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Great Purges

In the 1930s, Joseph Stalin, then supreme ruler of the Soviet Union, became paranoid. Anyone perceived as having even the remote potential to threaten his authority, including some of his strongest political supporters, and most army officers, were systematically executed or exiled to the Gulag in Siberia, in a period that became known as the Great Purges.

The most intense period was from 1936 to 1938, while Yezhov was head of the NKVD. In Moscow, several show trials were held, to serve as examples for the trials that local courts were expected to carry out elsewere in the country. Almost all of the Bolsheviks who had played prominent roles during the 1917 Russian Revolution, or in Lenin's Soviet government afterwards, were executed or exiled during this period.

There were four key trials from 1936 to 1938, The Trial of the Sixteen was the first (December 1936); then the Trial of the Seventeen (January 1937); then the trial of Red Army generals, including Marshal Tukhachevsky[?] (June 1937); and finally the Trial of the Twenty One in March 1938.

Millions were arrested and sent off to the gulags. By summer 1938, everyone in power realised that the purges had gone too far, and Yezhov was demoted to "People's Commissar of Water Transport" on August 21st. Lavrenty Beria then became head of the NKVD. This signaled the end of the Great Purges, although the practice of mass arrests and exilement was continued until Stalin's death in 1953.



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