MOSCOW — The weekly Moscow News on Thursday printed a shocking description of mass executions conducted by Josef Stalin's secret police, describing how 100,000 Soviet citizens were systematically murdered in the southwestern Byelorussian republic before the 1941 Nazi invasion.
Until now, Soviet historians have blamed the wholesale executions on German forces that occupied the area during World War II.
The newspaper said that Stalin's secret police paid informers the equivalent of $24 for each person they denounced as "an enemy of the state" in the Byelorussian village of Kuropaty, near Minsk, 400 miles southwest of Moscow. The victims were then taken to a field and shot.
1 Bullet, 2 Victims
The report, quoting witnesses to the massacre, said executioners ordered victims to huddle close together in pairs, with their heads almost touching, so one bullet would kill two victims.
"People were made to stand in a line near the pit. Everyone was gagged with a piece of cloth. Then they came up from the rear and fired their rifles into the head of the person who standing at the end of the line so that one bullet killed two people," the newspaper quoted a witness as saying.
"As soon as a shot comes, two at once go down into the pit," said the witness, who was an 18-year-old boy at the time.
The Nazi occupation forces were usually blamed by Soviet historians for the massacre and the mass graves, but starting in 1987, a Soviet government archeologist began a methodical examination of 170 witnesses and area residents and conducted his own excavations in what is now a state park or "recreation zone," the newspaper said.
The Moscow News disclosure was one of the most detailed descriptions yet of the horrors of the Stalin purges and served to drive home the point that such bloodletting and massacres touched not only the Baltic countries, the Siberian labor camps and ethnic minorities, but the heart of European Russia as well.
Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev has launched a massive de-Stalinization campaign in order to attack the Communist Party command-and-administer style of government that he believes is hindering economic progress and other reforms.
As part of the campaign, Gorbachev has ordered historians to fill in the so-called blank spots in Soviet history that skipped over Stalin's bloody purges, which killed millions, and his dubious military and diplomatic record, which led to the surprise Nazi invasion of 1941.
The author of the story, archeologist Zeuon Poznyak, said he was able to draw a clear picture of how the executions were conducted.
"All the population of the area had been terrorized by just a few people--the chairman of the collective farm and the chairman of the local village soviet," or council, it said, adding that such people became rich from turning in counter-revolutionaries.
The men would often seize their victims' lands and possessions.
Moscow News said the total number of bodies known to be in the graves is 102,000, but officials believe the number is much higher.