Only an individual of exceptional cruelty and cunning could hope to survive for any great length of time as chief of Stalin’s NKVD. The unassuming-looking Lavrentiy Beria was just such a man. Described by Stalin’s daughter as an evil genius who surpassed even her father in the dark political arts, Beria was perhaps the most depraved of all Stalin’s creatures.

Appointed as chief of the NKVD in place of Nikolai Yezhov, Beria was a sycophantic crawler who did everything in his power to ingratiate himself with Stalin, the man he called “The Boss.” He was also a man who thoroughly enjoyed his job. Reported to be capable of going days on end without sleep, he delighted in presiding over marathon torture sessions.

When Beria wasn’t killing in his professional capacity as Stalin’s attack dog, he did so for his own amusement. His henchmen were under instruction to roam the streets seeking out young women and girls for him to rape and murder.

There’s little doubt that Stalin must have been aware of Beria’s activities, but the Soviet dictator prized loyalty and efficiency over all else and cared nothing for the suffering of others.

Beria’s loyalty, however, was not as complete as Stalin imagined. When Stalin died in 1953, Beria spat on his corpse and smiled. Most likely he believed he would replace his former master as dictator, but with Stalin’s protection lost he was instead arrested and sentenced to death for his many crimes. Beria, the merciless killer, broke down in tears and pleaded for his life. His screams were muffled by a rag stuffed in his mouth before he was shot in the head.

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