Genrikh Grigor'evich Yagoda (Генрих Григорьевич Ягода; born Yenokh (Enoch) Gershonovich Ieguda (Енох Гершонович Иегуда); 1891 – March 15, 1938) was the head of the NKVD, the Soviet internal affairs and border guards body, from 1934 to 1936.
Yagoda was born in Rybinsk in a Jewish family, and joined the Bolsheviks in 1907. After the October Revolution of 1917, he rose through the ranks of the Cheka (the NKVD's predecessor), becoming Felix Dzerzhinsky's second deputy in September 1923. After Dzerzhinsky's death in July 1926, Yagoda became deputy chairman under Vyacheslav Menzhinsky. Due to Menzhinsky's serious illness, Yagoda was in effective control of the secret police in the late 1920s. In 1931, Yagoda was demoted to second deputy chairman. On July 10, 1934, two months after Menzhinsky's death, Joseph Stalin appointed Yagoda "People's Commissar for Internal Affairs," a position that included oversight of regular as well as secret police.
Yagoda was notorious for his love of gambling and womanizing. When eventually arrested, pornographic material including photographs and films was found in his house. He may have been involved with the murder of his superior Menzhinsky, whom he was later accused of poisoning, and Sergei Kirov, who was assassinated in December 1934.
Yagoda oversaw the interrogation process leading to the first Moscow Show Trial and subsequent execution of former Soviet leaders Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev in August 1936, an important milestone in Stalin's Great Purge. Yagoda was one of the founders of the GULAG concentration camp system in which more than 2 million Russians have perished. However, on September 16, 1936 he was replaced by Nikolai Yezhov, who oversaw the height of the purges in 1937-1938. In March 1937, Yagoda was arrested. He was found guilty of treason and conspiracy against the Soviet government at the Trial of the Twenty One in March 1938. Solzhenitsyn describes Yagoda as trusting in deliverance from Stalin even during the show trial itself:
Yagoda was executed by shooting shortly after the trial.
Alexander Orlov, also Russian by birth, attributed the following conversation to Yagoda during his last days at the Lubyanka prison before his execution. When asked by his interrogator if he believed in God, Yagoda replied, "From Stalin I deserved nothing but gratitude for my faithful service; from God I deserved the most severe punishment for having violated his commandments thousands of times. Now look where I am and judge for yourself: is there a God, or not...