MOSCOW, FEB. 28 -- If there is a demon, a version of absolute evil, in the new version of Soviet history in the official press it is Lavrenti Beria, the dreaded head of the secret police who helped lead Joseph Stalin's purges in the 1930s and then made an unsuccessful bid for power after the dictator's death in 1953.
In an article today in Nedyela, the weekly supplement to the government daily Izvestia, the widow of Beria's executioner claimed Beria got down on his hands and knees and begged for mercy before he was shot.
Known as "the Kremlin monster," Beria has been vilified in the press and in Tengiz Abuladze's powerful film, "Repentance." Today's article said Beria refused to admit any guilt and then went on an 11-day hunger strike before he was brought to court.
"We had to bend our efforts to make sure the villain survived to face trial," the general in charge of Beria was quoted as saying.
Pavel Batitsky, who later became air defense chief, was Beria's executioner, the article said. According to his widow, Batitsky discovered that Beria -- whose sadism has been described as extending to dragging women in from the street, forcing them to participate in orgies, and then throwing them back out on the street shot dead -- was in the end a simpering coward.
Olga Batitsky quoted her husband as saying Beria "implored him for mercy, groveling on his knees. This insulted my husband. And my husband said, 'In all that you have done, so loathsome, mean and nasty, can you not find enough courage in yourself to accept your punishment in silence?' "
The article described how in the wake of Stalin's death, Beria tried to persuade Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin to oust the premier, Georgi Malenkov, who died earlier this year.
Malenkov's son, Andrei, said in the article that Khrushchev and Bulganin quickly reported Beria's intentions to Malenkov. "That was enough for extreme measures to be taken," said Andrei Malenkov.
The article also said that Georgi Zhukhov, the World War II military commander who was later vilified by Stalin, devised a plan to arrest Beria in the Kremlin.
Members of an Army team hid in Zhukhov's and Bulganin's official cars and were driven through the Kremlin gates past Beria's troops. Once inside, the soldiers arrested Beria and took him to a specially guarded jail cell within the Kremlin. Later they smuggled Beria past his troops and to a cell elsewhere in Moscow.
Khrushchev, in his memoirs, has himself, not Zhukhov, plotting Beria's arrest.
Foreign historical accounts often have been vague about Beria's end. Some even assumed that his execution quickly followed his arrest in June 1953, but this article dates his trial, along with those of six aides, as Dec. 18-23. All were shot immediately after the trial.