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Mikhail Dmitrievich Ryumin Михаил Дмитриевич Рюмин (1 September 1913 – 22 July 1954) was a Soviet security officer and deputy head of the Soviet MGB (Ministry of State Security) who engineered the "Doctors' Plot" in 1952–1953; the case was dismissed on Jospeh Stalin's death and Ryumin was arrested and executed.
Ryumin was born in a peasant village in the Kuban area. Reputedly, his family were wealthy farmers, his brother and sister were convicted thieves, and his father in law fought against the Bolsheviks in the White Army commanded by Admiral Kolchak. Despite his background, he survived the wholesale arrests of 'kulaks' instigated by Josif Stalin, and by about 1931 was working as bookkeeper on a collective farm in the Urals. His next break came after Nikolai Yezhov ordered the mass arrest of NKVD officers suspected of loyalty to his predecessor, Genrikh Yagoda in 1937, when Ryumin joined the NKVD as a bookkeeper. He worked for SMERSH during the war, and in 1948 was transferred to the Department for Specially Important Cases, within the MGB.
Ryumin personally tortured prisoners in the Sukhanovo Prison, and appears to have enjoyed doing it. His victims included a young American, Alexander Dolgun who was arrested in Moscow in 1948, but later released and deported. In his memoirs, he recalled being told by Ryumin: "I have a Cossack method of beating. I draw as I hit. You will never have felt such pain! Ever!". Ryumin then beat him unconscious, using a two-foot long rubber club. Early in 1949, he supervised the interrogation of Boris Shimeliovich, a long-standing party member who came under suspicion because of his war time involvement in the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. Accused of terrorism, he refused to confess, and was beaten so badly that he had to be brought in on a stretcher for his interrogation to continue. At his trial, Shimeliovich told the judge: "I received approximately eighty to one hundred blows a day, so altogether I think I was hit about two thousand times."
The Doctors' Plot
In 1950, Ryumin began the interrogation of Professor Yakov Gilyarievich Etinger, an eminent, elderly Jewish cardiologist, who had made critical remarks about the regime to family and friends. Dr. Etinger had treated two very high ranking communists, Andrei Zhdanov and Alexander Shcherbakov who had died from heart disease. Ryumin tried to force him to confess to murdering them both. This was the origin of the Doctors' Plot, one of the most infamous miscarriages of justice of the Stalin era. It is not known whether it was originally Ryumin's idea, or whether Stalin put him up to it. According to a fellow officer, Ryumin was a "notorious anti-semitic" but "primitive". At his trial in 1953, he was described as "half-educated" and "dim-witted". Stalin nicknamed him the "pygmy". After Etinger had been put through 37 separate interrogations between November 1950 and January 1951, Ryumin was ordered by the Minister of State Security Viktor Semyonovich Abakumov to ease up because medical staff had warned that stress might kill the elderly prisoner, despite which Ryumin carried out another 39 interrogations, accompanied by sleep deprivation and other abuses until Etinger's death on 2 March 1951. Ryumin was reprimanded, and fearing worse was to come, wrote to Stalin on 2 July 1951 accusing Abakumov of covering up a plot by Jewish terrorists. Reputedly the letter was largely written for him by an official named Dmitri Sukhanov, who ran the private office of Georgi Malenkov.
Stalin's reaction was to promote Ryumin to head of the Department for Specially Important Cases, and to dismiss Abakumov, who was arrested. The new head of the MGB, Semyon Ignatyev, is said to have been ordered by Stalin to allow Ryumin pursue his persecution of Jews without interference. During his 18-month ascendancy, almost every high-ranking Jew in the security services - such as the specialists in torture, Lev Shvartzman and Boris Rodos was dismissed, and Ryumin reputedly planned a trial with Abakumov and Shvartzman as principle defendants. He also pursued the case of the Old Bolshevik Solomon Lozovsky and a group of Jewish writers.
Ryumin was abruptly sacked on 13 November 1952, apparently because Stalin had decided that he was too incompetent to do the job. He then returned to his old profession as a book keeper. After the death of Stalin in March 1953, Lavrentiy Beria regained control of the MGB, the Doctor's Plot was denounced as a fabrication, on 17 March, Ryumin was arrested. He was the sole defendant at a trial that lasted six days, from 2 July to 7 July 1954, and was sentenced to death and executed. It has been suggested, for instance by the historian Robert Conquest, that the lengthy trial was ordered by Malenkov to exonerate himself from any involvement in the Doctors' Plot and Ryumin's other activities.
Ryumin appears as a character in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's novel, The First Circle where he is described as "pink-cheeked and plump, with thin peevish lips" and it is suggested that his big break when a prosecutor reported him to Abakumov for blatently fabricated a case against a war correspondent, and instead of reprimanding him Abakumov appointed him a senior interrogator.
- His first name is given in the American Jewish Yearbook for 1955, p. 408.
- Pavel Sudoplatov, Special Tasks, The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness – a Soviet Spymaster (Warner Books, 1995) p. 299.
- Alexander Dolgun and Patrick Wilson, Alexander Dolgun's Story: An American in the Gulag (Random House, 1975) p. 197.
- Joshua Rubenstein and Vladimir P. Naumov, Stalin's Secret Pogrom, The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (Yale University Press, 2001) p. 287.
- Sudoplatov, pp. 280, 306.
- Jonathan Brent and Vladimir P. Naumov, Stalin's Last Crime, The Doctors' Plot (John Murray, 2004) p. 108.
- Brent and Naumov, p. 101.
- Sudoplatov, p. 299.
- Conquesr, Robert (1961). Power and Policy in the USSR. London: Macmillan. pp. 244–46.
- Solzhenitsyn, Alexander (1972). The First Circle. (translated from the Russian by Michael Guybon) London: Fontana. p. 95.
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