Genrikh Yagoda

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Genrikh Yagoda
Russian: Генрих Григорьевич Ягода
1936 genrich grigorijewitsch jagoda.jpg
Genrikh Yagoda in 1936
People's Commissar for Internal Affairs (NKVD)
In office
10 July 1934 – 26 September 1936
Preceded by Vyacheslav Menzhinsky
Succeeded by Nikolai Yezhov
Personal details
Born Yenokh Gershevich Iyeguda
7 November 1891
Rybinsk, Russian Empire
Died 15 March 1938(1938-03-15) (aged 46)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Nationality Soviet
Political party Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Spouse(s) Ida Averbach

Genrikh Grigoryevich Yagoda (Russian: Ге́нрих Григо́рьевич Яго́да; 7 November 1891–15 March 1938), born Yenokh Gershevich Iyeguda (Russian: Енох Гершевич Иегуда) was a Soviet secret police official who served as director of the NKVD, the Soviet Union's security and intelligence agency, from 1934 to 1936. Appointed by Joseph Stalin, Yagoda supervised the arrest, show trial, and execution of the Old Bolsheviks Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev, events that manifested the beginnings of the Great Purge. Yagoda also supervised the construction of the White Sea – Baltic Canal using slave labor from the GULAG system, during which many of the laborers died.

Like many Soviet secret policemen of the 1930s, Yagoda himself was ultimately a victim of the Purge. He was demoted from the directorship of the NKVD in favor of Nikolai Yezhov in 1936, and arrested in 1937. Charged with the crimes of wrecking, espionage, Trotskyism and conspiracy, Yagoda was a defendant at the Trial of the Twenty-One, the last of the major Soviet show trials of the 1930s. Following his confession at the trial, Yagoda was found guilty and shot.

Early life[edit]

Yagoda on police information card from 1912

Yagoda was born in Rybinsk into a Jewish family. He joined the Bolsheviks in 1907. Contrary to the rumors invented by himself, Yagoda was never a pharmacist but in fact an apprentice engraver in Yakov Sverdlov's father's workshop[citation needed]. Yagoda subsequently married Sverdlov's niece Ida Averbach which permitted him, after the October Revolution of 1917, to be promoted through the ranks of the Cheka (the NKVD's predecessor), becoming Felix Dzerzhinsky's second deputy in September 1923. After Dzerzhinsky's appointment as chairman of the Supreme Council of National Economy in January 1924, Yagoda became the real manager of the Gosudarstvennoye Politicheskoye Upravlenie, as the deputy chairman Vyacheslav Menzhinsky had little authority because of his serious illness. The troika Grigory Zinoviev-Lev Kamenev-Joseph Stalin wanted a symbolic direction represented by Felix Dzerzhinsky and Vyacheslav Menzhinsky and an effective direction represented by Yagoda, who was neither a people's commissar nor a central committee member, to ensure that the GPU remained loyal to the party. In 1931, Yagoda was demoted to second deputy chairman.

1922 exit visa hand signed by Genrikh Yagoda in Moscow.

As deputy head of the GPU, Yagoda organized the building of the White Sea – Baltic Canal using forced labor from the Gulag system at breakneck speed between 1931 and 1933 at the cost of huge casualties.[1] For his contribution to the canal’s construction he was later awarded the Order of Lenin.[2] The construction of the Moscow-Volga Canal was also started under his watch but only completed after his fall by his successor Nikolai Yezhov.[3]

NKVD Chief[edit]

Yagoda (middle) inspecting the construction of the Moscow-Volga canal

On 10 July 1934, two months after Menzhinsky's death, Joseph Stalin appointed Yagoda People's Commissar for Internal Affairs, a position that included the oversight of both the regular and the secret police, the NKVD. Yagoda may have been involved with the murder of his superior Menzhinsky, whom he was later accused of poisoning, and the popular Leningrad party director and Stalin opponent Sergei Kirov, who was assassinated in December 1934 by Leonid Nikolaev.[4] Yagoda worked closely with Andrei Vyshinsky in organizing the first Moscow Show Trial, resulting in the prosecution and subsequent execution of former Soviet politicians Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev in August 1936, part of Stalin's Great Purge. The Red Army high command was not spared and its ranks were thinned by Yagoda, as a precursor to the later more extensive purge. More than a quarter of a million people were arrested during the 1934–1935 period; the Gulag system was vastly expanded under his stewardship and slave labor became a major factor in the Soviet economy.

Stalin became increasingly disillusioned with Yagoda's performance. In the middle of 1936, Stalin received a report from Yagoda detailing the unfavorable public reaction abroad to the show trials and the growing sympathy amongst the Soviet population for the executed defendants. The report enraged Stalin, interpreting it as Yagoda's advice to stop the show trials and in particular to abandon the planned purge of Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Marshal of the Soviet Union and the former commander in chief of the Red Army. Stalin was already unhappy with Yagoda's services, mostly due to the mismanagement of Kirov's assassination and his failure to fabricate "proofs" of Kamenev's and Zinoniev's ties with the Okhrana.[5]

On 25 September 1936, Stalin sent a telegram (co-signed by Andrei Zhdanov) to the members of the Politburo. The telegram read:

"We consider it absolutely necessary and urgent that Comrade Yezhov be appointed to head the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs. Yagoda has obviously proved unequal to the task of exposing the Trotskyite-Zinonievite bloc. The GPU was four years late in this matter. All party heads and the most of the NKVD agents in the region are talking about this."[6]

A day later, he was replaced by Yezhov, who managed the main purges during 1937–1938.

Involvement in the Holodomor[edit]

Yagoda is held responsible, through his authority as a Soviet official, for the implementation of Stalin's policies that caused for the deaths of an estimated 5 to 7 million Ukrainians, primarily subsistence farmers, who opposed the Soviet collectivization policies, during the Holodomor famine in Ukraine.[7] [8]

Corruption and arrest[edit]

In 1936 Yagoda was demoted to the post of People's Commissar for Postal and Telegraph. In March 1937, he was arrested on Stalin's orders. Yezhov announced Yagoda's arrest for diamond smuggling, corruption and spying for Germany since joining the party in 1907. Yezhov even sprinkled mercury around his office, then blamed it on Yagoda trying to assassinate him. Yagoda's two Moscow apartments and his dacha contained 3,904 pornographic photos, 11 pornographic films, 165 pornographic pipes, one dildo and the two bullets that killed Zinoviev and Kamenev.[9] Yezhov took over the apartments. He had spent four million roubles decorating his three homes, boasting that his garden had '2,000 orchids and roses'.[10]

During the trial of Radek and Piatakov (Trial of the Seventeen), Yagoda extracted confessions from the defendants, thus revealing inadvertently that the men did not have any political differences with Stalin, a fact the Soviet state prosecutor was unable to challenge. This infuriated Stalin, as it implied that he had eliminated the defendants solely to maintain his own political power.[citation needed] Yagoda had already earned Stalin's enmity eight years earlier, when he had expressed sympathy for Nikolai Bukharin, whom Stalin had forced out from power.[citation needed]

As one Soviet official put it, "The Boss forgets nothing."[11] Yagoda was found guilty of treason and conspiracy against the Soviet government at the Trial of the Twenty One in March 1938. Solzhenitsyn describes Yagoda as trusting in deliverance from Stalin even during the show trial itself:

Just as though Stalin had been sitting right there in the hall, Yagoda confidently and insistently begged him directly for mercy: "I appeal to you! For you I built two great canals!" And a witness reports that at just that moment a match flared in the shadows behind a window on the second floor of the hall, apparently behind a muslin curtain, and, while it lasted, the outline of a pipe could be seen.[12]

Yagoda was summarily shot soon after the trial. [13]

Honours and awards[edit]

This article incorporates information from the equivalent article on the Russian Wikipedia.


  1. ^ Gulag, The Storm projects - The White Sea Canal, Retrieved 28 August 2011.
  2. ^ Russia: Canal Heroes, Time Magazine; 14 August 1933. Retrieved 28 August 2011.
  3. ^ Russia: Stalin's Mercy; Time Magazine; 26 July 1937. Retrieved on 28 August 2011.
  4. ^ Barmine, Alexander, One Who Survived, New York: G.P. Putnam (1945), p. 252
  5. ^ Brackman, Roman., The Secret File of Joseph Stalin: A Hidden Life, London: Frank Cass Publishers (2001), p. 231
  6. ^ Medvedev, Roy., Let History Judge, New York (1971), p. 174
  7. ^
  8. ^ Agnieszka Bieńczyk-Missala, Sławomir Dębski (2010). Rafał Lemkin - Holodomor: the Ukrainian holocaust. Polski Instytut Spraw Miedzynarodowyc. p. 225
  9. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: Court of the Red Tsar, page 195
  10. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: Court of the Red Tsar, page 85
  11. ^ Barmine, Alexander, One Who Survived, New York: G.P. Putnam (1945), pp. 295-296
  12. ^ See Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn. The Gulag Archipelago Vol I-II, Harper & Row, 1973, ISBN 0-06-013914-5
  13. ^ Лаврентия Берию в 1953 году расстрелял лично советский маршал