The Night of the Murdered Poets: Remembering One of Stalin’s Forgotten Killing Sprees

Power kills. Absolute power kills too many to count. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin spoke with personal authority on the subject when he famously said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”

To write about any one or more massacres for which Stalin was responsible, one must first answer the question, “Which ones?” There are many. The slaughter of the kulaks during his collectivization campaigns of the 1930s. The Ukrainian Holodomor of 1932-33. The Great Purge of 1937. The killing of 22,000 Polish military officers and prisoners of war in the Katyn Forest in 1940. The mass deportations of various nationalities, accompanied by countless deaths, that he orchestrated throughout his 30 years in power. On and on. “Uncle Joe,” as Franklin Roosevelt called him, ranks as one of the top five mass murderers of the millennium.

One of Uncle Joe’s almost forgotten killing sprees took place on August 12, 1952 and is known in the history books as the Night of the Murdered Poets. On its 70th anniversary, let us remember both the victims and the larger lesson, namely, that concentrated and unrestrained power is ghastly, criminal business.

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