Lavrenti Beria

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Lavrenti Beria in the 1920s

Lavrenty Beria ( Georgian ლავრენტი ბერია ; Russian Лаврентий Павлович Берия / Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria , scientific. Transliteration Lavrentij Pavlovič Beria ; born March 17 . Jul / 29. March  1899 greg. In Mercheuli in Sukhumi , government Kutaisi , Russian Empire , now Georgia ; † December 23, 1953 in Moscow ) was a communist politician and from 1938 head of the secret services of the Soviet Union .

His position made him a key figure in the terror of the “ Stalin Purges ”, although he did not take up his post until its later phase. In addition to numerous other crimes and mass murders such as the Katyn massacre , he was largely responsible for the deportations of several Soviet ethnic groups in the 1940s, as a result of which at least half a million people died. After the Second World War, Lavrenti Beria was also the chief organizer of the Soviet nuclear weapons project. Soon after Stalin's death, Beria was arrested and shot at the instigation of some Soviet leaders. The circumstances of death are not fully understood. Beria is, along with Stalin himself, the personification of the domestic political excesses of violence in the Soviet Union of the Stalin era, although the Great Terror already took place under his predecessor Nikolai Yezhov .


Lavrenti Beria was born in 1899 to a poor Mingrelian farming family with four children near Sukhumi in Abkhazia . Lavrenti Berija's mother was married twice. Beria received his education at the municipal college in Sukhumi. There was no theft or imposture at school that Beria was not directly or indirectly involved in. He once stole the folder with the students' assessments and organized the sale of these stolen documents through straw men. He got his class teacher fired.

After graduating from school, he moved to Baku in 1915 and began to study architecture at the Polytechnic . Beria obtained his diploma in the summer of 1917 . He was for the summer of 1917 the Russian Imperial Army confiscated and the First World War at the front to Romania used. With an official document he was retired after six months for health reasons and went back to Baku.

Secret service agent in Azerbaijan and Georgia 1919–1938

In 1919, Beria joined the Bolsheviks by offering himself to the party as an informant for the Müsavat secret service. Beria later backdated his entry into the party to March 1917. This backdate was later mistakenly taken over again and again in the media. In the same year he was given his first official secret service position with the Cheka security and secret service when he was smuggled into the ruling party in Georgia as a spy. He escaped execution by accident and was arrested several times. He was soon promoted by Grigory Ordzhonikidze . Ordzhonikidze introduced him to the party's general secretary , Stalin, in 1926 . In Azerbaijan, Beria Mir Jafar Bagirov , who had become known for bloody punitive actions, was under the control of . The friendship between the two was close, as they had known each other since the times of the Russian Civil War . At that time, the Cheka was notorious in Azerbaijan for its cruelty, Beria's higher-level department led the fight against counter-revolutionaries and spies, among other things. His work was praised, even when it came to a conflict with the party over the increasing influence of the Cheka.

Eventually Beria was transferred to Georgia, where he gathered a group of loyal, mostly local, people around him. By the time he began his service in Georgia, repressive measures such as arrests by the Cheka against the broad opposition were already in full swing. In connection with the suppression of this uprising, Beria mentioned for the first time, according to a witness report, that the Cheka - and thus himself - was responsible for mass arrests and executions in Georgia.

After the Cheka was renamed GPU , Beria became her boss in Georgia. He made sure that from 1929 no more political resistance was to be expected in Georgia. With the beginning of compulsory collectivization and the policy of annihilating the kulaks , coercive measures began in the same year against the rural population, which led to mass exile or deportation to concentration camps . As everywhere in the Soviet Union, resistance was brutally suppressed by the militia, the army and the GPU. In a letter to Stalin, Beria and the leader of the superordinate Transcaucasian GPU Stanislaw Redens successfully demanded that terrorist measures should be expanded and that responsibility should fall primarily to the GPU and not the party leadership. This gain in political power increased Beria's reputation. To advance his career, he gathered information about other party members and used it to his advantage. So also about Redens, whose post he finally took over.

Beria (right) with Svetlana , the daughter of Stalin (sitting in the background), around 1932.

In 1931, at the request of Stalin and supported by the Abkhaz party leader Nestor Lakoba , Beria was finally appointed chairman of the communist party in Georgia. He was able to remove initial resistance by uncovering alleged anti-business groups within the commissariats and replacing posts with secret service people from the ranks of the GPU who were subservient to him. He had party members who were unpopular to him shot. In 1932 he took over the chairmanship of the Communist Party of the Transcaucasian Republic and gave up his Georgian office in return; from January 1934 he even held both posts. During his tenure he was able to record various economic successes, for example in the field of tea production, oil production and heavy industry , but also had to struggle with low harvest yields and budget targets that were too high. In addition, Beria was responsible for the implementation of the intensified personality cult around Stalin and wrote a propaganda history work about Transcaucasia . He also created his own personality cult and practiced it increasingly, primarily in Georgia.

In the course of the Great Terror , the Georgian head of the secret police, now renamed the NKVD , gained in importance. Beria followed the instructions from Moscow to implement torture, organized show trials, had the intelligentsia, party members such as Nestor Lakoba , thousands of workers and peasants arrested, tortured and executed. He used arbitrary terror to get personal enemies out of the way. Due to his zeal for work, he soon had a good reputation with Stalin. In July 1938, Stalin made him assistant to the head of the all-Soviet NKVD, Nikolai Yezhov . In August 1938 Beria became First Deputy Chairman of the NKVD and on September 29, 1938 then Chief of State Security (GUGB) in the NKVD. Ezhov suspected that he was about to be replaced by Beria and, like his counterpart, began to collect incriminating information about him. The power struggle of the two culminated when Yezhov planned to arrest Beria. Beria, who was warned of the impending arrest, was able to speak to Stalin immediately beforehand and convince him of his loyalty.

Head of the NKVD in 1938

On November 25, 1938, Beria replaced Jeschow, who was executed on February 4, 1940. Beria became People's Commissar of the Interior (NKVD), to whom the internal armed forces, the militia, the prisons and the camp system of the GULag were assigned. State-organized terrorism was carried out by Beria. His accession to power ended the Great Terror .

From March 22, 1939 to March 19, 1946 he was a candidate for the Politburo of the CPSU. Only after seven years did he rise to the highest political body in the USSR: Beria became a full member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) on March 19, 1946 and remained so until his impeachment on June 26, 1953.

After the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Beria formed the State Defense Committee on June 30, 1941 together with Stalin, Molotov , Voroshilov and Malenkov , which replaced the Council of People's Commissars as the highest government organ during the war .

Terror and Crime 1938–1945

The Stalinist purges continued from Beria. Stalin is said to have called Beria “our Himmler ” in Yalta in 1945 and often called him “The Prosecutor” (model was Andrei Januaryevich Wyschinsky ). Vsevolod Merkulow (1946 NKGB boss), Viktor Abakumow (1946–1951 MGB boss), Bogdan Kobulow , Schalwa Tsereteli are the names of some of his helpers. In 1939 Beria personally supervised the shooting of 413 prominent prisoners, including members of the Politburo and important military personnel, and in 1940 also those of Jeschow.

Beria (with Georgi Malenkow ) 1940

The great wave of terror ended, the terror itself remained:

  • Beria was subordinate to Laboratory No. 12 - at that time under the direction of the toxicologist Grigori Moissejewitsch Mairanowski - in which the development of poisons was promoted using human experiments.
  • In the first year of World War II , at Beria's suggestion, on March 5, 1940, the Politburo passed the resolution to murder 26,500 Polish officers and leaders arrested during the Soviet aggression against Poland in September 1939. The decision on his table presentation, which portrayed the Poles as “counter-revolutionaries” and irreconcilable enemies of the Soviet system, led to the Katyn massacre . A facsimile of the document from Beria was presented to Polish President Lech Wałęsa by Russian President Boris Jelzin in October 1992 .
  • In 1941, when Moscow was in danger of conquering, Beria had thousands of inmates killed in his Moscow prisons.
  • Together with Ivan Serov, Beria had around 500,000 Chechens and Ingushes deported from Checheno-Ingushetia to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in the spring of 1944 .
  • In 1944, Beria arranged for another 300,000 to 400,000 people to be relocated. This time the Balkars , Kalmyks and Karachay were affected. 160,000 Crimean Tatars and Mesheth followed .
  • According to NKVD reports, up to 500,000 of the more than 1.5 million forced deportees lost their lives.
  • Beria had an office in every Moscow prison where he witnessed the torture of those arrested. With Stalin's knowledge, this torture continued in Beria's private home and was carried out by Beria personally. In 1980, human skeletons were found in an underground corridor between his home and his bodyguards' quarters.
  • On April 18, 1945, on the orders of Berias (NKVD order No. 00315) with the aim of clearing the rear of the fighting troops of the Red Army from enemy elements in the Soviet-occupied part of Germany ( SBZ ) under the leadership of Ivan Serov and Michael Swiridow Special camp set up. As part of the gulag system, they were primarily used to eliminate people who were seen as dangerous to the establishment of the Soviet system in the occupied territories.

In 1943, Stalin subordinated himself to the military counter-espionage organization , which was named SMERSCH . On April 16, 1943, Stalin again divided the huge NKVD into two separate authorities: the NKGB (State Security) headed by Merkulov and the NKVD (including general police, camp) under Beria, who remained the overlord (curator) of both institutions.

post war period

Immediately after the end of the Second World War, Stalin appointed Beria, who as his deputy and head of the NKVD had all the resources in the Soviet sphere of influence, to be responsible for the construction of a Soviet atomic bomb . Beria entrusted the development of the atomic bomb to the daily supervision of the NKVD general Awraami Sawenjagin (1901–1956). The first Soviet atomic bomb was detonated on August 29, 1949. Until his violent death, Beria served as the head of the Soviet nuclear weapons complex.

On July 9, 1945, Beria was appointed Marshal of the Soviet Union .

In 1946 Beria was replaced by Viktor Abakumow as Minister for State Security (MGB) - a dismissal for Beria; but initially he remained “curator” of all internal organs. The atrocities from that time on must be attributed to Abakumov. He was executed for this in 1954. Then from 1946 to 1949 Alexei Kuznetsov was given responsibility for all security issues in the Secretariat of the Central Committee .

It was not until 1946 that Beria became a full member of the Politburo. Alongside Molotov, Malenkov and Mikoyan, he was one of Stalin's closest and constant companions in the first post-war years . Molotov and Mikoyan, however, increasingly lost power. The "Crown Prince" Andrei Zhdanov rose to the ranks , but died in 1948.

After an intrigue by Beria in 1950, the rising politburo member Nikolai Voznesensky and party secretary Kuznetsov were murdered.

Beria sought to allay Stalin's distrust and promoted rumors of a widespread medical conspiracy . On February 28, 1953, Beria was one of the participants in a dinner at Stalin's that lasted until the morning of March 1. According to Vyacheslav Molotov's memoirs, published in 1991, Beria alleged to him that he poisoned Stalin at dinner.

When Stalin suffered a stroke on March 1st, it turned out that no doctors were allowed to come to Stalin without Beria's permission. Beria was not located until around 3 a.m. on March 2nd. He then told the servants that Stalin was sound asleep and should not be disturbed. He then forbade them and the bodyguards to use the phone. He did not return until around nine o'clock with members of the Politburo and doctors. He then went to the Kremlin and came back a few hours later. At his instigation, a government announcement about Stalin's illness has now been published. Stalin died on March 5th.

Disempowerment and death in 1953

Beria first became First Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister in Georgi Malenkov's cabinet . Beria brought about the renewed amalgamation of the Ministry of the Interior and the secret service in order to achieve the greatest possible power in the struggle for succession against Malenkov and Nikita Khrushchev at the head of the organization thus created . Only a few days after Stalin's death, Beria ordered the first steps towards de-Stalinization, such as the release of the accused who had been arrested in preparation for the medical trial and the arrest of those responsible in the secret service, as well as the prohibition of torture.

After Malenkov, Beria was number two in the Politburo. However, he could not hold himself in his position much longer because he had become too powerful for the other nine Politburo members. Above all, Beria was trusted to assert himself after Stalin as the new dictator with the help of the MGB (Ministry for State Security). On June 2, 1953, at a meeting of the Politburo, he advocated German reunification on the basis of neutrality and democracy . As a result, Beria was accused of having carried out this initiative and other similar activities only as a means to his own seizure of power. Beria's colleagues in the leadership apparatus and in military circles were aware of his dictatorial claims as head of the MGB. Beria was arrested at the meeting of the Central Committee of the CPSU chaired by Nikita Khrushchev on June 26, 1953. At the plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU in July 1953 , this step was justified with various accusations against Beria. His supporters lost their influence and some were arrested and some were shot. The “super ministry” was again divided into the classic interior ministry and the secret service, which has now been renamed the KGB.

Beria was charged in the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union on espionage for the benefit of Great Britain in the 1920s and attempting to eliminate Soviet power. In the secret trial, the death sentence was pronounced on December 23, 1953 and executed on the same day by shooting .

However, Beria's son claimed that his father was shot dead in his official apartment on June 26th (possibly also on June 27th). He himself saw the removal of the body, the arrest and the trial were staged. After the execution, the body was cremated and the ashes were anonymously buried in the Donskoy cemetery . The New York Times wrote on July 11, 1953 that “… Beria is believed to have been arrested on June 27, when the tanks appeared in Moscow. On the afternoon of the same day that Beria's absence from the opera was noticed, soldiers were seen for several hours. ”In the same July 14th newspaper it was stated that the Soviet Army , i. H. " Marshal Zhukov , who was the key figure in the fall of Beria". The London Evening News of July 29, 1953 wrote that power in Moscow was in the hands of a military triumvirate headed by Marshal Zhukov. According to this - historically no longer tenable - reading, it was to be assumed that Beria was shot by Zhukov himself in his office on the day of his arrest.

In June 2010, the Chief of Staff of the Russian Air Force, Lieutenant General Vadim Volkovitsky , confirmed that Beria had been executed on December 23, 1953 and that Colonel General Pavel Batitski (Marshal of the Soviet Union from 1968) personally carried out the sentence.


On one page of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia (Volume 5), published in 1952, an article about Beria was placed along with his portrait. In 1954, the editorial team turned to all of its subscribers with an urgent recommendation to remove both the image and the text with "scissors and razors".

With the judgment of the Military College of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on May 29, 2002, Beria was charged with politically motivated reprisals in the Soviet Union. Rehabilitation is therefore not possible.

According to Vyacheslav Molotov's memoirs, published in 1991, Beria alleged that he had poisoned Stalin.


Beria was married to Nina Gegetschkori. She came from an aristocratic family, graduated from a university in economics and worked in a bank. Beria had a legitimate son, Sergo , and other illegitimate children.


LP Beria: For the victory of peace and democracy in the whole world , speech of the Deputy Chairman of the Council of
Ministers of the USSR , L. P. Beria, on the occasion of the XXXIV. Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, Berlin 1951
  • On the history of the Bolshevik organizations in Transcaucasia . Publishing Cooperative of Foreign Workers in the USSR, Moscow 1936, DNB 572256299 . (Various editions, in German translation: Dietz-Verlag Berlin, 1950, in the book series Bücherei des Marxismus-Leninismus , Volume 20. After Beria's execution, Karl Marx: Critique of the Gotha Program became the new number 20.)
  • For the victory of peace and democracy around the world. Speech by the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, L. P. Berija, on the occasion of the XXXIV. Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. Berliner Verlag, 1951, DNB 572256272 .
  • The Soviet Union stronger than ever. Speech by the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, member of the Politburo of the CPSU (B). Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1952, DNB 450402010 . ( XIXth Congress of the CPSU ).
  • Georgi M. Malenkow , Lavrentij P. Berija, Wjatscheslaw M. Molotow : Speeches at the mourning rally on the day of the funeral of Josef Wissarionowitsch Stalin on the Red Square in Moscow: March 9, 1953. Dietz, Berlin 1953.
  • The Selected Works of Lavrentiy Beria . Prism Key Press, New York 2011, ISBN 978-1-4680-8143-5 .


  • Simon Sebag Montefiore : Stalin - At the court of the red tsar . S. Fischer-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-10-050607-3 .
  • Merle Fainsod : How Russia is governed . Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1965.
  • Vladimir F. Nekrasov (Ed.): Berija. Executioner in Stalin's service. End of a career . Ed. q, Berlin 1992, ISBN 3-928024-69-8 .
  • Viktor Knoll, Lothar Kölm (eds.): The case of Berija: Protocol of a settlement; the plenum of the CPSU Central Committee, July 1953; shorthand report . Structure paperback, Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-7466-0207-6 .
  • Amy W. Knight: Beria: Stalin's first lieutenant . Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton 1993, ISBN 0-691-03257-2 .
  • Sergo Lavrentevic Beria: Beria, my father: inside Stalin's Kremlin . Duckworth, London 2001, ISBN 0-7156-3062-8 .
  • Anna M. Cienciala: The Katyn Syndrome. In: The Russian Review. Volume 65, January 2006, pp. 117-121.
  • Gerd Koenen: The intelligent cannibal . In: Berliner Zeitung . March 29, 1999; on the occasion of the 100th birthday
  • Wolfgang Zank: The master of terror . In: The time . No. 28/2003.

Web links

Commons : Lawrenti Beria  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Boris Lewytzkyj: From Red Terror to Socialist Justice. The Soviet security service. Munich 1961, p. 107.
  2. A. Antonov-Ovsejenko: The way up. In: Vladimir F. Nekrassow (Ed.): Berija. Executioner in Stalin's service. Berlin 2016, p. 13.
  3. A. Antonov-Ovsejenko: The way up. In: Vladimir F. Nekrassow (Ed.): Berija. Executioner in Stalin's service. Berlin 2016, p. 13.
  4. A. Antonov-Ovsejenko: The way up. In: Vladimir F. Nekrassow (Ed.): Berija. Executioner in Stalin's service. Berlin 2016, pp. 13-14.
  5. D. Charachidze, Henri Barbusse : Les Soviets et la Georgie . Paris 1930, pp. 147-150.
  6. Varlam Shalamov : Major Pugachev's Last Battle. Short story. In: Kolyma Tales. (English edition, ISBN 0-14-018695-6 ): "The arrests of the thirties were arrests of random victims on the false and terrifying theory of a heightened class struggle accompanying the strengthening of socialism."
  7. Michael S. Voslensky : The Secret is revealed. Moscow archives tell. 1917-1991 . Langen Müller, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-7844-2536-4 , pp. 56-58.
  8. Michael S. Voslensky: Mortal Gods. The teachers of the nomenklatura . Ullstein, Frankfurt / Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-548-34807-6 .
  9. NKVD order 00315 of April 18, 1945. Documentation office of the Saxon Memorials Foundation in memory of the victims of political tyranny, ( accessed on April 15, 2014.)
  10. B. Bonwetsch: The Gulag - the model for the special camps in the Soviet Zone. In: Peter Reif-Spirek, Bodo Ritscher (ed.): Special camp in the SBZ . In cooperation with the Buchenwald Memorial and the State Center for Political Education Thuringia. Links, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-86153-193-3 .
  11. Ulrich Albrecht , Randolph Nikutta: The Soviet armaments industry . West German Verlag, Opladen 1989, ISBN 3-531-12072-7 , p. 105 ff.
  12. Wolfgang Zank: The master of terror . In: The time . No. 28/2003.
  13. ^ William Taubmann: Khrushchev. His Life and his Era . New York / London 2003, ISBN 0-393-05144-7 , pp. 244-252.
  14. Лаврентия Берию в 1953 году расстрелял лично советский маршал. ( ( Memento of May 30, 2012 in the web archive ))
  15. Лаврентий Берия - биография, информация, личная жизнь . фото, видео. ( [accessed December 23, 2017]).
  16. Felix Tschujew : Сто сорок бесед с Молотовым. Terra, Moscow 1991, ISBN 5-85255-042-6 . (Translation into English: Felix Chuev: Molotov Remembers: Inside Kremlin Politics . Edited by Albert Resis. Ivan R. Dee, Chicago 1993, ISBN 1-56663-027-4 .)