Joseph Stalin came to power in 1924, replacing Lenin as Soviet leader, and embarked on a campaign that became known as “The Great Purge”. During the 30s Stalin targeted his opponents within the Communist party, the army and the intelligentsia. One of the big trials at the time was against former senior members of the communist party. They were accused of conspiring with the West against Stalin and his regime.
Mass executions are said to have come to an end by 1938 but raids by the secret police and imprisonment continued until the 50s. Millions of people, from various social and political circles, were rounded up and sent to labour camps. At the end of the purges, it is said that almost all of the Bolsheviks who played a part in the revolution of 1917, or had roles in Lenin’s government, were dead.
The families of many of those killed are still fighting to have their names cleared, but it is a complex process for officials trying to address past errors. Vladimir’s father was sent to a labour camp soon after the Red Army rescued him from a nazi camp. The charge was collaboration. He said: “I still remember the huge faces of the men who told me you’re a dog, son of the public enemy, because at the time, if your father was captured as a prisoner of war, that’s what happened.”
70 years after the purges, only a few thousand victims are still alive. Their supporters say they have never been properly compensated and many have struggled to earn a living.