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Buddhims and Lamas 1

The Total Terror

The Great Purge became a routine. Stalin stepped back from the control of the details in Mongolia once he felt that fear was sovereign. Among those who had fallen were twenty-five persons from the top leadership of the party and government, 187 persons from the military leadership. Thirty-six of the fifty-one members of the Central Committee elected by the Fourth MPRP congress, four of the seven members of the MPRP Auditing Commission, and four of the five members of the Investigation Commission of the Party were killed in the purge. Choibalsan was the only surviving member of the Presidium of the Central Committee.

     Then Choibalsan issued Order No.221 it stated that military officers implicated in the counter-revolutionary plot could have their sentences of capital punishment reduced if they openly admitted their crimes. According to sketchy evidence, more than a thousand people made admissions of guilt in order to escape the extensive purge. For the show, a pardon was granted to the first few who “came out into open”. Later, all were shot in spite of their confessions. To survive, people resorted to strange means. Some committed rape and theft to get jailed for these offenses and thus survived the purge.

General Mechanism

     Stalin’s plan was to have the Mongolian leadership and intelligentsia eliminated with no exceptions for separate individuals. This was why the arrested were tortured and pressured into revealing the names of others who would also be arrested and forced to cooperate. It was at the core of the purge to produce an exponential increase in the number of people involved. Commonly, people spoke the names of others out of sheer terror. Mend, who was among the first group arrested, cooperated in naming a large group of persons, including his own relatives, and he was fed better food and placed under special care as a result. But even though Mend turned in all his acquaintances, he did not survive either. He was brought to Moscow for further interrogation and then shot to death by the Bolsheviks in July 1941. The Director of the Industrial Combine, “Purev the Red” also in the group, cried out while facing the firing squad: “I admit that I committed a crime, but there is a greater one!” He delayed his death by naming a few more persons. There were many cases like that. The purge worked by having the top leaders admit their crimes and name their subordinates in the process.

     When the Mongolian leadership was persecuted, their families, parents, brothers, and sisters were also victimized. Not only were Demid’s father and brothers executed, but his pregnant wife Navchaa was also killed. When Shijee was arrested in Moscow, his father, simple herdsmen, was arrested in Mongolia.

The “Troika” or Extraordinary Commission

     Three-member commissions or troikas had been invented by Stalin to try “criminals” and issue sentences. On February 1, 1930, the first troika under the name of a Special Commission was created at the Internal Affairs Committee and included the Chairman Namsrai, Minister for Justice Denev, and Choibalsan. That troika, which existed until March 21, 1955, held 184 meetings and discussed 5,728 cases and issued the death penalty to 385 people. The Extraordinary Commission, the troika referred to in Choibalsan’s letter to Yezhov, was a separate organization created on October 2, 1937, to investigate and to try accused criminals. It included Choibalsan, Luvsansharav Secretary of the Central Committee, and TSerendorj, Minister for Justice. The Commission was dissolved on April 22, 1939, having held fifty-one meetings and having discussed 25,785 political cases. On the Commission’s verdicts, 20,099 people were shot and 5,785 were imprisoned. There were instances when the Commission discussed up to 1,278 cases at a time with all the accused being sentenced to death. The Supreme Court, the Special Commission at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Military Court, and the Extraordinary Commission sentenced a total of 29,198 persons, including eight women, for counter-revolutionary activities.

Interrogation Techniques

     The main thrust of the terror was directed against lamas. Stalin made his last request during his meeting with Prime Minister A.Amar in December 1936. A. Amar explained how a hundred thousand lamas could not be executed, but Stalin did not agree. The “Lord of the Kremlin” decided to carry out the purge through someone else. but in 1937 through 1938 alone, with Soviet help, 16,631 lamas were persecuted, mostly shot. 

     The plans against mid-level monks became a reality. They were arrested, interrogated, tried, and then shot in assembly-line style. In 1936 and 1937, three consecutive campaigns were launched against lamas, who were then killed en masse. One investigator would interrogate ten monks with orders to turn their cases to the special commission within ten hours. Some investigators were even rewarded for exceeding the planned target numbers. Banzragch, a religious investigator for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, excelled by handling sixty cases per day while on an assignment in Hovsgol aimag. Representative Bayarmagnai received the Polar Star medal for having managed several hundred cases in a week. Some of the lamas who had turned lay became especially cruel investigators. Haimchig, who used to read prayers in the monastery, came to the known as the “butcher of monks”, and one of the leaders of the purge, Luvsansharav, had also been a monk. 

     The method of questioning the monastics was routine. The name of a teacher monk would be extracted, then his students would be implicated in a plot headed by the teacher. When the names of students were extracted from a senior monk, he was implicated for having allegedly enrolled them. In that way, it was the poor monks who were forced to admit participation in counter-revolutionary activities and so become the focus on the ever-vigilant revolution. Luvsansamdan, who worked for the Ministry of Internal Affairs and participated in the purge, admitted in 1962, “Because so many lamas were arrested, the prisons were unable to house them all. so, a campaign began to get rid of them, once or twice a week there would be the mass shooting of monks. Each time two or three truckloads full of lamas would be killed”. In 1992, historian M.Rinchin and others excavated a burial ground not far from Moron in Hovsgol aimag, where the remains of more than one thousand monks were found. They had not been shot but had simply been struck down with heavy instruments. Some had their necks twisted, and some had been subjected to other sadistic tortures. Their bodies remained almost intact in the permafrost. Apart from being arrested and killed in Mongolia, monks were also sent to the Soviet gulag in large numbers. Some of them served in the disciplinary battalions during the USSR’s Great Patriotic War; some survived and returned home many years later. 

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