Початкова сторінка

Сергій Білокінь (Київ)

Персональний сайт історика України


The military

S. Bilokin

From the very beginning of the Bolsheviks’ rule one of their most urgent practical tasks was to identify the former military, first of all officers of the Czarist and White armies. All officers who fell into their hands were invariably exterminated. For the Leninist Bolsheviks a career officer of the old imperial army was an enemy and nothing but an enemy. On the very first day after the Communist coup, October 25 (November 7), 1917, the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee decreed:

“Officers who have failed to join directly and openly the victorious revolution shall be immediately arrested as enemies.” [68]

The military were sorted out in a natural way. In central Russia, the Bolsheviks showed some tolerance with respect to former officers who, like the average man, had not reacted in any way either to the fall of the Czardom or to the installment of the Bolshevist government in Moscow. Indeed, why not be tolerant with such officers who failed to react to the Communist takeover and were in no hurry to join the armies of Kolchak, Denikin or Wrangel? These were obviously collaborationists. Dzerzhinsky admitted ruefully in his memo to the Russian Politburo of August 5, 1923:

“From my experience with the transport I must say that the specialists who have stayed with us are the worst, without either initiative or character. They just carry on to live.” [69]

Lenin wrote:

“When Comr. Trotsky told me recently that [former] officers in our military services numbered several tens of thousands, that gave me a concrete idea of what was the secret for using our enemy: to force people hostile to Communism to build it […]!” [70]

Professing his cynical, inhuman philosophy, Lenin did not mean a concrete officer who had given some proof of his hostility. To him, any officer was an enemy. Even an officer who had volunteered to serve the Bolsheviks remained an enemy, and the fact that he was being “used” made no difference. In other words, there was nothing wrong about killing off such ‘volunteers,’ too, when they were no longer needed and could be replaced by new personnel. Such plans were duly prepared and awaited implementation for many years after Lenin’s demise.

On the one hand, the Bolsheviks badly needed those professional soldiers. They wanted to have an efficient army that would be capable of carrying the “world revolution” to the West-European countries. And such an army could only be organized by professionals even if their politics left to be desired. Political emigres charged that “the generals who rushed to jump on the victor’s wagon just did not care whom they served.” [71]But create the Red Army they did.

Whenever the Reds occupied some new territory their standard procedures invariably included general registration of all male residents and special registration of the former military. Witness A. V. Osokin told the Lausanne court (in the case of Vorovsky’s assassins [72]) that during such registrations thousands of men stood in line: “Each of them was in a hurry to be the first to… the grave.” [73] It was by these registration lists that they would be later executed. A cavalry officer, Yu. D. Bezsonov, was aware of three episodes that could make him guilty in the eyes of the Bolsheviks: at the beginning of the revolution he had helped organize an officers’ union while serving in a Circassian regiment; he had joined General Kornilov’s march on Petrograd in August 1917; and, finally, shortly before the Bolshevist takeover he had been appointed deputy commandant of the Winter Palace.

“In practice, it turned out that the only reason that produced so serious consequences for me was that I had once graduated from the Corps of Cadets and then the Cavalry School, and that I had been an officer who had loyally served as a frontline commander during the whole Great War.” [74]

Registration of former officers in civilian jobs carried out in January-February 1919 in the territory of the Moscow Military District brought 3,252 names, i.e., a huge reserve of as yet unused officer corps. On April 16, 1919 E. Sklyansky, deputy chairman of the Revolutionary-Military Council (RMC), issued an order on the establishment of a “Special Temporary Commission for the Registration of Former Officers,” to be attached to the RMC General Management Office (GMO). The GMO sent out a circular to all central directorates and agencies of the Moscow Military District ordering them to gather as exact data as possible on all their employees who were former officers. As a result of this measure, 559 former officers, including 123 with ranks of captain or higher, were selected and drafted for active duty in the Red Army. Of these, 225 persons received commands. Soviet officials were enthusiastic about the success of this campaign. The Council for Workers’ and Peasants’ Defense (hereafter referred to as Defense Council) established, by its ordinance of July 2, 1919, a “Special Commission for Registration of Former Officers” to be headed by A. Yeyduk, a member of the NKVD Board. [75] Before the day was out, the newly fledged commission circulated instructions that ran as follows: “All form.[er] [Army] officers, particularly veterans of the 1914–1918 war, shall be removed from the staffs of civil Soviet institutions.” The chief purpose, it emphasized, was to “pick out all command personnel fit for Army service who are now engaged in activities not corresponding to their experience and special training or filling positions that do not require special knowledge of the military.” [76] It was these officers who created the Red Army. But then the time came when the Moor had done his duty – and it was his turn to go. All those “military specialists” were registered all over again and liquidated in the NKVD operation “Vesna” (Spring) late in 1930 – early in 1931. The wife of an artillery regiment commander who served and was arrested in Mykolayiv remembered:

“Every day brought more and more victims. All the indications were that these were not random arrests but a well-developed plan of extermination of the old intelligentsia and elimination from the Red Army of former officers of imperial service.” [77]

But from the very outset a wholly different policy was adopted by the Soviet regime toward former officers in the provices and outlying territories. The fate of those whom the very first registration caught outside Russia proper, now styled the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (R.S.F.S.R.), and those who had fought against the Reds with the U.N.R. Army or the Whites and had not emigrated was tragic. We now know that early in 1918, after Kiev had fallen to the Russian Reds, Muravyov’s bands [78] summarily executed all civil servants associated with the Central Rada and those ex-officers who had remained neutral in the conflict between the Moscow Bolsheviks and the Ukrainian Government. [79] Even though these officers had kept themselves aloof from the warring factions and had certainly been not involved in any active resistance to the Soviet regime, it was the very fact of their existence that the Reds were not prepared to accept: after all, they might abandon their neutrality at any time. According to estimates of the Ukrainian Red Cross, at least 5,000 persons were murdered in Kiev in those days. [80] These mass killings amounted to a real genocide. Ukrainian generals who perished in those terrible days and weeks included Chief of General Staff Borys Bobrovskyi and major generals Olexiy Rozhin, Yakiv Handzyuk, Yakiv Safoniv, and Mykola Ivaniv. Shortly afterward, in 1919, the Bolsheviks executed Maj. Gen. Olexandr Hrechko in Kiev, Gen. Olexandr Rohoza, the former Minister of War of the Ukrainian State, in Odessa, and Maj. Gen. Olexandr Doroshkevych in Chernihiv. Maj. Gen. Olexandr Revyshyn, taken prisoner by the Reds, was executed probably in 1920. The Russian monarchist V. Shulgin was outraged:

“By what right do the Boolsheviks permit themselves to judge those Ukrainian soldiers who faithfully fought in the ranks of their regiments or detachments on the orders of the Ukrainian Government? Everybody knows our attitude to the the Ukrainian Central Rada; everybody knows that we regarded it as a government of usupers, a bunch of people who imposed their will on Little Russia with the support of the Austrians and Germans. But nevertheless that government was recognized not only by Germany and Austria but also by all the allies headed by France and England.” [81]

The Soviet offensive against General Wrangel’s White forces in the Crimea was launched on November 7, 1920. On the 8th the Reds crossed Lake Sivash into the Lithuanian peninsula, on the 9th they stormed the Turkish Rampart, and on the 14th and the 15th the Soviet forces, in hot pursuit of the retreating Whites, seized Simferopol, Sevastopol, and Feodosiya. Kerch, the last major Crimean city, fell a day later [82]. Immediately after that firing squads got down to their grim business.

Capital punishment case files have been preserved of groups of 100, 200, and more officers. They all consist only of questionnaires and sentences [83]. If anything, the Bolsheviks had no doubts about the sentence – it was known to them well in advance. One example is the case of 287 officers sentenced in Feodosiya by an extraordinary troika [84] on December 4, 1920 [85]. The decision was formulated as follows: “In view of the charges being proven (sic) all the above-mentioned shall be shot as obvious (sic) enemies of the woring people and their properties shall be confiscated” (Sh. 3). Apart from the sentence, the whole file, which can hardly be called an investigation record, consisted of filled questionnaires of four types:

“Questionnaire for Registration of Former Officers and Participants of the White Armies” (40 questions, Sh. 4);

“Questionnaire of Special Front-Line Commission” (33 questions, Sh. 8);

“Questionnaire for Registration of Former Participants of the White Armies” (15 questions, Sh. 15); and

“Questionnaire-Record for Former Officers” (20 questions, Sh. 55).

This is how 287 persons died, liquidated regardless of their answers to questions of the four questionnaires.

According to S. Melgunov, the VTsIK even sent a special commission to investigate the Crimean slaughter. The commission questioned the commandants of a number of cities. In justification, these produced a telegram from Bela Kun [86] and secretary of the Crimean organization of the Bolshevik Party Rozaliya Zemlyachka ordering immediate execution of all registered officers and military officials [87]. On July 26, 1921 the own correspondent of the Paris-based Posledniye Novosti (Latest News) reported from Costantinople:

“The extraordinary commission of inquiry which arrived in Sevastopol to investigate the mass executions of officers last November has established that the only (?!) culprit of the shootings is the former Crimean dictator Bela Kun. He sent out to all cities of the Crimea a telegram ordering the local authorities ‘to shoot all officers who served with Denikin and Wrangel and in theGerman campaign’. Bela Kun made the city commandants responsible for exact execution of the order, and they justified the dictator’s confidence to the best of their ability.” [88]

The citation of Ye. Yevdokimov, chief of the Southern Front’s “Separate” (i.e., “special”) Department, recommending him for the Military Order of the Red Banner, eulogized him in quite specific terms: “In the course of the rout of Gen. Wrangel’s army in the Crimea Comr. Yevdokimov cleansed the Crimean Peninsula of White officers and counterintelligence personnel remaining there for underground activities by eliminating up to 30 governors, 50 generals, more than 300 colonels and as many counterintelligence personnel, to a total number of almost 12,000 of White element, thereby preventing emergence of White bands in the Crimea. [89]” As a consistent Marxist, Lev Kamenev called such actions a “revolutionary liberation of mankind from all the rot, abomination and trash which it has accumulated in itself. [90]

If a registrant was not shot there and then, there was still no getting off the hook for him. For the very fact of registration automatically meant initiation of “proceedings” in his case: his name would be entered on “special” lists, his questionnaire would be duly filed, and he would be followed up. The “recruitment process” was protracted over several years with the result that, as an official document said, “the most valuable and tested command personnel” was selected in the Army and the Navy. On February 11, 1925, the U.S.S.R. Central Executive Committee and Council of Sovnarkom issued an ordinance “On the Striking-off From the Special Register of Certain Categories of Former White Officers and Military Officials.” Understandably, not all received a clean bill of health. Only two categories were to be exonerated:

“– those who at the moment of promulgation of the present Resolution serve in the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army and the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Navy,” and

“those awarded with the orders of the Red Banner and the Red Banner of Labor whether in the active service in the Red Army and the Red Navy or in the Reserve. [91]

But then, of course, this ordinance, too, was to be effective “until further notice” and was not intended as a life-long indulgence. However, there were some real examples of its application. Thus, after 1920 the Odessa “Separate” Department registered one Olexandr Olexandrovych Hayevsky as a former czarist officer. On December 30, 1925, he was struck off the “special” register in pursuance of the above ordinance. Proceedings in his case No. 24252 were discontinued [92].

But the registration and checking operations in the Crimea were in no way affected by the authorities’ acts of clemency. Far from diminishing, they were actually expanded, no matter how many inspectors might have been sent down, for appearances’ sake. When the initial hectic campaign was over, people began to be screened by questionnaires. The Cheka sifted the entire Crimean population through a fine sieve. The archive file of Mariya Brazol contains a questionnaire filled on December 21, 1920. It is entitled “Questionnaire for Registration of Persons Who Arrived in the Crimea After 1917,” which means that after the military all civilians were checked in like manner. By registering people who had arrived in the Crimea since 1917 the authorities obtained a database for new purges. An extraordinary session of the Ukrainian Politburo held on June 30, 1921 considered the situation in Sevastopol. The minutes said:

“The Crimean Regional Committee shall be requested to purge Sevastopol of the counterrevolutionary element. Comr. Frunze of the RCP CC is charged with implementing the present Resolution.” [93]

The legal scholar Dr. V. Kuritsyn, an annalist of Soviet jurisprudence, must have had the Crimean carnage on his mind when he wrote in 1972:

“[…] even at the most bitter moments of the Civil War the Soviet Government not only sought to guarantee, in full measure, the rights and liberties of the working people but also insisted that certain legal privileges be provided even to representatives of the hostile classes to make sure that no innocent person was punished. [94]

Liquidation of people doomed for their part in the Ukrainian insurgent movement presents the familiar pattern of a well-planned campaign. The emigre Ukrainian Encyclopedia (Entsyklopediya Ukrayinoznavstva) contains no entries about either the Kurenivka uprising in Kiev (Aprial 1918) or the insurrection in the town of Medvyn (August 1920 – summer of 1921) [95]. In fairness to the Bolsheviks, they always treated the two episodes with all the attention they deserved. In the spring of 1919 a peasant uprising broke out just ouside Kiev, in the villages of Petrivtsi and Mezhyhirya and the town of Vyshhorod, and soon spread to Kiev’s district of Kurenivka and the workers’ section of Podil. On April 9, the insurgents, numbering about 500, entered the city. The garrison, on which they laid their hopes, failed to join them, and the uprising was crushed. [96] But the Communists never forgot. Seven participants of the Kurenivka rebellion, including one of its leaders, Stepan Shevtsov, were arrested on February 6–7 and March 18–19, 1938 [97]. They were tried on April 13 and executed on April 28 and May 10. Ivan Dubynets cannot be more right in that the “Bolshevik rulers have never forgiven anything to anybody” [98].

In March 1938 the NKVD arrested six former participants of the Medvyn insurrection who had survived the 1921 massacre. The memoirist wrote this about the last day of the fighting:

“Fighting back to contain the Bolsheviks, the rebels slowly retreated through Medvyn in the direction of Salativska and Mykolayivska streets, toward the woods. By nightfall, they [the Bolsheviks] advanced their front line to Salativska street and set all of it on fire. [99]

Now they were back for more of the same. Hrihoriy Salata was tried on March 26, 1938, Trokhym Kolomiyets and Dmytro Salata on April 5, and another three Medvyn residents on the 10th. In two parties, on April 13 and May 7, they were all executed by firing squad [100].

Considering the typological affinity between the two totalitarian systems – the Soviet regime and the Nazi one – one would expect to find some analogies in the organization of mass teror. The similarity is striking. At the Nuremberg Trial, on January 3, 1946, the former chief of Department III of the RSHA [101] Otto Ohlendorf was asked how mass executions were carried out. He testified:

“The local operational detail was to segregate all Jews and ordered them to register. The registration was carried out by the Jews themselves. […] They were summoned on the pretext of resettlement. After registration Jews were assembled in a certain place. From there they were later transported to the place of execution. […] They were brought by trucks to the place of execution, in such numbers as could be executed immediately. Thus, it was all done as quickly as possible, so that the lapse of time between the realization that execution was imminent and the actual execution was very short. [102]

The Germans were diligent pupils. They killed people in an exactly the same way as their Soviet teachers. As in the Crimea.


68. Dekrety Sovetskoy vlasti, Vol. 1, p. 22.

69. Zapiska Dzerzhinskogo, Istochnik, 1988, No. 3 (34), p. 131.

70. V. I. Lenin, "Uspekhi i trudnosti Sovetskoy vlasti," Apr. 17, 1919, Complete Works (CW), Vol. 38, M., 1963, p. 55.

71. B. Pryanishnikov, Nezrimaya pautina, p. 24.

72. Vorovsky (Worowski), Waclaw (1871(1923) ( Soviet functionary and diplomat; assasinated by a White officer duing a conference in Lausanne, Switzerland).

73. Posledniye Novosti, Aug. 10, 1921. Quoted by: Melgunov, p. 67.

74. Yu. D. Bezsonov, Dvadtsat shest tyurem, pp. 11(12.

75. A. G. Kavtaradze, Voyennyye spetsialisty na sluzhbe Respubliki Sovetov 1917(1920, M., Nauka, 1988, pp. 137(138.

76. Ibid, p. 235.

77. T. Gracheva, Arest muzha, Volya, Munchen, No. 3, March 1953, p. 10.

78. MURAVYOV, Mikhail (1880 ( 1918), Left SR, former lt. colonel of the czarist Army, served in WW I. Joining the Bolsheviks, was appointed by them to a succession of commands. Early in 1918 led a Red invasion force whose seizure of Kiev was marked by mass-scale atrocities. Later in the same year mutinied against the Bolsheviks and was killed resisting arrest.

79. Obituaries of Russian officers, see Kniga skorbi, Malaya Rus, Issue 2, Kiev, 1918, pp. 153(231.

80. Ibid., p. 231. A lower death toll is reported in a document attached to a letter of Dr. Yury Ladyzhenskyi to the International Red Cross in Geneva. According to this report, "in February 1918, during a few days, the Bolsheviks slaughtered more than 2,000 Russian officers in Kiev […]" (Doklad Krasnogo Kresta, p. 340).

81. V. Shulgin, Dvorets i tyurma, pp. 57(58.

82. Sovetskomu Krymu dvadtsat let, 1920 ( 1940, Simferopol, Krymgosizdat, 1940, p. 16. Naturally, no mention was made of summary executions in Soviet editions.

83. Only six persons are listed by M. Rozhenko and E. Bohatska (M. Rozhenko and E. Bohatska, op. cit., Book 1, pp. 112, 191, 266, 365, 449, 460).

84. Here, a panel of three "judges" ( Transl.

85. CSAPAU, No. 4933 FP, Box 44. Most of the victims were rounded up between Nov. 27 and Dec. 3.

86. KUN, BELA (1886 ( 1939): Hungarian by birth, served in the Austro-Hungarian Army in WW I, taken prisoner by the Russians, joined the Bolshevik Party leading its Hungarian group. Returning to Hungary in 1918, was elected chairman of the Hungarian CP. One of the leaders of the so-called Hungarian Soviet Republic of which he was foreign and war minister. After its overthrow emigrated to Austria and in August 1920 arrived back in Soviet Russia. Appointed member and later chairman of the Crimean Revolutionary Committee. B. (elick( noted that while holding these positions Bela Kun "took an active part in establishing revolutionary order, organization of peaceful life and development of the area (B. (elick(, "Bela Kun," Voprosy Istorii, 1989, No. 1, p. 74). In the middle of Jan. 1921 was recalled to Moscow. Himself a victim of the Stalinist purges, was executed in 1939.

87. Rul, 1921, Aug. 3, Melgunov, p. 66. In March 1921 "for distinguished services" Zemlyachka received the Order of the Red Banner. Many years later, a General Kobrisov, the character in a novel which won the 1995 Booker Prize, blurts out something incredible for the post-Soviet reader: "I would've put up a monument to him (Stalin ( S. B.) just for bumping off Bela Kun. That Bela Kun shot thirty thousand POW officers in the Crimea" (G. Vladimov, General i yego armiya (The General and his Army), Moscow, 1997.

88. "Vinovnik noyabrskikh rasstrelov," Posledniye Novosti, Paris, 1921, July 28, No. 392, p. 3.

89. A. L. Litvin, Krasnyi i belyi terror, pp. 55(56.

90. Leninskiy zbornik, 3rd ed., Vol. I, Ed. L. Kamenev, Moscow(Leningrad, MCMXXV.

91. Sobraniye zakonov i rasporyazheniy. 1925. Otdel pervyi, Feb. 18, No. 8, p. 129.

92. CSAPAU, No. 49896 FP, Box 95, Sh. 5.

93. CSAPAU, Fund 1, Rec. 6, No. 13, Sh. 126.

94. V. M. Kuritsyn, Perekhod k nepu i revolyutsionnaya zakonnost, p. 94.

95. I. Dubynets, Horyt Medvyn: Ist.-memuarnyi narys, New York, Dobrus, 1952, 31 pp.

96. M. Ya. Latsis (Sudrabs), Dva goda borby na vnutrennem fronte, pp. 25(26.

97. M. Rozhenko and E. Bohatska, op. cit., Book 1, pp. 70, 104(105, 148(149, 274, 405, 421, 458.

98. I. Dubynets, op. cit., p. 24.

99. Ibid., p. 15.

100. M. Rozhenk and E. Bohatska, op. cit., Book 1, pp. 220, 380(381, 389.

101. RSHA ( Reichssicherheitshauptamp (Ger.) ( Main Directorate of Imperial Security ( transl.

102. Nyurnbergskiy protsess, Vol. IV, Moscow, 1959, pp. 630(631.