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Dmitri Volkogonov Dies; Exposed Soviet Horrors

December 07, 1995|STEPHANIE SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Dmitri A. Volkogonov, a three-star general who began his career as a stout ideologue teaching Communist propaganda, died of cancer Wednesday, just weeks after finishing a historical opus exposing the horrors of the Soviet system. He was 67.

In the West, he earned praise for tracking down American soldiers missing in action during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He unearthed KGB archives to reveal that some American soldiers imprisoned during World War II were still alive--and living in former Soviet republics.

His investigation of top secret archives yielded plenty of other shocking tidbits. Each revelation drove him further from the political program he had once supported.

In biographies that stunned his countrymen, Volkogonov drew on thick stacks of documents to show Josef Stalin as a power-hungry killer and V.I. Lenin as a ruthless demagogue. His final work, "Seven Leaders," examines every Soviet ruler from Lenin to Mikhail S. Gorbachev--from details of their quirky obsessions to analyses of their momentous decisions.

For exposing truths and exploding myths, Volkogonov was often accused of treason and treachery. But he never retreated.

Ill with liver and colon cancer, he worked several jobs until his death: He served in the Russian parliament, advised Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin on military matters, co-directed the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on Prisoners of War and continued, always, to write.

Born to a Siberian peasant family in 1928, Volkogonov experienced the harsh injustice of totalitarianism early on: His father disappeared in one of Stalin's purges and his mother died in a labor camp.

Like many orphans, he entered the army as a teenager. Smart and articulate, with unimpeachable hard-line views, he soared through the ranks to work as a political watchdog, spreading the gospel of Marxism-Leninism and crushing dissent among officers.

He used his sterling ideological credentials to gain access to Soviet archives. There, he found documents that astounded him--papers that revealed top Communists as cruel, dishonest and inept.

Volkogonov's military histories blasted the totalitarian system for abusing its citizens.

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