Leonid Zakovsky

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Leonid Zakovsky
Leonid Zakovsky.jpg
People's Commissars of Internal Affairs of the Byelorussian SSR
In office
15 July 1934 – 10 December 1934
Preceded byPosition established (himself as the Chairman of the OGPU of the Byelorussian SSR)
Succeeded byIzrail Leplevsky
Personal details
Henriks Štubis

Brest-Litovsk, Grodno Governorate, Russian Empire
Died(1938-08-29)August 29, 1938 (aged 43–44)
Kommunarka shooting ground, Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Political partyRSDLP (b) (1913–1918)
All-Union Communist Party (b) (1918–1938)

Leonid Mikhailovich Zakovsky (Latvian: Leonīds Zakovskis; Russian: Леони́д Миха́йлович Зако́вский; originally named Henriks Štubis; 1894 – August 29, 1938) was a Latvian Bolshevik revolutionary, Soviet politician and NKVD Commissar 1st Class of State Security (equivalent to the Soviet Red Army rank of Komandarm 1st rank).

Early career[edit]

He was born Henriks Štubis in Kreis Hasenpoth in the Courland Governorate of the Russian Empire (present-day Latvia) in a family of Latvian ethnicity.[1] He was arrested twice during 1913, and on the second occasion was convicted of belonging to an anarchist group, and deported to Olonets province in north Russia. He later concealed his anarchist past, claiming to have been a Bolshevik since 1913. After the February Revolution, he moved to Petrograd (St Petersburg), and was responsible for security at the Smolny Institute, the building which the Bolsheviks commandeered for their headquarters. During the Bolshevik Revolution, he led a detachment of sailors who seized control of Petrograd's telephone exchange. In December 1917, a few weeks after the Bolsheviks had seized power, renaming their organisation the All-Russian Communist Party, Zakovsky became one of the founding members of the Cheka. He served in this organisation, under its different names, for the remainder of his career. During the Russian Civil War, he took part in suppressing anti-communist rebellions in Astrakhan, Saratov, Kazan and elsewhere.

In February 1926, he was appointed head of the OGPU in Siberia. He was in charge of security during Josif Stalin's visit to Siberia early in 1928, during which the General Secretary ordered grain to be seized by force from producers who were unwilling to sell, a decision which was the precursor to the forced collectivisation of agriculture. In 1928, Zakovsky was given the additional role of head of the 'troika' system, created to administer extrajudicial reprisals against peasants who resisted the change in policy. From November 21, 1929, to January 21, 1930, alone, the troika handled 156 cases, in which 898 people were convicted and, of those, 347 were shot. At the height of collectivisation, in 1930, the troika handed out sentences on 16,553 people, of whom 4,762 (28.8%) were shot—their death signed by Zakovsky—and 8,576 (51.8%) were sent to the labour camps.

In 1932, Zakovsky was appointed head of the OGPU in the Belorussian Soviet Republic.

Role in the 1930s purges[edit]

In December 1934, the Leningrad (St Petersburg) communist party leader Sergei Kirov was assassinated. The police officers deemed responsible for this security lapse were sacked, and Zakovsky was transferred in January 1935 as head of the Leningrad NKVD, replacing Filipp Medved.

In this capacity, alongside Kirov's successor, A.A.Zhdanov, he organized the secret trial of the so-called 'Leningrad counter-revolutionary group of Safarov, Zalutsky and others', at which 20 former party members suspected of loyalty to the former Leningrad party boss, Grigory Zinoviev, and the round-up and mass deportation of the so-called 'Leningrad aristocrats'—11,702 people who had lived in comparative prosperity before the revolution. The writer Nadezhda Mandelstam later described going with Anna Akhmatova to the station to say goodbye to a woman who was being deported with her three small sons.

It was impossible to move in the milling throng, but this time people were sitting not on bundles, but on quite respectable-looking trunks and suitcases still covered with old foreign travel labels. As we pushed our way through to the platform, we were constantly greeted by old women we knew: former 'ladies' and just ordinary women. "I never knew I had so many friends among the aristocracy," said Akhmatova.[2]

After this operation, Zakovsky was promoted to the level of Commissar of State Security, First Rank, and awarded the Order of the Red Star (1936). During a plenum of the Central Committee on 3 March 1937, he delivered a long personal attack on his former boss Genrikh Yagoda, whom he accused of impeding the investigations in Leningrad and generally refusing to take action against former oppositionists in the communist party.[3] At the plenary session of the Leningrad communist party on March 20, 1937, he declared that there were "enemies still active" within the organisation, an announcement that marked the onset of a purge of the Leningrad party that was "violent even by Soviet standards."[4]

Zakovsky was planning a major trial of leading Leningrad communists, including Zhdanov's deputy, Mikhail Chudov (who was executed in 1937), his wife Lyudmila Shaposhnikova, Boris Pozern (shot in 1938), and others. An Old Bolshevik named Rozenblum, who survived the purges, was lined up as a witness, brutally tortured, and then brought before Zakovsky. This case was included in the famous Secret Speech which the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev delivered to the 20th Communist Party congress, in 1956, denouncing crimes committed under Josif Stalin. Khrushchev said:

With unbelievable cynicism, Zakovsky told about the vile 'mechanism' for the crafty creation of fabricated 'anti-Soviet plots.' “In order to illustrate it to me,” stated Rozenblum, “Zakovsky gave me several possible variants of the organization of this center and of its branches. After he detailed the organization to me, Zakovsky told me that the NKVD would prepare the case of this center, remarking that the trial would be public....'You, yourself,' said Zakovsky, ‘will not need to invent anything. The NKVD will prepare for you a ready outline for every branch of the center. You will have to study it carefully, and remember well all questions the Court might ask and their answers...If you manage to endure it, you will save your head and we will feed and clothe you at the Government’s cost until your death.'”[5]

The public trial never took place: the victims were shot after closed trials. In 1937 Zakovsky was awarded the Order of Lenin. Around this time he is said to have boasted that if he had had Karl Marx to interrogate he would make him confess to being an agent of Bismarck.[6]

On January 29, 1938, it was announced that Zakovsky had been transferred to Moscow as First Deputy head of the NKVD, second in command to the infamous Nikolai Yezhov. Among his first tasks was to dispose of the head of the NKVD foreign department, Abram Slutsky. Rather than have him arrested, which might have provoked foreign agents to defect, Zakovsky crept up on him while he was talking to fellow officer Mikhail Frinovsky and stupefied him with chloroform, allowing another officer to inject him with poison.[7] Zakovsky also took part in interrogating the former head of the NKVD, Genrikh Yagoda, to get him to confess under torture to being a terrorist.

In spring 1938, Zakovsky became a victim of the Great Purge, as Order 49990, calling for the mass arrests of ethnic Latvians, was applied to serving NKVD officers. He was sacked on April 16, 1938, and on April 19 he was arrested and accused of being part of the 'Yagoda conspiracy,' of being a spy, and of organising a Latvian nationalist clique within the NKVD.[8] He and his former deputy, Nikonovich, were both severely tortured.[9] In summer 1938, as Lavrenti Beria was about to take over control of the NKVD, Zakovsky's successor, Mikhail Frinovsky, decided rapidly to get rid of former officers who might incriminate him, including Zakovsky, who was shot on August 29, 1938.




  2. ^ Mandelstam, Nadezhda (1971). Hope Against Hope,a Memoir. London: Collins & Harvill. p. 98. ISBN 0-00-262501-6.
  3. ^ Zakovsky's speech is reproduced in translation in J. Arch Getty, and Oleg V.Naumov (1999). The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932–1939. New Haven: Yale U.P. pp. 425–428. ISBN 0-300-07772-6.
  4. ^ Conquest, Robert (1971). The Great Terror, Stalin's Purge of the Thirties. London: Penguin. pp. 324–325.
  5. ^ Khrushchev, Nikita. "Speech to 20th Congress of the C.P.S.U." Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  6. ^ Conquest. The Great Terror. p. 137.
  7. ^ Jansen, Marc and Petrov, Nikita (2002). Stalin's Loyal Executioner: People's Commissar Nikolai Ezhov, 1895–1940. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institute. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-8179-2902-2.
  8. ^ Jansen. Stalin's Loyal Executioner. pp. 135–36.
  9. ^ Medvedev, Roy (1976). Let History Judge, The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism. Spokesman. p. 259.