80 years ago, Stalin’s NKVD began to arrest and shoot the deaf and dumb

Monument to death and dumb victims of Stalin's political repressions at Levashovsky Cemetary near St. Petersburg, Russia opened on 29 October 2008. (Image: social media)

Monument to death and dumb victims of Stalin's political repressions at Levashovsky Cemetary near St. Petersburg, Russia opened on 29 October 2008. (Image: social media) 

Analysis & Opinion, History

One of Hitler’s most heinous crimes was his execution of Germans with physical and mental handicaps, an action that few know even now that Stalin copied when his NKVD launched sweeping arrests and executions of many of the deaf and dumb in Soviet society.

It has taken decades for many to accept the fact that Stalin’s crimes were not limited to attacks on people of different social classes, the usual defense of his system by many in the West in the past and many in Russia to this day, but instead were directed at people because of their national origins.

Arresting and killing people only because of their class, nationality or religion is horrific and deserves universal condemnation, but doing so to the most defenseless members of a society, those who suffer from physical or mental incapacities, merits particular condemnation. A new article in Novyye izvestiya may open the way to that outcome.

Leningrad team of death and dumb athletes in 1932, four of which were executed by shooting in 1937 and many sent to GULAG (Image: spbvog.ru)

Leningrad team of deaf and dumb athletes in 1932, four of which were executed by shooting in 1937 and many sent to GULAG (Image: spbvog.ru)

In August 1937, the Moscow paper reports, Stalin’s secret police arrested 55 people in the Leningrad Society of the Deaf and Dumb. They were accused of forming “a fascist-terrorist organization” and distributing counter-revolutionary literature. This action became known as “the deaf and dumb terrorist group.”

At that time, there were some 30,000 deaf and dumb people in the USSR, including some 6,000 in Leningrad alone. Following Soviet practice, they were treated largely in terms of their capacity to perform “socially useful labor,” with those who could treated much as other Soviet citizens were and those who couldn’t with suspicion and repression.

Most of the efforts to help these people were carried out by the All-Russian Society of the Deaf and Dumb, which provided special courses and interpreters. But many had to make ends meet by selling pictures and pencils in railway stations – and that was enough to trigger the Stalinist terror machine.

The militia started investigating deaf and dumb sellers for possible charges of financial manipulation, but then the NKVD got involved and came up with the invented charges about the existence of a terrorist group that the authorities said was planning to kill leaders of the Soviet state.

Interrogating those arrested was difficult for the militia NKVD which did not have sufficient numbers of people capable of working with the deaf and dumb, and so these victims were even more likely to be tortured than others and even more likely than other categories of people to be sentenced to be shot.

Thirty-four of the 53 deaf and dumb people arrested in Leningrad were sentenced to be shot, with the remainder dispatched to work in the Mordvinian or Karaganda camps. The few of those who managed to survive were released in 1940, and all who were killed were posthumously rehabilitated in 1955.

There is only one monument to the victims of this Stalinist crime: a simple stone one in the Levashov wastelands that was erected by the relatives of two deaf and dumb activists who were shot by Stalin’s henchmen.


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Edited by: A. N.

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  • canuke

    Thanks for bringing this to the world’s attention, especially regarding the most defenseless citizens of our society!

  • Scradje

    ‘In August 1937, the Moscow paper reports, Stalin’s secret police arrested 55
    people in the Leningrad Society of the Deaf and Dumb. They were accused of forming “a fascist-terrorist organization” and distributing counter-revolutionary literature. This action became known as “the deaf and dumb terror”.
    A ‘fascist-terrorist organization’ is of course a perfect self-description. Stalin, Lenin before him and now fuehrer pootler use the same self description to demonise the victims of their fascist aggression. Pootler’s friend and assassination fixer, sultan Khadirov, is already persecuting gays, so no doubt the disabled will be next.

    • Ihor Dawydiak

      Stalin stood aside from Lenin’s primary cadre of communists in that he was not a theoretician nor was he considered as an intellectual. He in fact became the muscle or bully that Lenin found useful to keep competing interests in line. That in turn allowed Stalin to become the first General Secretary of the Russian Communist Party in April of 1922 (and later the CPSU-a position no one else wanted) which later evolved into the most powerful political position within the Soviet Union. It was also from that position that Stalin launched his systemic genocide perpetrated primarily against Ukrainians in 1932-1933 (who he considered as far too independent minded), the Great Red Terror of the late 1930’s (which decimated the “Old Bolsheviks” and almost every other senior Communist Party member) and the purging of the senior officials of the Soviet Secret Police and that of the military (which almost cost Russia/USSR its side of the victory in WWII). Then we come to “the deaf, dumb and invalid terror”. But why? These people posed no real threat to anyone so why exterminate them? Was this the bully in Stalin at work again? Prey on the weak and kill any perceived threat or was the “great dictator” still too conscious of his own inadequate physical and mental perceptions? (Note: As a young boy, Joseph Dzhugasvili was beaten regularly by his violent and drunken father, Stalin was a diminutive man in stature-he was only 5′ 4″ tall, his face was pockmarked from smallpox and he had webbed toes on his left foot). We may never know the exact reasons which drove this monster to act as he did but his actions most definitely explained his destructive and aberrant personality.

      • Scradje

        This comment deserves 100 upvotes!

      • Dagwood Bumstead

        Stalin’s terror really started much earlier, of course, when he exiled Trotsky and certainly after he had Kirov assasinated in December 1934. At the 1934 Party Congress Kirov received far more votes than Stalin did and it is telling that very few of the delegates to that Congress survived the Great Purges. Apparently Stalin considered Kirov a direct threat to his own position, even though there’s no evidence that Kirov had any intention to take over from Stalin as far as I know.

    • Sania

      bastardje, stalin was the heritage of lenin, lenin was the brutans agent,
      did killing Tsar
      and ur Trumpkov is trumpkerman, the new bomber from the United slops
      Of amerigo…

    • Sania

      crudje, I still do not understand who are u–crazy cheap troll or stupid
      Uneducated sucker?khe-khe…

  • Terry Washington

    Erm, I’m confused- how could deaf and dumb people possibly form a terrorist group- even if they seriously wished to? Also let us not forget the mass arrests of some ethnic groups(such as Poles) by the NKVD as well!

    • Murf

      I say this in sarcasm to NVDK’s paranoiac stupidity;
      What was this so called Terrorist Group’s battle cry?

      • Dagwood Bumstead

        The NKVD’s paranioa was Stalin’s, who saw enemies everywhere. In a totalitarian system such as Stalin’s nothing could happen without instructions from the very top.
        Thugs such as Yagoda and Yezhov simply carried out their master’s wishes.

  • Dagwood Bumstead

    This doesn’t surprise me. Soviet dissident Roy Medvedev wrote that in 1938 gas chambers were in use at Vorkuta. One wonders whether Himmler’s and Beria’s Gestapo and NKVD thugs freely exchanged ideas during the period between August 23rd 1939 and June 22nd 1941, and who learned what from whom.

    • Mykola Banderachuk

      Hitler and his gang learned genocide from Stalin, stalin conducted genocide on the cheap but hitler took it to another level – the industrial assembly line of genocide.