The Fine Art of Improving History

The much despised political leaders of North Korea are in the news again.  No.2 Jang Song Thaek was recently stripped of power by No.1 Kim Jong-un.  Jang was Kim’s uncle and widely regarded as the younger leader’s mentor. The political move was dramatic and happened in a full view of the entire legislative assembly, when he was dragged out by security police.


Knowing the history, his future doesn’t look that bright. Such men in the past were executed after accusations of corruption, spying and being  “enemy of the people”.  Their families were persecuted and lucky if ended up alive.   Images were deleted from state controlled media to erase any memories of such a person.


But wait, I have seen this before!  Right, it was during the Great Purges in Stalinist Russia.


The man on the right was Nicolai Yezhov, a close comrade of Stalin.  He was a long-time chief of the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, and one of the main architects of The Great Purge.  Yezhov persecuted and supervised the execution of his predecessor Yagoda, and he also designed an execution chamber with a slanted floor (easier to clean?).  Yezhov in turn was deposed and persecuted by his successor Beria.  He also was accused of being an “enemy of the people” (have we heard it before?), tortured, sentenced to death, clemency was rejected, and he was executed. All on the same day.  He was shot in the same room with slanted floor, which he built for his predecessor, Yagoda.  Both, Yagoda and Yezhov, didn’t believe all this was done on Stalin’s order and were begging for a last chance to talk to him.  Fat chance.  Yezhov was only 45 years old.  In the picture above, he is seen with Stalin and Molotov inspecting the Volga-Don Canal. On the second one, he is gone.  Here you see it and here you don’t.  Out of memories.

Now about famous (infamous?) Volga-Don Canal.  There is a geographical proximity of the two big Russian rivers, Volga and Don, in the south-eastern part of the country.  The idea of connecting these huge basins was not new, going back to the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.  The work was started by the Turks, abandoned, continued by the Tsars and finished by Stalin in 1952.  Most of the work was done by political prisoners.  One day of work on the Canal counted as three days of prison time.  Construction was interrupted by the German invasion and was marred by sloppy work and mishaps.  The Canal was also famous for a different reason.  You didn’t tell political jokes in Poland.  If you did, the question was coming, “Do you know who built the Volga-Don Canal? People like you, telling political jokes”.

P.S. I started writing this post at 8 AM.  At 5 PM, I got a breaking news message from the LA Times.  Jang Sung Thaek has been executed, just four days after being accused of being an “enemy of the people”.

Now, to the main featured image of my blog. If you’re an attentive reader, you can see that the soldier in the right lower corner has watches on his both wrists.

The Soviet soldiers were famous for looting private property from the conquered territories. The watches were the most desired items. Mother told me stories about the Russians walking with alarm clocks on a string from their necks.

So the photo was corrected. Below is a “proper” image. The mentioned soldier’s wrists are now pristine.

The author of the iconic picture, Evgeny Khaldey, did a marvelous job of political photoshop back in 1945. Actually, the entire picture was staged.

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