The question of returning the death penalty in Russia has been periodically raised since the imposition of a moratorium on it – a fairly large percentage of citizens are still convinced that the abolition of capital punishment was a mistake.
NN.RU editor Alexander Tokarev prepared material on this topic and the role of the death penalty in the history of Russia, but in the process found documentary evidence of the shooting of his great-grandfather, who was executed “for participating in a terrorist organization,” as well as the history of repressions that affected his family. We publish his historical research in persons. Further – from the first person.
Initially, this material was planned in a completely different way. After the massacre in the village of Kudma and the release of the Skopinsky maniac, the question of the return of the death penalty arose again in society – the fact that this topic is again gaining momentum is evidenced by both numerous comments on social networks and polls by VTsIOM. I would like to consider the problem of capital punishment in the context of Russian history, including during the Soviet period. But instead I came across something even more interesting.
Among the execution lists and declassified documents, I came across references to my own great-grandfather, who was shot in 1938. He was neither a maniac nor a terrorist, and even on the contrary – he faithfully served the system that eventually declared him an “enemy of the people” and buried him in a common grave. The same thing happened in the end with those who sentenced him. A similar story can be found in many Russian families, whose members also disappeared during the Great Terror. These years, in my opinion, perfectly illustrate why the state should not be trusted with the question of who to live and who to die.
This article is the result of my own research of data from the lists of the NKVD, family archives, testimonies of people sentenced to death, as well as the memories of eyewitnesses.
– It frightened us very much. My brother and I were still very little, but we understood that something bad was happening. We go out for a walk one day, and the neighbors’ door is boarded up crosswise with boards. We leave in another – and we see how someone scored two more. While dad was away, we walked with mom. Every time we passed these doors, her breathing quickened, she didn’t say anything, she just looked away … – says an elderly woman from Nizhniy Novgorod.
Kira Alexandrovna is 86 years old. This is my grandmother. Since childhood, we spent a lot of time with her, but she hardly talked about it. Now she recalls the story of her parents more often: she confesses – she fears that one day everyone will forget about that time.
The place she is talking about is the “Second House of Soviets” in Sverdlovsk (in 1991 the city was returned to its former name Yekaterinburg. – Ed.), An elite building where the entire party nomenclature, the “cream” of socialist society, was settled. Time of action – April 1938.
The whole family moved to Sverdlovsk less than a year before these events. Dad, 32-year-old Alexander Morozov, climbed higher and higher on the party ladder, he was promised a great future. Mom, Anna Morozova, his wife, was a pharmacist by training. At this time, she took care of the children: there were two of them – the eldest son Leonid and daughter Kira. Soon the youngest daughter Nina was to be born.
The woman believed that it would only get better in the future. Contrary to rumors that the Central Committee is tightening the screws and people are disappearing from their homes, she and her husband sincerely shared the ideas of Lenin and Stalin.
One day, her husband went away for a few days for an emergency party convention. Anna was worried that he had not called or telegraphed, although before he had always informed that he had arrived.
– Behind these doors, which were nailed down one by one, not only officials lived. Most of the House of Soviets lived like us, with families. And they disappeared entirely, as if no one was here, and these rooms have long been abandoned. Nobody knew where, there were no shouts, no noise. Just once, and there are no people, – recalls Kira Aleksandrovna.
The bell will never ring. Her own life will change forever.
Evangelist of communism
Alexander Morozov was born in 1905 in the town of Kulebaki, Ardatovsky district. In those days it was a small and provincial place. The city-forming enterprise is the Kulebaksky metallurgical plant, which manufactured castings and chains for ships. Morozov’s father, Sergei, also began his career there.
Here the future official grew up, having received several classes of education at a local school. When he was 12, the Bolsheviks seized power in the country. Life in Russia has changed completely. The proximity to the plant also dictated special views – from an early age in the proletarian environment, the young man managed to penetrate the ideas of Marxism-Leninism. In addition, Morozov was good at convincing people – a good quality for a politician.
From the age of 15 he is an active Komsomol member, at the age of 17 he quits his job at the factory (yes, during the NEP period it was still possible. – Ed.) And goes to Nizhny Novgorod for two years, where he enters one of the the first open communist schools – a place where professional propagandists were trained. There he made useful contacts. While he was still studying, an experienced Chita party worker, Abram Stolyar, arrived in the city, serving as a spy in Manchuria in the Civilian. The Jewish party member took young Morozov to his assistant.
For two years Morozov has been working in Semyonov as the deputy head of the local agricultural complex and meets the pharmacist Anya Sungurovskaya.
– I hardly remember my dad, I was only three or four years old then. And my brother was the oldest and remembered him better. He said that he was charming and cheerful, but he took his work and his wife very seriously: he didn’t walk, almost didn’t drink, but worked a lot, was on the road constantly, ”recalls Kira Aleksandrovna.
By 1927, Abram Carpenter had become secretary of the Kanavinsky district committee, then head of the propaganda department in the Nizhny Novgorod region, and a few years later – the right hand of Andrei Zhdanov himself, whose name the Krasnoye Sormovo plant bears. The Chita careerist pulled his younger friend up the career ladder with him.
Builder and destroyer in the Kirov region
In December 1934, from part of the territories of the Gorky Territory and the Sverdlovsk Region, the Kirov Region was formed (two years later it was renamed into the Kirov Region). Abram Stolyar was appointed there by one of the leaders of the party – not the first secretary, but informally ruled the region. He surrounded himself with loyal people, transported them one by one from Nizhny Novgorod to Kirov.
The carpenter made Morozov an assistant secretary of the regional committee, that is, his own.
During the three years that the region was ruled by Stolyar, Morozov and their colleagues in Nizhny Novgorod, the region was changing. New houses were built (for example, the “House of Chekists”, the Central Hotel and social facilities. At the same time, it was during the leadership of Stolyar and Morozov that many religious objects in the region were destroyed – including the huge Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which was comparable in scale to the Temple Christ the Savior in Moscow (in fact, this was the first project of the HHS, developed by the architect Alexander Vitberg.)
In the Kirov Territory, during the reign of the Joiner, the number of the working class increased: it grew by 8 thousand people – from 35 to 43 thousand in three years, according to the official data of the Central Committee of the CPSU, more than 40% of them were ideological Stakhanovists. The fixed assets of the industry of the territories that became part of the Kirov region at the end of 1936 grew by 41%, and the gross output of all industry at the beginning of 1937 showed an increase of 170% against the level of 1934.
From the point of view of the party leadership, Abram Stolyar and his associates did everything right.
Emissary to the troubled Urals
The carpenter began to enjoy the great confidence of Moscow, and in 1937, by personal order of Joseph Stalin, he was sent to the strategically important, but very difficult to manage Sverdlovsk.
The Politburo at this time comes to the conclusion that the country needs centralization and the leaders of the regions should be given less power. Stalin did not like the fact that the “governors” themselves appoint people to key positions.
“It’s not good to select people like that. This method of selection is a non-Bolshevik, I would say, anti-party method of selecting people, the comrades must put an end to this method before it is too late, – said the commander-in-chief at the last February-March plenum of the Central Committee.
The Urals were then led by Ivan Kabakov, appointed from Nizhny Novgorod. He ignored instructions from the Kremlin and appointed the staff himself. Disobedience cost the Sverdlovsk communist dearly – the NKVD found something to blame the head of the region for. He was arrested and shot in 1937. His wife was arrested two days later and also sentenced to death.
The Joiner who came to replace him with a team of Nizhny Novgorod residents had to change the entire system built by Kabakov.
Big politics, big problems
Abram Carpenter and Alexander Morozov, together with their fellow Gorky residents, were at first confident that they would be able to repeat the Kirov success. They arrived in Yekaterinburg, bringing with them all their colleagues and assistants at once. As it turned out – in vain.
The local party staff member of the Politburo Andrey Andreev (revolutionary, loyal Stalinist, associate of Yezhov, survivor of repressions. – Ed.) Introduced the Nizhny Novgorod delegation personally:
– I think that many of the present comrades of Comrade Carpenter know not for the first time. Comrade Carpenter is a good Bolshevik who has proven these qualities in practice. A fighting Bolshevik, he led the Kirov region perfectly! I think that he will superbly lead you as the first secretary of the regional committee, ”the head of the Industrial Department of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks praised the new leader from the very start.
But Abram Carpenter from the very start began to pursue a policy that practically repeats the methods of leadership of his predecessor, including periodically conflicting with the locals. The local head of the NKVD, Dmitry Dmitriev, disliked the new leader. He immediately began to look for a counterrevolutionary trace in the actions of the Nizhny Novgorod residents.
He appointed Morozov the third secretary of the city committee and entrusted him to deal with industrial issues, but he was immediately subjected to harsh criticism from below. The residents of Nizhniy Novgorod did not work even a year, as every one of them was arrested.
The order to arrest Carpenter, his supporters and Morozov, as I (Alexander Tokarev. – Ed.) Managed to find out in the course of my own investigation, Andreev gave personally. He agreed on this issue with Stalin during a short phone call.
The black funnel did not come for Alexander Morozov – he went into the hands of the NKVD himself, in his best suit, kissing his wife goodbye. In reality, he had no idea what awaited him – he was simply asked to come to the party congress. A week before that, the Joiner and his other colleagues had gone.
Anna remained in the House of Soviets and watched one family after another disappear. Probably, the same fate would have befallen her, but a stranger came to the rescue:
– On the same days in the evening a man appeared on our doorstep. He looked at Mom seriously, introduced himself as Dad’s friend and told us to get together quickly. With them, except for documents and essentials, they did not take anything, threw everything and ran away from here, – says Nizhegorodka.
From a stranger, Anna learned that her husband had been arrested along with his colleagues. They came not only for unwanted party workers, but also for their families: wives were shot, and children were sent away to orphanages. The man, whose name they never recognized, took them to the Sverdlovsk railway station, handed them tickets and asked them never to talk about what had happened.
A pregnant woman from Nizhny Novgorod with two children in her arms returned back to Semyonov. Her life as the wife of a promising politician is over. Now she was the wife of an “enemy of the people.”
In Semyonov, they almost never wanted to hire Morozova. Since the beginning of the war, they have repeatedly tried to send her to the front. In this case, the children would be sent to an orphanage, and therefore every time she found an opportunity to stay.
During the war years, she had to work in a hospital as a nurse and treat the wounded, and then again became a pharmacist. For many years, the Morozov family lived on the brink of poverty, Anna’s youngest daughter Nina dies from pneumonia and a lack of drugs. For many years, the woman kept a secret and did not even tell her children about what happened to her husband, but at the same time she continued to write requests to find out about his fate.
Justified for lack of crime
After the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, the Communist Party at the XX Congress condemned the policy of the Great Terror. Many victims of the repression were acquitted. The final data on the victims of the Great Terror were declassified only in the 90s.
From the documents found it follows that Alexander Morozov spent six months after his arrest in the dungeons of the NKVD, after which he was executed on September 1, 1938. It is not known whether he confessed to the crimes of which he was accused – the protocol of his interrogation was not found.
Like other Nizhny Novgorod party activists, the NKVD accused Morozov of participation in the “counter-revolutionary terrorist community.” True, they did not want to admit this for a long time.
– The first document confirming the death of the pope came from the Semyonovsky registry office. When we saw him, we didn’t know what to think for a long time. It says that he died in 1943, the cause of death was not specified. But we knew what had happened. My mother thought all her life that it was just some kind of mistake, or that everything was mixed up in the department. Later, other documents came, from which we learned about the execution, – says the daughter of the repressed.
The execution of the Bolsheviks was regular, but at the same time, families were kept in the dark. The famous Chekist Isaac Shapiro, who, among others, drew up the execution lists in August 38th, was also executed on Kommunarka already in 1939. Despite the fact that literally everyone knew about his work, his wife, in the same way, years later received a funeral that Shapiro died in 1942, allegedly while serving a sentence in the camps. The reasons for this policy are unknown.
20 years later, in 1957, Alexander Morozov was fully rehabilitated, and the charges against him were dropped “due to the absence of corpus delicti.” Over the years, his wife and children were completely rehabilitated.
His wife Anna died at the age of 96, having died in her bed, surrounded by children and grandchildren. After the execution of her husband, there were never any more men in her life. The eldest son Leonid passed away on September 1, 2019. He died of old age on the same day that his father died. The youngest daughter Kira is still alive.
Lost in dungeons
Supporters of Stalin’s policy often point out that the Stalinist repressions of 1937-1938. were personal initiatives of the People’s Commissars of the NKVD Genrikh Yagoda and Nikolai Yezhov, and the head of the country himself was not in the know. The documents available in the state archives and the signatures of the leader on the execution lists indicate the opposite.
The private history of a single family may not seem too revealing to some – it is quite simple to imagine a corrupt official-saboteur. As people who justify the repressions in the USSR say: “If they were shot, then there was a reason.” But the tragedy of the life of Alexander Morozov and his colleagues from Nizhny Novgorod is only part of a huge frightening picture.
It is officially recognized that in 1930-1953, judges and all kinds of non-judicial bodies passed sentences and rulings against more than 3.7 million people on charges of counterrevolutionary crimes against the state. Of these, almost 790 thousand were executed, while others received many years in camps. Only a small part was justified. The lion’s share of them falls on the Great Terror of 1937-1938.
In the same period in Sverdlovsk (Yekaterinburg), during the repressions, 20,787 people were arrested and executed, about 15,000 more were sent to camps. The overwhelming majority of them are not officials and party conspirators. These are mainly workers and peasants, teachers and doctors, engineers and teachers. They were persecuted not only for ideological and class reasons, but also for ethnic reasons. The planned economy required overfulfillment of plans in everything – even in the capture of foreign intelligence spies.
Historians cannot unequivocally assert that decisions on mass executions were made directly by the top of the Communist Party or personally by Joseph Stalin. Nevertheless, it was he and his closest associates who coordinated the lists of referral of cases for a “special order of consideration.”
It is not fully known whether the top of the Central Committee or the NKVD had a clear plan for the number of people who needed to be subjected to political repression. Some historians believe that after the assassination of the secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) Sergei Kirov in 1934, the party leadership plunged into outright paranoia and began to look for “enemies of the people” everywhere, including among their supporters. Others believe that this was Stalin’s deliberate policy.
It was after this event that the NKVD and the Prosecutor General’s Office received the right to investigate cases of treason in a simplified manner and sentence people to execution on the basis of only one confession.
Secret service officers were good at getting confessions.
“… Neither the People’s Commissar nor his henchmen were interested in the question – where do these tens and hundreds of terrorists come from, like in a bakery, what are these communists, workers, civil servants and the military arrested in the majority, what are these plans for preparing terrorist attacks, often without weapons, who directed them, reasons and other moments that are strikingly striking, but no one was interested in this … “, the head of the Open List project Lyudmila Lyagushkina quotes the memoirs of the leaders of the Moscow NKVD Postel and Radzilovsky.
Many KGB officers were sincerely surprised when, in 1937-1938, they themselves ended up at shooting ranges.
In October 1938, the head of the Sverdlovsk NKVD Dmitry Dmitriev, who initiated the arrest of Nizhny Novgorod party members, was handcuffed in Lubyanka.
His interrogation was led by Lavrenty Beria, the protocol was preserved in the declassified archives of the NKVD:
– […] I very persistently argued that the accusation of my participation in the said center was sheer fiction, proved that I was the main culprit in the arrest of Stolyar, Morozov, Grachev, Berman. Referring to a letter taken from me during a search, in which I wrote in February 1938 that they were counter-revolutionaries, cited facts of my struggle against them back in October 1937, that is, two months after their arrival in Sverdlovsk, and so on. … […] I said – could there be a stronger proof of the absurdity of accusing me of participating in the right center of the 1937 edition, at a time when I myself exposed and exposed them ?! – said Dmitriev shortly before his execution.
The Chekist was not helped by any arguments – he was shot on the same charge in Moscow in January 1939. During interrogation, he named more than 40 names of his colleagues and former bosses, accusing them of conspiracy. Later, the special services also used his testimony.
Many Soviet and modern historians agree that the “Stalinist purges”, especially among the ranks of military, state and industrial leaders, led the USSR to a crisis of governance on the eve of World War II. The country barely had time to recover from the unrest that had arisen before the onset of Nazi Germany.
The rate of repression slowed down with the outbreak of the war. Political executions were systematically carried out until Stalin’s death in 1953. In the future, capital punishment was applied to the population much less frequently. Those whom the authorities considered enemies, she sent to mental hospitals or deprived of citizenship.