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Case Study:

The NKVD Mass Secret Operation n° 00447 (August 1937 – November 1938)

Last modified: 20 May 2010
Nicolas Werth

May 2010

Cite this item

Nicolas Werth, The NKVD Mass Secret Operation n° 00447 (August 1937 – November 1938) , Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, [online], published on 24 May 2010, accessed 30 April 2016, URL : http://www.massviolence.org/The-NKVD-Mass-Secret-Operation-no-00447-August-1937, ISSN 1961-9898

 C. Victims

Order n° 00447 directed the NKVD regional chiefs to report “every five days” on the numbers of people arrested, sentenced by troїki and executed. The FSB (State Security) archives have kept hundreds of such reports and 36 summaries adressed by the Statistical Department of the NKVD to Ezhov and to Stalin. By September 30, 1937 (that is less than two months after the start of the mass operation), 248,000 persons had already been arrested, 143,000 of them already condemned, of whom 83,600 had already been executed. By January 1, 1938, 575,000 persons had been condemned, of whom 258,000 had been executed. When Operation n° 00447 was finally stopped, on November 17, 1938, by a secret directive signed by Stalin, over 767,000 persons had been condemned, of whom 387,000 had been executed (Jansen and Petrov, 2002). These figures reflect the secret police central authorities’ accountancy; however, they do not include either deaths under torture or during preliminary investigation, or what the NKVD men called, in their jargon, “non-ratified execution supplements”. An inspection carried out, in Turkmenistan, in early 1939, just after the end of the Great Terror, by special envoys from Moscow revealed for example that the local NKVD had, without informing the central NKVD administration, “overfulfilled” the quotas of “individuals to repress in the first category” – that is, to execute – in spite of the fact that central authorities in Moscow had already increased threefold the initial quotas (Khlevniuk, 1998). Taking into account these practices, A. Roginski and N. Petrov consider that the total number of people condemned in the course of the Kulak Operation, is close to 820,000, of whom 437,000 to 445,000 were executed. Unfortunately, NKVD statistics are not very loquacious about the sociology of the victims, split up into three arbitrary groups: “ex-kulaks”, “criminals”, “other anti-Soviet elements”. Only local studies based on an extensive investigation of the victims’ cases can provide a rough sociology of the people trapped in Operation n° 00447. Many of the victims appear to have been on index-cards, catalogues of suspects assembled over the years by the NKVD. The following categories were systematically tracked down: “ex-kulaks” deported to “special settlements”, former tsarist civil servants, former officers of the White Army, participants in peasant rebellions, members of the clergy, persons deprived of voting rights, former members of non-bolshevik parties, convicted criminals and various “socially harmful elements”. But many were also arrested at random in police sweeps, or as a result of denunciations or simply because they happened to be relatives, friends or just acquaintances of people already arrested. Some groups of the population were particularly vulnerable. The orthodox clergy, including active parishioners, was decimated: 85% of the 35,000 members of the clergy were arrested, condemned or executed. Particularly vulnerable to repression were also the so-called “special settlers” (spetzperesentsy) who had been deported in previous years to inhospitable parts of the country (Siberia, Urals, Kazakhstan, far North). They were under permanent police surveillance and constituted a huge pool of potential “ennemies” to draw on. At least 100,000 of them were arrested in the course of the Great Terror. Criminals, thieves, “violators of the passport regime” and many other social outcasts already in custody, but not yet tried also provided victims to fill the ever-growing quotas. In Moscow, for exemple, nearly one third of the 20,765 persons executed on the Butovo shooting range were charged with a criminal offence. However, many of the victims did not belong to categories stigmatized by the regime: tens of thousands of railwaymen, workers, kolkhoz peasants and engineers were arrested in the course of the Kulak Operation. Many of them just had the misfortune of working in, or near, important strategic factories, railway or building sites, where, as a result of frantic rythms and plans, many work accidents had occurred in previous years. In 1937-1938, the NKVD reopened these cases and systematically ascribed them to “sabotage” or “wrecking” (Werth, 2009).

One should mention a last category of victims of Order n° 00447: political prisoners already serving a sentence in the Gulag camps. One “sub-operation” targeted “the most vicious and stubborn anti-Soviet elements in camps” ; they were all “to be put into the first category” - that is shot. Order n° 00447 decreed 10,000 executions for this contingent, but at least three times more were shot in the course of the secret mass operation, the majority in March-April 1938 (Junge and Binner, 2003).

Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence® - ISSN 1961-9898