V. Chernousov, Letter to TsK VKP(b) on removal of Ezhov. December 10, 1938
Original Source: RTsKhIDNI, f. 17, op. 120, d. 298, ll. 90-91
As an ordinary citizen of the USSR I cannot help but comment on the removal of Ezhov from the NKVD leadership–an event of no small importance.
Appointed to the job to uncover betrayers and traitors and to purge the country of enemy elements, he himself caused as much harm as maybe all of the betrayers and traitors combined.
Along with elements hostile to Soviet rule, hundreds of thousands of absolutely innocent, honest people, some of them even devoted to Soviet rule, have been arrested and exiled. After all, there is now virtually not a single home in the country from which somebody is not in prison. The final result is a picture in which the whole country is against Soviet rule. Unheard-of brutalities have been committed in the process. People have been forced under severe torture to “confess” to crimes they never did. A wife is arrested only because her husband is in prison. Children have been left to the mercies of fate. None of the exiles’ relatives knows anything about them.
The result is a sharp contrast between what has been declared in our Constitution and the brutal, high-handed behavior that prevails in the country.
Not only do we have extremely low wages, not only are basic necessities unavailable, but to top it off nobody can be sure of not being in prison tomorrow. Is it hard after this to figure out what kind of attitudes exist among the masses. And this attitude was created by Ezhov. Two or three years ago the attitude was different.
According to tens and hundreds of thousands of people, Ezhov overlooked real spies and saboteurs. The fires and explosions at enterprises have not stopped, and they are undoubtedly plotted by saboteurs. It is na ve to think that the country has been completely purged of them. But Ezhov had his agents specialize in taking innocent citizens from their beds, while they forgot how to catch real saboteurs. On the contrary, they are even openly allowed into the country. The case of the pilot Lindbergh is a very striking one. When Runciman sent a report from Prague to London, Hitler knew what was in it, that is how the Gestapo works, but when an out-and-out spy and our enemy plans to slip into our country we just twiddle our thumbs, and we don’t know what he is bringing.
We will hope and want to hope that with Ezhov’s removal the nature of the NKVD’s work will change as well. We want to hope that Ezhov’s mistakes will be eliminated and corrected, that the NKVD will begin to really fight elements hostile to Soviet rule and that honest workers will be assured normal and tranquil working conditions.
10 December 1938
Source: Lewis Siegelbaum and Andrei Sokolov, eds., Stalinism as a Way of Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), Document 85.