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.
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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