B IS FOR BERIA (AND BERING STRAIT): On this day in 1953, LAVRENTIY BERIA met his end. Stalin himself had died nine months earlier, and his chief henchmen were turning against each other. Beria, Stalin’s chief of the secret police (NKVD), was arrested on charges of treason and tried in secret. And then shot.
It’s not easy to work up sympathy for such a bloodthirsty killer. But the rest of the story is truly bizarre. Less than a month later, the Soviet Encyclopedia sent a notice to subscribers enclosing new pages. In translation, it said the following:
The State Scientific Publishing House of the large Soviet Encyclopedia recommends that pages 21, 22, 23, and 24 be removed from Volume 5 as well as the portrait [of Beria] between pages 22 and 23 to replace which the pages of the new text are enclosed.
The aforementioned pages should be cut out with scissors or blade, leaving inside a margin on which the new pages can be pasted.
The substitute pages were an article on the otherwise obscure Friedrich Wilhelm von Bergholtz and pictures of the Bering Strait.
Subscribers dutifully cut Beria out of the encyclopedia. Failing to do so would be dangerous.