Why did Soviet interrogators care if prisoners sign confessions?

Aug 2015
2,359
uk
#11
A verbal admission can be denied; harder to deny a signed confession. Presumably there is also some psychology involved; once you have confessed for all the world to see, you become more vulnerable and susceptible.

In Britain, under torture, suspects could (usually only commoners) could be tortured until a confession had been signed. Guy Fawkes was so badly hurt by his interrogators that his signature was barely legible. And of course if you know you are going to be tortured until you sign a confession, how many would sign it just to get it over and done?
 
May 2017
124
Monterrey
#12
You have to remember that the justice system, even in dictatorships, doesn't only serve to punish undesirables. They still have their normal functions. And of course, these confessions also serve to break the individual.
 
Nov 2009
3,870
Outer world
#13
In her book about the ordeal endured during the purges, Evgeniya Ginzburg mentions how an Azeri prisoner, Garej Sagidullin, confessed immediately and implicated everybody he knew. His reasoning was that if the communist authorities saw everybody denouncing everybody else with implicated people running in the hundreds of thousands, then those authorities would realise that the whole accusations were a sham or, alternatively, it would lead to the then-current leadership to be toppled.
Obviously it did not work out.
Back in topic, I think that to have signed confessions would greatly serve to convince people of the guiltiness of the prisoner: back in 1930s, the average person had few sources of information and, as Goebbels said, a lie repeated a hundred times becomes truth, so it may have been so.
Both Ginzburg and Shalamov (another Gulag survivor whose "Diary from Kolyma" is a wonderful book that I highly suggest anybody to read) mention how there were many inmates firmly convinced that all the political persecutions were carried out unbeknown to Stalin, so it is not so unlikely that the average Soviet citizen truly believed about Trotskyte conspiracies and so forth.
 
Jan 2019
8
US
#14
Thinking more about it, I think it's a demonstration of power: we won't just say about you that you are guilty, we will break you enough that you will say that you are guilty. Few would willingly sign a false confession, so in making people do that anyway, they are demonstrating that they control the social reality of their society. For that a real signature is required and a forged one is of no use.

Though what would be really nice would be historical documents where the Soviets themselves discussed openly what the torture and confessions were about. I wonder if that exists.
 
Jul 2016
266
riverside
#15
When you read archives of NKVD-KGB prison committees - you will be surprised how details-oriented their bureaucracy was. You can read things like, this interrogator spat in the face of the prisoner and ordered him to sit motionlessly and wait till the spit was dry.

Very often the NKVD-KGB interrogators reported each other - for different purposes, including career goals and a chance to back-stab and later execute your competitor. Some were executed for "excessive cruelty."

This is why many of them would adhere to protocols. Not just a forged signature, but a real signature, plus a list of names of other enemies of the people - friends, relatives, co-workers of their prisoner.

As a separate issue, many NKVD-KGB interrogators were natural sadists and they would bet how long will it take to break a prisoner. A matter of supremacy pleasure...
 
Likes: rakh
Jul 2016
266
riverside
#18
Rape in the prison chambers was common. To make the interrogation more interesting for the NKVD-KGB officers.
So, the answer is NO to "just forge their signature". That would be too "dry" and too boring... after all, those officers were not in the business of signature forgery, - they were in the business of terrorizing and profiting.
 
Jan 2019
8
US
#20
It's clear that the interrogations provided opportunities for the interrogaters to engage in sadism, and it's also clear that having victims provide evidence against their neighbors and friends might be also a genuine interest of the Soviet government, since that could be useful for the Soviet government to remain in power, since even if such data would be highly unreliable, it might still contain some amount of information that they would find useful, especially if they did not mind some collateral damage along the way. That's all clear, and there might be all sorts of other dastardly motives. The question is why, in addition to all this other stuff, they really cared about getting these signatures, to the point that the interrogations would focus on that. Not why the interrogator cared, but why the Soviet system found this to be important.