Profession: Head of the Soviet Secret Police
Why Famous: Beria was once introduced by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt as "our Heinrich Himmler". Beria was one of the most powerful Soviet politicians, who held control over the Soviet secret police apparatus, the NKVD. He was also a Marshal of the Soviet Union and organized the Katyn massacre in Poland where 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia were murdered after the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939.
He also oversaw the massive expansion of the Gulag labor camp system during World War II, and after the war led the communist takeover of institutions in Eastern Europe. In under five years he led and completed the Soviet atom bomb project.
After Stalin's death in 1953, Beria's ambition to succeed him came to the fore. (It was later written that Beria, on the moment of Stalin's death, had been "glistening with unconcealed relish".) However, tensions with Beria led to a coup against him by Nikita Khrushchev with help from Gregory Zhukov. He was arrested, tried, sentenced to death and executed on December 23, 1953.
During his trial and after his death it became known that Beria was an active sexual predator, having women abducted, raped and in some cases murdered.
- 1938-11-25 Lavrentiy Beria succeeds Nikolai Yezhov as the head of the Soviet secret police, NKVD, after Yezhov was executed on Joseph Stalin's orders
- 1953-06-26 Lavrentiy Beria, one of the trio of Russian leaders after Stalin's death and the former secret police chief, is ousted from power and arrested