Vasili Mikhailovich Blokhin – The Most Prolific Official Executioner in Recorded World History
Vasili Mikhailovich Blokhin (1895 – February 1955) was a Soviet Major-General who served as the chief executioner of the Stalinist NKVD under the administrations of Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov and Lavrenty Beria. Hand-picked for the position by Joseph Stalin in 1926, Blokhin led a company of executioners that performed the majority of executions carried out during Stalin’s reign (most during the Great Purge). Claims by the Soviet government put the number of NKVD official executions at 828,000 during Stalin’s reign, and Blokhin is recorded as having personally executed tens of thousands of prisoners by his own hand over a 26-year period—including 7,000 condemned Polish POWs in one protracted mass execution—making him ostensibly the most prolific official executioner in recorded world history. He was awarded both the Order of the Mark of Honor (1937) and the Order of the Red Banner (1941).
Blokhin’s most notable performance was the April 1940 mass execution by shooting of 7,000 Polish officers, captured following the Soviet invasion of Poland, from the Ostashkov POW camp, during the Katyn massacre. Based on the 4 April secret order from Stalin to NKVD Chief Lavrenti Beria (as well as NKVD Order № 00485, which still applied), the executions were carried out in 28 consecutive nights at the specially-constructed basement execution chamber at the NKVD headquarters in Kalinin (now Tver), and were assigned, by name, directly to Blokhin, making him the official executioner of the NKVD.
Blokhin initially decided on an ambitious quota of 300 executions per night, and engineered an efficient system in which the prisoners were individually led to a small antechamber—which had been painted red and was known as the “Leninist room”—for a brief and cursory positive identification, before being handcuffed and led into the execution room next door. The room was specially designed with padded walls for soundproofing, a sloping concrete floor with a drain and hose, and a log wall for the prisoners to stand against. Blokhin—outfitted in a leather butcher’s apron, cap, and shoulder-length gloves to protect his uniform—then pushed the prisoner against the log wall and shot him once in the base of the skull with a German Walther Model 2 .25 ACP pistol. He had brought a briefcase full of his own Walther pistols, since he did not trust the reliability of the standard-issue Soviet TT-30 for the frequent, heavy use he intended. The use of a German pocket pistol, which was commonly carried by Nazi intelligence agents, also provided plausible deniability of the executions if the bodies were discovered later.