Georgian Joseph Stalin by Sergo Ordzhonikidze head of the Transcaucasian party (Sergo also protected Beria from accusations about his past), becoming an ally in Stalin's rise to power. Some historians however claim that he worked to further his own cause by wooing Stalin in order to gain access to the inner circles of the Soviet regime. During his years at the helm of the Georgian OGPU, Beria effectively destroyed the intelligence networks that Turkey and Iran had developed in the Soviet Caucasus, while successfully penetrating the governments of these countries with his agents. He also took over Stalin's holiday security. Sergo and Kirov quickly turned against Beria, as did Stalin's wife.
Beria was appointed Secretary of the Communist Party in Georgia in 1931, and for the whole Transcaucasian region in 1932. He became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1934. During this time, he began to attack fellow members of the Georgian Communist Party, particularly Gaioz Devdariani, who was Minister of Education of the Georgian SSR. Beria ordered the executions of Devdariani's brothers George and Shalva, who held important positions in the Cheka and the Communist Party, respectively. Eventually, Gaioz Devdariani was charged with violating Article 58 for alleged counter-revolutionary activities and was executed in 1938 by the orders of the NKVD troika. The Great Purge was extremely severe and included not only Georgian communists but also intellectuals, even those without any political views, among them Mikheil Javakhishvili, Titsian Tabidze, Sandro Akhmeteli, Yevgeni Mikeladze, Dimitri Shevardnadze, George Eliava, Grigol Tsereteli and many others. Many non-political working people were also arrested and executed without trial. Even after moving on from Georgia, Beria effectively controlled the Republic's Communist Party until it was purged in July 1953.
By 1935, Beria was one of Stalin's most trusted subordinates. He cemented his place in Stalin's entourage with a lengthy oration titled, "On the History of the Bolshevik Organisations in Transcaucasia" (later published as a book), which fully rewrote the history of Transcaucasian Bolshevism, emphasizing Stalin's role in it. When Stalin's purge of the Communist Party and government began in 1934, after the assassination of Sergey Kirov, Beria ran the purges in Transcaucasia. He used the opportunity to settle many old scores in the politically turbulent Transcaucasian republics.
In June 1937, he said in a speech, "Let our enemies know that anyone who attempts to raise a hand against the will of our people, against the will of the party of Lenin and Stalin, will be mercilessly crushed and destroyed."
Beria at the NKVD
In August 1938, Stalin brought Beria to Moscow as deputy head of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the ministry which oversaw the state security and police forces. Under Nikolai Yezhov, the NKVD carried out the Great Purge: the imprisonment or execution of millions of people throughout the Soviet Union as alleged "enemies of the people". By 1938, however, the oppression had become so extensive that it was damaging the infrastructure, economy and even the armed forces of the Soviet state, prompting Stalin to wind the purge down. Stalin had thoughts to appoint Lazar Kaganovich as head of the NKVD, but chose Beria probably because he was a professional secret policeman. In September, Beria was appointed head of the Main Administration of State Security (GUGB) of the NKVD, and in November he succeeded Yezhov as NKVD head (Yezhov was executed in 1940). The NKVD was purged next, with half its personnel replaced by Beria loyalists, many of them from the Caucasus.
Although Beria's name is closely identified with the Great Purge because of his activities while deputy head of the NKVD, his leadership of the organisation marked an easing of the repression begun under Yezhov. Over 100,000 people were released from the labour camps. The government officially admitted that there had been some injustice and "excesses" during the purges, which were blamed entirely on Yezhov. The liberalisation was only relative: arrests and executions continued and in 1940, as war approached, the pace of the purges again accelerated. During this period, Beria supervised deportations of people identified as political enemies from Poland and the Baltic states after Soviet occupation of those regions.
In March 1939, Beria became a candidate member of the Communist Party's Politburo. Although he did not become a full member until 1946, he was already one of the senior leaders of the Soviet state. In 1941 Beria was made a Commissar General of State Security, the highest quasi-military rank within the Soviet police system of that time, effectively comparable to Marshal of the Soviet Union.
On 5 March 1940, after Gestapo–NKVD Third Conference held in Zakopane, Beria sent a note (no. 794/B) to Stalin in which he stated that the Polish prisoners of war (mostly military officers but also intelligentsia: doctors, priests; total of over 22,000) kept at camps and prisons in western Belarus and Ukraine were enemies of the Soviet Union, and recommended their execution. With Stalin's approval, Beria's NKVD undertook the Katyn massacre.
In October 1940 – February 1942, the NKVD under Beria carried out a new purge of the Red Army and related industries. In February 1941, Beria became Deputy Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, and in June, following Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union, he became a member of the State Defense Committee (GKO). During World War II, he took on major domestic responsibilities, using the millions of people imprisoned in NKVD labour camps for wartime production. He took control of production of armaments, and (with Georgy Malenkov) aircraft and aircraft engines. This was the beginning of Beria's alliance with Malenkov, which later became of central importance.
In 1944, as the Germans were driven from Soviet soil, Beria was in charge of dealing with the various ethnic minorities accused of collaboration with the invaders, including the Chechens, the Ingush, the Crimean Tatars and the Volga Germans. All these were deported to Soviet Central Asia. (See "Population transfer in the Soviet Union".)
In December 1944, Beria's NKVD was assigned to supervise the Soviet atomic bomb project ('Task No. 1), which built and tested a bomb by August 29 1949. In this capacity, he ran the successful Soviet espionage campaign against the atomic weapons program of the United States, which obtained much of the technology required. His most important contribution was to provide the necessary workforce for this project, which was extremely labor-intensive. At least 330,000 people including 10,000 technicians were involved. The Gulag system provided tens of thousands of people for work in uranium mines, and for the construction and operation of uranium processing plants. They also constructed test facilities, such as those at Semipalatinsk and in the Novaya Zemlya archipelago. The NKVD also ensured the necessary security of the project. Amazingly, the physicist Pyotr Kapitsa refused to work with Beria even after he gave him a hunting rifle as a gift. It is notable that Stalin backed Kapitsa in this quarrel.
In July 1945, as Soviet police ranks were converted to a military uniform system, Beria's rank was officially converted to that of Marshal of the Soviet Union. Although he had never held a traditional military command, Beria, through his organization of wartime production and his use of partisans, made a significant contribution to the Soviet Union's victory in World War II. Stalin personally never thought much of it, and did not publicly comment on his performance nor award recognition (i.e. Order of Victory) to him as most other Soviet Marshals received.
With Stalin nearing 70, the postwar years were dominated by a concealed struggle for succession among his supporters. At the end of the war, the most likely successor seemed to be Andrei Zhdanov, party leader in Leningrad during the war, by 1946 in charge of all cultural matters. After 1946 Beria formed an alliance with Malenkov to counter Zhdanov's rise.
In January 1946, Beria resigned as chief of the NKVD, while retaining general control over national security matters as Deputy Prime Minister and as Curator of the Organs of State Security, under Stalin. But the new chief, Sergei Kruglov, was not a Beria man. Also, by the summer of 1946, Beria's man Vsevolod Nikolayevich Merkulov was replaced as head of the MGB with Viktor Abakumov. Abakumov was the head of SMERSH from 1943-1946; his relationship with Beria was marked by close collaboration (since Abakumov owed his rise to Beria's support and esteem) but also by rivalry. Stalin had begun to encourage Abakumov to form his own network inside the MGB to counter Beria's dominance of the power ministries. . Kruglov and Abakumov moved expeditiously to replace Beria's men in the security apparatus leadership with new people. Very soon MVD Deputy Minister Stepan Mamulov was the only Beria-ist left outside foreign intelligence, on which Beria kept a grip. In the following months, Abakumov started carrying out important operations without consulting Beria, often working in tandem with Zhdanov, and sometimes on Stalin's direct orders. Some observers argue that these operations were aimed – initially tangentially, but with time more directly – at Beria.
One of the first such moves was the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee affair that commenced in October 1946 and eventually led to the murder of Solomon Mikhoels and the arrest of many other members. This affair damaged Beria; not only had he championed creation of the committee in 1942, but his own entourage included a substantial number of Jews.
After Zhdanov died suddenly in August 1948, Beria and Malenkov consolidated their power by a purge of Zhdanov's associates known as the "Leningrad Affair". Among the executed were Zhdanov's deputy, Aleksei Kuznetsov; the economic chief, Nikolai Voznesensky; the Party head in Leningrad, Pyotr Popkov; and the Prime Minister of the Russian Republic, Mikhail Rodionov. It was only after Zhdanov's death that Nikita Khrushchev began to be considered as a possible alternative to the Beria-Malenkov axis.
Zhdanov's death did not stop the anti-Semitic campaign. During the postwar years, Beria supervised the successful establishment of Communist regimes in the countries of Eastern Europe, usually by coup d'etat, and hand-picked the leaders. A substantial number of these leaders were Jews. Starting in 1948, Abakumov initiated several investigations against these leaders, which culminated with the arrest in November 1951 of Rudolf Slánský, Bedřich Geminder, and others in Czechoslovakia. These men were generally accused of Zionism and cosmopolitanism, but, more specifically, of providing weapons to Israel. From Beria's standpoint, this charge was extremely risky, because large amounts of Czech arms had been sold to Israel on his direct orders. Beria wanted an alliance with Israel to advance the communist cause in the Middle East, while later Soviet leaders chose instead to form a powerful alliance with countries in the Arab World. Altogether, 14 Czechoslovakian Communist leaders, 11 of them Jewish, were tried, convicted, and executed (see Slánský trial). Similar investigations in Poland and other Soviet satellite countries occurred at the same time.
In other international issues, Beria (along with Mikoyan) wisely foresaw the victory of Mao Zedong in the Chinese Civil War and greatly helped the communist success by letting the Communist Party of China use Soviet-occupied Manchuria as a staging area and also by arranging huge weapons shipments to the People's Liberation Army, mainly from the recently captured equipment of the Japanese Kwantung Army . Beria selected Kim Il-sung to be the Leader of North Korea after the Red Army had conquered that country in 1945 , probably because he had no ties to the native Korean communist movement and was thus totally dependent on Moscow. This was critical as Stalin feared another defection like that of Josip Broz Tito after 1948. In later years, the clumsy foreign policy of Nikita Khrushchev destroyed Beria's achievements in Asia and led both to the Sino-Soviet split and to significant independence for North Korea.
Around that time, Abakumov was replaced by Semyon Ignatyev, who further intensified the anti-Semitic campaign. On 13 January 1953, the biggest anti-semitic affair in the Soviet Union was initiated with an article in Pravda: the Doctors' plot. A number of the country's prominent Jewish doctors were accused of poisoning top Soviet leaders and arrested. Concurrently, a hysterical anti-semitic propaganda campaign, euphemistically called the struggle against rootless cosmopolitans, occurred in the Soviet press. Initially, 37 men were arrested, but the number quickly grew into hundreds. Scores of Soviet Jews were dismissed from their jobs, arrested, sent to a gulag or executed. It is alleged that at this time on Stalin's orders the MGB started to prepare to deport all Soviet Jews to Russian Far East or even massacre them. The issue is quite disputed (see discussion in Doctors' plot article). Some historians claim that no such deportation was planned, or that at least not nearly as much progress was made with the preparations for it as is claimed by the proponents of this theory.
Days after Stalin's death on 5 March, Beria freed all the arrested doctors, announced that the entire matter was fabricated, and arrested the MGB functionaries directly involved. For a time, the antisemitic campaign in the mass media was brought to end, and no further persecution of Jews occurred.
Early in the 1950s, Stalin's growing mistrust of Beria had already manifested in the Mingrelian Affair (Beria was of Mingrelian subethnicity), in which many of Beria's protégés in Georgia were purged, diminishing Beria's power. As Stalin accumulated evidence of Beria's sexual indiscretions, he appeared to be preparing to dispose of him, as he had done with Beria's predecessors, Nikolai Yezhov, and Genrikh Yagoda.
Role in Stalin's death
After Stalin's stroke, Beria claimed to have poisoned Stalin, aborting a final purge of Old Bolsheviks Anastas Mikoyan and Vyacheslav Molotov for which Stalin had been laying the groundwork in the year prior to his death. He announced triumphantly to the Politburo that he had "saved [us] all" (according to Molotov's memoirs). Evidence of the murder of Stalin by Beria associates was presented by Edvard Radzinsky in his biography Stalin. It has been suggested that warfarin was used; it would have produced the symptoms reported. Sebag-Montefiore does not dispute the possibility of an assassination attempt masterminded by Beria, admitting that he had "every reason to hope the hated Stalin would die", but also notes that following the stroke, "Beria was never alone with Stalin – he took care that Malenkov was with him".
Stalin's aide Vasili Lozgachev reported that Beria and Malenkov were the first members of the Politburo to investigate Stalin's condition after his stroke, coming to his dacha at Kuntsevo at 3am on March 2 after being called by Khrushchev and Bulganin (who evidently did not want to risk Stalin's wrath by checking themselves). While Lozgachev tried ineffectively to explain to Beria that the then-unconscious Stalin (still in his soiled clothing) was "sick and needed medical attention", Beria angrily dismissed his claims as panic-mongering and quickly left, ordering him, "Don't bother us, don't cause a panic and don't disturb Comrade Stalin!" This decision to defer calling a doctor for a full 12 hours after Stalin was rendered paralyzed, incontinent and unable to speak is noted as "extraordinary" by Sebag-Montefiore, but also in keeping with the standard Stalinist policy of deferring all decision-making (no matter how necessary or obvious) without official orders from higher authority. Beria's decision to avoid immediately calling a doctor was silently supported (or at least not opposed) by the rest of the Politburo, which was both initially rudderless without Stalin's iron-fisted micromanagement and paralyzed by a legitimate fear he would suddenly recover and wreak violent reprisal on anyone who had dared to act without his orders. Stalin's malignant suspicion of doctors in the wake of the Doctors' Plot was well known; at the time of his stroke, his private physician was already being tortured in the basement of the Lubyanka for suggesting the leader required more bed rest.
After Stalin's death from pulmonary edema brought on by the stroke, Beria's ambitions sprang into full force; in the uneasy silence following the cessation of Stalin's last agonies, Beria was the first to dart forward to kiss his lifeless form (a move likened by Sebag-Montefiore to "wrenching a dead King's ring off his finger"). While the rest of Stalin's inner circle (even Molotov, saved from certain liquidation) stood sobbing unashamedly over the body, Beria reportedly appeared "radiant", "regenerated", and "glistening with ill-concealed relish." Lingering briefly, he left the room, breaking the somber atmosphere by shouting loudly for his driver, his voice echoing with what Svetlana Alliluyeva (who was also in attendance) called "the ring of triumph unconcealed." Svetlana noticed how the Politburo seemed openly frightened of Beria and unnerved by his bold display of ambition; "He's off to take power," Mikoyan recalled muttering to Khrushchev, prompting a "frantic" dash for their own limousines to intercept him at the Kremlin.
Recent clinical and forensic evidence published in Surgical Neurology International by Dr Miguel A. Faria, a retired Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery, strongly suggest that Stalin was indeed poisoned with warfarin, a blood thinner (anti-coagulant), that caused his cerebral hemorrhage (stroke). This is supported by autopsy findings revealed in the same report. Beria and Khruhschev were implicated.
After Stalin's death, Beria was appointed First Deputy Premier and reappointed head of the MVD, which he merged with the MGB. His close ally Malenkov was the new Prime Minister and initially the most powerful man in the post-Stalin leadership. Beria was second most powerful, and given Malenkov's personal weakness, was poised to become the power behind the throne and ultimately leader himself. Khrushchev became Party Secretary.
Given his record, it is not surprising that the other Party leaders were suspicious of Beria's motives. Khrushchev opposed the alliance between Beria and Malenkov, but he was initially unable to challenge them. His opportunity came in June 1953 when a spontaneous uprising against the East German Communist regime broke out in East Berlin.
Based on Beria's own statements, other leaders suspected that in the wake of the uprising, he might be willing to trade the reunification of Germany and the end of the Cold War for massive aid from the United States, as had been received in World War II. The cost of the war still weighed heavily on the Soviet economy. Beria craved the vast financial resources that another (more sustained) relationship with the US could provide. He had already argued for "de-Bolshevization" of Soviet foreign policy (though he still favored traditional terror methods as necessary to control domestic power). The East German uprising convinced Molotov, Malenkov and Nikolai Bulganin that Beria's policies were dangerous and destabilizing to Soviet power. Within days of the events in Germany, Khrushchev persuaded the other leaders to support a Party coup against Beria; Beria's principal ally Malenkov abandoned him.
On 26 June 1953, Beria was arrested and held in an undisclosed location near Moscow. Accounts of Beria's fall vary considerably. By the most likely account, Khrushchev prepared an elaborate ambush, convening a meeting of the Presidium on 26 June, where he suddenly launched a scathing attack on Beria, accusing him of being a traitor and spy in the pay of British intelligence. Beria was taken completely by surprise. He asked, "What's going on, Nikita Sergeyevich? Why are you picking fleas in my trousers?" Molotov and others quickly spoke against Beria one after the other, followed by a motion by Khrushchev for his instant dismissal. When Beria finally realized what was happening and plaintively appealed to Malenkov to speak for him, his old friend and crony silently hung his head and refused to meet his gaze. Malenkov pressed a button on his desk as the pre-arranged signal to Marshal Georgy Zhukov and a group of armed officers in a nearby room. They burst in and arrested Beria.
Beria was taken first to the Moscow guardhouse (Hauptwachte) and then to the bunker of the headquarters of Moscow Military District. Defence Minister Nikolai Bulganin ordered the Kantemirovskaya Tank Division and Tamanskaya Motor Rifle Division to move into Moscow to prevent security forces loyal to Beria from rescuing him. Many of Beria's subordinates, proteges and associates were also arrested, among them Merkulov, Bogdan Kobulov, Sergey Golgidze, Vladimir Dekanozov, Pavel Meshik, and Lev Vlodzimirskiy. Pravda did not announce Beria's arrest until 10 July, crediting it to Malenkov and referring to Beria's "criminal activities against the Party and the State." In December, the paper announced that Beria and the six accomplices mentioned, "in the pay of foreign intelligence agencies," had been "conspiring for many years to seize power in the Soviet Union and restore capitalism."
Beria and the others were tried by a special session ("Spetsialnoye Sudebnoye Prisutstvie") of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union with no defense counsel and no right of appeal, on 23 December 1953. Marshal Ivan Konev was the chairman of the court.
Beria was found guilty of:
- Treason. It was alleged, without any proof, that "up to the moment of his arrest Beria maintained and developed his secret connections with foreign intelligence services". In particular, attempts to initiate peace talks with Hitler in 1941 through the ambassador of Bulgaria were classified as treason; no one mentioned that Beria was acting on the orders of Stalin and Molotov. It was also alleged that Beria, who in 1942 helped organize the defense of the North Caucasus, tried to let the Germans occupy the Caucasus. There were allegations that "planning to seize power, Beria tried to obtain the support of imperialist states at the price of violation of territorial integrity of the Soviet Union and transfer of parts of USSR's territory to capitalist states." These allegations were due to Beria's suggestion to his assistants that to improve foreign relations, it was reasonable to transfer the Kaliningrad Oblast to Germany, part of Karelia to Finland, the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Romania and the Kuril Islands to Japan.
- Terrorism. Beria's order to execute 25 political prisoners in October 1941 without trial was classified as an act of terrorism.
- Counterrevolutionary activity during the Russian Civil War. In 1919 Beria worked in the security service of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. Beria maintained that he was assigned to that work by the Hummet party which subsequently merged with the Adalat Party, the Ahrar Party, and the Baku Bolsheviks to establish the Azerbaijan Communist Party.
Beria and all the other defendants were sentenced to death. When the death sentence was passed, according to Moskalenko's later account, Beria pleaded on his knees for mercy before collapsing to the floor and wailing and crying energetically, but to no avail: the other six defendants were executed by firing squad on 23 December 1953, the same day as the trial , while Beria was fatally shot through the forehead by General Batitsky after the latter stuffed a rag into Beria's mouth to silence his bawling. The body of Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria was subsequently cremated and buried around Moscow's forest.
Sexual assault charges
At Beria's trial after his June 1953 arrest, a significant number of rape and sexual assault allegations were brought to light.. The 2003 unsealing of the Soviet archives of his case revealed large amounts of evidence from "dozens" of victims of his sexual assaults. Stalin had been collecting material on Beria for years prior to his death. The new evidence on Beria, in the words of Stalin biographer Simon Sebag-Montefiore, "reveals a sexual predator who used his power to indulge himself in obsessive depravity."
During the war, Beria was commonly seen on warm nights slowly driving in his armored Packard limousine through the streets of Moscow. According to the testimony of his NKVD bodyguards, colonels Sarkisov and Nadaraia, Beria would point out young women to be detained and escorted to his mansion, where wine and a feast awaited them. After dining, Beria would take the women into his soundproofed office and rape them. Beria's bodyguards reported that their orders included handing each girl a flower bouquet as she left Beria's house, with the implication being that to accept his parting gift made her his consensual mistress; those who refused risked being arrested. In one incident reported by Colonel Sarkisov, a woman who had been brought to Beria refused his advances and ran out of his office; Sarkisov mistakenly handed her the flowers anyway, prompting the enraged Beria to declare "Now it's not a bouquet, it's a wreath! May it rot on your grave!" The woman was arrested by the NKVD the next day.
Many women reportedly submitted to Beria's advances in exchange for the promise of freeing their relatives from the Gulag. In one case, Beria picked up a well-known actress under the pretense of bringing her to perform for the Politburo; instead, he took her to his dacha, promised to free her father and grandmother from NKVD prison if she submitted, and then raped her, telling her "Scream or not, doesn't matter." Beria knew her relatives had already been executed months before. She was arrested shortly afterward and sentenced to solitary confinement in the Gulag, which she survived.
Beria's sexually predatory nature was well-known to the Politburo, and though Stalin took an indulgent viewpoint (considering Beria's wartime importance), he was fearful after learning that his daughter Svetlana was alone with Beria at his house. He said, "I don't trust Beria," and called her to tell her to leave immediately. When Beria complimented Alexander Poskrebyshev's daughter on her beauty, Poskrebyshev quickly pulled her aside and instructed her, "Don't ever accept a lift from Beria." After taking an interest in Marshal Kliment Voroshilov's daughter-in-law during a party at their summer dacha, Beria shadowed their car closely all the way back to the Kremlin, terrifying Voroshilov's wife. Prior to and during the war, Beria directed his chief bodyguard, Colonel Sarkisov, to keep a running list of the names and phone numbers of his sexual conquests. Later realizing the security risk, Beria ordered Sarkisov to destroy the list, but the Colonel retained a secret handwritten copy. As Beria's fall from power began, Sarkisov sent the list to the new NKVD chief (and former wartime head of SMERSH), Viktor Abakumov, who was already aggressively building a case against Beria. Seeking to undermine Beria, Stalin was thrilled by Sarkisov's detailed records, demanding, "Send me everything this asshole writes down!" Sarkisov reported that Beria's sexual appetite had led to him contracting syphilis during the war, for which he was secretly treated without the knowledge of Stalin or the Politburo (a fact Beria later admitted during his interrogation). The Russian government did not acknowledge Sarkisov's handwritten list of Beria's victims until 17 January 2003, and the names will not be released for another 25 years.
The historian Amy Knight noted that Beria's sexual predation was partially independently corroborated by an American diplomat, Edward Ellis Smith, who served in the U.S. embassy in Moscow after the war: "Smith noted that Beria's escapades were common knowledge among embassy personnel because his house was on the same street as residence for Americans, and those who lived there saw girls brought to Beria's house late at night in a limousine."
The sexual abuse and rape charges against Beria were disputed by some of the people close to him, including his wife Nina and his son Sergo, and former Soviet foreign intelligence chief Pavel Sudoplatov, as politically motivated smears. In a 1990 interview, Beria's wife Nina said: "Lavrentiy was busy working day and night. When did he have time for love with this legion of women?"
Some details of Beria's appearance and biography were used by Tengiz Abuladze to create a character of dictator Varlam Aravidze for his film Repentance.
- History of the Soviet Union
- List of Georgians (country)
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- Stove, R. J., The Unsleeping Eye: Secret Police and Their Victims, Encounter Books, San Francisco, 2003. ISBN 1-893554-66-X
- Sudoplatov, Pavel, Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness – A Soviet Spymaster, Little Brown & Co, 1994, ISBN 0-316-77352-2
- Sukhomlinov, Andrei, "Kto Vy, Lavrentiy Beria?", Moscow, 2003 (in Russian), ISBN 5-89935-060-1
- Wittlin, Thaddeus. Commissar: The Life and Death of Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria, The Macmillan Co., New York, 1972.
- Yakovlev, A.N., Naumov, V., and Sigachev, Y. (eds), Lavrenty Beria, 1953. Stenographic Report of July's Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Other Documents, International Democracy Foundation, Moscow, 1999 (in Russian). ISBN 5-89511-006-1
- Geronti Kikodze "Writings of Contemporary". ქიქოძე, გერონტი, თანამედროვის ჩანაწერები. – [1-ლი გამოც.]. – თბ. : არეტე, 2003 Not available in English.
- Benjamin B. Fischer, "The Katyn Controversy – Stalin's Killing Field"
- Photocopy of Beria's letter to Stalin to execute Katyn officers prisoners
- Official site of the Memorial to Katyn
- Interview with Sergo Beria
- An outline of the Russian Supreme Court decision of 29 May 2000
- Annotated bibliography for Lavrentiy Beria from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues
- Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Current Intelligence. The Reversal of the Doctors' Plot and Its Immediate Aftermath, 17 July 1953.
- Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Current Intelligence. Purge of L.P. Beria, 17 April 1954.
- Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Current Intelligence. Summarization of Reports Preceding Beria Purge, 17 August 1954.