About World War 2: Stalin's Executioner Personally Killed Thousands
Vasili Blokhin: Stalin's Chief Executioner
During April and May of 1940, when Germany and the Soviet Union were still best friends and digesting Poland's carcass, the Russians quietly, systematically and efficiently murdered an estimated 22,000 Polish officers, policemen and intellectuals. Although the murders occurred in at least six locations throughout the Western Soviet Union, the Katyn Forest, where 4,400 were killed, lent its name to all those executed as the Katyn Massacre. In the NKVD headquarters in Kalinin (now called Tver) northwest of Moscow, Vasili Blokhin, Joseph Stalin's chief executioner, shot thousands of Polish officers. Blokhin did not have them shot, he personally shot 7,000 Polish officers.
In the 1920s, Blokhin rose rapidly in the NKVD, the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, otherwise known as the Soviet secret police. Stalin himself noted Blokhin's mastery of assassinations, torture and clandestine executions-- “black work”. Blokhin soon found himself in charge of a small, special branch of the NKVD that specialized in “black work”, answerable only to Stalin himself and was made a Major General. As the Soviet chief executioner, he went about his work without a paper trail and a minimum of scrutiny.
Order to Execute Polish Officers
In early 1940, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin decided he wanted to eliminate Polish nationalists and “counterrevolutionaries” in order to remove obstacles to his future plans for Poland. The NKVD was tasked with eliminating 25,000 Polish prisoners. Vasili Blokhin was given the assignment to get rid of Polish officers held at the Ostashkov POW camp.
As was his custom, Blokhin carefully considered all the variables and made his plans. First, the prisoners had to be driven from Ostashkov to Kalinin, a distance of over a hundred miles, so trucks, fuel and drivers were allocated to ensure that each evening the Poles were delivered to Kalanin Prison. Blokhin calculated how many of his men would be needed to follow the execution procedures: getting the prisoners from the trucks into the prison, then escorting each one down to the execution chamber and removing each corpse to waiting flatbed trucks. Twice a night, the covered trucks would transport the murdered officers a short distance to freshly dug trenches, where the bodies were thrown. He allocated one bulldozer and two NKVD drivers to fill in the trenches.
At first, he'd hoped to kill 300 prisoners a night, but then determined that that rate would put a strain on himself and his men. He reckoned he could shoot a prisoner every 2 – 3 minutes continuously for the roughly ten hours between sundown and dawn and so revised his plans based on killing 250 a night for 28 nights.
28 Nights of Shooting
Starting in April 1940, after the sun went down, the process started. A Polish officer was led to the “Leninist room”, painted red, where he was identified and handcuffed. Guards then restrained him and took him next door to the execution chamber. Its walls were padded, the floor sloped toward a drain; a hose was available. Waiting inside was Vasili Blokhin, decked out in a leather butcher's apron, a leather hat and large leather gloves. Without comment or formality, Blokhin put his pistol at the base of the prisoner's skull and shot him once. Blokhin's men then removed the body through another door to the waiting trucks. Then the process restarted with the next prisoner and the next, until the night's quota of 250 Poles were all dead and gone. With the night's work done, Blokhin provided vodka for all his men. This went on for for ten hours a night for 28 nights.
Mass Grave of Polish Prisoners
Blokhin's Career and Fall
Blokhin was awarded the Order of the Red Banner and a monthly bonus from Stalin for “his skill and organization in the effective carrying out of special tasks”. During his career, Blokhin is said to have personally killed, before, during and after the war, tens of thousands of prisoners, including Soviet officials who fell out of favor. His was the finger on the trigger for every high official Stalin had executed during the Great Purge of the Thirties. The highest official he personally dispatched was Marshal of the Soviet Union Mikhail Tukhachevsky in 1937 when Blokhin was just a captain in the NKVD.
After Stalin died in 1953, Vasili Blokhin was forcibly retired and stripped of his rank. According to Soviet records, he sank into alcoholism, went insane and committed suicide on February 3, 1955 at the age of 60. [Author's note: Readers can be forgiven for believing Blokhin was insane well before Stalin died.]
Massacre and POW Sites
Katyn Forest Massacre (Warning: Graphic)
Questions & Answers
© 2012 David Hunt