The Cheka, GPU, NKVD, MGB, and KGB. These are just a few of the names and acronyms for the same thing: the terrifying secret police apparatus of the Soviet Union. Following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Russia’s Communists used repressive violence to quash any semblance of political resistance.
During this reign of terror, the various secret police organizations of the USSR are believed to have killed tens of millions of Soviet citizens. Under the reign of Joseph Stalin alone, the closest thing to an academic consensus is that 2.9 million people died in the dreadful work camps (known as gulags) or during forced peasant resettlements. Others argue that Stalin’s reign was far bloodier than this, and there is ample evidence to back up this supposition.
However, many people know about Stalin’s crimes. Fewer people know about the crimes committed by the Soviet secret police. Tragically, many of the men who headed the various Soviet agencies were just as bloodthirsty and tyrannical as Lenin or Stalin. The following list hopes to provide a look at just how demonic these men and their actions truly were.
10Yakov Peters Was A Bank Robber And A Murderer
The name Yakov Peters is not well-known. Peters was an ethnic Latvian who grew up in the hardscrabble world of rural Latvia during the days of the Russian Empire. At that time, Moscow officially ruled Latvia (then called Courland and Livonia), but Baltic Germans truly dominated. Men like Peters’s father worked for low wages on massive plantations run by ethnic Germans who enjoyed social and economic privileges. When he became a young adult, Peters joined the Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party, a revolutionary political party based in the city of Riga.
After taking part in the Russian Revolution of 1905, Peters migrated to London where he joined fellow Latvian Communists. In late 1910, Peters and other political radicals, including an infamous bandit nicknamed “Peter the Painter,” began robbing several stores and even a train in the London area of Houndsditch. These crimes also included the murder of two police officers, both of which author Donald Rumbelow has blamed on Peters.
The crimes committed by the Latvian terrorists came to a head in January 1911 when London police officers and riflemen with the British Army laid siege to a Sidney Street apartment belonging to “Peter the Painter” and his accomplices. The two sides exchanged gunfire for hours, and the battle did not end until that afternoon.One police officer died months later of injuries sustained during the siege, while two of the radicals died outright.
Peters escaped London relatively unscathed. He returned to Latvia and then went to Russia proper during the 1917 revolution. Once the Soviets took power, Peters was named as the first Deputy Chief of Soviet State Security (aka the Cheka). In this capacity, Peters oversaw several bloody purges against anti-Bolshevik forces in the Caucasus region, including the battles against the pan-Turkic and pan-Islamic Basmachi movement.
9The Polish Operation
The history between Poland and Russia is a bloody one. This gore reached its apex in the 20th century, especially during World War II. Between 1939 and 1941, during the time when the USSR had a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany, the Soviet Red Army bulldozed through half of Poland. The most infamous example of anti-Polish operations conducted by the Soviets was the Katyn Massacre of 1940, which killed approximately 22,000 members of the Polish Army officer corps.
Prior to this, the NKVD, the secret police organization used by Stalin during his murderous reign, carried out what it called its “Polish Operation.” This operation lasted from 1937 until 1938. This action was part of the larger “Great Purge,” which saw the mass execution of at least one million suspected “dissidents” within the Soviet Union.
The “Polish Operation” was officially sanctioned by NKVD Order No. 00485. This letter from the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs authorized the NKVD to eliminate “Polish spies.” This directive was liberally applied, and almost all ethnic Poles within the Soviet Union were targeted for execution or imprisonment.
During the year-long operation, Polish citizens, Polish socialists, Polish Communists, and even prisoners of war from the Polish-Soviet War of 1919–1921 were executed. The death toll is believed to be in excess of 111,000 people. A further 28,000-plus Poles were sent to gulags in Siberia, where thousands died due to malnutrition, exposure, and disease.
Michal Jasinski, a Polish historian, has also written that the NKVD mostly killed Polish men with families, while their wives, sisters, and other Polish women were deported to Kazakhstan.