When history's most monstrous murderers are cited, such names as Hitler, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun and the Mongols are quick to surface. Too often left off the list is Josef Stalin, the former Soviet Union despot who may have caused more deaths than any of the others.
Stalin in his bloody reign is considered responsible for at least 20 million deaths of fellow Russians. Millions of gypsies, gays and alleged "misfits" were special targets of his brutal tactics.
While the current Russian government and president Vladimir Putin tends to sidestep the Stalin issue, there are those who recognize what happened and feel it should be chronicled. From Moscow comes an Associated Press report telling how Russian Orthodox priests recently consecrated a wooded cross at a site south of the city where firing squads executed thousands of people 70 years ago at the height of Stalin's horrible purges.
The ceremony focused on The Great Purge of 1937 when millions were labeled "enemies of the state" and either executed without trial or sent to labor camps.
There were no representatives of the Putin government. Putin, a former KGB officer, says he is attempting to restore Russians' pride in their Soviet-era history by softening the public perception of Stalin's rule.
Said one of the officials at the dedication, "I know no other example in history when 700,000 people were killed in less than two years only for political reasons." Putin has said that while the 1937 purge was one of the most notorious episodes of the Stalin era, no one should try to make Russia feel guilty about it because "in other countries even worse things happened."
How faint is that praise for Stalin's reign of terror? Naturally, Putin in a June talk to history teachers suggested the United States' use of atomic weapons against Japan to end World War II in 1945 was among those "things."
Political arrests and murders on dubious charges were common during Stalin's rule. Millions went to slave labor camps and died. Large-scale arrests of Communist Party members began in 1934 and reached a peak in 1936-37.
Human life was the cheapest of commodities of the Stalin era. When his forces were sent out to battle German invaders, he trained convicts in a military mode to follow behind his troops and kill anyone who even hinted at retreat. After the war, many of those who had been held prisoner by the Germans returned to Russia only to be imprisoned or killed as traitors because they had not sacrificed their lives against the Nazis.
Josef Stalin's grim and grisly record of human indignity should be at the top of the list when rosters of mass murderers of any era are compiled.