The Rise of Stalin's "Iron Fist"

J. Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov

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The definitive study of Nikolai Yezhov’s rise to become the chief of Stalin’s secret police—and the dictator’s “iron fist”—during the Great Terror

Head of the secret police from 1937 to 1938, N. I. Yezhov was a foremost Soviet leader during these years, second in power only to Stalin himself. Under Yezhov’s orders, millions of arrests, imprisonments, deportations, and executions were carried out. This book, based upon unprecedented access to Communist Party archives and Yezhov’s personal archives, looks into the life and career of the enigmatic man who administered Stalin’s Great Terror.

J. Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov seek to answer a series of troubling questions. What kind of person calmly and efficiently sends thousands of innocent people to their deaths? What could prepare a man for such a role? How could a person whom acquaintances describe as friendly, pleasant, and even gallant carry out one of history’s most horrifying campaigns of terror? The authors uncover the full details of Yezhov’s rise to power and conclude that he was not merely Stalin’s tool but a skillful maneuverer in his own right. The historical documents provide a thorough portrait of Yezhov and reveal a man of fanatical dedication to his leader and his party—a man who became a willing murderer. Readers will find his story chilling, the more so in our own times, when the impulse to terror that engulfed Yezhov seems neither surprising nor unfamiliar.

J. Arch Getty is professor of history, UCLA. He is a foremost expert of the Stalin period and the history of the Soviet Communist Party. He lives in Los Angeles. Oleg V. Naumov is deputy director of the Moscow archive of the former Soviet Communist Party, RGASPI. Getty and Naumov are coauthors of The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932–1939, published by Yale University Press.

“Until this book by Getty and Naumov, no scholar has treated Yezhov as a human being and sought to understand why he did inhuman things. . . . It is a disturbing tale, an all too common tale in modern history.”—William Chase, author of Enemies Within the Gates? The Comintern and the Stalinist Repression, 1934–1939

Yezhov is based on very thorough research, bringing to light many new and dramatic sources from the archives. The historiographical originality and verve of the work will make it an instant classic.”—Lynn Viola, author of The Unknown Gulag: The Lost World of Stalin’s Special Settlements

"Thanks to Getty's diligent researches, Yezhov's career before the Great Purges finally comes into focus. Stalin's instrument he undoubtedly was, but not without agency and ambitions of his own."—Sheila Fitzpatrick, University of Chicago

“Using recently ‘unsecreted’ documents, J. Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov reconstruct the extraordinary career of Stalin’s executioner, Nikolai Yezhov. The man who gave his name to the Great Purges—Ezhovshchina in Russian—is revealed as a talented, ambitious party bureaucrat whose skills in the appointment of personnel led eventually to the job of top policeman. There he supervised and promoted the decimation of both elite and rank-and-file Soviet citizens—monstrous deeds by a rather ordinary person. This Soviet Eichmann fabricated the crimes of his victims in the dark reign of Joseph Stalin in the belief that the Soviet system was threatened by a vast conspiracy.”—Ronald Grigor Suny, editor of The Cambridge History of Russia, vol. 3, The Twentieth Century

"Meticulously sourced. . . . [An] absorbing read, and useful as a reminder of how cruel humans can be in the name of a cause."—James Critchlow, The New Leader

“J. Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov … here offer provocative and illuminating analysis of the way Yezhov rose to become the second most influential man in the Soviet Union.” - Vladimir Tismaneanu, Times Literary Supplement

"This biography of Joseph Stalin's main assistant in organizing the Great Terror in the Soviet Union in 1937 and 1938 is a fascinating book. It will interest anyone who seeks to understand one of the most sordid chapters of twentieth-century mass murder."—Kees Boterbloem, American Historical Review 

A "well-written and fascinating book . . . . Yezhov can be read as a contribution to an ongoing debate among academic students of Stalinism about the limits of Stalin's personal power. . . . Getty and Naumov's [Yezhov] is much more his own man, a shrewd and capable bureaucrat who independently fought his way up, a man who knew how to play the game, and who was finally defeated only by Stalin's more formidable powers."—Erik van Ree, Journal of Modern History

A 2008 Top Seller in European History as compiled by YBP Library Services
ISBN: 9780300092059
Publication Date: June 17, 2008
320 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
10 b/w illus.
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