Yakov Sverdlov was a Bolshevik party leader and chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee.
Sverdlov was born in Nizhny Novgorod as Yakov Mikhailovich Sverdlov to Jewish parents Mikhail Izrailevich Sverdlov and Elizaveta Solomonova. His father was a politically active engraver who eventually went into forgery, and arms storage and dealing partially to support his family. The Sverdlov family had six children: two daughters (Sophia and Sara) and four sons (Zinovy, Yakov, Veniamin, and Lev). After his wife's death in 1900, Mikhail converted his family to the Russian Orthodox Church, married Maria Aleksandrovna Kormiltsev, and had two more sons, Herman and Alexander. Yakov's eldest brother Zinovy was adopted by Maxim Gorky, who was a frequent guest at the house. Yakov Sverdlov joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1902, and then the Bolshevik faction, supporting Vladimir Lenin. He was involved in the 1905 revolution.
After four years of high school, he became a prominent underground activist and speaker in Nizhny Novgorod. For most of the time from his arrest in June 1906 until 1917 he was either imprisoned or exiled. During the period 1914–1916 he was in internal exile in Turukhansk, Siberia, along with Joseph Stalin.
After the 1917 February Revolution he returned to Petrograd from exile and was re-elected to the Central Committee. He played an important role in planning the October Revolution.
A close ally of Lenin, Sverdlov played an important role in the controversial decisions to close down the Constituent Assembly and to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. It was claimed that Lenin provided the theories and Sverdlov made sure they worked. Later their relationship suffered as Lenin appeared to be too theoretical for practical Sverdlov.
He is sometimes referred to as the first head of state of the Soviet Union but this is not correct since the Soviet Union came into existence in 1922, three years after Sverdlov's death. However, as chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee (VTsIK) he was the de jure head of state of the Russian SFSR from shortly after the October Revolution until the time of his death.
A number of sources claim that Sverdlov played a leading role in the execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his family.
An official version is that Sverdlov died of influenza in Oryol during the 1918 flu pandemic, while returning to Moscow from Kharkiv during one of his political trips and got a flu during one of his outdoor speeches. He is buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, in Moscow. Another version is that he died of tuberculosis. Historian Arkadi Waksberg claimed that there were reliable rumours that Sverdlov was beaten to death by workers in Oryol, due to his Jewish origins, and that the incident was covered up to prevent an anti-semitic outburst. Another speculation is that he was eliminated due to his involvement in an attempt to assassinate Lenin.
In 1924, Yekaterinburg was renamed Sverdlovsk in his honor. In 1991, Sverdlovsk was changed back to Yekaterinburg.
His son Andrei had a long career as an officer for the Soviet security organs (NKVD, OGPU). His niece Ida married NKVD chief Genrikh Yagoda.
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