History of Europe

The Stalinist pogrom against the Greeks in the Soviet Union... Testimonies

Last updated:2022-11-07

December 15, 1937 is considered the day when the term "Greek" became a political category and led to mass arrests of members of the Greek minority in the Soviet Union. The persecutions included all male Greeks regardless of their political or social status. The entire Greek leadership group consisting of loyal members of the Communist Party was arrested.

Both the local Greeks (Mariupolites, Pontians, descendants of the old immigrants from the Greek area) were arrested, as well as the political refugees from Greece - members and friends of the KKE - who had fled to the Soviet Union to avoid the political persecutions that had begun with the Idonym (1928) and intensified during the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas.

With the Decree-Directive 50215 signed by the head of State Security (NKVD) Nikolai Yezhov, the Greek Soviet minority was considered suspect. According to this conception, ethnic origin was equated with a political offence. It is estimated that the Security arrested 15,000 citizens of Greek origin.

A significant part of the minority, which came from the regions of the Ottoman Empire and had settled in the USSR due to the Asia Minor Catastrophe, was experiencing a similar situation for the second time in a few years, as a few years before it had been targeted by the Young Turk nationalists. This policy of collective responsibility due to membership in an ethnic group and the culpability of cultural identity will be a key axis of Stalinist policy against specific minority groups.

A decree marked the group persecutions against the minority

The clouds had begun to thicken since the autumn of 1937. Ivan Tzouha in his book "Gretseskayia Operatsia" ("Greek Operation") mentions as the first official act against the minorities, the decision taken at the meeting of the Organizing Bureau of K.E. of the Communist Party (PKK-b) on the basis of which the existence of national schools (Finnish, German, English, Greek, etc.) was considered "harmful" to Soviet socialism and called on the NKVD officials to take the necessary measures. Then 250 Greek schools were closed in the Caucasus, the Krasnodar region (Southern Russia), the Crimea and the Azov region (Mariupoli-Donetsk).

The policy of targeting the Greek minority will be codified with Decree-Directive No. 50215. In the Decree signed by Yezhov, "commissar of the LKEY (People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs) of the USSR, general commissar of State Security", it was mentioned the following:

"Along with the espionage and subversive activity in the interests of the Germans and the Japanese, Greek espionage develops intensive anti-Soviet and nationalist activity, relying on citizens with anti-Soviet aspirations... among the Greek population of the USSR. With the aim of intercepting the activity of Greek espionage on the territory of the USSR I HAVE:

On December 15, at the same time, in all the Republics and Regions, all Greeks, who are suspected of espionage, guerrilla and nationalist anti-Soviet activity, should be arrested.

All Greeks (Greek nationals and citizens of the USSR) of the following categories are arrested:

A) Those registered in the LKEY list and those under surveillance.

B) Former big traders, black marketers and smugglers.

C) Greeks who develop intensive nationalist activity, first of all the former kulaks and those who avoided dekulakization.

D) Political refugees from Greece and all Greeks, who came illegally to the USSR, regardless of which country they arrived from".

Trying to study the unknown history of Soviet Hellenism and especially the era of Stalinist persecutions, I met some remarkable people who lived through the violence of that time in all its forms. I met Yannis Karamanidis at the end of the 80s in a poor arbitrary house in Ano Fousa Aspropyrgos.

Karamanidis had experienced all the cosmogenic change that happened on the two shores of the Black Sea. The genocide and the domination of Turkish nationalism in the areas of the Asia Minor Sea, the refugee in the Soviet Union and the political developments of the interwar period. He lived through the New Economic Policy (NEP) and was a victim of Stalinism at the start of the "Hellenic Enterprise". Karamanidis was the scion of a wealthy family of the Kotorios of Pontos in Asia Minor.

The politics of the Young Turks forced him to climb the mountain at the age of 17 and become a rebel. With the Asia Minor Catastrophe, after five years of guerrilla activity, he fled to Adler in the Soviet Union, where he was arrested in 1937. He described his arrest as follows:

“I was caught on December 18, 1937. I was taken to Krasnodar prison. They were asking me to sign that I blew up the bridge at Tanganyika. I didn't even know where that was... I ate a lot of wood there... At 12 at night they come, they take me for questioning.

"They beat me and told me to sign that I damaged the bridge. They put me naked in a chamber standing up. The walls around were full of nails. You couldn't touch anywhere. They were throwing cold water on me. I became fat. They brought me out to sign. I didn't sign. They closed the text with their hand and told me to sign. I told them to read what it says and then I will sign it.

"He didn't show it, but he cursed and told me to sign. Open to read to know why you have me here I said. Then the wood started. Lots of wood. One would hit me and then throw me to the other. So does he. Until I was collapsing down".

Finally, the duo of Jezhov and Vyshisky who signed all the convictions or executions - since September 38 the right to sign is given to local Three-Member Commissions (troika) - sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Karamanidis wandered to various places in the Far East:Kamchatka, Sakhalin, Vladivostok to finally end up in the concentration camps of Magadan, Kolima.

He describes the living conditions as follows:"The camp was full of Greeks. They were from all nations:Russians, Georgians, Poles, English. Eighteen thousand brought with us there. 300 of them survived. The others died of hunger and cold. We were cooking sawdust to eat. There were piles of corpses. They were tanned.

They dug pits 50 meters long and 15 meters wide. It took 4 to 5 days to open a pit. The ground was frozen. He wasn't digging. They dug a little, then poured oil and set fire. So the ice melted and they continued digging. After a while again. Until they reach three meters. The dead were pushed into the pit with a tractor. Thousands of mass graves existed in those plains of Kolima... 20-30 people used to go to our work. Soldiers around us. If someone couldn't walk they beat him.

But the worst were the dogs. Anyone imprisoned under article 58 of the penal code had no rights. And if you died and if they killed you, they didn't give an account to anyone. In prison we didn't talk at all. The political prisoner has no language. We had our number all over the uniform. I was number 665. I had him until the end. Criminal prisoners had more freedoms".

"Out of 25,000 we are left with 600"

During my research wanderings, I also met Pavlos Kerdemelidis in Nea Smyrni. Another expatriate who had experienced Stalinist violence and had lived in the concentration camps of the Vorkuta region for 12.5 years. Kerdemelidis was born on the outskirts of Trebizond on the Pontus and had fled to the Russian Crimea due to the genocide carried out by neo-Turkish nationalism on the southern shores of the Black Sea. He was arrested on December 15, 1937 in Alupka (corruption of Alopeki Foleas, as was the ancient Greek name of the area). He was the president of the "photographers' cooperative".

His arrest took place in the following manner:"I was arrested by the NKVD without knowing why. Later they started the interrogations and they were taking us from Yalta to Sevastopol. During the interrogations, they beat with clubs and asked what I know about this or that person. The interrogations took place for eighteen months... The statement I signed said that I was in some group, that we wanted to overthrow the Soviet government".

Based on his confession, Kerdemelidis was sentenced to hard labor by the Three-Member Commission. After wandering through various concentration camps, he was transferred to a camp in the Vorkuta area. He describes their transportation to the camp and their living conditions in the following way:"In 1939, 25,000 people (including from all nationalities) were loaded into 90 wagons and taken to Siberia. There were forests there.

"They took us out, we made our way and reached a plain. This is where you will stay, they told us. In the woods, without houses, without anything. In the snow. So, in six months we went from 25,000 to 600... We were working there. We were cutting wood and stacking it.

"All around us were soldiers with automatic weapons. All the wood rotted there of course. They wanted to exterminate us. Most died. No one will ever know how many of these people there were... We went to work four by four. Around dogs and automatons. One step to the right, one step to the left they were shooting without warning." Read the interesting sequel at the source