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Iagoda, Genrikh Grigor’evich

(1891–1938), Soviet official. Genrikh Grigor’evich Iagoda (first known as Genokh Gershevich; last name also rendered Yagoda), was born in Iaroslavl’ province to the family of a Jewish artisan who made his living engraving and repairing jewels and watches. In his hometown, Iagoda completed only the four-grade elementary educational program, but later passed the examination of the gymnasium in Nizhnii Novgorod, the city in which in 1904 and 1905 he worked as a typesetter at an underground printing house.

In 1906 Iagoda was a member of an armed workers detachment, and in 1907 and 1908 he was affiliated with an anarchist–Communist organization. Following his arrest in 1911, Iagoda escaped under an assumed name to Moscow, where he was arrested again in 1912 and exiled for two years to Simbirsk (Urals). In 1913 and 1914, he worked as a statistician in Saint Petersburg and contributed to the journal Voprosy statistiki (Problems of Statistics). In 1914, Iagoda married Ida Averbach, niece of Iakov Sverdlov. He served in the army from 1914 to 1917. In 1917, he joined the Petrograd military organization of the Rossiiskaia Sotsial-Demokraticheskaia Rabochaia Partiia (Russian Social Democratic Workers Party), became a member of the city soviet, and was involved in publishing the newspaper Soldatskaia pravda (Soldiers’ Truth). From November 1917 until April 1918, he was editor in chief of the newspaper Krestianskaia bednota (Peasant Poverty).

In 1918 and 1919, Iagoda worked as an administrator for the Red Army Higher Military Inspectorate. He belonged to the Cheka (Soviet secret police) from November 1918, supervising its special department in 1919 and 1920. From 1920 to 1922, he was a member of the Cheka-GPU (Gosudarstvennoe Politicheskoe Upravlenie; State Political Directorate) collegium and served at the same time as administrative director of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Trade. He was deputy head of the GPU-OGPU (Ob”edinennoe Gosudarstvennoe Politicheskoe Upravlenie; Unified State Political Directorate) Secret Operational Directorate from 1921 to 1927, and from 1927 to 1929 he headed that body. From 1923 to 1929, he was simultaneously deputy head of the GPU-OGPU and from 1929 to 1934, its first deputy head. In July 1934, Iagoda became people’s commissar of internal affairs of the USSR, an office he held until September 1936, when he was appointed people’s commissar of railroads. After Sergei Kirov’s assassination in 1934, the Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs; NKVD), under Iagoda, initiated on Stalin’s instructions a terror campaign against many influential party members and prominent government officials. Iagoda personally conducted the interrogations and participated in the preparation of the public trials of Kamenev, Zinov’ev, and others.

The official reason for Iagoda’s 1936 removal from his position as head of the NKVD was Stalin’s dissatisfaction with Iagoda’s inability to “expose the Trotsky–Zinov’ev bloc” and the NKVD’s sluggishness in the struggle against “enemies of the people.” Probably, however, the actual reason was that Iagoda knew too much about Stalin’s role in the murder of Kirov.

Iagoda was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party from 1934 to 1937 and was awarded the Order of Lenin, the Red Star, and other medals. Arrested in March 1937 and stripped of all official titles within five days, he was indicted for anti-Soviet and counterrevolutionary activities at the trial of the “right-wing Trotskyist bloc,” which took place from 2 to 13 March 1938. A military tribunal found him guilty of “betraying the country, plotting armed insurrection, sabotage, terror,” and other charges, and sentenced him to death. He was executed that same month, in the presence of Chief Prosecutor Andrei Vyshinskii.

From 1924 to 1934, especially during his years at the Cheka-OGPU Special Department, Iagoda participated personally in persecuting and liquidating Zionist parties and organizations. Under Gorbachev, Iagoda’s sister filed a request for her brother’s rehabilitation. On 4 February 1988, the High Court of the USSR announced its refusal to do so.

Suggested Reading

Sergo Beriia, Moi otets–Lavrentii (Moscow, 1994); Nikita Petrov and Konstantin Skorkin, Kto rukovodil NKVD, 1934–1941: Spravochnik (Moscow, 1999).



Translated from Russian by Chaim Chernikov