The Great Terror in Karelia | Russia's Necropolis of Terror and the Gulag

The Great Terror in Karelia

During the Great Terror extrajudicial bodies sentenced at least 10,779 people to death in Karelia. A further 1,410 were sent to the camps. For their identifty see the end of this article; see translated excerpts from Irina Flige’s Search for Sandarmokh for more detail.

Over seven thousand (7,222) were condemned to death between August 1937 and November 1938 and shot on the orders of the Karelian NKVD troika. A further 1,839 were sentenced to the death penalty by the dvoika (joint commission of the NKVD and Procurator’s Office) in Moscow, sitting from October 1937 to April 1938; 1,720 more were condemned to death in September and October 1938 by the Special Troika in Karelia.

Source: The Great Terror in Karelia [R]

July 1937

10: Politburo confirmed NKVD troika for Karelia: chair, Karl Tenisson, head of republican NKVD; and members Pyotr Irklis, 1st secretary of Party committee in Karelia, and Georgy Mikhailovich, Karelian deputy procurator.

21: Irklis arrested.

31: Politburo confirmed Yezhov’s Secret Order No 00447 (“On repressive measures against ex-kulaks, criminals and other counter-revolutionary elements”). The Karelian ASSR was initially given quotas to shoot 300 and send 700 to the camps. Acting head of Party in Karelia, Mikhail Nikolsky, replaced Irklis as member of the troika.

August 1937

Troika passed 473 death sentences

5: NKVD issued Directive No 409 allocating 800 executions to Belbaltlag corrective labour system. [Under Order No 00447, which came into force that day, 10,000 prisoners in the Gulag were to be shot, ed.]

7: First session of Karelian troika. 53 cases examined; 22 condemned to death; 14 to 10 years in the camps, 17 to 8 years imprisonment.

9: First mass execution of the Great Terror in Karelia. Nine persons condemned to death by the troika were shot at Krasny Bor near Petrozavodsk.

17: Troika begins to examine cases of forced settlers and Belbaltlag prisoners. At the session 110 cases were examined and all were sentenced to death.

27: First arrests in the “Polish operation” (Secret Order 00485, 11 August).

September 1937

Troika passed 2,034 death sentences

5: Regional quota for 300 executions under Order 00447 reached. Nikolsky and Tenisson repeatedly requested additional quota from Stalin and Yezhov. Despite lack of reply the troika continued to issue death sentences throughout September and early October.

9: Assizes session in Leningrad of Supreme Court’s Military Collegium condemned Pyotr Irklis to death; he was shot that day.

14: Acting head of Party in Karelia Nikolsky removed from office (shot in May 1938). Replaced by Nikolai Ivanov.

20: Troika condemned 271 canal-builders to death: one free worker, one forced settler, the other 269 were all prisoners.

Initial Belbaltlag quota for 800 executions was met.

Late September / early October – First arrests in the “Harbin operation” (20 September 1937: NKVD Secret Order No 00593)

October 1937

Dvoika (11) and troika passed 547 death sentences

14: In Moscow the commission of the NKVD and USSR Procurator (dvoika) considered the first file sent from Karelia concerning 12 people arrested during the “Polish operation”. Eleven were condemned to death, one to ten years imprisonment.

15: Politburo decided to raise quotas for the “Kulak operation” (Order 00447) in the regions. Karelia was allowed to shoot another 1,000 people; Belbaltlag was given an additional quota of 400 executions.

27: The execution of the 1,111 prisoners from the Solovki island prison began at the Belbaltlag killing field in the Sandarmokh Clearing. The killings ended on 4 November.

November 1937

Dvoika (17) and troika passed 1,122 death sentences

2: The regional quota for an additional 1,000 executions was met.

Since 31 July 1,349 men and women had been condemned to death (1,142 free inhabitants of Karelia and 205 forced settlers) and 800 Belbaltlag prisoners. The troika had not begun to shoot their additional quota of 400 prisoners.

20: The troika examined more than 700 cases and issued 632 death sentences. This included 396 prisoners, i.e., almost the entire additional quota. Directive No 409 (5 August) and the Politburo’s 15 October decision were thereby fulfilled.

30: Karelia was given an additional quota of 700 executions. Tenisson had perhaps already received unofficial permission to increase the execution quota because by this date the troika had already sentenced 1,951 to death (excluding the 1,200 executed Belbaltlag prisoners).

December 1937

Dvoika (174) and troika passed 1,558 death sentences

14: Official beginning of the “Finnish operation”, although no less than 478 individuals had already been arrested in Karelia and would later be convicted as part of this operation.

20: The Moscow dvoika examined the first two Finnish files on 199 people sent from Karelia. 173 were condemned to death, 22 to ten years imprisonment and four cases were sent for further investigation.

28–31: The Karelian NKVD began to carry out new orders from Moscow concerning prisoners in the republic, the order concerning would-be fugitive prisoners. At three sessions on 28, 29 and 31 December the troika issued death sentences for 516 Belbaltlag prisoners.

On 17 December 1937 the deputy commissar of the NKVD Mikhail Ryzhov signed and despatched to the camps of the Gulag order No 38671. Cases of prisoners suspected of preparing to escape would henceforth be passed to the troika and they would be shot over and above any established quota for execution.

The number of such cases increased greatly. The order provided a convenient way for punishing prisoners. Throughout the camps of the NKVD more than 7,000 fugitives were executed in accordance with Order No 38671.

January 1938

Dvoika (917) and troika passed 1,056 death sentences

1: The initial deadline for the end of the “Kulak operation” throughout the USSR. Tenisson reported to Moscow that the Karelian troika had completed its work.

By New Year 1938 the troika had issued no less than 4,540 death sentences. Prisoners accounted for 1,716 of these executions (1,200 under the two Belbaltlag quotas and a further 516 sentenced at the end of December under the Order about fugitives); 593 forced settlers were shot and the remaining 2,231 were free inhabitants of Karelia. (The late Arseny Roginsky suggested that Tenisson had obtained an additional undocumented quota for execution from Yezhov in December.)

13: An instruction to renew the work of the troika and continue until 1 February was received from Moscow.

16: The Karelian NKVD requested (and on 17 January received) permission to shoot a further 300.

31: The Politburo decided to continue the NKVD’s various operations. The “Kulak operation” in Karelia would continue until 15 March and the troika was given a further quota to shoot 500 and send 200 to the camps.

31: Tenisson was dismissed as head of the Karelia NKVD and would later die in Butyrka Prison in Moscow while being interrogated as a “Latvian spy”.


February 1938

Dvoika (306) and troika passed 689 death sentences

March 1938

Dvoika (192) and troika passed 1,020 death sentences

19 March: The new head of the Karelian NKVD S.T. Matuzenko and Party secretary Ivanov asked the Politburo for a further, final quota for the “Kulak operation”: 600 to be shot and 150 sent to the camps and permission to continue the operation until mid- April.

April 1938

Dvoika (212) and troika passed 1,004 death sentences

12 April: Last session of the Moscow dvoika. Two files from Petrozavodsk, each containing reports on one hundred individuals singled out as part of the “Finnish operation”: the dvoika issued 188 death penalties and sentenced 12 to ten years in the camps.

15 April: Last session of Karelian troika concerning the “Kulak operation”. The cases of 226 people were examined, more than half of them (126) were forced settlers in the Medvezhgorsk district – Germans and Poles who had been deported to Karelia in 1936 from the western borders of Ukraine. 187 were sentenced to death, 39 were sent to the camps for 8-10 years.

The troika held no sessions in MAY 1938.

June 1938

The troika passed 42 death sentences

Ivanov was dismissed as head of the Party in Karelia.

28: The troika resumed its work (the new Party secretary Kupriyanov replaced Ivanov) and examined the cases of 42 would-be “fugitive” prisoners. All were condemned to death.

July 1938

The troika passed 96 death sentences

A further thousand people were arrested by the end of July as part of the various “national” operations of the NKVD and those arrests would also be examined by the Special Troika in September/October.

The troika held no sessions in AUGUST 1938.

September 1938

The new Special Troika (1,353) and troika passed 1,499 death sentences

In September the files left unexamined after the Moscow dvoika ceased to exist were returned to Karelia and other regions for examination by the Special Troika set up for the purpose by Yezhov’s 17 September 1938 decree.

Between 20 September and 10 October the NKVD Special Troika (Matuzenko, Kupriyanov and Mikhailovich) held eight sessions during which it examined more than 1,809 cases and issued no less than 1,700 death penalties. One hundred individuals were sentenced to 3-10 years imprisonment.

October 1938

The Special Troika passed 363 death sentences

November 1938

The troika passed 294 death sentences

10: The Karelian troika held its last session on would-be fugitives, sentencing all 294 prisoners to be shot.

16: Matuzenko telegram to Yezhov: “The troika has today halted its activities”.

17: Joint decision of Sovnarkom and Central Committee to end all mass operations and disband all extra-judicial bodies apart from the NKVD Special Board.

25: Yezhov was dismissed as USSR Commissar for Internal Affairs. (He was succeeded by Beria.)

27: Last mass shooting of the Great Terror in Karelia. 189 of the Belbaltlag prisoners condemned by the troika on 10 November were shot at Sandarmokh.

Late 1938 - early 1939

28 December: Matuzenko arrested. (Sentenced to death in January 1940.)

Early 1939

Former troika member Ivanov was arrested. Karelian procurator Mikhailovich was dismissed and also probably arrested. Their subsequent fate is unknown.


1. Free inhabitants of Karelia and forced settlers

1,047 were sent to the camps and 4,591 were shot between August 1937 and April 1938 in accordance with increasing regional quotas for execution and imprisonment.

2. Belbaltlag prisoners

2,653 prisoners were shot between August 1937 and November 1938. 1,200 were shot according to quotas issued in August and October. A further 1,453 were sentenced to death by the troika and shot between December 1937 and November 1938 outside the quota, almost all in accordance with the directive about would-be fugitive prisoners (December 1937).

This total does not include the 1,111 prisoners from Solovki who were shot at Sandarmokh between 27 October and 4 November 1937.

3. “National operations”

3,340 were shot during the “Finnish operation” after being sentenced to death as Finnish spies by the dvoika in Moscow or by the Special Troika in Karelia. 195 were shot as part of other national operations (including the Harbin operation).

363 were sent to the camps.

The Great Terror in Karelia