December 23, 1953, Moscow, Russia
Nina Gegechkori (m. 1921–1953)
Azerbaijan State University of Oil and Industry
Sergo Lavrentʹevich Berii͡a
Khrushchev the bear s embrace
Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria ( ; Georgian: ლავრენტი პავლეს ძე ბერია, Lavrenti Pavles dze Beria, [bɛriɑ]; Russian: Лавре́нтий Па́влович Бе́рия; [ˈbʲirʲiə]; 29 March [O.S. 17 March] 1899 – 23 December 1953) was a Soviet politician of Georgian ethnicity, Marshal of the Soviet Union and state security administrator, chief of the Soviet security and secret police apparatus (NKVD) under Joseph Stalin during World War II, and promoted to deputy premier under Stalin from 1941. He later officially joined the Politburo in 1946.
- Khrushchev the bear s embrace
- Popular Lavrentiy Beria Politics videos
- Early life and rise to power
- Head of the NKVD
- Postwar politics
- Stalins death
- Arrest trial and execution
- Sexual predator
- Film and television
Beria was the longest-lived and most influential of Stalin's secret police chiefs, wielding his most substantial influence during and after World War II. He simultaneously administered vast sections of the Soviet state and acted the de facto Marshal of the Soviet Union in command of NKVD field units responsible for anti-Nazi partisan operations on the Eastern Front during World War II, as barrier troops and the apprehension of thousands of "turncoats, deserters, cowards and suspected malingerers." Beria administered the vast expansion of the Gulag labor camps and was primarily responsible for overseeing the secret defense institution known as sharashkas, critical to the war effort. He played the decisive role in coordinating the Soviet partisans, developing an intelligence and sabotage network behind German lines.
He attended the Yalta Conference with Stalin, who introduced him to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt as "our Himmler". After the war, he organized the communist takeover of the state institutions of Central and Eastern Europe. Beria's uncompromising ruthlessness in his duties and skill at producing results culminated in his success in overseeing the Soviet atomic bomb project. Stalin gave it absolute priority and the project was completed in under five years in no small part due to Soviet espionage against the West organized by Beria's NKVD.
Upon Stalin's death in March 1953, Beria was promoted to First Deputy Premier, where he carried out a campaign of liberalization. He was briefly a part of the ruling "troika" with Georgy Malenkov and Vyacheslav Molotov. Beria's overconfidence in his position after Stalin's death led him to misjudge other Politburo members. During the coup d'état led by Nikita Khrushchev and assisted by the military forces of Marshal Georgy Zhukov, Beria was arrested on charges of treason during a meeting in which the full Politburo condemned him. Zhukov's troops ensured NKVD compliance, and on 23 December 1953, he was executed by Pavel Batitsky.
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Early life and rise to power
Beria was born in Merkheuli, near Sukhumi, in the Sukhum Okrug of the Kutais Governorate (now Gulripshi District, Abkhazia, Georgia, then part of the Russian Empire). He was from the Mingrelian subethnic group of Georgians and grew up in a Georgian Orthodox family. Beria's mother, Marta Jaqeli (1868–1955), was deeply religious and church-going (she spent much time in church and died in a church building); she was previously married and widowed before marrying Beria's father, Pavel Khukhaevich Beria (1872–1922), a landowner from Abkhazia. He also had a brother (name unknown), and a sister named Anna, who was born deaf-mute. In his autobiography, Lavrentiy Beria mentioned only his sister and his niece, implying that his brother (or any other siblings) either was dead or had no relationship with Beria after he left Merkheuli. Beria attended a technical school in Sukhumi, and joined the Bolsheviks in March 1917 while a student in the Baku Polytechnicum (subsequently known as the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy). As a student, Beria distinguished himself in mathematics and the sciences. The Polytechnicum's curriculum concentrated on the petroleum industry.
Beria also worked for the anti-Bolshevik Mussavatists in Baku. After the Red Army captured the city on 28 April 1920, Beria was saved from execution because there was not enough time to arrange his shooting and replacement, and Sergei Kirov possibly intervened. While in prison, he formed a connection with Nina Gegechkori (1905–10 June 1991), his cellmate's niece, and they eloped on a train. She was 17, a trained scientist from an aristocratic family.
In 1919, at the age of twenty, Beria started his career in state security when the security service of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic hired him while still a student at the Polytechnicum. In 1920 or 1921 (accounts vary) Beria joined the Cheka, the original Bolshevik secret police. At that time, a Bolshevik revolt took place in the Menshevik-controlled Democratic Republic of Georgia, and the Red Army subsequently invaded. The Cheka became heavily involved in the conflict, which resulted in the defeat of the Mensheviks and the formation of the Georgian SSR. By 1922, Beria was deputy head of the Georgian branch of Cheka's successor, the OGPU.
In 1924 he led the repression of a Georgian nationalist uprising, after which up to 10,000 people were executed. For this display of "Bolshevik ruthlessness," Beria was appointed head of the "secret-political division" of the Transcaucasian OGPU and was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
In 1926 Beria became head of the Georgian OGPU; Sergo Ordzhonikidze, head of the Transcaucasian party, introduced him to fellow-Georgian Joseph Stalin. As a result, Beria became an ally in Stalin's rise to power. During his years at the helm of the Georgian OGPU, Beria effectively destroyed the intelligence networks that Turkey and Iran had developed in the Soviet Caucasus, while successfully penetrating the governments of these countries with his agents. He also took over Stalin's holiday security.
Beria was appointed Secretary of the Communist Party in Georgia in 1931, and for the whole Transcaucasian region in 1932. He became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1934. During this time, he began to attack fellow members of the Georgian Communist Party, particularly Gaioz Devdariani, who served as Minister of Education of the Georgian SSR. Beria ordered the executions of Devdariani's brothers George and Shalva, who held important positions in the Cheka and the Communist Party respectively.
By 1935 Beria had become one of Stalin's most trusted subordinates. He cemented his place in Stalin's entourage with a lengthy oration titled, "On the History of the Bolshevik Organisations in Transcaucasia" (later published as a book), which emphasized Stalin's role. When Stalin's purge of the Communist Party and government began in 1934 after the assassination of Leningrad party boss Sergei Kirov (1 December 1934), Beria ran the purges in Transcaucasia. He used the opportunity to settle many old scores in the politically turbulent Transcaucasian republics.
In June 1937 he said in a speech, "Let our enemies know that anyone who attempts to raise a hand against the will of our people, against the will of the party of Lenin and Stalin, will be mercilessly crushed and destroyed."
Head of the NKVD
In August 1938, Stalin brought Beria to Moscow as deputy head of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the ministry which oversaw the state security and police forces. Under Nikolai Yezhov, the NKVD carried out the Great Purge: the imprisonment or execution of millions of people throughout the Soviet Union as alleged "enemies of the people." By 1938, however, the oppression had become so extensive that it was damaging the infrastructure, economy and even the armed forces of the Soviet state, prompting Stalin to wind the purge down. Stalin had thoughts to appoint Lazar Kaganovich as head of the NKVD, but chose Beria probably because he was a professional secret policeman. In September, Beria was appointed head of the Main Administration of State Security (GUGB) of the NKVD, and in November he succeeded Yezhov as NKVD head (Yezhov was executed in 1940). The NKVD was purged next, with half its personnel replaced by Beria loyalists, many of them from the Caucasus. He reportedly won Stalin's favour in the early 1930s after faking a conspiracy to assassinate the Soviet leader that he then claimed to have foiled. In 1938 Stalin rewarded Beria's loyalty by making him head of the NKVD. One account says Beria personally strangled his predecessor, Nikolai Yezhov.
Although Beria's name is closely identified with the Great Purge because of his activities while deputy head of the NKVD, his leadership of the organisation marked an easing of the repression begun under Yezhov. Over 100,000 people were released from the labour camps. The government officially admitted that there had been some injustice and "excesses" during the purges, which were blamed entirely on Yezhov. The liberalisation was only relative: arrests and executions continued, and in 1940, as war approached, the pace of the purges again accelerated. During this period, Beria supervised deportations of people identified as political enemies from Poland and the Baltic states after Soviet occupation of those regions.
In March 1939, Beria became a candidate member of the Communist Party's Politburo. Although he did not become a full member until 1946, he was already one of the senior leaders of the Soviet state. In 1941 Beria was made a Commissar General of State Security, the highest quasi-military rank within the Soviet police system of that time, effectively comparable to a Marshal of the Soviet Union.
On 5 March 1940, after the Gestapo–NKVD Third Conference was held in Zakopane, Beria sent a note (no. 794/B) to Stalin in which he stated that the Polish prisoners of war kept at camps and prisons in western Belarus and Ukraine were enemies of the Soviet Union, and recommended their execution. Most of them were military officers, but there were also intelligentsia, doctors, and priests and others for a total of over 22,000. With Stalin's approval, Beria's NKVD executed them in what became known as the Katyn massacre.
From October 1940 to February 1942, the NKVD under Beria carried out a new purge of the Red Army and related industries. In February 1941, Beria became Deputy Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, and in June, following Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union, he became a member of the State Defense Committee (GKO). During World War II, he took on major domestic responsibilities and mobilized the millions of people imprisoned in NKVD Gulag camps into wartime production. He took control of the manufacture of armaments, and (with Georgy Malenkov) aircraft and aircraft engines. This was the beginning of Beria's alliance with Malenkov, which later became of central importance.
In 1944, as the Germans were driven from Soviet soil, Beria was in charge of dealing with the various ethnic minorities accused of anti-sovietism and/or collaboration with the invaders, including the Balkars, the Karachays, the Chechens, the Ingush, the Crimean Tatars, the Pontic Greeks and the Volga Germans. All these groups were deported to Soviet Central Asia (see "Population transfer in the Soviet Union.")
In December 1944, Beria's NKVD was assigned to supervise the Soviet atomic bomb project ("Task No. 1"), which built and tested a bomb by 29 August 1949. In this capacity, he ran the successful Soviet espionage campaign against the atomic weapons program of the United States, which obtained much of the technology required. His most important contribution was to provide the necessary workforce for this project, which was extremely labour-intensive. At least 330,000 people, including 10,000 technicians, were involved. The Gulag system provided tens of thousands of people for work in uranium mines and for the construction and operation of uranium processing plants. They also constructed test facilities, such as those at Semipalatinsk and in the Novaya Zemlya archipelago. The NKVD also ensured the necessary security for the project. Amazingly, the physicist Pyotr Kapitsa refused to work with Beria even after Beria gave him a hunting rifle as a gift. It is notable that Stalin backed Kapitsa in this quarrel.
In July 1945, as Soviet police ranks were converted to a military uniform system, Beria's rank was officially converted to that of Marshal of the Soviet Union. Although he had never held a traditional military command, Beria made a significant contribution to the victory of the Soviet Union in World War II through his organization of wartime production and his use of partisans. Stalin personally never thought much of it, and neither commented publicly on his performance nor awarded him recognition (i.e. Order of Victory) as he did for most other Soviet Marshals.
Abroad, Beria had met with Kim Il-sung, the future leader of North Korea, several times when the Soviet troops had declared war on Japan and occupied northern half of Korea from August 1945. Beria had recommended by Stalin to install a communist leader in the occupied territories.
With Stalin nearing 70, a concealed struggle for succession amongst his entourage dominated Kremlin politics in the post-war years. At the end of the war Andrei Zhdanov seemed the most likely candidate. Zhdanov had served as the Communist Party leader in Leningrad during the war, and by 1946 had charge of all cultural matters. After 1946 Beria formed an alliance with Malenkov to counter Zhdanov's rise.
In January 1946 Beria resigned as chief of the NKVD while retaining general control over national security matters as Deputy Prime Minister and Curator of the Organs of State Security under Stalin. However, the new NKVD chief, Sergei Kruglov, was not a Beria man. Also, by the summer of 1946, Beria's man Vsevolod Nikolayevich Merkulov was replaced as head of the Ministry for State Security (MGB) by Viktor Abakumov. Abakumov had headed SMERSH from 1943 to 1946; his relationship with Beria involved close collaboration (since Abakumov owed his rise to Beria's support and esteem), but also rivalry. Stalin had begun to encourage Abakumov to form his own network inside the MGB to counter Beria's dominance of the power ministries. Kruglov and Abakumov moved expeditiously to replace Beria's men in the security apparatus leadership with new people. Very soon Deputy Minister Stepan Mamulov of the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs was the only close Beria ally left outside foreign intelligence, on which Beria kept a grip. In the following months, Abakumov started carrying out important operations without consulting Beria, often working in tandem with Zhdanov, and sometimes on Stalin's direct orders. Some observers argue that these operations were aimed – initially tangentially, but with time more directly – at Beria.
One of the first such moves involved the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee affair that commenced in October 1946 and eventually led to the murder of Solomon Mikhoels and the arrest of many other members. This affair damaged Beria; not only had he championed the creation of the committee in 1942, but his own entourage included a substantial number of Jews.
After Zhdanov died suddenly in August 1948, Beria and Malenkov consolidated their power by a purge of Zhdanov's associates in the so-called "Leningrad Affair". Those executed included Zhdanov's deputy, Aleksei Kuznetsov; the economic chief, Nikolai Voznesensky; the Party head in Leningrad, Pyotr Popkov; and the Prime Minister of the Russian Republic, Mikhail Rodionov. Only after Zhdanov's death did Nikita Khrushchev began to be considered as a possible alternative to the Beria-Malenkov axis.
During the postwar years, Beria supervised the successful establishment of Communist regimes in the countries of Eastern Europe, usually by coup d'etat, and hand-picked the leaders. Starting in 1948, Abakumov initiated several investigations against these leaders, which culminated with the arrest in November 1951 of Rudolf Slánský, Bedřich Geminder, and others in Czechoslovakia. These men were generally accused of Zionism and cosmopolitanism, but, more specifically, of providing weapons to Israel. Such charges deeply disturbed Beria, as he had directly ordered the sale of large amounts of Czech arms to Israel. Beria wanted an alliance with Israel to advance the communist cause in the Middle East, while later Soviet leaders chose instead to form a firm alliance with countries in the Arab world. Altogether, 14 Czechoslovak Communist leaders, 11 of them Jewish, were tried, convicted, and executed (see Slánský trial). Similar investigations in Poland and other Soviet satellite countries occurred at the same time.
In 1951 Abakumov was replaced by Semyon Ignatyev, who further intensified the anti-Semitic campaign. On 13 January 1953 the biggest anti-semitic affair in the Soviet Union started with an article in Pravda - it began what became known as the Doctors' plot, in which a number of the country's prominent Jewish physicians were accused of poisoning top Soviet leaders and arrested. Concurrently, an anti-semitic propaganda campaign, euphemistically termed the "struggle against rootless cosmopolitanism," occurred in the Soviet press. Initially, 37 men were arrested, but the number quickly grew into hundreds. Scores of Soviet Jews were dismissed from their jobs, arrested, sent to the Gulag, or executed. It is alleged that at this time on Stalin's orders the MGB started to prepare to deport all Soviet Jews to the Russian Far East or even massacre them. The issue of how much Stalin (and Beria) were involved in the Doctors' Plot remains a matter of dispute (see discussion in Doctors' plot article). Some historians claim that no such deportation was planned, or that the planned deportations were in an early planning stage when abandoned. Days after Stalin's death on 5 March 1953, Beria freed all the arrested doctors, announced that the entire matter was fabricated, and arrested the MGB functionaries directly involved.
In other international issues, Beria (along with Mikoyan) correctly foresaw the victory (1949-1950) of Mao Zedong in the Chinese Civil War and greatly helped the Chinese communists' success by letting the Communist Party of China use Soviet-occupied Manchuria as a staging area and arranging large weapons-shipments to the People's Liberation Army, mainly from the recently captured equipment of the Japanese Kwantung Army.
Khrushchev wrote in his memoirs that Beria had, immediately after Stalin's stroke, gone about "spewing hatred against [Stalin] and mocking him." When Stalin showed signs of consciousness, Beria dropped to his knees and kissed his hand. When Stalin fell unconscious again, Beria immediately stood and spat.
Stalin's aide Vasili Lozgachev reported that Beria and Malenkov were the first members of the Politburo to investigate Stalin's condition after his stroke. They arrived at Stalin's dacha at Kuntsevo at 03:00 on 2 March after being called by Khrushchev and Bulganin. The latter two did not want to risk Stalin's wrath by checking themselves. Lozgachev tried in futility to explain to Beria that the then-unconscious Stalin (still in his soiled clothing) was "sick and needed medical attention." Beria angrily dismissed his claims as panic-mongering and quickly left, ordering him, "Don't bother us, don't cause a panic and don't disturb Comrade Stalin!" Calling a doctor was deferred for a full 12 hours after Stalin was rendered paralyzed, incontinent, and unable to speak. This decision is noted as "extraordinary" by Sebag-Montefiore, but also consistent with the standard Stalinist policy of deferring all decision-making (no matter how necessary or obvious) without official orders from higher authority. Beria's decision to avoid immediately calling a doctor was tacitly supported (or at least not opposed) by the rest of the Politburo, which was rudderless without Stalin's micromanagement and paralyzed by a legitimate fear he would suddenly recover and wreak violent reprisal on anyone who had dared to act without his orders. Stalin's suspicion of doctors in the wake of the Doctors' Plot was well known. At the time of his stroke, his private physician was already being tortured in the basement of the Lubyanka for suggesting the leader required more bed rest.
After Stalin's stroke, Beria claimed to have killed him. This aborted a final purge of Old Bolsheviks Mikoyan and Molotov, for which Stalin had been laying the groundwork in the year prior to his death. Shortly after Stalin's death, Beria announced triumphantly to the Politburo that he had "done [Stalin] in" and "saved [us] all", according to Molotov's memoirs. Notably, Beria never explicitly stated whether he had initiated Stalin's stroke or had merely delayed his treatment in the hope he would die (as argued by Sebag-Montefiore and consistent with evidence). Support for the assertion that Stalin was poisoned with warfarin by Beria's associates has been presented from several sources, including Edvard Radzinsky in his biography Stalin and a recent study by Miguel A. Faria in the journal Surgical Neurology International. Warfarin (4-Hydroxycoumarins) is cited as the likely agent; it would have produced the symptoms reported, and administering it into Stalin's food or drink was well within the operational abilities of Beria's NKVD. Sebag-Montefiore does not dispute the possibility of an assassination by poison masterminded by Beria, whose hatred for Stalin was palpable by this point, but also notes that Beria never made mention of poison or confessed to using it, even during his later interrogations, and was never alone with Stalin during the period prior to his stroke (he always went with Malenkov to defer suspicion).
After Stalin's death from pulmonary edema brought on by the stroke, Beria's ambitions sprang into full force. In the uneasy silence following the cessation of Stalin's last agonies, Beria was the first to dart forward to kiss his lifeless form (a move likened by Sebag-Montefiore to "wrenching a dead King's ring off his finger"). While the rest of Stalin's inner circle (even Molotov, saved from certain liquidation) stood sobbing unashamedly over the body, Beria reportedly appeared "radiant", "regenerated", and "glistening with ill-concealed relish." When Beria left the room, he broke the somber atmosphere by shouting loudly for his driver, his voice echoing with what Stalin's daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva called "the ring of triumph unconcealed." Alliluyeva noticed how the Politburo seemed openly frightened of Beria and unnerved by his bold display of ambition. "He's off to take power," Mikoyan recalled muttering to Khrushchev. That prompted a "frantic" dash for their own limousines to intercept him at the Kremlin.
After Stalin's death, Beria was appointed First Deputy Premier and reappointed head of the MVD, which he merged with the MGB. His close ally Malenkov was the new Prime Minister and initially the most powerful man in the post-Stalin leadership. Beria was second most powerful, and given Malenkov's personal weakness, was poised to become the power behind the throne and ultimately leader himself. Khrushchev became Party Secretary. Voroshilov became Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (i.e., the head of state).
Given his record, it is not surprising that the other Party leaders were suspicious of Beria's motives. Khrushchev opposed the alliance between Beria and Malenkov, but he was initially unable to challenge them. His opportunity came in June 1953 when a spontaneous uprising against the East German Communist regime broke out in East Berlin.
Based on Beria's own statements, other leaders suspected that in the wake of the uprising, he might be willing to trade the reunification of Germany and the end of the Cold War for massive aid from the United States, as had been received in World War II. The cost of the war still weighed heavily on the Soviet economy. Beria craved the vast financial resources that another (more sustained) relationship with the United States could provide. For example, Beria gave Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania serious prospects of national autonomy, possibly similarly to other Soviet satellite states in Europe.
The East German uprising convinced Molotov, Malenkov, and Nikolai Bulganin that Beria's policies were dangerous and destabilizing to Soviet power. Within days of the events in Germany, Khrushchev persuaded the other leaders to support a Party coup against Beria; Beria's principal ally Malenkov abandoned him.
Arrest, trial and execution
On 26 June 1953, Beria was arrested and held in an undisclosed location near Moscow. Accounts of Beria's fall vary considerably. By the most likely account, Khrushchev prepared an elaborate ambush, convening a meeting of the Presidium on 26 June, where he suddenly launched a scathing attack on Beria, accusing him of being a traitor and spy in the pay of British intelligence. Beria was taken completely by surprise. He asked, "What's going on, Nikita Sergeyevich? Why are you picking fleas in my trousers?" Molotov and others quickly spoke against Beria one after the other, followed by a motion by Khrushchev for his instant dismissal. When Beria finally realized what was happening and plaintively appealed to Malenkov to speak for him, his old friend and crony silently hung his head and refused to meet his gaze. Malenkov pressed a button on his desk as the pre-arranged signal to Marshal Georgy Zhukov and a group of armed officers in a nearby room who burst in and arrested Beria.
Beria was taken first to the Moscow guardhouse and then to the bunker of the headquarters of Moscow Military District. Defence Minister Nikolai Bulganin ordered the Kantemirovskaya Tank Division and Tamanskaya Motor Rifle Division to move into Moscow to prevent security forces loyal to Beria from rescuing him. Many of Beria's subordinates, proteges and associates were also arrested, among them Vsevolod Merkulov, Bogdan Kobulov, Sergey Goglidze, Vladimir Dekanozov, Pavel Meshik, and Lev Vlodzimirskiy. Pravda did not announce Beria's arrest until 10 July, crediting it to Malenkov and referring to Beria's "criminal activities against the Party and the State."
Beria and the others were tried by a special session ("Spetsialnoye Sudebnoye Prisutstvie") of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union on 23 December 1953 with no defense counsel and no right of appeal. Marshal Ivan Konev was the chairman of the court.
Beria was found guilty of:
- Treason. It was alleged, without any proof, that "up to the moment of his arrest Beria maintained and developed his secret connections with foreign intelligence services". In particular, attempts to initiate peace talks with Hitler in 1941 through the ambassador of Bulgaria were classified as treason; no one mentioned that Beria was acting on the orders of Stalin and Molotov. It was also alleged that Beria, who in 1942 helped organize the defense of the North Caucasus, tried to let the Germans occupy the Caucasus. There were allegations that "planning to seize power, Beria tried to obtain the support of imperialist states at the price of violation of territorial integrity of the Soviet Union and transfer of parts of USSR's territory to capitalist states." These allegations were due to Beria's suggestion to his assistants that to improve foreign relations it was reasonable to transfer the Kaliningrad Oblast to Germany, part of Karelia to Finland, the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic to Romania and the Kuril Islands to Japan.
- Terrorism. Beria's participation in the Purge of the Red Army in 1941 was classified as an act of terrorism.
- Counter-revolutionary activity during the Russian Civil War. In 1919 Beria worked in the security service of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. Beria maintained that he was assigned to that work by the Hummet party, which subsequently merged with the Adalat Party, the Ahrar Party, and the Baku Bolsheviks to establish the Azerbaijan Communist Party.
Beria and all the other defendants were sentenced to death on 23 December 1953. When the death sentence was passed, Beria pleaded on his knees for mercy before collapsing to the floor and wailing and crying energetically, but to no avail. The other six defendants were executed by firing squad on the same day the trial ended. Beria was executed separately. He was shot through the forehead by General Pavel Batitsky who had to stuff a rag into Beria's mouth to silence his bawling (his final moments bore great similarity to those of his own predecessor, NKVD Chief Nikolai Yezhov, who begged for his life before his execution in 1940). His body was subsequently cremated and the remains buried in a forest near Moscow.
At Beria's trial in 1953, it became known that he was the subject of a significant number of rape and sexual assault allegations. But subsequent research, using available historical accounts, could not conclusively prove the veracity of the stories beyond the fact Beria had a notorious reputation that "almost certainly had some foundation." The charges of sexual abuse and rape were always disputed by people close to him, including his wife Nina, son Sergo, and Pavel Sudoplatov, the former chief of Soviet foreign intelligence. Sudoplatov said Beria worked extremely long hours and had "exceptional self-control." In a 1990 interview, Beria's wife Nina said: "Lavrentiy was busy working day and night. When did he have time for love with this legion of women?"
However, in 2003 his cases' files in the Soviet archives were opened. They recorded he had committed "dozens" of sexual assaults during the years he was NKVD chief. Simon Sebag-Montefiore, a biographer of Stalin, concluded the information "reveals a sexual predator who used his power to indulge himself in obsessive depravity."
The records contained the official testimony from Colonel R.S. Sarkisov and Colonel V. Nadaraia, two of Beria's most senior NKVD bodyguards. They stated that on warm nights during the war years, Beria was often driven slowly through the streets of Moscow in his armored Packard limousine. He would point out young women to be detained and escorted to his mansion where wine and a feast awaited them. After dining, Beria would take the women into his soundproofed office and rape them. Beria's bodyguards reported that their orders included handing each victim a flower bouquet as she left Beria's house. The implication was that to accept made it consensual; refusal would mean arrest. In one incident his chief bodyguard, Sarkisov, reported that a woman who had been brought to Beria rejected his advances and ran out of his office; Sarkisov mistakenly handed her the flowers anyway prompting the enraged Beria to declare "Now it's not a bouquet, it's a wreath! May it rot on your grave!" The woman was arrested by the NKVD the next day.
Women also submitted to Beria's sexual advances in exchange for the promise of freeing their relatives from the Gulag. In one case, Beria picked up Tatiana Okunevskaya, a well-known Soviet actress, under the pretence of bringing her to perform for the Politburo. Instead he took her to his dacha where he offered to free her father and grandmother from NKVD prison if she submitted. He then raped her telling her "scream or not, it doesn't matter." Beria however already knew that her relatives had been executed months earlier. Okunevskaya was arrested shortly afterwards and sentenced to solitary confinement in the Gulag, which she survived.
Beria's sexually predatory nature was well-known to the Politburo, and though Stalin took an indulgent viewpoint (considering Beria's wartime importance), he said, "I don't trust Beria." In one instance when Stalin learned his daughter was alone with Beria at his house, he telephoned her and told her to leave immediately. When Beria complimented Alexander Poskrebyshev's daughter on her beauty, Poskrebyshev quickly pulled her aside and instructed her, "Don't ever accept a lift from Beria." After taking an interest in Marshal Kliment Voroshilov's daughter-in-law during a party at their summer dacha, Beria shadowed their car closely all the way back to the Kremlin terrifying Voroshilov's wife.
Prior to and during the war, Beria directed Sarkisov to keep a running list of the names and phone numbers of his sexual encounters. Eventually he ordered Sarkisov to destroy the list because it was a security risk, but the colonel retained a secret handwritten copy. When Beria's fall from power began, Sarkisov passed the list to Viktor Abakumov, the former wartime head of SMERSH. He was now chief of the MGB – the successor to the NKVD – who was already aggressively building a case against Beria. Stalin, who was also seeking to undermine Beria, was thrilled by the detailed records kept by Sarkisov, demanding: "Send me everything this asshole writes down!" Sarkisov reported that Beria's sexual appetite had led to him contracting syphilis during the war for which he was secretly treated without the knowledge of Stalin or the Politburo (a fact Beria later admitted during his interrogation). Although the Russian government acknowledged Sarkisov's handwritten list of Beria's victims on 17 January 2003, the victims' names will not be released until 2028.
Evidence suggests that Beria not only abducted and raped women but some were also murdered. His villa in Moscow is now the Tunisian Embassy (at 55°45′34″N 37°35′10″E). In the mid 1990s, routine work in the grounds turned up the bone remains of several young women buried in the gardens. According to Martin Sixsmith, in a BBC documentary, "Beria spent his nights having teenagers abducted from the streets and brought here for him to rape. Those who resisted were strangled and buried in his wife's rose garden."
Sarkisov and Nadaria's testimony has been partially corroborated by Edward Ellis Smith, an American who served in the U.S. embassy in Moscow after the war. According to Knight, "Smith noted that Beria's escapades were common knowledge among embassy personnel because his house was on the same street as a residence for Americans, and those who lived there saw girls brought to Beria's house late at night in a limousine."
Beria is the central character in Good Night, Uncle Joe by Canadian playwright David Elendune. The play is a fictionalized account of the events leading up to Stalin's death.
Film and television
Georgian film director Tengiz Abuladze based the character of dictator Varlam Aravidze on Beria in his 1984 film Repentance. Although banned in the Soviet Union for its semi-allegorical critique of Stalinism, it premiered at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival, winning the FIPRESCI Prize, Grand Prize of the Jury, and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.
British actor Bob Hoskins played Beria in the 1991 film Inner Circle. He was portrayed by Roshan Seth in the 1992 film Stalin and, with an Irish accent, by David Suchet in Red Monarch. Beria also appears in the third episode ("Superbomb") of the four-part 2007 BBC docudrama series Nuclear Secrets, played by Boris Isarov. In the 2008 BBC documentary series World War II: Behind Closed Doors, Beria was portrayed by Polish actor Krzysztof Dracz.
He was also an important character in the 2013 Russian mini-series Kill Stalin, produced by Star Media.
In the 1964 science fiction novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Hard to Be a God, Beria is personified in the character Don Reba who serves as the king's minister of defense.
At the opening of Kingsley Amis' The Alteration, Lavrentiy Beria figures as "Monsignor Laurentius", paired with the similarly black-clad cleric "Monsignor Henricus" of the Holy Office (i.e., the Inquisition); the one to whom Beria was compared by Stalin in our own timeline: Heinrich Himmler. In the novel, both men are on the same side, serving an alternative-world Catholic Empire.
Beria is a significant character in the opening chapters of the 1998 novel Archangel by British novelist Robert Harris.
In 2012, his alleged personal diary from 1938 to 1953 was published in Russia.