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Agents of Terror: Ordinary Men and Extraordinary Violence in Stalin’s Secret Police (University of Wisconsin Press), by Alexander Vatlin

Dec. 13, 2016
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Agents of Terror by Alexander Vatlin

While conducting research in Soviet-era archives, Alexander Vatlin, history professor at Moscow State University, discovered secret police records from the Kuntsevo district dating from the worst years of Stalin’s purges, 1937-1938. Agents of Terror examines how Stalinist oppression played out locally as police agents were given quotas to fill for number of convictions resulting in imprisonment or execution. Eschewing waterboarding or other elaborate tortures, NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) agents simply beat up prisoners reluctant to sign the formulaic confessions written for them. On one level their procedures differed little from American law enforcement: They played good cop-bad cop and cut sentencing deals for those who cooperated. Vatlin finds that a mixture of careerism and fear motivated the agents, many of them eventually devoured by the machinery of death they had helped to operate.

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