Yagoda was the much-feared chief of the Russian secret police. He executed Stalin’s Great Terror with all its atrocities and was himself tried and executied for not having killed enough.
Born in a Jewish carpenter family, Yagoda became an engraver in Yakov Sverdlov’s father’s workshop. He married Sverdlov’s niece and began making career in the Bolshevik ranks.
Genrikh Yagoda joined the secret police Cheka in 1919 and four years later he was Dzerzhinsky’s deputy. When Vyacheslav Menzhinsky was appointed head of the secret police (renamed OGPU) Yagoda was the man behind the curtain and the actual leader from 1932.
Head of the NKVD (1934-36)
From 1934-36 Yagoda was the chief of NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs). After Kirov’s murder Stalin unleashed an unprecedented terror campaign against his possible opponents. These were the years of the Great Terror.
Over 250,000 were arrested during 1934-35 only. Many were killed as a preventive measurement. Concentration camps were filled with people, most of whom were convicted groundlessly .
Yagoda established an effective network of Gulag labour camps. The use of slave labour became an important force behind Industrialization and economy in Soviet Union. Yagoda arranged the construction of the White Sea Canal and the Moscow-Volga Canal. Both were completed using slave labour.
Stalin’s desire to exterminate his political opponents lead to the First Moscow Show Trial (1936). Yagoda collaborated closely in executing Kamenev’s and Zinoviev’s death sentence. The second Trial of the Trotskyist Centre convicted Radek and Pyatakov. The Third Show Trial convicted Tuchachevsky and other Red Army commanders. In the 1938 Trial of the Twenty-One, Yagoda was already himself a defendant.
Stalin was not satisfied with Yagoda as he had been too slowly prosecuting enemies. He was sentenced to death over espionage and shot in 1938. His successor was Nikolai Yezhov.
Yagoda was a corrupt man whose two apartments and a dacha revealed countless luxury as well as a massive collection of pornographic movies and pictures.