November 12, 2016: The Great Purge or Great Terror are terms used to refer to the darkest periods of Russian history. Thousands were massacred in Russia under the suspicion of being enemies of the people of the Soviet Union.
The purge was inspired by the idea of eliminating dissenters and to fortify the authority of Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union. The prosecutions were majorly focused on eminent bureaucrats, military leaders and many other members of the Communist Party. It also affected many other sects of the society. The “fifth column” communities or the national minorities faced number of NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) operations. Most of the purges were explained as precautionary campaigns to eliminate the risk of espionage.
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Victims were accused of being anti-Soviet agitators taking part in sabotaging the country by conspiring against the state. These terrorized victims were reportedly tortured for confessions and many were executed by shooting them or sent to labor camps to work in the poorest conditions possible. Many perished due disease, starvation and exposure to very harsh work environments.
Although The Purge was initiated by NKVD chief Genrikh Yagoda, it reached its epitome under the supervision of NKVD chief Nikolai Yezhov (September 1936-August 1938).
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Once perceived as an enemy, the fate of the victim was sealed. There are records of mass burial sites where the bodies were dumped. But even today, multiple burial grounds have been discovered which have no existence in the records. This shows that there may have been a lot more casualties than recorded.
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A group called ‘Memorial’ has started collecting evidence and records of the massacres in the 1990s. The group has been trying to document the massacres during this dark chapter of Russian history. The researchers at Memorial have been requesting for documents mentioning the locations of the mass burials and execution grounds but the FSB keeps denying the existence of any such documentation in its archives.
Every autumn, ceremonies are held to pay respect to the victims. Memorial has also launched a program called Last Address in which plaques are placed holding the identities and addresses of the victims of Stalin’s political repression.
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