Vasili Blokhin: The ultimate henchman

moscow show trials

It’s likely that all of us, at some point in our lives, aspire to be the best at something. When one is young, it sometimes doesn’t matter what that “something” is; the goal is simply to be No. 1.

Vasili Blokhin achieved such prominence, even if many don’t recognize his name.

He was Joseph Stalin’s executioner for decades and personally killed tens of thousands of individuals between the 1920s and early 1950s. Today, he is recognized as the most prolific official executioner in recorded world history.

Blokhin, who served in the Russian army in World War I, joined the Cheka, the notorious security arm of the Bolsheviks, in 1921. He quickly gained the notice of Stalin and before long was heading up the department that handled clandestine torture and executions.

In 1926, Stalin personally chose Blokhin as chief executioner for the Soviet secret police.

During Stalin’s tenure, this arm of government, which later became known as the NKVD, is conservatively estimated to have executed more than 800,000 individuals.

Blokhin not only oversaw mass executions, but personally pulled the trigger on every high-profile execution.

Among those he dispatched: Old Bolsheviks such as Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, condemned at the Moscow Show Trials in the mid-to-late 1930s, Marshal of the Soviet Union Mikhail Tukhachevsky, and two of this three former NKVD bosses, Genrikh Yagoda and Nikolai Yezhov.

Perhaps most infamously, he single-handedly killed approximately 7,000 Polish prisoners of war during a one-month period in 1940.

Vasili Blokhin

Vasili Blokhin

The Poles had been captured in the early days of World War II. Shortly after Germany attacked Poland from the west, the Soviets did the same on the east.

After taking hundreds of thousands of Polish prisoners captive, the Soviets culled out officers and intelligentsia such as university professors, lawyers and priests.

In a bid to deprive the Polish state of a good bit of its leadership – present and future – Stalin had nearly 22,000 killed in what became known as the Katyn Massacre, so-called for the forest where many of the bodies were later discovered.

Blokhin’s work was done over a period of 28 consecutive nights, as he personally executed 300 men each evening.

A description of the scene sounds like a modernized version of Dante’s Inferno.

Polish prisoners were led into a small chamber one at a time. The chamber was painted red and specially designed with padded walls to block sound, along with a sloping concrete floor with a hose and drain.

Blokhin, fittingly, wore a leather butcher’s apron, cap, and shoulder-length gloves to protect his uniform.

He shot each prisoner in the base of the skull with a German Walther Model 2 .25 ACP pistol. The choice of a German-model weapon would give the Soviets a means to place the blame on the Nazis should the bodies be found.

There was no hearing, no reading of a sentence and no other legal formalities before each execution.

Blokhin’s men then removed the body, hosed away the blood and loaded the corpse on a flatbed truck through a back door, to be buried in a mass grave.

Blokhin liked to work continuously and rapidly without interruption, executing a prisoner, on average, every three minutes.

The executions started at dark and continuing until dawn, with Blokhin working without pause for 10 hours each night.

For his efforts, Blokhin was secretly awarded the Order of the Red Banner from Stalin on April 27, 1940.

Blokhin never had a shortage of “duties” as long as Stalin was in power, but once the dictator died in 1953 he was forcibly retired.

Following the death of Stalin toady Lavrenty Beria in late 1953, Blokhin’s rank of major general was eventually stripped from him.

Blokhin reportedly sank into alcoholism, went insane and died in February 1955. The official cause of death was listed as suicide.

(Top: Scene from the Moscow Show Trials of the 1930s.)

19 thoughts on “Vasili Blokhin: The ultimate henchman

  1. How nauseating. I would think he was insane even before he lost his position. What a wicked, wicked person. And all those poor souls.

    • A sociopath, certainly. Probably some other -paths thrown in, as well.

      And most all of these individuals escaped the sort of punishments that the Nazis rightly faced. Selective justice does no one any favors.

  2. We often wonder what the face of evil looks like. The surprising but horrible reality is that it looks like any other human being — like our friendly next door neighbor for example, or the kid who bags our groceries and the next day massacres innocent children in an elementary school, or the Vice President and Secretary of Defense who authorize the use of torture in the name of ‘security’ for us — the American people!.

      • I disagree. We do not know the totality of evil that has been perpetrated in our nation’s name. We know the statistics on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But we have been consistently lied to through coverups in the Johnson, Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations about the civilian killings, murders, rapes in Iraq and Afghanistan,

        We are a military presence in 75 countries in the world as of this date. Why?

        Why are we sending war and political prisoners to other countries to be tortured? It is called rendition. It is evil.
        Thousands of Central American campesinos were murdered and thousands more have just disappeared (including Archbiship Romero and
        other priests, religious and many others). This slaughter was carried out by Central American

        death squads led by officers of those countries who were trained (and continue to be trained) in Fort Benning Ga. The CIA, especially complicit in this evil — with the knowledge and authority of our government.

        What continues to occur in Abu Garig (sp?) and Guantanamo is evil. These prisoners are being held without charges being brought against them. They are in limbo.

  3. I knew about the Katyn Massacre of course but I always assumed it was a series of mass executions not done in such an individual manner in the case of so many of those poor Polish officers. Somehow that makes it all the more horrific. I suppose it is similar to the way the Holocaust was carried out in such a methodical manner. It renders it all the more abhorrent.

    And now Stalin is being “reformed” as a patriotic hero for modern Russia (Georgian renegade though he was). Madness.

    • Part of me understands how the aging pensioner can remember with “fondness” the days of Stalin, when he was part of the mighty Red Army that helped crush Nazism, especially when compared to the difficulties Russia is going through now. I’m not saying I’d buy into, but I can see some who’s view of yesteryear may be jaundiced by past glory – especially if they never knew the whole truth.

      What I don’t get is why politicians and others who know better would hold Stalin up for anything more than what he was: a Georgian bandit writ very, very large.

  4. What a guy! To be remembered for the dubious honor of “the most prolific official executioner in recorded world history” leaves me speechless and a bit nauseous.


  5. I ran out of room. I also erred by including Johnson and Reagan in Iraq and Afghanistan. Johnson, of courst, was Vietnam. Reagan was Iran.

    My point is: evil is immoral. It cannot be perpetrated nor condoned by any civilized people. Citing numbers of people killed by insane dictators or any government leadership
    through any means or for any reason is not the point. It takes only one evil person to commit one evil act. I believe that we have totally lost our innocence as a country and as Americans. There was a time when other nations considered us a beacon of hope and a model of democratic government. That is no longer the case. Yes, there were, and are exceptions. Our actions against the indiginous Native
    Americans and the African-Americans whose ancestors were brought to this country in chains are two glaring examples.This is not only tragic, it is something that I believe we will live to regret.

    • I think it’s important to differentiate between, say, the evil embodied in individuals such as Vasili Blokhin and the murderous Soviet regime, which had no respect for life, and garden-variety nationalism which resulted in actions that were unfortunate (but still should not be condoned).
      You may not like our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Bush and Obama are in no way comparable to Stalin, Trotsky, Beria, et al., just as Reagan and Johnson are no more comparable to Hitler and Himmler.
      Employing a Machiavellian approach to world affairs doesn’t necessarily make one a monster. In some cases it makes one practical and astute. In others, it makes one heavy handed and tone deaf. But the step from being heavy handed to genocidal is a very large one.
      That said, I’m not sure there ever really was period when other nations considered us a beacon of hope and a model of democratic government. Perhaps the French in the late 1780s, but look what happened there.
      Yes, citizens of other nations have looked at us with hope, but most other nations saw the US for what it is – a country that, like every other country, looks out for itself first. Beginning as early as the 1830s and 1840s we started agitating in the business of others. By the end of the 19th century, we were empire building. The entire 20th century was pretty spent involved in somebody else’s business somewhere.
      And from the get-go, as you note, Indians and blacks have gotten the short end of the stick.
      All that said, the US is no different in the above from any other nation. Nations are run by men (and women, today) and man is fallible.

  6. Thanks for this. I knew of Beria and the atrocities of the NKVD but did not know of this guy. I read recently that most Russians who learn of these things simply do not care. The country does not have a tradition of individual liberty so I suppose why would they? Interesting post, emphasizes the “total” as in total depravity of man.

    • I wonder if it’s that that Russians today don’t care, or they’re simply numb to all the misery and inhumanity that has taken place over the past century.

      You’re right: There is no tradition of individual liberty, but until the Bolsheviks, there was also no history of mass murder on the scale of 1917-1953. What a miserable, miserable place it must have been.

  7. Pingback: Vasili Blokhin, The Butcher Of Katyn | An Sionnach Fionn

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