Beria, Lavrenty Pavlovich

Beria, Lavrenty Pavlovich
   Born in the Mingrelian region of Georgia, Beria spent the years of the Russian civil war working for various intelligence services in the Caucasus. He joined the Cheka in 1921 and advanced quickly. He transferred to Communist Party work in the early 1930s, and in 1935 he was ordered by Joseph Stalin to oversee the editing of his autobiography. In August 1938, Beria was brought to Moscow as deputy head of the NKVD to counter Nikolai Yezhov’s power. Later that year he was named NKVD commissar and on Stalin’s orders put the brakes on the terror that had claimed more than a million victims in the previous nine months. Over the next 15 years, Beria had managerial responsibility for the Soviet security police and served as a member of the Communist Party Central Committee, as well as the GKO (State Defense Committee), which had overall responsibility for running the Great Patriotic War. After 1943 he was also responsible for the Soviet nuclear program. Beria was made a full member of the Politburo by Stalin, and in 1945 he was made a marshal of the Soviet Union.
   While Beria may have slowed the terror in 1938–1939, he and Stalin saw good reason to maintain the capacity of the security service to control, arrest, imprison, and execute. Under Beria, the service became a more efficient but no less terrible instrument of repression. The security service was used against Balts, Ukrainians, and the peoples of the Caucasus who were seen as enemies of Soviet power. Select executions of members of the leadership continued as well: terror was being redefined. Even during the Great Patriotic War the security service had internal enemies to punish: more than 2 million Soviet citizens were subject to deportations or consigned to the gulag and exile in Siberia between 1941 and 1945. Beria, as chair of a special subcommittee within the GKO, oversaw the Soviet’s nascent nuclear weapons program, from the collection of intelligence to the construction and management of scientific laboratories. Under his direction, more than 250,000 slave laborers were engaged in the building of secret cities, hundreds of German scientists were kidnapped from postwar Germany, and Soviet nuclear physicists built the country’s first nuclear weapons. Beria managed with a combination of terror and friendly encouragement, rewarding successful experiments and sending failed intelligence professionals and scientists to rot in labor camps. In early 1949, he delivered: the Soviet Union exploded a bomb in Kazakhstan years ahead of Western intelligence predictions. Named “Joe-One” by the American intelligence community, it was, in the words of one of the bomb’s designers, the “bomb that saved communism.”
   Beria was a close and constant companion of Stalin through the late-1930s and 1940s. A frequent guest to Stalin’s apartments in Moscow and his vacation dachas, he was one of the dictator’s few intimate colleagues. They often communicated in Georgian. Survivors of the period report that Beria frequently presided over the execution of members of Stalin’s inner circle and family.
   In the early 1950s, Beria became a target of Stalin’s suspicion, and only Stalin’s death saved him from execution. From Stalin’s death in March 1953 until purged in June 1953, Beria served as one of the three de facto rulers of the Soviet Union. Beria sought to bring the foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, police, and security services under his sway. It was a fatal mistake and convinced the other members of the leadership that he had to go. He was arrested at a Communist Party Presidium meeting in the Kremlin on 26 June by military officers commanded by Marshal Georgi Zhukov. After a lengthy interrogation, he was tried by an ad hoc court on 23 December and shot the same evening with several of his closest colleagues. He was charged with—among other real and fictitious crimes— having spied for Great Britain since the 1920s. At the trial, his massive crimes against humanity were not mentioned.
   Beria was both one of Stalin’s most odious lieutenants and a formidable security and intelligence generalissimo. He had a violent and depraved sexual appetite. He picked up and raped many young women, threatening them and their families with execution if they refused his overtures. He controlled a prison camp empire of more than 2 million zeks (prisoners), oversaw intelligence and security operations throughout Stalin’s empire, and managed the Soviet nuclear program. A frightening boss who sent thousands of his own people to their death, he is remembered as Stalin’s first lieutenant.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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  • Beria, Lavrenty Pavlovich — ▪ Soviet government official Beria also spelled Beriya born March 29 [March 17, old style], 1899, Merkheuli, Russia died Dec. 23, 1953, Moscow  director of the Soviet secret police who played a major role in the purges of Stalin s opponents.… …   Universalium

  • Beria, Lavrenty (Pavlovich) — born March 29, 1899, Merkheuli, Russia died Dec. 23, 1953, Moscow, Russia, U.S.S.R. Soviet politician and director of the Soviet secret police. He worked in intelligence and counterintelligence activities from 1921. As Communist Party head of the …   Universalium

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  • Lavrenty Beria — Lavrenti Beria /pictures/frwiki/60/ /pictures/frwiki/60/ Beria avec Staline et la fille de celui ci, /pictures/frwiki/60/Svetlana Lavrentiy Pavlovitch Beria (/pictures/frwiki/60/ …   Wikipédia en Français

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  • Béria — Lavrenti Beria /pictures/frwiki/60/ /pictures/frwiki/60/ Beria avec Staline et la fille de celui ci, /pictures/frwiki/60/Svetlana Lavrentiy Pavlovitch Beria (/pictures/frwiki/60/ …   Wikipédia en Français

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