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Lavrentiy Beria

Updated on December 1, 2016

Lavrentiy Beria (1899-1953), Soviet political leader and official in the secret police during the Stalin era. He was born in Merkheuli, Georgia, on March 29, 1899. Educated as an architectural engineer, he joined the Bolshevik (Communist) party in 1917. From 1921 to 1930 he was a member of the Soviet secret police in the Caucasus, rising to command of the police in the entire area. From 1931 to 1938, Beria was an official of the Communist party in the Georgian and Caucasian regions. He became a member of the central committee of the Communist party in 1934.

One of the most faithful of Joseph Stalin's followers, Beria glorified Stalin's early career in On the History of the Bolshevik Organization in Transcaucasia (1935). In 1938, Stalin appointed him head of the ministry of internal affairs, which had charge of the secret police. Beria replaced Nikolai Yezhov. This shift in police officials coincided with the end of the purges of Communist party officials during the 1930's. Because of Stalin's reliance on the secret police, Beria's influence constantly grew. In 1939 he became a member of the politburo of the Communist party and in 1941 a deputy premier of the Soviet Union.

After Russia entered World War II, Beria became a member of the war cabinet and was given charge of ammunition production as well as of the police. When the war ended, he remained in command of police and intelligence activities. When the politburo was reorganized as the presidium in 1952, Beria retained his membership. After the death of Stalin in March 1953 he was made first deputy premier, a member of the presidium of the Council of Ministers, and minister of internal affairs.

Immediately after Stalin's death Beria's power was thought to be exceeded only by that of Georgi Malenkov. In July 1953, however, there was an official announcement of Beria's expulsion from the Communist party and the Soviet government. A month later it was announced that Beria would be charged with treason. He was accused of trying to seize total power in Russia, of being a foreign spy, and of attempting to bring capitalism to Russia. Rumors that he had been able to escape from Russia proved false. Beria was brought to trial in December 1953. After a six-day trial he was executed on December 23, 1953, presumably in Moscow.

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