The Voices of the Dead

Stalin's Great Terror in the 1930s

Hiroaki Kuromiya

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The voices of dozens of innocent victims, silenced during Stalin’s Terror and since forgotten, can yet be heard in secret police archives

Swept up in the maelstrom of Stalin’s Great Terror of 1937–1938, nearly a million people died. Most were ordinary citizens who left no records and as a result have been completely forgotten. This book is the first to attempt to retrieve their stories and reconstruct their lives, drawing upon recently declassified archives of the former Soviet Secret Police in Kiev. Hiroaki Kuromiya uncovers in the archives the hushed voices of the condemned, and he chronicles the lives of dozens of individuals who shared the same dehumanizing fate: all were falsely arrested, executed, and dumped in mass graves.

Kuromiya investigates the truth behind the fabricated records, filling in at least some of the details of the lives and deaths of ballerinas, priests, beggars, teachers, peasants, workers, soldiers, pensioners, homemakers, fugitives, peddlers, ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Germans, Koreans, Jews, and others. In recounting the extraordinary stories gleaned from the secret files, Kuromiya not only commemorates the dead and forgotten but also proposes a new interpretation of Soviet society that provides useful insights into the enigma of Stalinist terror.

Hiroaki Kuromiya is professor of history, Indiana University. He is the author of several books, most recently Stalin: Profiles in Power.

"Kuromiya, one of the most ambitious and responsible historians of the Soviet Union, ably uses his understanding of Soviet institutions and practices to contextualise his extraordinary presentation of individual life and death during the Great Terror."—Timothy Snyder, Yale University

'Kuromiya allows us to peer below the topmost level of the Great Terror to the conditions of individual victims. This is a pioneering work.' - Robert Service, St Antony's Oxford, author of Stalin

'By going through the files of those repressed in Ukraine in the 1930s, Kuromiya teases out the real stories behind the lies of the secret police. He tells a tale of ordinary folk caught up in extraordinary times.' - Martin McCauley, University of London

'No other historian has looked at the interrogation records and compared the initial handwritten record with the official transcript of the interrogation. The result is original and fascinating.' - Catherine Andreyev, Christ Church Oxford

'Kuromiya's research iss most thorough, and the conclusions he draws are careful and judicious.' - Ronnie Kowalski, University of Worcester

'...Kuromiya's work really does allow the dead to speak.'  - Donald Rayfield, Literary Review

"[A] remarkable new study of the victims of Stalin's Great Terror. . . . There is something uncanny about the historical rescue operation undertaken by Mr. Kuromiya. . . . The book is a kind of séance, in which the historian-medium allows a select group of victims to speak from beyond the grave. . . . His subjects include a cook, a furniture repairman, several peasants, a handful of priests, and a ballerina—average people who were swept up by the sheer randomness of Soviet terror. . . . His most important resources are the handwritten records of interrogations. . . . It is a kind of poetic justice that those records, intended as evidence of the guilt of the victim, should now be used by Mr. Kuromiya to prove the guilt of the regime."—Adam Kirsch, New York Sun 

"Kuromiya has written a valuable book based on meticulous research with recently declassified materials of the Soviet secret police. . . . His work . . . makes a vital contribution to our understanding of Stalinism."—David L. Hoffmann, American Historical Review

"Kuromiya's ability to work fruitfully in SBU (former KGB) archives, to decipher the handwriting of interrrogators and victims, to trace intelligence connections from Germany to Poland to Japan, and perhaps most important, to rescue and decode the strangled 'voices of the dead' have produced a remarkable book." —Wendy Goldman, Slavic Review

"Kuromiya’s book represents a monumental social history achievement. . . . By filling in gaps in the record with penetrating analyses, thoughtful hypotheses, and speculations built logically on the events and beliefs of the times, Kuromiya brings the reader as close to the true lives of these ordinary people as we are ever likely to get."—James G. Ryan, History News Network

"This innovative and compelling book belongs in university libraries and on the shelves of students of the Soviet Union and totalitarian systems." —Lee J. Williams, Historian
ISBN: 9780300226782
Publication Date: August 1, 2016
304 pages, 6 x 9
16 b/w illus.