The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (Народный комиссариат внутренних дел: Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del), abbreviated NKVD (НКВД About this soundlisten (help·info)) or Narkomvnudel (Наркомвнудел), was the interior ministry of the Soviet Union.
Established in 1917 as NKVD of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, the agency was originally tasked with conducting regular police work and overseeing the country's prisons and labor camps. It was disbanded in 1930, with its functions being dispersed among other agencies, only to be reinstated as an all-union ministry in 1934.
The functions of the OGPU (the secret police organization) were transferred to the NKVD in 1934, giving it a monopoly over law enforcement activities that lasted until the end of World War II. During this period, the NKVD included both ordinary public order activities, as well as secret police activities. The NKVD is known for its role in political repression and for carrying out the Great Purge under Joseph Stalin. It was led by Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov and Lavrentiy Beria.
The NKVD undertook mass extrajudicial executions of untold numbers of citizens, and conceived, populated and administered the Gulag system of concentration camps. Their agents were responsible for the repression of the wealthier peasantry, as well as the mass deportations, ethnic cleansing, and even genocide of entire nationalities to uninhabited regions of the country. They oversaw the protection of Soviet borders and espionage (which included political assassinations), and enforced Soviet policy in communist movements and puppet governments in other countries, most notably the repression and massacres in Poland.
In March 1946 all People's Commissariats were renamed to Ministries, and the NKVD became the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The KGB would succeed the NKVD as the secret police of the Soviet Union.
Activities and operations
In implementing Soviet internal policy towards perceived enemies of the Soviet state ("enemies of the people"), untold multitudes of people were sent to GULAG camps and hundreds of thousands were executed by the NKVD. Formally, most of these people were convicted by NKVD troikas ("triplets")– special courts martial. Evidential standards were very low: a tip-off by an anonymous informer was considered sufficient grounds for arrest. Use of "physical means of persuasion" (torture) was sanctioned by a special decree of the state, which opened the door to numerous abuses, documented in recollections of victims and members of the NKVD itself. Hundreds of mass graves resulting from such operations were later discovered throughout the country. Documented evidence exists that the NKVD committed mass extrajudicial executions, guided by secret "plans". Those plans established the number and proportion of victims (officially "public enemies") in a given region (e.g. the quotas for clergy, former nobles etc., regardless of identity). The families of the repressed, including children, were also automatically repressed according to NKVD Order no. 00486.
The purges were organized in a number of waves according to the decisions of the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Some examples are the campaigns among engineers (Shakhty Trial), party and military elite plots (Great Purge with Order 00447), and medical staff ("Doctors' Plot"). One case of gas van usage was documented in the Soviet Union during the Great Purge.
A number of mass operations of the NKVD were related to the prosecution of whole ethnic categories. For example, the Polish Operation of the NKVD in 1937–1938 resulted in the execution of 111,091 Poles. Whole populations of certain ethnicities were forcibly resettled. Foreigners living in the Soviet Union were given particular attention. When disillusioned American citizens living in the Soviet Union thronged the gates of the U.S. embassy in Moscow to plead for new U.S. passports to leave USSR (their original U.S. passports had been taken for 'registration' purposes years before), none were issued. Instead, the NKVD promptly arrested all of the Americans, who were taken to Lubyanka Prison and later shot. American factory workers at the Soviet Ford GAZ plant, suspected by Stalin of being 'poisoned' by Western influences, were dragged off with the others to Lubyanka by the NKVD in the very same Ford Model A cars they had helped build, where they were tortured; nearly all were executed or died in labor camps. Many of the slain Americans were dumped in the mass grave at Yuzhnoye Butovo District near Moscow. Even so, the people of the Soviet Republics still formed the majority of NKVD victims.
The NKVD also served as arm of the Russian Soviet communist government for the lethal mass persecution and destruction of ethnic minorities and religious beliefs, such as the Russian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Catholics, Islam, Judaism and other religious organizations, an operation headed by Yevgeny Tuchkov.