NKVD prisoner massacres

NKVD prisoner massacres

Victims of Soviet NKVD in Lviv, June 1941
Date June 1941 (1941-06) - November 1941 (1941-11)
Location Occupied Poland, Ukrainian SSR, Belorussian SSR, the Baltic states, Bessarabia
Type Extrajudicial killings
Participants NKVD and NKGB (united 20 July 1941)
Deaths In excess of 100,000

The NKVD prisoner massacres were a series of mass executions carried out by the Soviet NKVD secret police during World War II against political prisoners across Eastern Europe, primarily Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic states, Bessarabia and other parts of the Soviet Union from which the Red Army was retreating following the Nazi German attack on the Soviet positions in occupied Poland, known as Operation Barbarossa.[1]

Estimates of the death toll vary between locations; nearly 9,000 in the Ukrainian SSR,[2] 20,000–30,000 in eastern Poland (now part of Western Ukraine),[1] with the total number reaching approximately 100,000 victims of extrajudicial executions in the span of a few weeks.[3]


The launch of Operation Barbarossa surprised the NKVD, whose jails and prisons in territories annexed by the Soviet Union in the aftermath of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact were crowded with political prisoners. In occupied eastern Poland, the NKVD was given the responsibility of evacuating and liquidating over 140,000 prisoners (NKVD evacuation order No. 00803). In Ukraine and Western Belarus 60,000 people were forced to evacuate on foot. By official Soviet count more than 9,800 were reportedly executed in the prisons, 1,443 were executed in the process of evacuation, 59 were killed for attempting to escape, 23 were killed by German bombs, and 1,057 died from other causes.[4]

“It was not only the numbers of the executed,” historian Yuri Boshyk writes of the murders, “but also the manner in which they died that shocked the populace. When the families of the arrested rushed to the prisons after the Soviet evacuation, they were aghast to find bodies so badly mutilated that many could not be identified. It was evident that many of the prisoners had also been tortured before death; others were killed en masse.”[5]

Approximately two thirds of the total number of 150,000 prisoners[1] were murdered; most of the rest were transported into the interior of the Soviet Union, but some were abandoned inside the prisons if there was no time to execute them and others managed to escape.[6]

The massacres

The NKVD and the Red Army killed prisoners in many places from Poland to Crimea.[7] Immediately after the start of the German invasion, the NKVD commenced the execution of large numbers of prisoners in most of their prisons, and the evacuation of the remainder in death marches.[8][9] Most of them were political prisoners, imprisoned and executed without a trial. The massacres were later documented by the occupying German authorities and used in anti-Soviet and anti-Jewish propaganda.[10][11][12] After the war and in recent years, the authorities of Germany, Poland, Belarus and Israel identified no fewer than 25 prisons whose prisoners were killed — and a much larger number of mass execution sites.[8]

Entrance to memorial in Piatykhatky
Katyn-Kharkiv memorial
Katyn-Kharkiv memorial



"The Latvian soldiers and officers at Litene were unaware that Latvians throughout the country endured the same terror simultaneously. On the night of June 13–14 the NKVD struck at the civilian population as well, a nightmarish climax to the Year of Terror." – Valdis O. Lumans [15]



See also: Katyn massacre

By 1941, a large part of the ethnically Polish population living under Soviet rule in the eastern half of Poland had already been deported to remote areas of the USSR. Others, including a large number of Polish civilians of other ethnicities (mostly Belarusians and Ukrainians), were held in provisional prisons in the towns of the region, where they awaited deportation either to NKVD prisons in Moscow or to the Gulag. It is estimated that out of 13 million people living in eastern Poland, roughly half a million were jailed, and more than 90% of them were men. Thus approximately 10% of adult males were imprisoned at the time of the German offensive.[8] Many died in prisons from torture or neglect.[8] Methods of torture included scalding victims in boiling water and cutting off ears, noses and fingers.[17] Timothy Snyder estimates that the NKVD shot some 9,817 imprisoned Polish citizens following the German invasion of the USSR in 1941.[18]



Victims on street of Lviv
Ethnic Germans murdered at a Ternopil GPU prison, as German troops approached, are being identified by their relatives on July 10, 1941
Soviet statistics for 78 Ukrainian prisons:




NkVD massacred about 1500 Balkar civilians in Cherek valley between November 27 and November 30, 1942.[26][27][28]

See also

Notes and references

  1. 1 2 3 Piotrowski, Tadeusz (1998). Poland's Holocaust (Google Books preview). Jefferson: McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0371-3. McFarland, 2007 reprint, (Google Books search inside). ISBN 0786429135.
  2. 1 2 Berkhoff, Karel Cornelis (2004). Harvest of Despair. Harvard University Press via Google Books. p. 14. ISBN 0674020782. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  3. 1 2 3 Robert Gellately. Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe. Knopf, 2007 ISBN 1-4000-4005-1 p. 391
  4. "Никита Васильевич Петров. История империи "Гулаг"" [History of the "Gulag" Empire]. Chapter 9. Pseudology.org. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  5. 1 2 Richard Rhodes (2002). Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-40900-9. Barbarossa surprised the NKVD, whose jails and prisons in the annexed territories (despite earlier deportations) were crowded with political prisoners. Rather than releasing their prisoners as they hurriedly retreated during the first week of the war, the Soviet secret police killed most of them execution style. In the first week of Barbarossa NKVD prisoner executions totaled some ten thousand in western Ukraine and more than nine thousand in Vinnytsia, eastward toward Kiev. Comparable numbers of prisoners were executed in eastern Poland, Byelorussia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The Soviet areas had already sustained losses numbering in the hundreds of thousands from the Stalinist purges of 1937-38. “It was not only the numbers of the executed,” historian Yuri Boshyk writes of the evacuation murders, “but also the manner in which they died that shocked the populace. When the families of the arrested rushed to the prisons after the Soviet evacuation, they were aghast to find bodies so badly mutilated that many could not be identified. It was evident that many of the prisoners had also been tortured before death; others were killed en masse.”
  6. Nagorski, Andrew. The Greatest Battle. Google Books. p. 84. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  7. 1 2 Edige Kirimal, "Complete Destruction of National Groups as Groups - The Crimean Turks", from Genocide in the USSR: Studies in Group Destruction (1958), published by the Institute for the Study of the USSR in Munich.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Militargeschichtliches Forschungsamt (corporate author); Gottfried Schramm; Jan T. Gross; Manfred Zeidler; et al. (1997). Bernd Wegner, ed. From Peace to War: Germany, Soviet Russia and the World, 1939-1941. Berghahn Books. pp. 47–79. ISBN 1-57181-882-0.
  9. 1 2 (Polish) Encyklopedia PWN, Zbrodnie Sowickie W Polsce'':After the outbreak of the German-Soviet war, in June 1941, thousands of prisoners have been murdered in mass executions in prisons (among others in Lviv and Berezwecz) and during the evacuation (so-called death marches)
  10. "Blutige Ouvertüre". Zeit.de. June 21, 2001. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  11. "German Soldiers Write from the Soviet Union". Calvin.edu. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  12. "During World War II and Afterwards". JewishGen.org. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  13. Steenie Harvey, "The Dark Side of Tartu", at ExpatExchange.com
  14. Arvydas Anušauskas (1999). The Anti-Soviet Resistance in the Baltic States. Du Ka. pp. 198–199. ISBN 998664710X.
  15. 1 2 Lumans, Valdis O. (2006). Latvia in World War II. Fordham Univ Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-8232-2627-6 via Google Books.
  16. Bolesław Paszkowski (2005), Golgota Wschodu (The Eastern Golgotha). (Polish)
  17. Paul, Allen. Katyn: Stalin's Massacre and the Seeds of Polish Resurrection. Naval Institute Press, 1996. ISBN 1-55750-670-1 p. 155
  18. Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. Basic Books, 2010. ISBN 0-465-00239-0 p. 194
  19. 1 2 3 Gałkiewicz, Anna (2001). "Informacja o śledztwach prowadzonych w OKŚZpNP w Łodzi w sprawach o zbrodnie popełnione przez funkcjonariuszy sowieckiego aparatu terroru". Biuletyn Instytut Pamięci Narodowej / IPN (in Polish) (7 - August 2001). pp. 20ff. Retrieved 1 August 2016.
  20. (Polish) Encyklopedia PWN, BEREZWECZ
  21. Joanna Januszczak, Żalbiny w Czerwieni k. Mińska in: Wspólnota Polska monthly. (Polish)
  22. Julian Siedlecki (1990). Losy Polaków w ZSRR w latach 1939-1986 (in Polish). Edward Raczyński (3 ed.). London: Gryf Publications. p. 59. as cited in: Tadeusz Krahel. "Zginęli w końcu czerwca 1941 roku". Czas Miłosierdzia. Retrieved 2006-06-02.
  23. Nagorski, Andrew. The Greatest Battle. Google Books. p. 83. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  24. Helena Kowalik (November 2004). "Jaki znak twój?". Przegląd (in Polish). 47/2004 (2004–11–15).
  25. Тимофеев В. Г. Уголовно-исполнительная система России: цифры, факты и события. Учебное пособие. — Чебоксары, 1999
  26. Haunting history
  27. Черекская трагедия.
  28. Черекская трагедия 1942 года

Further reading

External links

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