Nikolai Ivanovich YEZHOV


Written by Comrade TL

First posted 990121
major change y10724
latest change y10831

Essay copyright © 1999, 2001 by Comrade TL
TL solicits comments and further information from others who know about N.I. Yezhov, or about Professor T.D. Lysenko. TL can be contacted via this E-mail address:

Nikolai Ivanovich YEZHOV

Kolya and Kostya, nicknames.
Kolyushenka, nickname of endearment.

Born May 1, 1895 on the outskirts of Leningrad to a poor worker family. Biological father might have been Ivan Vasilievich Yezhov, a small wine dealer. This person is listed in the 1895 directory but it is not certain if this is Nikolai's biological father or even a relation.

He had 2-3 years of Primary Education. Was working at the age of 14 at a factory. He worked at textiles and machinery. In 1910 he was apprenticed as a tailor. In 1911 he was apprenticed as a mechanic, he was 16 years old. In 1913 he was drafted into the Tsarist Russian army but was not sent into combat during WWI. He may have been used as a skilled mechanic behind the lines. Western chauvinism about "height" would like to insinuate that Yezhov was "too short" to be in the front lines of the army, but this is nonsense. MANY Slavic people are short, just as many Mexican and Chinese people are short. Height is diet dependent for the most part. This writer can be chauvinistic too: most tall people look like bean poles or geeks. Most shorter people are proportioned better and look prettier or nicer. Another FACT to consider is that everyone I happen to show pictures of Yezhov to, immediately think he is Hispanic! Does someone get an idea from this, that those who hate him are prejudiced? They don't harp on the physical characteristics of J. Edgar Hoover or condemn him for DOING what Yezhov wanted to do (which he wrote of in his thesis about opposition and counter-revolutionary activities), and the only people who criticize J. Edgar Hoover in the USA are Leftists! GET A CLUE.

He joined the Bolshevik Party on May 5, 1917 in Vitebsk before the Bolshevik Revolution in October (Nov) 1917. September 1917 he began working as a mechanic at a Vitebsk railroad yard. August 1918 he worked at a glass factory as a policeman. April 1919 he enlisted in the Red Army. He was a technical student at a newly developing radio base in Saratov and on September 1, 1919, was chosen as the base commander's personal operator. October 18, 1919, he became Military Commissar of the school. He had the aptitude for mixing with and remembering large numbers of people; had a good reputation with the staff of the school; he acknowledged his technical weaknesses and knew when to ask advice and when to let people do their jobs. Early 1920, Yezhov and the non-Party school director, S. Ya. Magnushevsky, were court marshaled for allowing 20 deserters to attend the school, but their motives were ruled honorable and they were let off with probation. In April 1921, Yezhov was promoted to be Political Commissar for the whole base. He got along with non-Party base commander A. T. Uglov, a top engineer. In February 1922, Yezhov was appointed Responsible Secretary of the Party Organization in the Mari Autonomous Region and in March, he and his first wife arrived at Yoshkar-Ola. On September 1922, he was recalled to Moscow. In March 1923, Yezhov was appointed Responsible Secretary of the Semipalatinsk Provincial Party Committee. In June 1924 he resigned because he felt he was not up to the job. In 1926-1927, he was a protege of Ivan Machailovich Moskvin, entrusted by Stalin to find and remove potential oppositionists from the Party. On November 1927 he was appointed Moskvin's Deputy in the Assignments and Records Department of the Central Committee. Moskvin's wife Sofya liked Yezhov and encouraged him to come by and spend evenings at their apartment. Yezhov got along well with his co-workers. In December 1929 he was appointed Deputy Commissar of Agriculture, highly responsible at the beginning of collectivization. In November 1930, after Moskvin was transferred, Yezhov was brought back to replace him as Head of the Assignments and Records Department, he resigned as Deputy People's Commissar of Agriculture. Yezhov's first meeting with Stalin took place this same month. December 8, 1931, he was confirmed a member of the Presidium, All Union Council for Municipal Economy. In January 1933, a Central Purge Commission was created with Yezhov as a member. Kaganovich encouraged Yezhov to arrange OGPU/NKVD surveillance of the Seventeenth Party Congress in February 1934.

September 26, 1936, he was appointed Head of the NKVD and Member of Presidium Central Executive Committee. This is where Yezhov took over Yagoda's job. January 27, 1937, he was appointed General Commissar State Security Forces OF the NKVD, that is, he was Head of the NKVD, AND General Commissar of the GUGB which was within the NKVD. This is the crucial moment. See post NKVD-INFO. Here is where Yezhov started to get sick and here is where he started to fall. The network of co-conspirators he had sought (and failed) to find and purge WAS ALL IN the GUGB!!! January 19, 1938, he was appointed member of Council of People's Commissars (SOVNARKOM). August 21, 1938, he was confirmed People's Commissar of Water Transport (this was tantamount to his downfall as now Beria was the defacto Head of the NKVD).

In 1963, while in prison in Vladimir, Stepan Mamulov and Boris Ludvigov, heads of Beria's secretariat, told Pavel Sudoplatov that two regional directors of NKVD Departments in Yaroslavl and Khazakstan wrote to Stalin in 1938, falsely claiming that Yezhov hinted to them the immenent arrests of members of the Soviet leadership. (There may have been an actual letter supposedly from Yezhov stating this since Alexei Rybin, Stalin's bodyguard, claimed to have seen such a letter signed by Yezhov in the film about him and Stalin.) Within weeks Yezhov was charged with plotting to overthrow the government and removed as NKVD head and the Politburo passed a resolution denouncing all senior NKVD officials as politically unreliable. This led to the full scale purge within the NKVD. (The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness-Soviet Spymaster Special Tasks, Sudoplatov, p 59.) And to think, Beria used to call Yezhov "dorogoy Ezoick" (dear Yozick), a friendly diminutive of his family name and pat him on the back.

People who hated Yezhov called him "bloody dwarf": Zhestoki karlik, literally cruel dwarf .
Chyortovski karlik, literally infernal dwarf. From "Chyort" - devil.

People who liked him called his policies Yezhovye rukavitsy, a pun on his name after "derzhat v yezhovykh rukavitsakh" to grip with hedgehog gloves or "rule with an iron hand" expression in English street lingo: "the man was a hard ass, he didn't take any shit." (In fact, very much like J. Edgar Hoover, though Yezhov never really got to DO the things Hoover did. (See "Agents of Repression" by Ward Churchill and Jim vander Wall.)

Name is pronounced: "YE" (as in yes) and "ZHOV" - the "zh "sound is a vocalized "sh" sound, or a "j" as the French would say it in "dejure." It would be divided as Yezh-ov, "ov" meaning "family of," eg Roman-ov. "Zh" is one letter in Cyrillic (Russian alphabet) as is "Ye." A correct rendering of his name using our alphabet would be Yezhov, literally Ye-Zh-O-V. This name is four letters in Russian. When people spell it "Ezhov" they are transliterating the "Zh" letter from Russian to English, but NOT doing the same for the "Ye" letter. It's irksome!
Accent on second syllable: yezh-OV.

Yezhov had black hair, "a shock of black hair," and green eyes and, to paraphrase Roy Medvedev, was a rather SHY GUY, very friendly to work with also, by all accounts prior to his promotion to Head of NKVD. He was an orphan at 12 years of age and adopted by the Shlyapnikov family, Bolsheviks. It would not matter if Nikolai had biological or half brothers or sisters or if his biological father or mother were still alive and around somewhere, but not acting as his parents. It is possible that Ivan Ivanovich Yezhov (arrested 1939, shot 1940) was his brother and Yevdokia Ivanovna (Yezhova) Babulina (died 1958) was his sister. (One has to be clear about what is MEANT in Soviet culture by the word "orphan." Oksana Baiul, the former Soviet Gold Medal ice skating champ, has a biological father and a step father, yet she is considered by all an orphan. Documentaries of her life and a movie about her maintained that she was an orphan. Obviously, the word "orphan" has a different meaning in the USSR. She may have half brothers and/or sisters, too, though it is said that she is on her own, all alone.) Medvedev's view is that Stalin pressured Yezhov to be harsher, more cruel and so forth. Also there is Radzinsky's new book "Stalin" that has quite a lot more on Yezhov from archival material. Neither of these two writers are sympathetic to the Soviet system or Stalin, by the way. Yezhov was no drug addict; he just drank a lot in the end. He may have taken medicine for pain, evidence from letters to him from other Comrades show that he was not well, was not eating or sleeping well. Near the end of Yezhov's life but AROUND THE TIME HE GOT INVOLVED WITH THE GUGB, 1937, he was known to have had flu-like symptoms, tooth loss, a mangy appearance and persecution or paranoid delusions. It was suspected by some that he may have been poisoned. Naturally, his having taken to drink during this time, would mask symptoms.

According to POISON CONTROL and SCI.MED information from doctors, there is definitely reason to suspect poisoning with these symptoms - especially if Yezhov was normal as he was assessed by EVERYONE who knew him prior to this period of time. MERCURY or other heavy metals given at low dosage for a time, or even arsenic possibly, would produce these symptoms. Given the date, 1930's, mercury would have been easy to get and poison a person with and arsenic was something many people used to kill their enemies those days. It would be easy to determine if forensic experts could produce the body and do an autopsy.

He was not lame. He was not so unusually short being 5'or 5'1" tall and since many Hispanics, Asian, and other Slavs are also short - so what? He was definitely not a dwarf (but why would people say this? Are they trying to slander dwarfs along with their slanders of Yezhov? ) Yezhov was an exceptionally HANDSOME man, however. He was also a very good singer, his favorite song was "Ty nye veysya chornyi voron." He was shy and friendly. The job he had to do, what it led to him finding out about what he believed were trusted and honest comrades, made him crack.

Before summer 1921, Yezhov married Antonina Alexeyevna Titova (1896-1988). She was a fellow Party activist. In 1930-31, they divorced. She later retired on disability in 1946 and died of old age in Moscow in 1988. Yezhov then married Yevgenia Solomonovna Feigenberg. She had formerly been married to Lazar Khayutin. She met Yezhov in the late 1920's and divorced Khayutin but then married Alexi Fyodorovich Gladun, a journalist and diplomat. They (her and Gladun) went on assignment to London and Berlin where she had an affair, whilst married to Gladun, with Soviet writer Isaak Babel. Not long after her return, Yezhov fell in love with her at a Black Sea resort, and dated her. They then married. As is said, Yevgenia Feigenberg (Khayutina, Gladuna), now Mrs. Yezhova, Yezhov's wife, formerly had an affair with Isaak Babel whilst in Berlin, Germany in 1927 and whilst married to her second husband. Then, in 1936, when she was Editor of "USSR in Construction," she got Babel a job where she worked, even though he was under suspicion, as were others who had former foreign contacts. She threw parties in her home for musicians, artists, diplomats and writers, including her ex-lover Isaak Babel. And she got her ex-lover a job. Yezhov was overworked (i.e., hardly at home). Figure it out.

He had a 6 year old daughter, was living with her and his mother in a modest Kremlin apartment in 1937. The daughter was put into an orphanage in Penza after Yezhov's death. She received 7 years of education and then trade school; she worked in a watch factory and went to music school. She then asked to be assigned to far Eastern Siberia, Kolyma region, where she worked as a music teacher. She said this herself in 1995 when interviewed. After Yevgenia's death, an aunt, Marfa Grigorievna came to care for her. His mother (living with him) was Anna Anatolievna, 70 years old; his daughter is Natalya Nikolaevna Yezhova. It is possible this child was adopted when she was 4, in 1936, by Yezhov and his wife. It is also possible that she was Yezhov's daughter by his first wife - her patronymic fits: Nikolaevna. When interviewed, she had fond memories of her father.

Yezhov not only cracked and took to drink, didn't eat or sleep right, but later on, after he was relieved of his job as NKVD chief and transferred to Water Transport, he poisoned his wife out of jealousy and/or suspicion. Beria knew he was mentally ill and probably told Stalin. Couldn't have the former Chief of the NKVD going around half crocked and cracked like that.

All sorts of dates record when he "vanished." Or that he became the object of Stalin's suspicions, but no one knows why. "Last heard of in January 1939. Executed shortly after his arrest." Or "arrested April 10, 1939, shot February 4, 1940." Some evidence points to Yezhov being held in Sukhanov prison and interrogated by Beria. Zhdanov and other Politburo people opposed Yezhov and how arbitrary the arrests and investigations became. Of note, Stalin wanted to replace Yezhov with Malenkov. The Politburo wanted Lavrenty Beria!

Another source claims that he was picked up at night by an ambulance and brought, in a straight jacket, to Serbsky Psychiatric Institute because he murdered his wife and was otherwise in a mental state almost catatonic and delirious. There, he hung himself with his underwear: committed suicide. It would not have sounded "right" to reveal all this smut at the time, so other stories circulated later on about him being a spy of one sort or another (yet there was never a show trial!), and, of course, as a spy he'd have been shot, hence the archival record that Radzinsky found: "officially" he was tried and shot, but no show trial. If he was at any of the prisons for almost one year (4/10/39 - 2/4/40) he'd have been SEEN and everyone would have known it - he wouldn't have been thought to have vanished off the face of the earth. At Serbsky, he would NOT have been seen except by one or MAYBE two doctors and MAYBE, some attendants if they let attendants see him. Serbsky was not an Ordinary Psychiatric Hospital under the Ministry of Health, but was a Special Psychiatric Hospital under the NKVD (later on it was under the MVD and was under the MVD at least up until the 1970's). (There are some former NKVD folks that knew him quite well and were alive and well.) Yezhov's story is not that of a mad murderer, but that of a tragic figure, the wrong man for the job, too shy, too nice, who had to uncover a nest of the same profiteering, sabotaging scum that US Ambassador Davies found out about which, as Dzerzhinsky said, can break the spirit and mind of anyone not up to the task. (Likewise, there are about 3 official versions of how Beria died and some more non-official ones, including one Khrushchev told where he himself shot Beria! Which one is the truth?)

N.V. Petrov and K.V. Skorkin, "Kto rukovodil NKVD, 1934-1941: Spravochnik" (Moscow: Zven'ia, 1999), pp. 184-185 lists an arrest date of April 10, 1939, and says he was sentenced to be shot on February 4, 1940 and shot February 6, 1940. The biography by Aleksei Polianskii, "Ezhov: Istoriia 'zheleznogo' stalinskogo narkoma" (Moscow: Veche/Aria-AiF, 2001) confirms this date of arrest (pg. 197) and provides an arrest summary by a NKVD Captain named Shepilov dated April 11, 1939, further confirming this date (pp. 216-217). The date of sentence is confirmed with a notice of a NKVD Lt. Krivitskii (pg. 306).

Other source for Yezhov being taken to a lunatic asylum is Budu Svanidze, Stalin's nephew.* Budu got into a conversation with Beria because Yezhov had arrested a score of engineers that Budu felt were innocent. In this conversation, Beria told him that "we're going to have to have him shut up in an asylum soon, along with his aide." The aide was Zukovsky, a former mental patient before the revolution; also there was a rumor that Yezhov spent time in a "yellow house (lunatic asylum) once in his home town of Rostov on the Don." During this conversation, Beria told Budu that Stalin was ill for awhile and was known to have NOT BEEN paying attention to what Yezhov was up to; that Yezhov doesn't even always follow Stalin's orders. When Budu went to see Stalin to protest the arrest of the engineers, Stalin told his nephew that he planned to make Beria the head of a committee to reorganize the NKVD. According to Budu, in the end, it was said that Yezhov was half-mad, a sadist and a victim of persecution mania; no one dared to defy him, not even Politburo members. Molotov was on bad terms with Yezhov, too. Beria became the head of the NKVD 3 months after Budu's conversation with Stalin; Beria did release the engineers who he thought to be innocent. Another source for Yezhov at Serbsky is Thaddeus Wittlin. Both are possible, Serbsky and a prison: if Yezhov tried to kill himself at Serbsky and failed, and then was transferred to Sukhanov. *(If Budu is not actually who he claims to be, then, due to the intricate and personal, even trivial details he knows that have only recently come out about Stalin, then Stalin wrote the book himself and hired a person to claim to be Budu Svanidze. No one could possibly know some of the intimate details except Stalin himself or Budu if he was who he claimed to be and was where he claimed to have been when certain things happened.)

Additional information on Yezhov can be found in the book "Stalinist Terror, New Perspectives" in many of the chapters, not just the chapter entitled "Narkom Yezhov." Just who he was, his work history, and why Stalin picked him is made clear in this book of essays with clear, archival facts and statistics. Stalin did NOT hire Yezhov to purge any old Bolsheviks (aside from that, Stalin and others close to him WERE old Bolsheviks). It was middle management, some trained management from the older days that got purged. The "Civil War scum that crept their way into the party" as Yezhov himself said; they were purged. Why? Because the Yezhovshchina coincided with the Stakhanovite movement which was a lot more than just "doing more than your quota." New WAYS of doing things were involved, innovations, quicker and more utilitarian ways, novel ways, and this all tended to grate on the old tried and true "can't teach an old dog new tricks" types; the old way of brutalizing employees as was normal during Czarist times with those Civil War Whites pretending to be Reds. Obstructers were REMOVED. A certain group of people, sort of as a class, were definitely removed, but this was not "old Bolsheviks."

No one can prove who Yezhov DID NOT get. Statistics can only show who he did get, with evidence showing that the old information was totally wrong. (See Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives by Getty and Manning). The information I uncovered on the NKVD and its history, going back to Dzerzhinsky, indicates that the oppositionists Yezhov yelled about not getting were some very well networked people that went way back in time: what was in the GUGB. Yezhov said that he purged (does not necessarily mean he executed them) 14,000 Chekists. He focused on the province areas and thought the ones in Moscow, Leningrad and N. Caucasus were clean. He was wrong - OBVIOUSLY so. In the past he had exposed a spy named Sosnovsky but Yagoda bickered and didn't arrest him - he let him work in the provinces. Again, Yezhov had to arrest this man and then expose Mironov and others - again Yagoda hindered him. Yagoda was THE CONNECTION between the Right and Left Oppositions. Yagoda was also the one who bickered and stalled any inquiry into the repeated anti- Communist actions of Zinoviev and Kamenev despite the fact that these two men had been against LENIN long before Stalin came to power. See Post NKVD- INFO.TXT It is easy to follow the thread of this opposition if knowledge of Dzerzhinsky and the original MULTI-party CheKa VERSUS the NKVD back then, is available. This IS available - it can be traced as easily as J. Edgar Hoover (former Head of FBI) would be able to trace such a thing. These people in both oppositions were capitalists of many sorts and favored the NEP. They never went away. OBVIOUSLY. State capitalism took over after Khrushchev put in his plans and capitalism collapsed in 1991. They never even achieved socialism the way the Scandinavian countries have it. There was too much opposition to them doing this from outside primarily and then from within.

One more note on the recent "unveiling" of KGB files, files that appear to confirm the worst suspicions of J. Edgar Hoover. In lieu of the political situation and the over-done, over-much hype in the xUSSR about the Stalin days, these files are not to be trusted. It would be easier than ever to simply take photos of these Americans from back in the 1940's, 1950's, and paste them up on a nicely made "KGB" file. Recently, Yeltsen handed a file on Oswald to President Clinton. It would interesting to see what this has to say since testimony, in the form of memoirs, have also come forth from Joseph Bonanno, a former Godfather - and from this testimony it is more than clear that the "Mafia" got rid of President John F. Kennedy - even which families had to do each step of the assassination is revealed. This Godfather, in his 90's now, has nothing to gain OR lose by admitting all of this.

Click here for photo of N. I. Yezhov waving his hand.

The Secrets of War television documentary mentioned that Yezhov was a martial arts expert. The following information has been obtained.

History of russian martial arts:

Russia is a huge country with a remarkable combat history, with diverse population, geography and climate, with rich and fascinating culture and traditions. For centuries these factors have contributed to the formation of an incredible variety of martial arts styles. Here are some examples:

See also:

An index of Comrade TL's writings at redcomrades.html

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