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December 20: Jews and the Secret Police

December 20, 2011
Cheka, the first incarnation of the Soviet secret police (NKVD), was established on this date in 1917. Many Jews played leading roles in the secret police, and even more fell victim to it. “About 40 percent of high-ranking NKVD officers had Jewish nationality recorded in their identity documents,” writes Yale University professor Timothy Snyder in Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, “as did more than half of the NKVD generals. . . . The Great Terror could be, and by many would be, blamed on the Jews.” “At the time when the NKVD was killing members of national minorities, most of its leading officers were themselves members of national minorities.... In carrying out these ethnic massacres, which of course they had to if they wished to preserve their positions and their lives, they comprised an ethic of internationalism, which must have been important to some of them. Then they were killed anyway . . . and usually replaced by Russians.” —Timothy Snyder