Stalin: Bad, very bad. No, even worse than that …

gulag railroad

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953. His demise did not end the Soviet internal reign of terror that had gripped the nation for decades, but it would eventually bring a lessening of the effects of the murderous regime.

A commonly accepted figure for the number of individuals Stalin murdered while in power is 20 million.

However, as Rudolph J. Rummel, the late professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii, wrote a decade ago, that figure woeful undercounts the number of Soviets and foreigners who met their demise as a result of Stalin’s rule.

According to Rummel, the 20 million figure comes from a 1968 book by Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties.

“In his appendix on casualty figures, (Conquest) reviews a number of estimates of those that were killed under Stalin, and calculates that the number of executions 1936 to 1938 was probably about 1,000,000; that from 1936 to 1950 about 12,000,000 died in the camps; and 3,500,000 died in the 1930-1936 collectivization. Overall, (Conquest) concludes: ‘Thus we get a figure of 20 million dead, which is almost certainly too low and might require an increase of 50 percent or so, as the debit balance of the Stalin regime for twenty-three years.’”

Part of the problem is that Conquest’s qualification adding another 10 million lives to Stalin’s total is rarely mentioned, although over the past 10 years this has happened a little more often.

In addition, Rummel, who spent his career assembling data on collective violence and war with a view toward helping their resolution or elimination, wrote that Conquest’s estimate was incomplete:

Conquest did not include labor camp deaths from 1922 to 1936 and between 1950 to 1953, executions between 1939 and 1953; the vast deportation of the people of captive nations into the camps, and their deaths 1939-1953; the massive deportation within the Soviet Union of minorities 1941-1944; and their deaths; and those the Soviet Red Army and secret police executed throughout Eastern Europe after their conquest during 1944-1945 is omitted. Moreover, omitted is the deadly Ukrainian famine, the Holodomor, Stalin purposely imposed on the region that claimed killed 5 million in 1932-1934.

Rummel estimated Stalin murdered about 43 million citizens and foreigners.

Hitler, by comparison, usually gets credit for about 30 million deaths, while Mao Zedong is said to have murdered 60 million.

Other well-known historical bad dudes include King Leopold II of Belgian, who was responsible for the deaths of approximately 8 million Congolese; Hideki Tojo of Japan, 5 million; Pol Pot of Cambodia, at least 1.7 million; Saddam Hussein, approximately 600,000; and Idi Amin of Uganda, as many as 500,000.

Consider that Chile’s Gen. Augusto Pinochet, reviled as a murderous despot, is said to be responsible for approximately 3,000 deaths, making him a mere piker by the standards of those listed above. That is, of course, small consolation to the families of those he made “disappear.”

And mere numbers, no matter how large, are an abstraction. For anyone wanting to get a fuller idea of the Soviet death machine in action, consider picking up The Gulag Archipelago; The Voices of the Dead: Stalin’s Great Terror in the 1930s; Stalin’s Genocides; and Gareth Jones: Eyewitness to the Holodomor.

(Top: A rail line being built through snow by Gulag prisoners, possibly from the Solovki prison camp, on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea .)

Srebrenica’s dead still being recovered, two decades later

srebrenica cemetery

The efficacy of the United Nations has long been a hot-button issue, particularly among US conservatives, but the entity’s shortcomings haven’t helped its cause.

Take the conflict in Bosnia in early- to mid-1990s: Srebrenica was a UN-protected area, but United Nations troops offered no resistance when Serbs overran the Muslim-majority town on this date 19 years ago, then rounded up and killed approximately 8,000 men and boys.

The slaughter was described as the worst crime on European soil since World War II.

Srebrenica had been attacked and besieged off and on for three years by the summer of 1995, as chaos reigned in many parts of the former Yugoslavia during the Bosnian War.

Although the UN had declared the enclave of Srebrenica in northeastern Bosnia a “safe area,” a United Nations Protection Force of 400 Dutch peacekeepers failed to prevent the Bosnian Serb army from attacking the town on July 6, 1995.

Three days later, emboldened in part by early successes and the absence of any significant reaction from the international community, the Serbs decided to press forward and take Srebrenica.

With the town’s residents weakened by siege, starvation and short on tools of resistance, Srebrenica fell quickly. Within a couple of days, the mass killings began.

Almost to a man, the thousands of Bosnian Muslims prisoners captured following the fall of Srebrenica were executed, according to the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia: Continue reading

Campaign begun to find last Nazi war criminals

operation last chance poster

Nearly 70 years after the end of World War II, a campaign has been inaugurated in Germany to track down the final remaining Nazi war criminals and bring them to trial.

Some 2,000 posters featuring the entrance to the Auschwitz death camp are being displayed in Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne.

They ask individuals with information to contact the Simon Wiesenthal Center, according to the BBC.

The US-based Wiesenthal Center estimates there are five dozen war criminals – ranging from death camp guards to members of Einsatzgruppen, mobile death squads responsible for mass killings – still alive in Germany and fit to stand trial.

“Unfortunately, very few people who committed the crimes had to pay for them,” according to Efraim Zuroff, a leading international Nazi hunter and the center’s Jerusalem branch director. “The passage of time in no way diminishes the crimes.”

As part of its “Operation Last Chance II” project,” the center is offering rewards of as much as $33,000 for information which helps in the prosecution of war criminals in Germany.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Nazi commander found residing in Minnesota

 Galician SS-Volunteer Infantry Division

Inserted in the opening paragraph of Slate magazine’s story about a Nazi collaborator who was discovered last week to have been living in the US for the past 60-plus years were these two sentences, which would be slightly amusing if not representative of a grave injustice:

“Michael Karkoc now lives in Minnesota and when he entered the United States in 1949 told authorities he had not performed military service during World War II. That wasn’t really accurate.”

No, indeed it wasn’t. Karkoc was a founding member and an officer of the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion and later was an officer in the SS Galician Division.

There appears to be plenty of evidence that the company Karkoc commanded massacred civilians, including burning villages filled with women and children, and that he was at the scene of the atrocities, even if there’s no proof Karkoc himself didn’t actually participate.

The Associated Press broke the story about Karkoc on Friday and provided an exhaustive report on not just the fact he’s been living in the United States for decades, but included background between groups allied with the Nazis and how many individuals avoided being brought to justice under the guise of fighting communism.

It will be hard for Karkoc to plead mistaken identity; in 1995 he published a Ukrainian-language memoir that stated he helped found the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion in 1943 to fight on the side of Germany – and wrote that he served as a company commander in the unit, which received orders directly from the SS, through the end of the war.

The memoir is available at the US Library of Congress, according to The Associated Press.

(Above: A 1944 photo shows head of the SS Heinrich Himmler, center, reviewing troops  of the Galician SS-Volunteer Infantry Division, of which Michael Karkoc was a  member.)

Documents show US covered up Soviet crimes

For decades Soviet officials blamed the massacre of 22,000 Polish prisoners of war during World War II on the Nazis. The truth didn’t officially come out until 50 years later, when Soviet reformer Mikhail Gorbachev publicly admitted his nation’s responsibility for the mass slaughter.

However, recently declassified documents, released Monday, show that American POWs sent secret coded messages to Washington, DC, with news regarding the massacre at the Katyn Forest that offered proof that the Germans could not have committed the killings.

The information, though, was suppressed by the US government, possibly because President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t want to draw the ire of Soviet leader Josef Stalin, whom the Americans needed to help defeat Germany and Japan, according to The Associated Press.

The Katyn massacre was a mass execution of Polish nationals carried out by the Soviet secret police the spring of 1940. The victims were murdered with pistol shots to the back of the head, killed in the Katyn Forest in Russia, Kalinin and Kharkiv prisons, and elsewhere.

Of the total killed, about 8,000 were officers taken prisoner during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, another 6,000 were police officers, and the remainder were Polish intelligentsia arrested for allegedly being “intelligence agents, gendarmes, landowners, saboteurs, factory owners, lawyers, officials and priests.”

The Soviets’ aim was to eliminate a military and intellectual elite that would have put up stiff resistance to Soviet control, according to The Associated Press.

A 2004 report by the Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes Against the Polish Nation said the killings were specifically intended destroy the strength of the Polish nation: “The physical elimination of these people was meant to prevent the rebirth of Polish statehood based on their intellectual potential.”

Continue reading

Hungary begs off pursuing war criminal

Just when thinks government officials can’t possibly be any more tone-deaf when it comes to dealing with sensitive issues, along comes another dim-witted bureaucrat or two eager and able to lower the bar.

In Hungary, prosecutors said Monday that investigating a 97-year-old Nazi war criminal found alive and well in Budapest was “problematic” because the events took place so long ago and in a different country.

Laszlo Csatary has spent the past 15 years living undisturbed since he was deported from Canada for his actions during World War II, which included helping organize the shipping of nearly 16,000 Jews to Auschwitz in 1944.

A probe into Csatary began in September after information was received from the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center, which ranks him number one on their wanted list, the public prosecutors’ office said.

The crime is alledged to have taken place in Kosice, which was then in Hungary but is now in Slovakia.

Prosecutors in Hungary said the investigation “therefore has to explore an event remote in both time and place,” with “significant part” of the probe dedicated to finding possible witnesses, some of whom may live abroad, according to Agence France-Presse.

“It took place 68 years ago in an area that now falls under the jurisdiction of another country – which also with regard to the related international conventions raises several investigative and legal problems,” a statement said.

“Finding the answers to the aforementioned questions is a precondition to clarifying the facts and determining further investigative actions.”

Continue reading