MOSCOW — Josef Stalin's feared police chief, Lavrenti P. Beria, went on a hunger strike before his 1953 trial and begged on his knees for mercy before he was shot, a government newspaper reported over the weekend.
Eyewitness accounts, published in the weekend supplement of Izvestia, provided dramatic details never before released of the fall of the man known as "the Kremlin Monster" and said that unlike many of Stalin's purge victims, he refused to plead guilty.
"He admitted nothing," the Soviet marshal in charge of the guard where Beria was being held was quoted as saying. "Then he declared a hunger strike that lasted for 11 days. We had to bend our efforts to make sure the villain survived to face trial."
Marshal Pavel F. Batitsky was named in the accounts for the first time as the man who carried out Beria's death sentence, and his widow was quoted by the paper as saying her husband "used to recall how Beria went down on his hands and knees begging to be spared."
Batitsky later became Soviet air defense chief.
Revelations of Stalin Era
The accounts in the weekly Nedelya come amid mounting discussion in the Soviet press of the Stalin period and the months after his death in March, 1953.
Beria, who became Soviet police chief in 1938 after directing bloody purges in his native Georgia, made a bid for power after Stalin died but was arrested at a Kremlin leadership meeting in July.
The Nedelya report said that his trial alongside that of six close aides took place from December 18-23, 1953, and that all seven were shot immediately after sentencing.
Until now, foreign historians had widely assumed that his execution had taken place soon after he was seized when summoned urgently to a Communist Party Presidium (now Politburo) meeting by his colleagues.