Great Purge

Great Purge
Part of Purges of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
People of Vinnytsia looking for their relatives among exhumed bodies
LocationSoviet Union
Targetpolitical opponents, Trotskyists, kulaks, ethnic minorities
Attack type
summary executions
mass murder
ethnic cleansing
PerpetratorsJoseph Stalin and the NKVD Nikolai Yezhov (NKVD head), (Lavrentiy Beria, Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, Ivan Serov and others)
MotiveStalinism, elimination of political opponents,[3] consolidation of power[4]

The Great Purge or the Great Terror was a campaign of political repression in the Soviet Union which occurred from 1936 to 1938.[5] It involved a large-scale purge of the Communist Party and government officials, repression of wealthy landlords and the Red Army leadership, widespread police surveillance, suspicion of saboteurs, counter-revolutionaries, imprisonment, and arbitrary executions.[6] In Russian historiography, the period of the most intense purge, 1937–1938, is called Yezhovshchina (literally, "Yezhov phenomenon",[note 1] commonly translated as "times of Yezhov" or "doings of Yezhov"), after Nikolai Yezhov, the head of the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, who was executed a year after the purge. Modern historical studies estimate the total number of deaths due to Stalinist repression in 1937–38 to be between 950,000 and 1,200,000.[2]

In the Western world, Robert Conquest's 1968 book The Great Terror popularized that phrase. Conquest's title was in turn an allusion to the period called the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution (French: la Terreur, and, from June to July 1794, la Grande Terreur, the Great Terror).[7]


A list from the Great Purge signed by Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovich, Voroshilov, Mikoyan, and Chubar.

The term "repression" was officially used to describe the prosecution of people considered counter-revolutionaries and enemies of the people by the leadership of the Soviet Union at the time, Joseph Stalin. The purge was motivated by the desire to remove dissenters from the Communist Party and to consolidate the authority of Stalin. Most public attention was focused on the purge of certain parts of the leadership of the Communist Party, as well as of government bureaucrats and leaders of the armed forces, most of whom were Party members. The campaigns also affected many other categories of the society: intelligentsia, peasants and especially those branded as "too rich for a peasant" (kulaks), and professionals.[8] A series of NKVD operations affected a number of national minorities, accused of being "fifth column" communities. A number of purges were officially explained as an elimination of the possibilities of sabotage and espionage, by the Polish Military Organisation and, consequently, many victims of the purge were ordinary Soviet citizens of Polish origin.

According to Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 speech, "On the Cult of Personality and its Consequences," and Robert Conquest, a great number of accusations, notably those presented at the Moscow show trials, were based on forced confessions, often obtained through torture,[9] and on loose interpretations of Article 58 of the RSFSR Penal Code, which dealt with counter-revolutionary crimes. Due legal process, as defined by Soviet law in force at the time, was often largely replaced with summary proceedings by NKVD troikas.[10]

Hundreds of thousands of victims were accused of various political crimes (espionage, wrecking, sabotage, anti-Soviet agitation, conspiracies to prepare uprisings and coups); they were quickly executed by shooting, or sent to the Gulag labor camps. Many died at the penal labor camps of starvation, disease, exposure, and overwork. Other methods of dispatching victims were used on an experimental basis. In Moscow, a usage of gas vans was documented; the vans were used kill the victims during their transportation to the Butovo firing range.[note 2]

The Great Purge began under NKVD chief Genrikh Yagoda, but reached its peak between September 1936 and August 1938 under the leadership of Nikolai Yezhov, hence the name Yezhovshchina. The campaigns were carried out according to the general line, often by direct orders of the Party Politburo headed by Stalin.

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Groot Suiwering
asturianu: Gran Purga
azərbaycanca: Böyük təmizləmə
Bân-lâm-gú: Tāi-siok-chheng
български: Голяма чистка
català: Gran Purga
čeština: Velká čistka
español: Gran Purga
Esperanto: Granda purigo
euskara: Purga Handia
français: Grandes Purges
galego: Gran Purga
한국어: 대숙청
hrvatski: Velika čistka
Bahasa Indonesia: Pembersihan Besar-Besaran
italiano: Grandi purghe
ქართული: დიდი წმენდა
latviešu: Lielais terors
lietuvių: Didysis valymas
Nederlands: Grote Zuivering
日本語: 大粛清
norsk nynorsk: Den store terroren
پنجابی: عظيم دہشت
português: Grande Expurgo
română: Marea Epurare
slovenčina: Veľký teror
српски / srpski: Велика чистка
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Velika čistka
татарча/tatarça: Zur terror
українська: Великий терор
Tiếng Việt: Đại thanh trừng
中文: 大清洗