Lavrentiy Beria

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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, June 1937[1]:20
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Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria (Russian: Лавре́нтий Па́влович Бе́рия; Georgian: ლავრენტი ბერია)(1899–1953) was a Georgian Bolshevik, Soviet politician, all-around psychopath, and head of the Soviet Union's Naródnyy komissariát vnútrennikh dyél, or NKVD, the USSR's secret police before the formation of the KGB, during and after World War II. Beria executed his position with utter ruthlessness, overseeing purges, ethnic cleansings, mass executions, and cultural deportations. His reputation led Joseph Stalin to introduce him as "our Himmler".[2]:113 Beria also sadistically enjoyed raping and abusing women, with his victims numbering in the hundreds if not thousands. Following WWII, Beria was made a member of the Soviet Politburo, and was seen as the man most likely to succeed Stalin after Old Joe's brain exploded in 1953. However, his "rule" was short lived, as his numerous crimes caught up to him alongside anti-Soviet policy decisions, leading to his overthrow and execution.

Early days in Georgia[edit]

Beria, unlike Stalin, never tried to hide his Georgian roots, and actually stayed in the Caucasus for a long period of time prior to his induction into the Bolsheviks. Beria claimed that he joined the Bolsheviks in 1917 while at technical school in Baku, where he reportedly excelled at math and science.[citation needed] His claims of being a Bolshevik in 1917 though contradict the fact that he actually joined an anti-Bolshevik group in Baku prior to 1920. When the Red Army captured the city in 1920, Beria was set to be executed along with the rest of his group, but the execution was stayed. Some sources say it was because Sergei Kirov (the guy whose death caused Stalin to start the Great Purge) intervened. Others say the Red Army just didn't have time to shoot and replace Beria. Regardless, Beria was spared.[3]:128

Beria started his state security career in Baku when he was approached by Azerbaijan to join their security service. After Azerbaijan was annexed into the Soviet Union, Beria joined the Cheka, the Soviets' first secret police, in 1920 or 1921 (sources vary). It was while he was in the Cheka that Beria assisted them and the Soviets in their invasion and annexation of Georgia in 1921. After this, Beria rose through the ranks and became the deputy of the Georgian branch of the OGPU, the Cheka's successors (bear with us, the Soviet secret police went through multiple names before settling on the KGB).[4] It was in this position that Beria ruthlessly put down a Georgian nationalist uprising, and ordered the execution of 10,000 rebels after the uprising was suppressed. The Soviets gave him a medal, and he continued to rise through the political ranks of Transcaucasian politics.

In 1926, Beria would be made head of the Georgian OGPU, and was introduced to Joseph Stalin, who had recently grabbed hold of the Soviet state. The two hit it off, and Beria would become an ally of Stalin. As head of the Georgian OGPU, Beria effectively countered Iranian and Turkish spies in the Caucuses while also embedding Soviet spies in both nations. He continued to rise through the ranks, eventually becoming the First Secretary of Georgia's Communist Party in 1931, followed by party leader for the whole Transcaucasian region. In 1934, he became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It was in this position that he began attacking other Georgian communists and rivals. One such man was Gaioz Devdariani, a former Minister of Education in Georgia, whom Beria relentlessly attacked. Beria also had Gaioz's brothers executed.

Beria continued to gain Stalin's support throughout the years, especially after he faked a conspiracy to assassinate Stalin which he 'heroically' foiled. By 1935, Beria was one of Stalin's most trusted subordinates. When Stalin began the Great Purge, Beria oversaw it in the Caucasus, where he used it to settle old political scores. He also wrote a book that jerked off Stalin hardcore by making Stalin a huge reason why communism came to power in the Caucasus.

The NKVD[edit]

First page of the letter authorizing the Katyn massacre with Stalin's signature at the top

In 1938, Stalin appointed Beria as the deputy head of the NKVD, giving Beria immense power over the Soviet's secret police. Beria's NKVD boss, Nikolay Yezhov, was the man responsible for orchestrating the Great Purge. Though by the time Beria was appointed, the purge was winding down, and Yezhov was on the outs with Stalin. That same year, Yezhov was removed as head of the NKVD, being replaced by Beria. Yezhov would eventually be arrested and executed in 1940, some sources saying that Beria himself strangled Yezhov.

Beria is often associated with the Great Purge due to his activities as deputy head under Yezhov. Beria did ease up on the arrests and executions a bit, but they still continued. Not to mention that after the Soviet Union invaded the Baltic states and half of Poland in 1939, Beria oversaw the deportation and execution of numerous Polish and Baltic "political enemies". In one instance, Beria ordered the executions of 22,000 Polish prisoners held in Belarus and Western Ukraine. Even though he was not responsible for the Great Purge, he was responsible for a purge that took place between 1940 and 1942 targeting Soviet industry and the Red Army (the NKVD were doing this to the Red Army while they were fighting the Nazis).

When the Nazis invaded in 1941, Beria took responsibility for mobilizing the millions of slaves in the gulags of Siberia to work towards producing the means to fight the Nazis. As Minister of the Interior, Beria was in charge of operating and managing the gulags, as well as throwing prisoners into them. He had the slaves in the camps work to produce the means for Soviet counter-attacks, and had inmates drafted into dreaded penal squads, which were basically suicide squads sent to do the super dangerous and deadly work on the front. His slaves manufactured armaments, aircraft engines, aircraft bodies, and other military gear. As the Nazis were repelled from Russia, Beria assigned the NKVD to relocate millions of ethnic minorities into Central Asia, including Tatars, Volga Germans, Pontic Greeks, and Chechens. The Chechen deportation, called the "Aardakh" in Chechen, was recognized as an act of genocide by scholars and by the EU in 2004. In general, these acts were acts of ethnic cleansing, and many of these cultures exist in Central Asia far away from their ancestral homes to this day (especially in the case of the Crimean Tatars).

Beria masterminded the Katyn massacre, the mass murder of about 15,000 captured Polish military officers and about 10,000 Polish intellectuals, carried out in 1941. He sent a note to Stalin proposing the execution of all Polish military officers which was authorized by Stalin and five other members of the Politburo.[5]:140[6] After the mass graves were discovered by the Nazis in 1943, the Soviet Union denied any involvement and pinned the blame on them. It wasn’t until an investigation shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union 50 years later that the Soviets responsibility was finally confirmed.[7]

Beria and the NKVD were assigned with supervising the task of building an atomic weapon (Task No. 1). The Soviet atomic program required vast amounts of labor to complete. Fortunately for him, Beria had plenty of laborers to give to the project for work. Thousands of gulag slaves built test facilities, production plants, and mined uranium for the project. In 1949, the USSR detonated its first atomic bomb, making Beria complicit in escalating the Cold War.

Beria had numerous contacts with Kim Il-sung as the Soviets poured into Manchuria (it was Beria who suggested Stalin appoint a communist to lead Korea), and assisted with helping Mao Zedong win the Chinese Civil War with Soviet aid and access to Soviet Manchuria as a staging area against Kuomintang China.[8][9][10] Beria also helped oversee the installation of numerous communist regimes in countries all across Eastern Europe following the end of World War II.

Stalin's death and assuming control[edit]

After World War II, Beria was just another sycophant of Stalin. He continued carrying out the increasingly paranoid purge orders that his boss gave out, and though he had to deal with Stalin playing other leading NKVD members off Beria and vice versa, Beria would still emerge as the most important man in the NKVD (anyone who tried to take that would eventually lose and wind up dead along with their supporters, as was the case with Andrei Zhdanov). Yet, that all changed when on March 2nd, 1953, Beria received a call that Stalin had collapsed in his manor, the result of a lethal stroke. He was the first Politburo member along with Malenkov to see Stalin in his condition, as the others did not want to risk Stalin's wrath by checking themselves.[11]:639 While Stalin was out, Beria reportedly mocked and spewed hatred towards him. When Stalin showed signs of being awake, Beria dropped to his knees and kissed his hand. When Stalin faded out again, Beria stood up and spat.[11]:571

When Stalin was declared dead on March 5th, 1953, Beria's plans to take over the Soviet Union began. He was completely open in his behavior regarding his ambition to take over the country, and it frightened the rest of the Politburo.[11]:650 It wasn't hard for Beria to assume control either. The new head of the party apparatus was Georgy Malenkov, who was an ally of Beria and easily under Beria's thumb. Beria was soon appointed as Malenkov's deputy, and was granted control of the MVD (the NKVD's successor... look the KGB comes after the MVD so don't worry about names after this). Beria soon began calling the shots of the USSR, and given all that he did as Minister of Interior and head of the secret police, he surprisingly began liberalizing the Soviet Union. He released millions of non-political prisoners from the Gulag (ignoring he was probably the one who put them there), took steps to recognize the rights of non-Russian nationalities (even though he was genociding them a decade earlier), and stripped some penal power from the MVD.[12]:112[13]:187

Sexual predator[edit]

Beria was a noted serial rapist as revealed during his 1953 trial, using his positions of power to force countless women to do sexual deeds.[14]:466-467 As Simon Sebag-Montefiore, a biographer of Stalin, put it, the crimes reveal "a sexual predator who used his power to indulge himself in obsessive depravity".[11]:506

According to the official testimony of Colonel Rafael Semyonovich Sarkisov and Colonel Sardion Nikolaevich Nadaraia – two of Beria's bodyguards – on warm nights during the war, Beria was often driven around Moscow in his limousine. He would point out young women to be taken 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 duties included handing each victim a flower bouquet as she left the house. Accepting it implied that the sex had been consensual; refusal would mean arrest. Sarkisov reported that after one woman rejected Beria's advances and ran out of his office, Sarkisov mistakenly handed her the flowers anyway. The enraged Beria declared, "Now it's not a bouquet, it's a wreath! May it rot on your grave!" The NKVD arrested the woman the next day.[11]:506

Women would submit themselves to Beria if it meant their loved ones would be freed from the horrid gulags. Take the case of Tatiana Okunevskaya, a famous Soviet actress at the time. Beria invited Okunevskaya under the guise of performing for the Politburo in a special event. However, this was a lie, and Beria instead drove her to his dacha, where he made Okunevskaya an offer; have sex with him, and he would release her father and grandmother from prison. Tatiana accepted, and Beria proceeded to rape her, saying "Scream or not, it doesn't matter". Yet, it all proved to be for nothing. Okunevskaya's father and grandmother had been executed months prior, a fact Beria knew when he raped her. After this horrid act, Beria had Tatiana arrested and sentenced to solitary confinement in a gulag, from which she miraculously survived.[11]:507

Beria's sexual predation was not unknown among high ranking members of the Soviet Union. When Beria flirted with Alexander Poskrebyshev's daughter, he pulled her aside and told her, "Don't ever accept a lift from Beria." Beria would take an interest in Marshal Kliment Voroshilov's daughter-in-law and tail their car home after a party, terrifying Mrs. Voroshilov. Stalin himself knew of Beria's predatory nature, for when he learned that his daughter Svetlana was alone with Beria, he phoned the house and told her to leave immediately.[11]:508

Before and during the war, Beria directed his bodyguard, Colonel Sarkisov, to keep a list of the names and phone numbers of the women he had sex with. Eventually, he ordered Sarkisov to destroy the list as a security risk, but Sarkisov retained a secret copy. When Beria's fall from power began, Sarkisov passed the list to Viktor Abakumov, the former wartime head of SMERSHWikipedia later the chief of the MGB – a successor to the NKVD. Abakumov was already aggressively building a case against Beria. Stalin, who was also seeking to undermine Beria, was thrilled by the detailed records kept by Sarkisov, demanding, "Send me everything this asshole writes down!".[11]:507 Beria admitted to having syphilis during the war and being secretly treated for it at his interrogation, putting many of his victims at risk of the disease.[11]:537 Sarkisov's ledgers were acknowledged by the Russian government in 2003, and the full list of the victims' names will allegedly be released in 2028.[15]

Skeletal remains were dug up outside Beria's villa in Moscow in the 1990s, all of which were of young women, suggesting that Beria even killed some of his victims, or had them killed if they refused to have sex with him.[16][17]:396

The testimony of Sarkisov and Nadaraia has been partially corroborated by Edward Ellis Smith, a diplomat who served in the US Embassy in Moscow after the war. Smith noted that Beria's escapades were common knowledge among embassy personnel, since Beria's residence was on the same street as a residence for Americans, and those who lived there saw girls brought to Beria's house late at night by limousine.[18]:97

Downfall and death[edit]

Beria's reign would be undone by his foreign policy. The Politburo was already questioning Beria's decisions with the liberalization of many aspects of Stalinist Russia, but they at least realized that Stalin did horrible things that needed correcting. What got Beria in trouble was his foreign policy, especially in regards to East Germany. In June of 1953, East Germans rose up against the communist regime established in the country. The uprising was brutally suppressed by East German and Soviet troops, but Beria started making comments about what to do in regards to East Germany following this. Many party leaders suspected that Beria was going to allow East and West Germany to reunite, end the Cold War, and welcome in US aid to boost the Soviet economy. Now, this made a decent amount of sense, the US was already doing this to Western Europe with the Marshall Plan, and Eastern Europe and Russia were still suffering economic problems following the end of WWII. Beria concluded that having access to this aid would help Russia out a lot.[19]:165[20]:189 There was only one problem, asking the communist government to basically kowtow to the capitalist nation was like asking the Sun to chill out; it wasn't going to happen.

Enter a middle-aged and not really noticeable member of the Politburo, Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev was a minor member of Stalin's inner circle, mostly kept around because he was funny. Compared to the machinations of the rest of the Politburo, Khrushchev was seen as the least likely to really inherit power from Stalin after his death. Yet, with all of Beria's actions pissing off the Politburo in some manner, recruiting allies to the cause of a coup was easy for Khrushchev. Worst yet, Beria had pissed off the army by stripping them of security powers, including Marshal Georgy Zhukov who led the Red Army to destroy the Third Reich. A few days after the East German uprising, Khrushchev had gotten the entire Politburo, including Malenkov, on his side in a coup plot to get rid of Beria.

On June 26th, 1953, during a meeting of the Politburo, Khrushchev began throwing scathing remarks at Beria, calling him a traitor and a British spy. Beria asked him why he was giving him a hard time, and soon other members of the Politburo were joining the chorus of accusations. Khrushchev finally called a vote to throw Beria out of the Politburo, which was passed. Realizing what was happening, Beria asked Malenkov to speak with him. Malenkov responded by hanging his head low, and pressing a button under his desk, which led to Zhukov and a group of Soviet soldiers to burst in, arrest Beria, and drag him away.

Beria was tried in front of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union on December 23rd, 1953, where he was charged with treason, terrorism (the purges he did in the early 1940s were considered terrorism to the court), and counter-revolutionary activities. He was not allowed a defense and was not allowed to appeal.[citation needed] The court found him guilty of all charges, and sentenced him to death. Beria was dragged out, and allegedly in his final moments fell to his knees pleading before collapsing on the floor wailing (just like his predecessor Yezhov did when he was executed) before being shot in the face.[21]:523

Following Beria's death, Nikita Khrushchev would go on to become the de facto leader of the Soviet Union.

See also[edit]



  1. Stalinist Terror in the Comintern: New Perspectives by Kevin McDermott (1995) Journal of Contemporary History 30(1):111-130.
  2. Beria: My Father Inside Stalin's Kremlin by Sergo Beria (2001) Duckworth. ISBN 0715630628.
  3. Twenty Letters to a Friend by Svetlana Alliluyeva (1967) Hutchinson.
  4. Chronology of Soviet secret police agenciesWikipedia
  5. The Rise and Fall of Communism by Archie Brown (2009) HarperCollins. ISBN 9780061138799.
  6. Decision to commence investigation into Katyn Massacre (20 June 2013) The Institute of National Remembrance (archived from June 20, 2013).
  7. Katyn: A Crime without Punishment (2007) Yale University Press
  8. Soviet Officer Reveals Secrets of Mangyongdae by Fyodor Tertitskiy (January 2, 2014) Daily NK.
  9. Kim Il-sung's secret history by Mark O'Neill (October 17, 2010) South China Morning Post.
  10. Mao: The Unknown Story by June Chang and Jon Halliday (2005) Alfred a Knopf.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 11.7 11.8 Stalin: Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Montefiore (2003) Random House. ISBN 9781400076789.
  12. The Thaw: Soviet Society and Culture during the 1950s and 1960s by Denis Kozlov & Eleonory Gilburd (2013) University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9781442618954.
  13. Beria: Stalin's First Lieutenant by Amy Knight (1996) Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03257-2.
  14. Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him by Donald Rayfield (2005) Random House. ISBN 9780375757716.
  15. Beria's terror files are opened by Robin Shepard (January 18, 2003) The Times.
  16. Grim reminder of Beria terror (April 7, 1993) The Herald.
  17. Russia: A 1,000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East by Martin Sixsmith (2011) Random House. ISBN 978-1-4464-1688-4.
  18. Beria: Stalin's First Lieutenant by Amy Knight (1996) Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691032572.
  19. Communism and the Emergence of Democracy by Harold Wydra (2007) Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521851695.
  20. Beria: Stalin's First Lieutenant by Amy Knight (1996) Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691032572.
  21. Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb by Richard Rhodes (1995) Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-684-82414-0.