What happened inside NKVD interrogation rooms during the Great Terror? How did the perpetrators feel when the Soviet state turned on them in 1938 during “the purge of the purgers?” In her newest book, Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial: Scenes from the Great Terror in Soviet Ukraine
(Oxford University Press, 2017), Dr. Lynne Viola
dives into the previously secret records of the Ukrainian SSR NKVD (Stalinist-era secret police). She gives readers an intimate look at the arrest, interrogation and trial records of NKVD members purged following the zenith of the Great Terror.
Viola’s work deepens our understanding of the victim-perpetrator paradigm within Soviet history. The men she discusses were True Believers firm in their devotion to Soviet power. They pursued any means necessary, including the use of torture to obtain false confessions, to reach their increasingly unrealistic arrest and confession quotas. Each man’s story reveals how low- and mid-ranking cadres executed the mechanisms of the Great Terror. From a sadistic interrogator to an execution squad leader who robbed graves, Viola’s work allows readers to understand the motivation and thought processes of individuals who are often absent in scholarship on the Terror.
Viola argues that multiple factors shaped the behavior of these perpetrators: orders from above, the extraordinary pressures placed on cadres to find enemies, situational factors, and individual decision-making.
Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon is a History Instructor at Lee College