Did Stalin Employ Systematic Unacceptable Punishment Measures?

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On October 26th, 2021, Irakli Martinenko, the host at “Alt-Info,” said that systematically unacceptable forms of punishment, such as rape and similar methods, were not employed under Joseph Stalin’s rule.

Irakli Martinenko: „[In Stalin’s time] there was no such thing as a systematic use of unacceptable forms of punishment. Namely, crimes were not punished by drastic measures such as rape or something similar. Such thing did not occur.“

The claim of Irakli Martinenko does not depict the reality of that time. In fact, it was during the Stalin era when a large number of people, including those repressed in 1937, were punished by various cruel methods. For instance, mass rape was actively practised in the Gulags and prisons, often involving leaders as the main perpetrators.

  • Punishment Forms in Stalin’s Era

In 1938, the Soviet Union opened the Sukhanovka Prison in the south of Moscow, explicitly designed for enemies particularly dangerous to the state. The fortress was considered the most brutal place in that period and afterwards, utilizing the most inhuman methods to punish a person. Noteworthy,  USSR leaders were involved in the punishment process on specific occasions, and Lavrenty Beria was the most infamous in this regard.

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Sukhanovka Prison, Currently operating as a church;

Noteworthy, different punishment methods had their individual names:

  •  “Threshing the Rye”-  Beating prisoners on the most sensitive parts of their bodies to increase pain;
  • “Sukhanovka Swallow” – inmates were trussed up with a long towel that was forced between their lips like a horse’s bridle and then pulled down behind them and  tied under their feet.
  • “Tallow-boilers” –  In winter, prisoners would be dumped in barrels of icy water.

Noteworthy, these methods were often used to make the prisoners sign a confession. Among other forms of punishment were sleep deprivation, banning prisoners from sitting, prisoners having needles and pins forced under their fingernails, their fingers being crushed in a door, etc.

Among the prisoners was Russian director Vsevolod Meyerhold, whose letter on the history of torture still exists.

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Vsevolod Meyerhold

Vsevolod Meyerhold: “.. they beat me, a sick 65-year-old man. I was made to lie face down and beaten on the soles of my feet and my spine with a rubber strap; then they sat me on a chair and beat me hard on the legs with the same strap … For the next few days, when those parts of my legs were covered with extensive internal haemorrhaging, they again beat the red-blue-and-yellow bruises with the strap, and the pain was so intense that it felt as though boiling water was being poured on these sensitive areas. I yelled out and wept from the pain … My nerve endings were very close to the surface of my body and my skin was as tender and sensitive as a child’s, while my eyes turned out to be capable of weeping bucketsful of tears. Lying face down, I found myself writhing and squirming and howling like a dog being beaten by its owner. They would beat me on the old bruises and contusions, so my legs turned into a bloody mess. My interrogator kept repeating the same threat: “If you don’t sign a confession, we’ll go on beating you. We’ll leave your head and right hand alone, but we’ll turn the rest of you into a shapeless bloody lump of meat”. And I signed everything they wanted.”

It is essential to underscore that Joseph Stalin led the punishment process, and the Stalinist repressions, during which these cruel methods of punishment are carried out, were initiated by him. For example, on January 10th, 1939, Stalin wrote that the Central Committee of the Communist Party had allowed him “the use of physical means of persuasion,”  a term used in interrogations since 1937.

  • Punishment Forms and 1937 Repressions

The events of the Sukhanovka Prison were not only typical of that prison but was also used in other Soviet prisons and interrogation areas. For example, many Georgian public figures were punished in similar forms during the 1937 repressions.

  • Mikheil Javakhishvili – Lavrenti Beria himself actively participated in the punishment of Mikheil Javakhishvili. As Bondo Arveladze, a linguist and researcher of Mikheil Javakhishvili’s biography,  recalls, Javakhishvili was first interrogated and beaten by Beria and was later tormented with cruel methods.

Bondo Arveladze: “Javakhishvili was beaten with whips, then some whips were dipped in the saltwater … it was terribly painful … they beat his feet. His left hand was being crushed in a door, making him sign the protocol with the right hand.”

  • Sandro Akhmeteli – Georgian director Sandro Akhmeteli, who was tortured for 222 days, was also severely beaten and then taken to Rustaveli in an open car so that everyone could  see him in such a condition.
  • Tizian Tabidze – was also severely tortured in order to make him “confess” the espionage. As her granddaughter Nino Andriadze recalls, he  signed the protocol in a state of shaking.

Nino Andriadze: “He was terribly tortured before being shot. He had to write with hands shaking that he was a spy. They asked Tizian to name other spies working with him, and he named Giorgi Saakadze from Noste. They really went to look for Giorgi Saakadze.”

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Tizian Tabidze Punishment Protocol

  • Punishment Methods in Gulags

The forms of punishment in the Gulags were no different from those in prisons. Punishment was accompanied by hard and prolonged labour. Noteworthy, many women in Gulags were also repressed as victims of sexual violence, often involving Gulag rulers and officials. Despite the claims of Irakli Martinenko, the fact remains that rape was constantly taking place in such places.

As one of the prisoners, Shalamov, recalls, women were often raped by guards, which was constant. During transportation to the Gulag, women were often abused when male criminals paid bodyguards, receiving the “right” to violence. In many cases, male prisoners helped women to avoid becoming victims of sexual violence. It should be noted that this process lasted for years in the Stalin era, and no one interfered with it.

As one of the victims recalls:

“They raped according to the command of the tram “conductor” … then, on the command “кончай базар” [“stop the fun”] heaved off, reluctantly, giving up their place to the next man, who was standing in full readiness … dead women were pulled by their legs to the door, and stacked over the threshold. Those who remained were brought back to consciousness—water was thrown at them—and the line began again.”

In addition to privates, high-ranking officials were also involved in sexual violence. In this regard, Lavrenty Beria has been exposed to rape by many young women.


The article has been written in the framework of Facebook’s fact-checking program. You can read more about the restrictions that Facebook may impose based on this article via this link. You can find information about appealing or editing our assessment via this link.

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Topic: History
Violation: Disinformation
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