Agents of Terror: Ordinary Men and Extraordinary Violence in Stalin’s Secret Police
In the Great Terror of 1937–38 more than a million Soviet citizens were arrested or killed for political crimes they didn’t commit. What kind of people carried out this violent purge, and what motivated them? This book opens up the world of the Soviet perpetrator for the first time. Focusing on Kuntsevo, the Moscow suburb where Stalin had a dacha, Alexander Vatlin shows how Stalinism rewarded local officials for inventing enemies. Agents of Terror reveals stunning, detailed evidence from archives available for a limited time in the 1990s. Going beyond the central figures of the terror, Vatlin takes readers into the offices and interrogation rooms of secret police at the district level. Spurred at times by ambition, and at times by fear for their own lives, agents rushed to fulfill quotas for arresting “enemies of the people” —even when it meant fabricating the evidence. Vatlin pulls back the curtain on a Kafkaesque system, forcing readers to reassess notions of historical agency and moral responsibility in Stalin-era crimes.