Secret History of Stalin’s Purge (110)

Chapter 28 – Vyshinsky

Unaware of the inner workings of the Moscow trials, world public opinion almost universally believes that Prosecutor General Vyshinsky was also one of the main directors of these farces. It is also believed that this man had an extremely significant influence on the fate of the accused. It is not surprising that this view emerged, knowing that the real organizers of these trials (Yagoda, Yezhov, Molchanol, Agranov, Zakovsky, etc.) were always behind the scenes, while it was Vyshinsky who was officially introduced as the chief prosecutor; he appeared in the “open” court trials.

The reader will be surprised if I tell you that Vyshinsky himself tried to guess what special methods the Ministry of Internal Affairs used to successfully break down and destroy the will of the famous Leninists and force them to slander themselves.

One thing was clear to Vyshinsky: the defendants were innocent, and as an experienced prosecutor he could see that their confessions were not supported by any objective evidence of guilt. Moreover, the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs found it necessary to lay certain cards on Vyshinsky and show him those dangerous places that he should try to avoid in court.

This is all that Wisinski knew. The core secrets of the interrogation were not allowed to be made known to him. No leader of the Interior Ministry had the right to reveal to him Stalin’s instructions, the interrogation methods, the torture methods used to torture each arrested person, or the negotiations Stalin held with the main defendants. Not only could Wisinski not influence the fate of the defendants, he did not even know the content of the verdict prepared in advance for each of them.

A world-renowned American journalist, a woman, once confused many people abroad with an article. This lady wrote about Vyshinsky as a monster, saying that he actually sent his past friends – Kamenev, Bukharin and many others – to hell. In fact, they were never Vyshinsky’s friends. Both in the days of the October Revolution and during the civil war, they were antagonistic. Vyshinsky was a Menshevik until 1920. I think that many old Bolsheviks probably first heard of this surname in the early thirties, when Vyshinsky was appointed attorney general. And they saw the man with their own eyes no earlier than 1935, when they had been taken before a military tribunal and charged with involvement in the assassination of Kirov.

The NKVD leadership treated Vyshinsky not only with mistrust, but also with an air of arrogance, just as the powerful bureaucrats under Stalin who carried party tickets in their pockets treated those who opposed the party. Even in lecturing him on how he should be careful with accusations that he was not sure of. They were never open and honest with him either.

Wisinski had reason to resent these empty-eyed masters. He understood that he had to improvise in the courtroom in every way possible to compensate for their poor work, and had to use his argumentation to push through the silly farfetches in each case. He also knew that if these frauds were exposed in court, the executioners would use him as a scapegoat, or at least label him as a “saboteur”.

The heads of the Interior Ministry also had reasons to hate Wisinski. First of all, they despised him for having been a prisoner of the Organ: in the Organ’s archives there was a record of his past accusations of anti-Soviet activity. Secondly, they were jealous of him – the world, which watched the sensational trials, focused all its attention on him, while they, the real authors of the amazing farce, were destined to hide behind the scenes. They were the ones who created the horrific conspiracy with the so-called “something out of nothing” method, and they were the ones who went to incredible lengths and efforts to destroy and tame each of the accused.

As a former prisoner in the Lubyank building, Vyshinsky feared both the building and the people who worked in it. Although in the Soviet hierarchy of cadres he was already higher than someone like Morchanov, the head of the Secret Political and Public Works Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, he had to keep a humble smile on his face when he was first notified to meet Morchanov. As for Yagoda, his entire reward to Vyshinsky was to have summoned him once during the preparation of the first Moscow trial.

Vyshinsky was extraordinarily diligent in carrying out the tasks assigned to him by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Throughout the three public trials, he remained on high alert, ready to counter any hint, even the most subtle, of their innocence made by the defendants. Using the support of the defendants (who were in a self-defeating contest with each other), Wisinski pulled out all the stops to show the world that the defendants’ guilt had been proven in its entirety and that there was nothing suspicious about them. In his prosecutorial speeches, he always lost no Time in blowing up the “great leaders and mentors,” while invariably calling for the death penalty for all the defendants.

He himself was eager to live, which was the primary reason why he worked so hard.