Merkulov, Vsevolod Nickolaevich (1895-1953)

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Vsevelod Merkulov

Soviet statesman, People’s Commissar (Narcom) of State Security (GB) from 1941 to 1946, and a member of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party (VCP (b)] from 1939 to 1953.

Merkulov was born on October 25, 1895 at Zakataly in the Tiflisskaya gubernia of the Russian Empire (now part of Azerbaijan). He came from a noble family; his father was a Russian officer, and his mother reportedly came from a noble Georgian family. In 1903, his father died, and the boy moved with his mother to Tiflis (now Tbilisi), where the young widow managed to become the director of a school for the blind. In 1913 Merkulov graduated cum laude (with a gold medal) from Tiflis gymnasium (a seven- or eight-year school which provided secondary and high school education) and continued his studies at the Department of Physics and Mathematics of St. Petersburg University. Around that time, he began publishing essays on student life. In the summer of 1916, he was drafted into the army and was soon sent to an officer-training school.

After the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917, Merkulov left the army and returned to Tiflis. He lived through the brief season of Georgian independence, working from 1918 to 1921 as a clerk and teacher at the school for the blind that his mother still headed. During that period, he became close to a group of local Bolsheviks. In October 1921, soon after the Bolshevik takeover of Georgia, Merkulov began his service at the Georgian Cheka (later renamed GPU and OGPU). In 1926 and 1927, he headed the economic department of the GPU of Georgia. From 1927 to 1929, he was the head of its department of information, propaganda and political control. Around this time he married the daughter of General Victor Yachontov (the General¬†immigrated to the United States in 1919) — and published his first play, which was performed in Georgian theaters.

From 1929 to 1931, Merkulov was assistant chairman of the GPU of the Adjaria Autonomous Republic, which was part of the Soviet Republic of Georgia. By then, he had become a speechwriter for his boss, Lavrentii Beria , the head of the Caucasian GPU, whose Russian left much to be desired. From the early 1930s on, Merkulov followed Beria as he moved from one appointment to the next. In late 1931, Beria became the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia, and Merkulov became his assistant- — and later the head of several departments of the Georgian Central Committee. During that period, he also spent time sailing on the Black Sea and served as a director and cameraman on shoots of a documentary film about the seaport city of Batumi.

When Beria became first deputy to the Narcom of the NKVD in September 1938, Merkulov followed him to Moscow and became head of the counterespionage department of the Main Directorate of State Security (GUGB NKVD). Soon he was head of the GUGB and was Beria’s first deputy. In Moscow, Merkulov did not abandon his literary hobby and published a play, “Engineer Sergeev,” under the pseudonym of Vsevolod Rokk. The play was presented at major Moscow theaters in the early 1940s and was a success. Merkulov was also a patron of the arts, and many prominent actors, theater and movie directors, and musicians were frequent guests at his home. From February to July 1941, and again from April 1943 to May 1946, Merkulov was Narcom of the State Security of the USSR. From 1941 to 1943, he was head of the GUGB of the NKVD and first deputy to the Narcom of the NKVD. Beria reportedly relied heavily on his literary talents for writing orders and other NKVD official paperwork, as well as for managing the bureaucratic process.

Behind his back, Merkulov was called a “doughface,” or sometimes “a doughface intellectual.” In 1946 Stalin denounced him for being unable to formulate the tasks of State Security for the post-war period. He was fired and remained unemployed until 1947, when, with Beria’s help, he was appointed assistant head of the Main Directorate of Soviet Overseas Property, based in Budapest. Merkulov returned to Moscow in October 1950, when he was appointed minister of State Control of the USSR. He held that position until May 22, 1953, when he was forced to take a four-month leave and subjected to continuous interrogations in connection with the arrest of his former patron, Lavrentii Beria. Merkulov was finally arrested on September 18, 1953, and his family was evicted from their centrally located apartment to live in a tiny room in a shared flat. In December 1953, Merkulov was sentenced to death and executed along with Beria.