Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria, the head of Joseph Stalin’s dreaded secret police apparatus, was born in Merkheuli, Russia, on March 29, 1899. He joined the Bolshevik wing of the Communist Party in 1917 and was active in Josef Stalin’s native Georgia during the October 1917 Revolution.
Beria joined the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage (Cheka), the first secret police apparatus of the new Soviet Union that was tasked with liquidating counter-revolutionaries and enemies of the state. Eventually, he was appointed chief of the Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) in Georgia.
Chief of Soviet Secret Police
Lavrenti Beria was summoned to Moscow iby Josef Stalin n 1938, during the height of the Purges, during which Stalin liquidated the last of the Old Bolshevik leadership and any potential rivals. Stalin installed Beria as second in command to NKVD chief Nikolai Yezhov. Soon afterwards Yezhov was arrested and Beria replaced him.
Beria became the driving force behind Stalin’s pre-World War II rein of terror, overseeing the purging of the armed forces. Apprioximately one-third of all officers were arrested by the NKVD, and Three out of five marshals and fourteen out of sixteen army commanders subsequently were executed.
Lavrenti Beria became a favorite of Stalin, and as commissar and then later minister of internal affairs, he wielded great power. He was appointed to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and in February, 1941, he was named deputy prime minister. He was appointed to the Politburo in 1946, the first secret police chief to be so honored.
Josef Stalin, the man who had dominated and terrorized the USSR for 30 years since the death of Vladimir Lenin, died on March 5, 1953. Lavrenti Beria lanched a gambit, to try to succeed him as dictator of the Soviet state. With Beria’s support, Georgy Malenkov was appointed Chairman of the Council of Ministers (Premier). Malenkov then appointed Beria first deputy premier.
Beria appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine on July 20, 1953, which was captioned “Enemy of the People”.
As the real power behind the throne, Lavrenti Beria positioned himself as an anti-Stalinist reformer. When an uprising in East Germany lead to fears in the Presidium that Beria might allow the reunification of Germany on terms favorable to the West, it was time to act against the secret policeman.
Beria’s machinations were defeated by a group lead by Nikita Khrushchev, who was named First Secretary of the Communist Party and who lead the denunciation of Beria. His ally Malenkov had earlier been forced to resign from the Presidium, and Beria was arrested in July.
Like so many of hthe Soviet citizens he himself had liquidated, Lavrenti Beria was officially accused of conducting “anti-state” activities and of conspiracy. Beria was found guilty and shot on December 23, 1953.