Beria: Stalin's first lieutenant.
- Knight, Amy W. 1946-
- Princeton (N.J.) : Princeton University Press 1993
- Includes bibliographical references (pages 281-294) and index.
- Early life and career -- Service in the Georgian Political Police -- Leader of Georgia nd Transcaucasia : 1931-1936 -- The purges in Georgia -- Master of the Lubianka -- The war years -- Kremlin politics after the war -- Beria under fire : 1950-1953 -- The downfall of Beria -- The aftermath -- Beria reconsidered.
- This is the first comprehensive biography of Lavrentii Beria, Stalin's notorious police chief and for many years his most powerful lieutenant. Beria has long symbolized all the evils of Stalinism, haunting the public imagination both in the West and in the former Soviet Union. Yet because his political opponents expunged his name from public memory after his dramatic arrest and execution in 1953, little has been known about his long and tumultuous career. Now, drawing on sources made available since glasnost, Amy Knight describes in chilling detail the story of Beria's climb to the top of the Stalinist system, his complex relationship with Stalin, and his bitter struggle with Khrushchev after Stalin's death. The myths that once circulated about Beria in the absence of factual information created an unbalanced picture of his career, and obscured, among other things, the immense influence that he exerted over Stalin. "Our Himmler," Stalin called him in an exchange with Roosevelt at Yalta, and Knight reveals that the astute and intelligent Beria was just as important to Stalin as Himmler was to Hitler, if not more so. Born in 1899, twenty years after Stalin, Beria was not part of Stalin's generation of revolutionaries who fought against the tsar. But he was, like Stalin, a Georgian, and as police chief and later party chief of Georgia and Transcaucasia, he won Stalin's confidence. Moving to Moscow in 1938 to head the dreaded NKVD, Beria became responsible for all intelligence, counterintelligence, and domestic security during the prewar and war years. He also commanded the vast slave labor network of the GULAG, oversaw the evacuation of defense industries as the Germans advanced, and eventually took charge of the Soviet atomic bomb project. Knight sees Beria's skill at psychological manipulation as the key to his relationship with Stalin. Insecure even among his closest associates, Stalin surrounded himself mostly with malleable bureaucrats who lacked the insight to decipher his peculiar psychopathology. Beria was an exception to this rule. Playing on knowledge of their shared Georgian background, he flattered Stalin endlessly while feeding his ready suspicions with material from his police files. More than a sycophant, he was Stalin's alter ego, constantly at his side from the early 1940s on and able to exploit his neuroses as no one else could. Knight's work analyzes this deadly symbiosis, and then shows how it began to deteriorate. By 1950 Stalin distrusted Beria and was plotting to get rid of him. And at Stalin's deathbed in 1953, Beria could hardly contain his pleasure. Questioning key assumptions about Stalinist politics, Knight presents what is essentially a revisionist history of the Stalin period. She challenges the view, for example, that Stalin was all-powerful to the end of his life and demonstrates that Beria, however sinister, was actually the architect of the post-Stalin reforms that we normally associate with Khrushchev. On questions of nationality, foreign policy, economic affairs, and party-state relations, Beria eventually departed sharply from the Stalinist line. Nevertheless, we are left with no doubt that Beria was one of the most evil of men. "Beria heard everything," the Georgian writer Geronti Kikodze recalled, "even the whispers of love by a couple in bed and the leisurely conversations of his neighbors as they sat around their table." As for the shrieks of agony of his victims, Beria "was so inured to them that he probably would have been awakened by their ceasing as a miller would awake when the millstone stops its creaking."
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