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Top 5 most murderous dictators of all times

Updated on August 20, 2015

Throughout the centuries, mankind has known many different dictators in multiple countries. All were notorious for the countless murders and other cruelties they caused. But which five dictators are leading the ranks in terms of amount of murders they committed? The answer can be found in this article and you may be surprised about the outcome. WARNING: this article contains shocking, factual details.

5. Hideki Tojo (1884 – 1948), 4-5 million deaths
Hideki Tojo was de facto dictator of Japan between 1941 and 1944, though he never wielded power like Hitler or Stalin did. Despite having been willing to come to an agreement with the United States at first, he gave the order for the attack on Pearl Harbor, thus making Japan a participant in World War II. By that point, he had already been at war with China since 1937. Both wars would last until 1945 and end in defeat for the Japanese dictator. After Japan’s capitulation in 1945, he tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest. His attempt to take his own life failed however and not too long afterwards he got arrested by the Allied Forces. He was held responsible for the deaths of approximately 4 to 5 million Chinese people. During the Process of Tokyo in 1948, he was found guilty for starting wars with several countries and inhuman treatment of war prisoners. Tojo was sentenced to death and hanged in Tokyo on the 23d of December in the same year.


4. King Leopold II of Belgium (1835 – 1909), 10 million deaths
Perhaps this is the most surprising name of this top 5. In 1884, this monarch succeeded in obtaining internationally recognized, personal sovereignty over Congo after years of diplomacy and preparations. As a result, the King of Belgium became dictator of Congo as well. The next 23 years following his accomplishment would end up in the history books as one of the darkest eras the African country had ever known: genocide, slavery, kidnappings, torture, rape, decapitations and amputations characterized the monarch’s reign of terror. The latter happened in particular to Congolese children, if they would fail to collect satisfactory amounts of rubber. Amputated hands were smoked and sent to Belgian contractors so they could be counted. About a ton of amputated hands was counted on a daily basis. The exact amount of deaths caused by Leopold’s regime is unknown because this number was never recorded, but after a lot of research, Belgian authorities presented a rough estimate of at least 10 million deaths. Bizarre fact: Leopold never once visited Congo in person.


3. Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945), 15 – 20 million deaths
You may have wondered where in this top 5 he would show up, but here he is, on the third place: Adolf Hitler, the Austrian-born dictator who ruled Germany between 1933 and 1945. In order to establish and develop a German Empire, his National Socialist Party aimed to purge the Arian race of ‘impure’ influences of other races. To reach this goal, entire deportation and concentration camps were erected. To Hitler and those who followed him, eradicating the Jews was a main goal. Even medical experiments, one even more gruesome than the other, were performed in Hitler’s prison camps. Camp Auschwitz in particular was notorious for these practices, which were led there by Dr. Josef Mengele – known to many by the nickname ‘Angel of Death’. The experiments he and his assistants performed are part of the most horrific ones mankind has ever known. They varied from exposure to cold temperatures till death followed to experiments in vacuum chambers, from amputating limbs to the removal of organs (reportedly without anesthesia!) and trying out new medical treatments and medicines on prisoners. One of his experiments consisted of attempting to create a Siamese Twins by stitching the ears of identical twins together (on a side note: this experiment failed). These practices were part of the National Socialist regime, which ended up costing the lives of an estimated 15 to 20 million citizens.


2. Josef Stalin (1878 – 1953), 20 – 43 million deaths
This is a dictator you may have expected to appear somewhere in this top 5. But did you also expect that this man is accountable for far more deaths than Hitler? Four years after Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin succeeded in ceasing power over the Soviet-Union following a power struggle between him and his rival Leon Trotsky (who in 1940 was assassinated by a secret agent in Mexico at his orders). His reign, which lasted until his death in 1953, was characterized by countless executions, torture, famine as a result of collectivizing agriculture, numerous people being sent to gulags (prison camps) in Siberia and the eliminations of political rivals. This happened in particular during the ‘30s during the so-called ‘Great Purges’, which started with the assassination of Sergej Kirov, a follower of Stalin who was yet distrusted by him due to his popularity among the Russian people. Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev, two other political rivals of Stalin, were held responsible for the murder and executed in 1936. This way, the Red Czar dealt with three political rivals at once. After Kirov’s assassination, Stalin ironically introduced an emergency law which he named after him. In a nut shell, this so-called ‘Kirov Law’ enabled Stalin and his government to prosecute anyone who was thought to be against them without any form of trial. Based on this law, two million people were either executed or sent to the gulags during the first three years following its introduction. The Great Purges also caused the Soviet-Union to suffer huge losses when Germany invaded. After all, an astonishing 35,000 officers of the Red Army, including three out of five Marshals, were either fired, executed or imprisoned. During World War II, the prosecutions slowed down, but they soared once again in the aftermath, when Stalin was hailed as the Great Leader who had won the Great Patriotic War. The Red Czar’s iron rule cost the lives of an estimated 20 to 42.8 million people.


1. Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976), 40 – 78 million deaths
In 1935, Mao Zedong, the number one of this top 5 by a landslide, came to power in China. Almost 20 years later, he had succeeded in transforming his country into a Communist state. Under his rule, a big amount of projects were started, many of which cost the lives of millions of his people: the Four Pests Campaign and the Cultural Revolution were only a couple of examples of such projects. The Four Pests Campaign ordered farmers to chase sparrows away by making as much noise as possible with pots and pans. Sparrows eat grass seeds after all, causing them to be highly disruptive to agriculture. Many Chinese farmers followed Mao’s instructions dutifully, as a result of which the sparrows became too afraid to land and almost eradicated. However, there was one thing Mao had forgotten about: not only do sparrows eat grass seeds, but grasshoppers as well. As a consequence, that year’s harvest was better, but the harvest in the following year failed completely due to the swarms of grasshoppers. This led to large scale famine, causing the deaths of 30 to 40 million people between 1959 and 1961. The Cultural Revolution – practically nothing more but an attempt from Mao to silence intellectual criticism – didn’t lead to much better results. Many teachers, professors, doctors, other intellectuals, as well as rebellious farmers and workers were either imprisoned or killed in concentration camps. Furthermore, this period in history had a particularly negative effect on China’s economy, causing agriculture to come to a complete standstill between 1966 and 1969 with another famine breaking out as a result. Just like Stalin, Mao had succeeded in establishing a cult of personality for himself, despite the many millions of deaths he caused.


© 2015 Victor Brenntice


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    • profile image

      Kevin Goodwin 

      3 years ago

      It is amazing how long these dictators were able to control their people through fear. It is amazing what a single person can do to change the world and so many lives, it is horrible.


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