Seventy years ago on Wednesday, on Dec. 1, 1934, a shot rang out that killed not only the Communist Party boss of Leningrad, but also marked the start of a wave of mass repressions by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
Sergei Kirov, a Politburo member, was shot dead in a corridor in the former Smolny Institute girls’ school about 4:30pm by Leonid Nikolayev, a former communist who not long before the assassination had been expelled from the party for “inappropriate behavior.”
But it is now widely believed by historians that Stalin organized Kirov’s slaying to get rid of a popular potential rival and as a pretext for a mass purge of the citizens of Leningrad, as St. Petersburg was then known, and the rest of the Soviet population.
Stalin hated the cultured city and the purges led by Kirov’s successor, Andrei Zhdanov, centered on it. Tens of thousands of citizens were arrested and it has been estimated a quarter of the city was arrested, deported or killed over the next two years.
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But the first 14 victims were just the beginning of what is today called the Great Terror that cost millions of Soviet citizens their lives in the years before World War II.
Historians estimate that from Jan. 1, 1935 until July 1, 1941 (Hitler attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941) more than 19.8 million people were arrested, including 7 million who were summarily convicted, often by troikas of three NKD secret police officers, and shot.
And of course, the death machine that is Communism rolls grimly along today.