Vasili Mikhailovich Blokhin (1895 – February 1955) was a Soviet Major-General who served as the chief executioner of the Stalinist NKVD under the administrations of Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov and Lavrenty Beria. Hand-picked for the position by Joseph Stalin in 1926, Blokhin led a company of executioners that performed the majority of executions carried out during Stalin's reign (most during the Great Purge). Claims by the Soviet government put the number of NKVD official executions at 828,000 during Stalin's reign, and Blokhin is recorded as having personally executed tens of thousands of prisoners by his own hand over a 26-year period—including 7,000 condemned Polish POWs in one protracted mass execution—making him ostensibly the most prolific official executioner in recorded world history. He was awarded both the Order of the Badge of Honor (1937) and the Order of the Red Banner (1941).
Blokhin, born into a Russian peasant family, had served in the Tsarist army of World War I, and had joined the Cheka in March 1921. Though records are slim, he was evidently noted for both his pugnaciousness and his mastery of what Stalin termed "black work"; assassinations, torture, intimidation, and execution conducted clandestinely. Once he caught Stalin's eye, he was quickly promoted and within six years was appointed the head of the purpose-created Kommandatura Branch of the Administrative Executive Department of the NKVD. This branch was a company-sized element created by Stalin specifically for "black work" missions. Headquartered at the Lubyanka in Moscow, they were all approved by Stalin and took their orders directly from his hand, a fact that ensured the unit's longevity despite three bloody purges of the NKVD. As senior executioner, Blokhin's official title was that of Commandant of the internal prison at the Lubyanka, which allowed him to perform his true job with a minimum of scrutiny and no official paperwork.
Although most common executions were delegated to local Chekists or subordinate executioners from his unit, Blokhin personally performed all of the high-profile executions conducted in the Soviet Union during his tenure, including those of the Old Bolsheviks condemned at the Moscow Show Trials and two of the three fallen NKVD Chiefs (Yagoda in 1938 and Yezhov in 1940) he had once served under. He was awarded the Badge of Honor for his service in 1937.
Blokhin's most notable performance was the April 1940 mass execution by shooting of 7,000 Polish officers, captured following the Soviet invasion of Poland, from the Ostashkov POW camp, during the Katyn massacre. Based on the 4 April secret order from Stalin to NKVD Chief Lavrenti Beria (as well as NKVD Order № 00485, which still applied), the executions were carried out in 28 consecutive nights at the specially-constructed basement execution chamber at the NKVD headquarters in Kalinin (now Tver), and were assigned, by name, directly to Blokhin, making him the official executioner of the NKVD.
Blokhin initially decided on an ambitious quota of 300 executions per night, and engineered an efficient system in which the prisoners were individually led to a small antechamber—which had been painted red and was known as the "Leninist room"—for a brief and cursory positive identification, before being handcuffed and led into the execution room next door. The room was specially designed with padded walls for soundproofing, a sloping concrete floor with a drain and hose, and a log wall for the prisoners to stand against. Blokhin—outfitted in a leather butcher's apron, cap, and shoulder-length gloves to protect his uniform—then pushed the prisoner against the log wall and shot him once in the base of the skull with a German Walther Model 2 .25 ACP pistol. He had brought a briefcase full of his own Walther pistols, since he did not trust the reliability of the standard-issue Soviet TT-30 for the frequent, heavy use he intended. The use of a German pocket pistol, which was commonly carried by Nazi intelligence agents, also provided plausible deniability of the executions if the bodies were discovered later.
Between 20 to 30 local NKVD agents, guards and drivers were pressed into service to escort prisoners to the basement, confirm identification, then remove the bodies and hose down the blood after each execution. Although some of the executions were carried out by Senior Lieutenant of State Security Andrei M. Rubanov, Blokhin was the primary executioner and, true to his reputation, liked to work continuously and rapidly without interruption. In keeping with NKVD policy and the overall "black" nature of the operation, the executions were conducted at night, starting at dark and continuing until just prior to dawn. The initial quota of 300 was lowered by Blokhin to 250 after the first night, when it was decided that all further executions should take place in total darkness. The bodies were continuously loaded onto covered flat-bed trucks through a back door in the execution chamber and trucked, twice a night, to Mednoye, where Blokhin had arranged for a bulldozer and two NKVD drivers to dispose of bodies at an unfenced site. Each night, 24 to 25 trenches, measuring eight to ten meters total, were dug to hold the night's corpses, and each trench was covered up before dawn. Blokhin and his team worked without pause for ten hours each night, with Blokhin executing an average of one prisoner every three minutes. At the end of the night, Blokhin provided vodka to all his men.
On 27 April 1940, Blokhin secretly received the Order of the Red Banner and a modest monthly pay premium as a reward from Joseph Stalin for his "skill and organization in the effective carrying out of special tasks". His count of 7,000 shot in 28 days remains one of the most organized and protracted mass murders by a single individual on record.
Blokhin was forcibly retired following Stalin's death, although his "irreproachable service" was publicly noted by Lavrenty Beria at the time of his departure. After Beria's fall from power (June 1953), Blokhin's rank was eventually stripped from him in the de-Stalinization campaigns of Nikita Khrushchev. He reportedly sunk into alcoholism, went insane, and died in February 1955 with the official cause of death listed as "suicide".