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The Voices of the Dead: Stalin's Great Terror in the 1930s Hardcover – December 24, 2007
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About the Author
Hiroaki Kuromiya is professor of history, Indiana University. He is the author of several books, most recently Stalin: Profiles in Power.
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Kuromiya makes a very powerful statement about loyalty and perceived loyalty in the epilogue. As some may know (and some may disagree with this), the Eastern Slavs in the USSR were always accorded the position of the most faithful and loyal Soviet citizens among all the Soviet nationalities (peoples), the strongest nationality and the one that did not flinch during the Nazi invasion of the Ukraine and Russia in early WWII.
"Some people who were repressed under Stalin have never been
rehabilitated. Some were former secret police officials who were actively
involved in Stalin's terror. According to an estimate by the Ukrainian
journal V mire spetssluzhb, those who have not been rehabilitated were
mainly 'Polish and German spies' and those who collaborated with the
German occupiers during World War II . In Russia, it is said that 90,000
such people were denied rehabilitation in the 1990S. In Ukraine, some
had their rehabilitations subsequently annulled....
A 1946 report from Luhan'sk, a city in eastern Ukraine, suggests that most collaborators
were not those assumed to have been disaffected with the Soviet system
such as former kulaks and repressed people."
"The majority, according to the NKVD, were those who at first glance had no reason to be disaffected."
[that is, those, social groups and nationalities, who were considered the most loyal].
This is an exceptional reading of political loyalty-- that appearances, place of origin, ethnicity, language,
these are not certain barometers of loyalty--whether calculated individually or aggregately, neither then
(in 1930s Russia and USSR) nor now.
Kuromiya is one of the foremost experts/historians on the work of the OGPU/NKVD, its operations and
fellow competing intelligence organizations in Japan, Poland, Germany, Georgia and their combined rivalries and operations
during the 1930s. I'd like to see that book come out soon.
If you want to really grasp the tragedy of communism then read this book. It will make this topic personal for you.
The author made clear that his data source presented numerous problems. His source was from Kiev and not necessarily representative of the entire country. He included more files pertaining to women than were representative of the population. Further, these reports were not dictations of NKVD interrogations, but rather reports of the results of interrogations. This is an important distinction, because such reports require the reader to infer how confessions were extracted during interrogations. I took all of these shortcomings at face value and understood why the documents remained valuable sources. I even noted, with approval, how critically he examined the case files. He brought to light many trends and facts, but what did he intend to accomplish with them?
Because of his use of NKVD case files, I believed that Kuromiya's work would finally break out previously undeciphered clues about the terror, just as he'd promised. I waited patiently until the end of the book (which was less than engaging) in the hopes of piecing together a thesis based on his presentation of information. My reward was his assertion that the case files of the NKVD's victims could provide evidence of their struggle, innocence and humanity. This is a difficult thesis to back up based on the information presented. Better supported by the evidence presented in the book, was that Stalin, consumed by suspicion of foreign powers empowered the NKVD to decimate the population in order to destroy foreign opposition.
Kuromiya clearly wished to paint Stalin as the mastermind behind the terror, but this came through as anti-Stalin bias rather than premise supported by fact. He frequently interjected conclusions based on anecdotal evidence. For example, "The 1937 Korean deportation . . . came close to 'ethnic cleansing'." I believe it's the province of historians to share their opinions with their readers, but the author habitually speculated on the contents of files. I found this rather entertaining, but wonder at the value of such conjecture and whether it hurt his credibility despite the astute analysis he presented in other parts of the book.
In the end, the tragic nature of the topic, coupled with the Kuromiya's seemingly pitiless assertions about the execution and burial of each person were distasteful for me. While his research and analysis seemed great, Kuromiya's authorship appeared mediocre.