Torture in East European History
From peasant times until Stalin’s reign of terror, kings have tortured enemies and subjects, military officials have tortured civilians, and peasants have tortured each other. Eastern European history books offer some examples of torture that are absolutely horrific.
Torture in Eastern European History – Vlad the Impaler and Ivan the Terrible
Vlad Dracul, or Vlad the Impaler, was a famous torturer. Most notably, he was fond of impaling his victims on stakes. This earned him a gruesome reputation by the country with folk tales of vampires and other walking undead. Romania’s relationship with Vlad the Impaler is one of both admiration and fear.
Ivan the Terrible is also legendary for his cruelty. Legend says that his secret torture chamber still resides below ground level underneath the Kremlin.
Torture in Eastern European History – Eastern European Peasants
Orlando Figes, in A People’s Tragedy, describes forms of torture peasants enacted upon one another. A victim of peasant torture might have his torso wrapped with pillows and sacks that would allow him to be beaten without any exterior evidence that his organs had been crushed. Another punishment required the victim to be repeatedly raised in the air and dropped until he died.
Torture in Eastern European History – Soldiers and Officers
After the Russian Revolution, officers sometimes killed themselves upon threat of murder from their soldiers. Soldiers would often torture officers to death using brutal means – skinning officers alive or removing limbs or genitals.
Torture in Eastern European History – Cheka
During the Civil War in Russia after the Revolution, the Cheka used imaginative forms of torture to slowly kill their victims. D.M. Thomas, in Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century in His Life, describes “dismemberment with axes, slow boiling or burning, crucifixion, skinning alive, twisting off heads” (pg. 24).
Torture in Eastern European History – Prison Camps
Victims of Stalin’s terror were often subject to torture, either before they were executed, or when they were sentenced to imprisonment within the Gulag. In addition, prisoners were starved, exposed to the elements, remained injured or sick without proper health care, and were raped or beaten regularly.
The KGB archives might also hold clues to torture used during the Soviet era.
Find more on:
Figes, Orlando. A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.
Thomas, D.M. Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century in His Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.