What happened to the Russian nobility after the October Revolution of 1917? Either they escaped the Soviet Union, or they became targets for extermination under Stalin. Around 1918 Grigory Zinoviev declared that as much as ten percent of Russia’s then population of ten million would have to be annihilated as being “counterrevolutionaries.” As Zinoviev’s colleague Martin Latsis said:
Do not look in the file of incriminating evidence to see whether or not the accused rose up against the Soviets with arms or words…. Ask him instead to which class he belongs, what is his background, his education, his profession. These are the questions that will determine the fate of the accused. That is the meaning and essence of the Red Terror.
Ironically, after the assassination of Sergei Kirov in 1934, Zinoviev was ordered to be arrested and tried during the first of the big show trials what became Stalin’s purges. Of course, he was found guilty and executed, along with thousands of others.
In a new book by Douglas Smith entitled Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy, a brief description entailed what happened to one noble family, the Obolenskys:
Prince Vladimir Obolensky was killed at his estate in early 1918; later that year his older brother Alexander was shot at the Fortress of Peter and Paul in Petrograd. Prince Mikhail Obolensky was beaten to death by a mob at a railroad station in February 1918. Prince Pavel Obolensky, a cornet in the Hussars, was shot by the Bolsheviks in June 1918 and left for dead…. Princess Yelena Obolensky was killed at her estate in November 1918; her dead body was burned along with her manor house. Many more Obolenskys suffered similar horrific fates; they included seven members of the family who perished in Stalin’s prisons years later.
Particularly brutal were the fates of those aristocrats who sided with the White Army during the Civil War that followed the Revolution. And then along came Stalin, who did his best to demolish what remained.
This is not to say that there weren’t survivors, former aristos who “blended in” with the proletariat and lay low to avoid the attention of the Chekhist agencies of the Red Terror. What is astonishing was that the Bolsheviks and Stalinists found it necessary to execute an entire class which had already forfeited all its powers and wealth. But then, that’s what tyranny is all about: It is not above kicking you when you’re already down.