Skoblin's History Blog

This blog is composed of articles and translations written by Skoblin pertaining to the Soviet Security forces, White Russian underground movements and Russian counter-revolutionary forces during the 1920s and 1930s. Skoblin can be reached at

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Yezhov File (I)

Resignation request from People's Commissar N. I. Yezhov, 23 November 1938.

Politburo TsK VKP(b)

23 November 1938.
To comrade Stalin

Top Secret

I request that the TsK [Central Committee] VKP(b) [All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)] relieve me from my duties for the following reasons:

1.The statement made by the Chief of the UNKVD [Local NKVD] Ivanovsk region, comrade Zhuravelev, which was discussed in the Politburo on 19 November 1938, is wholly corroborated by the facts mentioned therein. As is apparent from the statement, comrade Zhuravlev warned me about the suspicious behaviour of Litvin, Radzivilovsky and other leading officials of the NKVD, who were attempting to impede the cases involving several enemies of the people, with whom they were connected in regards conspiratorial anti-Soviet activity. This is the central fact for which I carry responsibility. Especially serious was the note sent by comrade Zhuravlev concerning the suspicious behaviour of Litvin, who was preventing in every way possible the exposure of Postyshev, with whom he was connected in conspiratorial work.It is evident that if I had displayed the attentiveness and diligence required of a Bolshevik regarding comrade Zhuravlev's warnings, the enemy of the people, Litvin, and other swine, would have been unmasked long ago and would not have been occupying responsible positions in the NKVD.

2. While comrade Zhuravlev's statement was being discussed at the Politburo session, additional completely intolerable deficiencies in the operational activity of the organs of the NKVD were disclosed. The main instrument of intelligence activity, agent-information work, proved to be supplied from a number of wretched sources. Foreign intelligence has to be essentially rebuilt, since the INO [Foreign Section] was littered with spies, many of which were the rezidents operating abroad, who were working with the agents they had uncovered. The investigation section also suffers from a number of significant deficiencies. The main problem here lay in the fact that the investigation of the most important arrested persons was in many cases led by conspirators within the NKVD, who had not yet been exposed. These conspirators succeeded in generally hindering the development of the cases, suppressing them from the start, and - most important - concealing their conspiratorial accomplices among the ChK [Cheka]officials. The most neglected section of the NKVD turned out to be the cadres. Failing to take into consideration, that the conspirators within the NKVD and the foreign intelligence agents they were connected with had succeeded in recruiting not only the leadership of the ChK, but also the middle section and often lower officials over a period of no less than ten years, I was content in having routed the leadership and most of the middle officials who had been compromised. As has now become clear, many of the newly promoted officials were also spies and conspirators. It is understood that I must carry responsibility for all of this.

3. The most glaring omission on my part involves the situation within the security section protecting members of the TsK and the Politburo. First, there was a significant number of unmasked conspirators and simply dirty individuals who had been associated with Pauker. Second, both Kursky, who had replaced Pauker and subsequently shot himself, and the now arrested Dagin, also turned out to be conspirators and had placed a number of their people within the security section. I had believed these two heads of the security section to be honest individuals. Having been mistaken in this regard, I must also bear responsibility. Without touching upon those objective facts which may, in the best case, explain some of my bad work, I wish only to dwell on my own personal guilt as leader of the People's Commissariat. First, it is completely obvious that I was not equal to the task of managing the work involved with such an important People's Commissariat, and failed to comprehend the full scale of the most complicated intelligence work. The fault is mine that I failed at the proper time to bring this issue before the TsK VKP(b) with the diligence of a Bolshevik. Second, the fault is mine that, having seen a number of significant deficiencies in work and, what is more, even criticizing these deficiencies within my People's Commissariat, I failed at the same time to bring these issues before the TsK VKP(b). Being content with individual successes, papering over the cracks, and floundering on my own, I attempted to rectify the problem. It was being corrected, but then I lost my nerve. Third, the fault is mine that I dealt with personnel administration in an utterly narrow-minded fashion. Many times, while not trusting an official politically, I dragged out the issue of his arrest, biding my time, while they picked up another recruit.For the same narrow-minded reasons, I was mistaken in my view of many officials, recommending them for positions of authority, only to have them exposed now as spies. Fourth, the fault is mine that I displayed a carelessness utterly intolerable for a Chekist in the matter of resolutely cleaning out the security section guarding the members of the TsK and the Politburo. This carelessness was particularly inexcusable in the matter of arresting the Kremlin conspirators (Bryukhanov and others). Fifth, the fault is mine that, while doubting the political reliability of such persons as the former head of the UNKVD DVK [Far Eastern Territory], the traitor Lyushkov, and the recent People's Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR, chairman Uspensky, I failed to take sufficient Chekist precaution and by that allowed Lyushkov the opportunity to escape to Japan and Uspensky to disappear, for whom the search continues. All this, taken together, makes it completely impossible to continue my work in the NKVD. Once more, I ask that I be relieved of my duties in the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs of the USSR. Despite these significant deficiencies and blunders in my work, I have to say that the daily efforts of the TsK NKVD has smashed a great number of enemies.

I offer my word and pledge as a Bolshevik before the TsK VKP(b) and before comrade Stalin that I will bear in mind all of these lessons in my further duties, that I will consider my mistakes, and will improve myself in any area that the TsK considers necessary to make use of me, and to justify the confidence given in me by the TsK.


I request that you give instructions not to touch my aged mother. She is 70 years old. She is guilty of nothing. I am the last of four children which she will have lost. She is a suffering, unhappy being.


Extract from the decision of the Politburo TsK VKP(b), 24 November 1938.

Protocol No. 65a, 24 November 1938.

P. 160. Statement of comrade Yezhov, N. I.

Having considered the statement of comrade Yezhov requesting to be relieved from his duties at the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs USSR and taking into consideration both the reasons set forth in this statement and his ill-health, which do not allow him the possibility to manage at the same time two large people's commissariats, - the TsK VKP(b) decrees:

1. To comply with the request of comrade Yezhov concerning his release from duties as the People's Commissar of Internal Affairs of the USSR.

2. To reserve for comrade Yezhov the duties of Secretary of the TsK VKP(b), Chairman of the Party Control Commission and People's Commissar of Water Transport.

Secretary TsK, Stalin


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