Title:                      Commissar

Author:                 Thaddeus Wittlin

Wittlin, Tadeusz (1972). Commissar: The Life and Death of Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria. New York: Macmillan

LCCN:    74189683

DK268.B384 W57



  • Also Thaddeus Wittlin

Date Updated:  April 27, 2016

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[1]

This is the first biography of Beria, head of the Soviet security service during the 1940s, and until his execution in 1953. Wittlin, a former inmate of one of Beria’s labor camps, pieces together an anecdotal account which tells a great deal about Soviet intelligence operations and internal Soviet politics. The reader is introduced to such generally unknown items as Beria’s role as an agent of the Tsarist secret police, the allegation that Stalin was also an Okhrana agent, Beria’s role in building the fictitious image of Stalin as Vozhd or leader in the early years of the revolutionary movement, and his role in Stalin’s death and the subsequent power struggle. The book lacks documentation, and often one can only guess at the accuracy of the facts cited.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[2]

An account of Beria’s rapid rise from a twenty-two-year-old graduate architect and informer for the tsarist secret police to chief of security for the Republic of Georgia, after the revolution to Stalin’s chief counterrevolutionist and commissar of state security and head of the NKVD. Polish-born historian Wittlin describes Beria’s role as head of intelligence, counterintelligence and security, propaganda, and as first head of the Soviet Un ion’s atomic weapons development program. He also describes Beria’s organization of Smersh, the counterespionage and security force that, among other things, conducted surveillance in the Soviet armed forces during World War IL To obtain an understanding of the enormous counterrevolution, counterintelligence, internal security, and espionage forces at work in the Soviet Union during the Stalin and Beria era, the reader must navigate a lot of descriptive shoal waters in this flawed “psychological biography.”

[1] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, p. 73

[2] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 101


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One Response to Commissar

  1. Pingback: Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources, Chapter 9 | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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