Victims of mass repression in Stalin’s Soviet Union were subject to physical and psychological torture by their interrogators, forced to confess to crimes they did not commit. Many eventually broke, accepting that continuing to resist the interrogations was pointless as well as believing their interrogators’ assurances that confessing would save their lives. The interrogators lied: confessing rarely saved the victims—it was often the last step to their execution.
The case of Ukrainian communist Oleksandr Shumskyi offers unique insight into an alternative strategy of survival in Stalin’s terror machine: Shumskyi endured his tortures. He resisted, refusing to confess for over a decade, and waged a campaign against his unlawful arrest. By refusing to confess to the false charges made against him, Shumskyi denied his interrogators one of the key pieces of evidence they required to help demonstrate the “legality,” however perverse, of their investigations against him and others. For the state, his refusal denied the legitimacy of its violence, and its machinery of repression stumbled. Stalin’s Liquidation Game examines the relationship between resistance and survival, focusing on Shumskyi’s arrest and incarceration from 1933 until his death in 1946, along with a broader analysis of the fates of his Ukrainian intelligentsia associates also arrested at this time.