MONTREAL GAZETTE, August 20, 1936
16 CONFESS PLOT TO SLAY STALIN, DESTROY SOVIET
Zinovieff and Kameneff Admit Guilt, Incriminate Trotzky
NAZI GESTAPO IS NAMED
German Secret Police Provided Terrorists With False Passports, Is Claim
By HAROLD DENNY.
(Special Cable to The New York Times and The Gazette.)
Moscow, August 19.—An amazing story of a series of plots both within and without this country to “decapitate” the Soviet regime by assassinating all the principal leaders and place a new government in the saddle and new leaders in control of the world Communist movement was unfolded today and tonight as Gregory Zinovieff and Leon Kameneff and 14 others went on trial charged with organizing terrorist groups.
To sensations already provided by confessions and testimony in which every defendant except two lesser ones fully admitted plotting the assassination of the Soviet leaders, on instructions from Leon Trotzky in collaboration with the German secret police, was added another tonight that rocked and shocked the breathless audience packed tight in the court room and will rock and shock the whole Soviet tomorrow.
T. Reingold, one of the defendants, confessed he was a member of the “Moscow group” whose adherents admitted that their task was to assassinate Joseph Stalin. K. E. Voroshiloff, Defence Commissar, L.M. Koganovitch, Transportation Commissar, G.K. Ordjanikidze, Commissar for Heavy Industry, P.P. Postisheff, a secretary of the Russian Communist party, S.V. Kossior, a member of the Communist political bureau, and Andre A. Zhdanoff, alternate member of that powerful body—almost the entire Soviet hierarchy.
Reingold described in his testimony tonight an entirely separate plot planned wholly within the country for the assassination of Stalin. He said he believed the existence of this plot was known by Nikolai Bukharin, present principal editor of the newspaper Izvestia; Alexei Rykoff, former premier and now Commissar for Posts and Telegraphs, Gregory Sokolnikoff, former Ambassador to Britain and former Vice Commissar for Foreign Affairs, and Mikhail Tomsky, former head of the Trade Union Council, besides Zinovieff and Kameneff.
According to Reingold’s story, which Zinovieff and Kameneff corroborated in testimony tonight, the plot originated in 1932 among leading members of the old opposition, which Stalin crushed at the beginning of 1926. The plan, he testified, was for Zinovieff’s private secretary to visit Stalin in his private office, to which he had access, and shoot him.
In the disorganization that was expected to follow and in a still disharmonious party Kameneff was to seize governmental power while Zinovieff was to assume control of the Russian Communist party and the Communist International, which he had long headed before he fell into disgrace.
Asked by the Prosecutor, Andrei Vishinsky, what he had done about Mr. Troizky, Reingold replied:
“Oh, we were not quite sure what we would do with Trozky after we got into power.”
TO KILL ASSASSINS.
And then came this cynical part of the alleged plot, reminding one of the days of Ivan the Terrible. According to Reingold I. Bakaieff, another of the defendants, a slim, black bearded, fiery-eyed zealot — the perfect embodiment of the outside world’s idea of a Bolshevik— was to be made head of the Ogpu (Soviet secret police). He was to have put to death all the actual assassins and any Ogpu men having dangerous knowledge so that the actual origin of the plot would never be known.
It would stem a perfectly incredible story except that Zinovieff and Kameneff sprang almost eagerly to their feet tonight to confirm it. The manner in which the story was divulged is characteristic of the trial, in which the defendants arc wrangling among themselves, jealous of standing up as plotters and cheerily piling up detailed evidence against each other. Zinovieff and Kameneff in earlier testimony belittled Reingold’s importance in the terrorist group. When Reingold’s turn came he told of this plot to kill Stalin to show how completely “in the know” he was.
Reingold revealed furthermore that the State Bank had been used by the plotters to finance schemes against the heads of the State. He was employed there, and through acquaintances who were hostile to the regime he obtained about $25,000 in State funds. At least one high bank official is known to be in custody; there has been a shake-up among others, and the banks powers have been curtailed.
Besides today’s prisoners, it is announced 13 others, including a woman, have been arrested and will be tried later as terrorists. These include Dimitri Schmidt, a high Red Army Commander, who was accused in testimony earlier in the day of having plotted to kill Defence Commissar Voroshiloff. But neither Mr. Sokolnikoff nor any of the others named by Reingold as having had knowledge of the plot against Stalin are accused of any charge by the Soviet Government.
The Zinovieff and Trotzkyist groups joined in 1932 for the purpose of seizing power and to that end organized several groups of terrorists, each assigned to dispose I of one or more members of the Soviet ruling circle The strategy as outlined in a letter by Trotzky to Dreizer, one of the accused who was chief of Trotsky’s bodyguards when he was Commissar of War, was:
1— Eliminate Stalin and Voroshiloff as the solution of the first problem;
2— Develop activities within the army with the object of disorganizing it;
3—In case the Soviet is at war take advantage of any failures or confusion to seize power.
According to the confessions and the testimony today Trotzky further counselled that Stalin should not be killed privately but in spectacular circumstances such as the International Communist Party congress where it would startle delegates from all over the world and in hopes that it would stir up an uprising among the masses in Russia and perhaps prompt foreign intervention against the existing regime.
Fritz David, according to the confessions—his own among others —was chosen by Trotzky for the “historic mission” of killing Stalin. David related he was a member of the German Communist party and a secret member of the Trotzkyist faction. He came as a delegate to the Comintern congress last summer and sat with a concealed pistol during the sessions of the Comintern in the very build.ng where’ he is now on trial. Describing it in the confession, he said:
“But I failed to fulfil the task assigned to me because I could not get close enough to the dais where Stalin sat.”
Moses Lurie, another of today’s defendants, confessed similarly to entering Russia with the aid of an agent of the Gestapo and was assigned together with Nathan, Lurie and Dreizer to Voroshiloff. Their confessions, perhaps the most sensational of the afternoon session, contain the first hint ever of treason within the Red Army. According to their story the actual job of killing Voroshiloff was taken by Dmitri Schmidt, a high Red Army Commander, who though a Trotzky sympathizer. His plan, a Trotsky sympathizer. His plan, according to Lurie and Dreizer. was to shoot Voroshiloff cither when the Defense Commissar was at manoeuvres, or when in private conference with him.
Hardly had the session opened in a court-martial atmosphere with bayonet-armed guards mounted over the prisoners’ boxes, than Zinovieff rose and declared:
“I am fully guilty.”
Zinovieff was asked by the prosecutor if he organized the terrorists.
“Yes.” he replied.
“Did you plot the death of Sergei M. Kiroff (Stalin’s chief aide)”
“Did you organize the plan to kill Stalin?”
“Yes. I am guilty of every charge in the indictment.”
PLOT LAID TO TROTZKY.
As the trial started amid the elegance of the former Moscow Nobles Club hall, the prosecutors laid the plot directly to Leon Trotzky. They said he and the co-conspirators bid for international aid to overthrow the Government.
The presiding judge, General Ulrich, assisted by three associate military Judges questioned the defendants—all former members of the Communist Party—and received their pleas.
The pleas brought a sudden climax to the trial at which 300 persons, whose credentials had been carefully scrutinized, were admitted.
Andrey Vishinsky, the government’s ace prosecutor, had only to bring out the grim details under the gay cupids and intertwined daisy chain on the walls of the trial’s bizarre setting.
The defendants were stirred to emotion only in testifying against each other.
Cross-examination adduced there were two efforts on Stalin’s life, first when Kiroff was killed and later at the Comintern congress last July in Moscow.
“That Stalin is not dead,” Evdokimoff averred, “Is due to Zinovieff’s weakness, his indecision, his general wishywashyness.”
Another witness denied Trotzky was directly implicated with the plotters and, turning to face Zinovieff, called him a liar.
“He was always a liar,” the witness, I. Smirnoff, added.
Smirnoff, one of the lesser defendants, denied he had carried instructions from Trotzky or had actively plotted the terror, but added:
“I belonged to the (conspiracy) centre and accept full responsibility for membership in that group.”
PLOT WITHIN THE PLOT.
Sokolnikoff already is under arrest.
The disclosures included a hint of other, broader ramifications of the plot which reached deep into Soviet public life. One was the plan to disorganize the Red Army by killing Voroshiloff during a military review.
While Trotzky believed he was to return triumphantly to head the Soviet Government the testimony disclosed, his henchmen had other plans. Reingold said the terrorist band intended to make Kameneff head of the Government, and Zinovieff head of the Comintern. Bakaieff was to become director of the “Ogpu,” secret police.
This plot-within-the-plot had not decided quite what to do about Trotzky. Reingold declared, and the courtroom rocked with laughter.
He said the inner circle of the conspirators intended to kill the tools of the plot as soon as the terrorists took power.
Zinovieff’s efforts to win German Nazi support for the conspiracy to overthrow Communism in Russia were charged in the testimony of Moissey Lurye. The indictment quoted Kameneff as saying the terrorists decided to act because the Soviet’s emergence from industrial and agricultural difficulties and its successful economic programme blasted their hopes that Stalin would fail.
“This evoked in us a new wave of anger and hatred against the leadership of the party, primarily Stalin,” he was quoted.
* * *
Trotsky, in exile now in Norway was reported to be enraged by the failure to “get” Stalin and, therefore, speeded up his plans for the assassinations by sending German agents into Russia with the connivance of the Gestapo.
Orders have been issued for the arrest of Trotzky and his son, who was accused of playing a messenger’s role in the dramatic plot, should either set foot in the Soviet Union.
TROTZKY DERIDES TRIAL.
Hoenefoss, Norway. August 19 (UPI).—Leon Trotzky, whose alleged followers are on trial in Moscow charged with a plot to overthrow the Soviet Government, derided the proceedings tonight as “humbug”.
“For political vengeance,” the exiled Bolshevik exclaimed, “the trial puts the Dreyfus scandal and the Reichstag fire in the shadow.
“The process is all humbug. The confessions were forced by the ‘Ogpu’ (secret police) which gives the accused a choice between confessing according to the Ogpu’s desires and taking lesser penalties than death.
“If I were in Russia, I could easily disprove the accusations. But I have copies of every letter I have sent in the past seven years and, granted time, I shall prove provocateurs have been active in the Moscow trial for political revenge.
“I will make the accusers the accused.”
MONTREAL GAZETTE, August 21, 1936
STALIN MISSED DEATH ON MAY DAY
TERRORIST ACCUSED TELLS COURT
Says Fourth Attempt on His Life in Two Years Failed This Spring – Trotzky Emerges as Real Defendant of Trial
By HAROLD DENNY.
(Special Cable to The New York Times and The Gazette.)
Moscow, August 20—The score of the attempts to assassinate Joseph Stalin during the past two years rose to four tonight when Valentine Olberg, one of the 16 defendants, including Gregory Zinovieff, being tried for alleged terroristic activities, testified he was to have bombed Stalin in the course of the May Day parade this spring.
Olberg, according to his testimony, came in on a false passport arranged by the German police and had made all plans, but was arrested for some reason undisclosed by the fatal day.
“We were to send a group of students to the Gorky Pedagogical Institute under the pretense of giving them a trip to Moscow as a reward for excellent scholarship,” Olberg testified. “Fedotov (director of the Institute) was to give them a letter to the Moscow Pedagogical Institute where he knew two Trotzkyists asking to get them into the May Day demonstration. Those students were to carry the bombs prepared at Gorky and throw them at Stalin as he passed the stand.”
Had this plan been carried out many more Soviet leaders other than Stalin might easily have been killed at the May Day celebrations at which thousands parade through the Red Square. Stalin stands with all the dignitaries of the Soviet Union atop Lenin’s tomb, close to the marching delegations.
According to a curious custom at Soviet trials where several witnesses are on their feet at once testifying in dialogue form, Reingold and Kameneff confronted each other this afternoon. Reingold telling in his confession of the Moscow centre’s plans for the assassination of Stalin, quoted Kameneff as remarking cynically that “heads are distinguished by the fact that they never grow on again.”
Today he revealed the real reason Stalin had escaped death on December 1, 1934, when Kiroff was assassinated at Leningrad. The Moscow group had arranged for A. Bogden to call on Stalin at his office and shoot him. Bogden, as Zmovieff’s secretary and a convinced Trotzkyist, could not refuse, but he could not nerve himself to carry out the mission. So, he shot himself.
“This is nonsense, Kameneff cried today to Reingold’s testimony of a plan to kill the assassins to shield the real plotters.
“We never had any intention to kill the people who would have enabled us to get power.”
“My story is true and Kameneff and Zinovieff know it but they have not sufficient courage to admit it now,” replied Reingold, glaring at Kameneff.
“Also, you and Zinovieff are responsible for the suicide of Bogden who killed himself rather than carry out your orders,” he shouted at Kameneff.
INDIFFERENT TO DEATH.
Today, even more than yesterday, was apparent the incomprehensible desire of the defendants to convict themselves. Instead of the drama of a murder trial with the defendant fighting for his life, the spectacle here is one of 16 men accused of a crime having only one possible penalty and with no possibility of any technicality saving them, facing the court with “We who are about to die salute you.”
Then they supplement their full confessions with eager testimony against themselves and against each other. They spring to their feet like bright pupils glad to show how much they know. There is witty repartee among the prisoners, prosecutor and court, in which the prisoners join the audience in the merriment. Even the sombre Zinovieff sometimes smiles.
These doomed men are marching toward the firing squad amidst gales of laughter. Only one so far — Smirnoff — is fighting for his life. And his fellows are hounding him harder than the prosecutor.
Perhaps it is part of the traditional Slavic-Oriental indifference to death. One knows that confessions can be elicited by various subtle pressures and so even can testimony in court. But these defendants do not testify like men coerced and the stories they tell extemporaneously on their feet dovetail as fabricated stones hardly could. If there is more here than meets the eye not even the most skeptical observer can guess what it is.
Leon Trotzky, who now is safe in exile but who will be shot if he ever sets foot on Soviet soil, emerged as the real defendant today.
With the fate of these once great Bolsheviks apparently sealed beyond doubt and the official press crying “shoot the murderers,” the prosecutor concentrated today on tracing the plot back by every conceivable path to Trotzky and in turn linking him and his son Syedov to the German secret police.
In this task he had the fullest cooperation of Zinovieff, Kameneff and most of their admitted confederates, who spent today, as they did yesterday, eagerly damning themselves as “hypocrites and traitors”’ who had accepted the cooperation of foreign spies as well as domestic gunmen to appease their personal hatred for Stalin’s regime and their thirst for the power they had once held and lost.
Zinovieff and Kameneff again testified for hours. They shared the day’s spotlight, however, with Ivan Smirnoff who was one of the only two defendants who denied participating in the actual murder plots, and a frail haunted-faced woman, Anna Safonova, Smirnoff’s ex-wife and an admitted member of the assassin group who will soon be tried for planning the death of Commissar Voroshiloff and who blazingly told Smirnoff he lied.
Smirnoff, wriggling for hours while Prosecutors Vishinsky and Ulrich and his own fellow-defendants bombarded him with accusations, admitted point by point to conferring with Trotzky’s son while purchasing supplies for the Soviet in Berlin, then to discussing terrorism against Stalin with Trotzky’s son, then to bringing terroristic instructions about Stalin to the Moscow bloc, and finally agreeing to accept the title “leader of the Trotzkyist group,” but still denying he himself counselled violence.
TURNED TO FASCISM.
But Zinovieff, less abject than yesterday and with a trace of his old fire back, testified almost eloquently. He even admitted he had gone all the way “from opposition through counter-revolution to terrorism and actually to Fascism.”
“Because.” he said epigrammatically, “Trotzkyism plus terrorism is Fascism.”
Zinovieff even told of discussing terrorism with Smirnoff in the restaurant of the Council of People’s Commissars just outside of the Kremlin because a meeting of such well-known Trotzkyists in a private apartment would be noticed, and draw suspicion.
Kameneff — still dignified in the prisoner’s pen and treated with dignity by the prosecutor — told at length like a professor lecturing a class how his group, convinced the Soviet growing economic strength made an opposition movement among the masses impossible, had decided on a programme of assassinations only to win power.
“A political group deprived of power naturally feels its policies superior,” explained Kameneff, but he could cite no policy beyond that of seizing power.
He had a sharp brush with T. Reingold denying with brandished fist Reingold’s accusation that Kameneff and other leaders planned to do away with the actual assassins.
“Trotzky’s role in the counter-revolution was greater than mine although mine was great enough,” Zinovieff said “I am guiltier than Trotzky because I was here doing the actual work.”
Once Kameneff broke the testimony of Zinovieff, who said he had written an editorial against the assassins of Sergei Kiroff, the chief aide of Stalin.
“Kameneff planned the same thing,” said Zinovieff.
Abruptly Kameneff asserted:
“I did not! I had no intention of writing an article.”
BOTH WERE CONVICTED.
Both men were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms in connection with the Kiroff death in 1934 and presumably were arrested in prison on the conspiracy charge.
It was brought out that a plot to kill Stalin in 1934 failed when A. Bogden, Zinovieff’s secretary, killed himself rather than murder Stalin. The dictator was to have died with his aide, Kiroff, at Leningrad.
Kameneff added details of the alleged long-standing movement to undermine the government.
Simply he said: “We faced in 1932 two alternatives. Because of the success of the government we knew we had failed.
“We could capitulate, throw in the sponge, and conform to Stalin, or we could conspire for terrorism as a desperate effort to regain power.
“We decided on the second alternative.”
The conspirators then sought to enlist all enemies of Stalin, of whatever political faith, in the campaign to overthrow the Stalin regime.
Five men, he said, remained in the good offices of the government and aided the conspiracy by fighting from within the ranks of the Communists.
These men, he declared, were:
Nikolai Bukharin, principal editor of the newspaper Izvestia, main organ of the Soviet Government.
Karl Radek, authoritative government commentator who frequently wrote for Izvestia.
Mikhail Tomsky, former head of the Trade Council.
Alexei Rykoff, former premier and now Commissar for Posts and Telegraphs.
Gregory Sokolnikoff, former Ambassador to the Court of St. James.
Valentin Olberg disclosed Stalin narrowly escaped a third attempt on his life on May 1 of this year while he reviewed troops during the Soviet’s largest celebration.
Olberg testified the Gestapo promised him any help he needed to kill Stalin. The plot, he said, was to send a group of students from Gorky to hurl bombs at Stalin while he stood on the Lenin Tribune in the massed Red Square.
The third attempt inside 18 months to blast Stalin out of the way was foiled, Olberg said, because he was arrested just before sending the students. He admitted conceiving the plan and taking it up with Director Fedotoff of the Gorky Pedagogical Institute where the students were to be recruited.
Stalin’s death, he averred, would have complied with orders from Trotzky.
The Government called three and four witnesses to the stand at a time in an effort to break down the denials of the two defendants who, admitting their complicity, deny plotting to kill Stalin.
Wild-eyed 30-year-old Anna Safonova, former wife of I. Smirnoff, who was once the virtual “king” of Siberia, was the ace witness.
Although she will be tried later, she unhesitatingly confessed her full guilt in the conspiracy and then turned to denounce her former husband.
She testified her former husband, while abroad in 1932, got in touch with Trotzky’s son, L.L. Sedoff, in Berlin. There, she swore, he received instructions to organize a terrorist centre which, after his return to Moscow, he carried out. Terrorists rallied by him, she said, resolved to assassinate Stalin and start the terror.
“Stalin must be killed and shall be killed,” she quoted Smirnoff.
Smirnoff heatedly denied he had agreed to Sedoff’s plan to kill Stalin but Ter Vaganian interrupted to shout Smirnoff was lying and Safonova was telling the truth.
The prosecution’s main efforts were to tie the plot directly to Trotzky. Even Kameneff and Zinovieff concurred he was the arch-conspirator.
Observers seemed amazed that the prisoners continued to heap on lavish details of their activities. There was no evident pressure on the witnesses in the courtroom. They appeared eager to offer damaging evidence which almost certainly will mean their death.
EXILE DENIES ANY CRIME.
Oslo. Norway, August 20—Leon Trotzky, exiled Communist leader, in a long declaration denied tonight he had violated an agreement with Norway by participating in political activities in the country.
Trotzky was named by Soviet officials as the leader in a counter-revolutionary conspiracy for which 16 Russians now are being tried in Moscow.
Referring to the Moscow trial, Trotzky said, “If a crime has been committed in Russia, I have not committed a crime toward Russia but the crime was committed by the Ogpu (Soviet secret police) against me.”
The Ogpu, he said, “faked new letters” and forced “confessions” from those already sentenced.
“No enlightened man can believe I should plot terroristic acts against Soviet leaders or co-operate with the Gestapo (German secret police),” he said in reference to a statement from Moscow that he and the others had co-operated with the Gestapo in certain phases of sending five men into Russia in the plot.
“This accusation is a lie as well as the charge that together with Joseph Stalin I organized a revolutionary movement in France, Spain, Belgium and Greece.”
Major Vidkun Quisling, chief of the Norwegian Nazi party, urged King Haakon to call a special session of Parliament to suspend the Cabinet because, he declared, it sympathized with Trotzky.
Quisling, in a letter to the monarch, described the situation in Norway as so tense there was danger citizens acting on their own initiative might harm the exiled Communist leader.
MONTREAL GAZETTE, August 22, 1936
Gunman Attempted Stalin’s Life On Trotzky’s Orders, He Admits
Moscow, August 21.—The admitted ace-triggerman in an alleged plot to overthrow the Soviet Government declared from the witness stand today he attempted to kill Joseph Stalin under direct order from Leon Trotzky.
The witness, Fritz David, testifying at the trial of 16 confessed counter-revolutionary plotters, said he sat at the congress of the Communist International in July, 1935 with a gun in his hand, waiting to shoot the Soviet leader.
“The chance did not come,” he related, “because I sat far away from the platform and had no opportunity to get near Stalin. Secret police were in the same box with me.”
The congress was held in the very hall in which the accused men are on trial for their lives.
The day brought accounts of intrigue and devices used by the plotters—including a secret code to smuggle information to them across Russia’s borders. The code was mysteriously based on “The Arabian Nights.”
There were also reports of secret compartments in trunks, invisible ink, shadowy foreign secret agent, disguised bombs in “diplomas” and other subterfuges, as the trial moved swiftly to a climax.
Both the government and the defendants accuse Trotzky of plotting and shaping the scheme for a dramatic coup to plunge the Soviet Union into chaos and to erect a Fascist state on the ruins of Communism.
Edward Holzman, with reluctance and confusion, told how he travelled as liaison man for the ring taking coded messages from I. Smirnoff, head of the Trolzkyites in Moscow, to Trotzky’s son, L.L. Syedoff, in Berlin.
“Smirnoff gave me a copy of the “Arabian Nights,” Holzman, 54-year-old, bald, and perspiring, related. “In some way which I do not remember it served as a secret code.”
“Upon meeting Syedoff in Berlin I handed him Smirnoff’s report on economic and political affairs in the USSR, and The Arabian Nights code.”
He told also of meeting Trotzky in Copenhagen, and quoted the alleged ringleader as saying:
“The only way to remove Stalin is through terror.”
Dr. Nathan Lourier, another defendant, declared a German engineer and agent, Franz Veis, abetted the terrorist plans in Moscow in 1932. Lourier said he learned later Veis was sent to Russia by Heinrich Himmler, chief of the Nazi secret police.
“I was shocked at first by that information,” he said. “But upon reflection I decided that since Trotzky’s purpose was terror, it was fair to use whatever allies were available.”
He said Stalin was to have been the chief victim but the plotters wanted also the lives of Klementi Voroshiloff, the War Commissar, Lazarus Kaganovich, Commissar of Transport, and S.K. Ordzhonikidze, Commissar of Heavy Industry.
Lourier said long-made plans to shoot Voroshiloff failed because the Commissar’s car “always drove too fast.” Then bombs were deemed necessary, he said.
Corroborating testimony there were three separate attempts to kill Stalin, witnesses said bombs labelled “diploma” were to have been sent him as he stood on the tomb of Lenin in Moscow’s Red Square during the last May Day celebration.
MONTREAL GAZETTE, 24 August, 1936.
SOVIET IMPOSES DEATH PENALTY ON 16 PLOTTERS
Prisoners Deliver Valedictories Saying Sentence Is Justified
HAVE 3 DAYS TO APPEAL
But It Is Held Inconceivable Clemency Will Be Granted Them
By HAROLD DENNY.
(Special Cable to The New York Times and The Gazette.)
Moscow. August 24 (Monday).—Gregory Zinovieff, Leon Kameneff and all 14 of their fellow-defendants were sentenced to death at 3 o’clock this morning for conspiring to assassinate Joseph Stalin and other Soviet leaders and actually accomplishing the death of Sergei Kiroff.
They have 72 hours in which to appeal for clemency to the Central Executive Committee after which, if mercy is not granted, they will be shot. Soviet officials said privately it is inconceivable that the Government will modify the penalty in a crime of such nature.
The prisoners and the entire court rose as V.V. Ulrich and his three associate judges entered briskly. Ulrich immediately began reading the verdict, his sharp voice clipping the words. The prisoners stood with heads down-cast, Zinovieff appearing most dejected of all. They did not move a muscle as Ulrich gave the court’s decision that they had been proved guilty of organizing a programme of assassination on instructions which Leon Trotzky had sent from abroad.
“On the basis of the above the military tribunal of the Supreme Court of the U.S.S.R. sentences Gregory Zinovieff, Leon Kameneff, G. Evdokimoff, I. Smirnoff, I. Bakeieff, S. Mirachkovsky, V. Olberg, K. Berman-Yurin, Fritz David, Moses Lurie, N. Lurie, I. Reginald, R. Pickel, V. Tervoganian, E. Dreitzier, and E. Golzman to the highest measure of social defense ‒ shooting.”
The judges turned abruptly and left the courtroom. Guards escorted the prisoners out. Zinovieff walking with bowed shoulders. Kameneff rigidly erect, and the trial ‒ most notable in the history of the Soviet Union and perhaps the most important political trial ever held anywhere ‒ was over.
TOMSKY TAKES LIFE.
As the trial came to its climax, Maikil Tomsky, one of the officials implicated in the conspiracy testimony, died suddenly in his home near Moscow.
Officials said Tomsky, head of the Soviet State publishing house, had committed suicide because “he became entangled in the conspiracy of counter-revolutionary terrorists.”
The death of Tomsky removed an important witness from the conspiracy investigation. Employees of the State publishing house which he directed charged today he was the go-between for the alleged plotters and others who are being drawn closer into the net of circumstances.
Among these are Karl Radek, noted Soviet writer; Alexei Rykoff, Commissar of Posts and Telegraphs, and Nicolai Bukharin, editor of the official newspaper Izvestia.
Tomsky was one of the old guard Bolshevists, whom he joined in 1904. He was a former member of the central committee of the Communist Party, the governing body of the organization. From 1917 to 1929 he was chairman of the All-Union Labor Unions.
The verdict was given hours after the last of the defendants delivered his valedictory and had showed evident reconciliation to death. These grave-side speeches composed an unbelievable scene — men before conviction reviling themselves and each other as miserable sinners who had strayed from the true faith and cursing Trotzky as a devil who had misled them and as a traitor to the working class who had climbed to power over their corpses. They blessed the name of Stalin. Some of them even asked for death — Kameneff among them.
Only one, I. Smirnoff, denied his guilt. Smirnoff, who is 56 —the only defendant who has fought the charges — tossed his mane of white hair as he denied to the last that he engaged in the murder plot though he admitted being a Trotzkyist leader. With dignity he told of his life as a revolutionist since he was 19, of honorable service in the Red Army in the civil war. Travelling through the country in 1931 he honestly believed that collectivization of agriculture was being rushed too fast and had opposed it. But as a good Bolshevik he concluded:
“I accept the sentence no matter what it may be. It is the sentence of my party.”
Of Kameneff it might well be said: “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it.” The dignity and distinction which so mark him remained with him to the end. Even Ulrich seemed to be affected. Calmly and clearly Kameneff declared his repentance and warned against Trotzky as an ambitious scoundrel who would remain a danger to the Soviet as long as he lived. He hailed Stalin as a great leader who had made the dream of Socialism a reality.
“Death does not frighten me,” he said “I already have a ten-year sentence hanging over me. To stay in prison and watch Soviet progress through bars is worse than instant death. I prefer the latter.”
Then, still calmly, he concluded with his testament to his three sons, one of whom is a Red Army aviator, explaining there was no other way for him to transmit his message to them.
“I have stained their names.” he said. “I want them to know my last wish — that they shall work, fight and, if need be, die only under Stalin’s banner. They shall devote their lives to Stalin’s cause. If I have failed to serve my Socialist fatherland in life then let this service be rendered by my death.” Then he collapsed and was helped from the room by a guard. Some who had heard him in his great days said it was his greatest speech. Zinovieff, too, was a tragic figure as, reciting his own obituary, he gazed out over the audience with blood-shot eyes.
“Once upon a time I was even Lenin’s pupil,” he exclaimed in the depth of contrition. “My name will not enter history now beside the names it once might have neighbored with. It will enter history with the name of Trotzky.
“I, who once stood beside the people whose names I do not dare mention now, know the shame of standing beside Lurie and Olberg.”
David, who had told how he entered the Soviet Union on a false passport, for the express killing of Stalin, wept as his four-year-old daughter sent an appeal to be true to the Soviet.
Only two asked clemency. Olberg begged a chance to redeem himself. Moses Lurie pleaded less guilt than the leaders and declared he had a right to ask mercy.
Reason for intervention by the Government to soften the punishment was considered out of the question because of the nature of the crime itself involving the confessed murder of Sergei Kiroff and the confessed plot to kill Stalin and virtually every commanding figure in the Soviet regime.
The country was whipped up to the expectation of the death penalty. Anything less would have appeared to be weakness — an invitation to other terrorists to make similar treasonable attempts.
Furthermore, even if the Government had considered sparing the condemned men’s lives, the appeal of the executives of the Second International probably would have destroyed it, such was the temper here. This appeal was published here today with an accompanying vitriolic, sarcastic editorial comment in Pravda calling it an impertinent attempt to interfere in Soviet judicial process. The appeal was considered here as a stupid manoeuvre which only hardened Soviet hatred against the prisoners.
The appeal was evidently partly based on the erroneous supposition that the trial was conducted under a summary decree adopted immediately after the Kiroff assassination which withdrew the right of representation by counsel and appeal from defendants in terrorist cases and ordered immediate execution after sentence. The decree has not been applied in the case, however, and ordinary Soviet judicial procedure was employed. The defendants themselves waived the right to have counsel and declined in open court to make statements in their own defence.
In their last statements they were permitted to speak as long and as freely as they wished. The only check came when the defendants launched dissertations on Communist party history and curiously enough, in view of the prominence given the defendants’ alleged link with German Fascism, Ulrich twice stopped the defendants’ attacks on Nazi leaders.
MONTREAL GAZETTE, August 25, 1936
16 Plotters Executed in Soviet; Appeal Is Rejected by Committee
Kameneff, Zinovieff and 14 Other Conspirators Shot – Trotzky, Implicated in Trial, Declares He Is Willing to Face Norwegian Court
Moscow. August 25 (Tuesday) (AP).—Sixteen men convicted of a plot to overthrow dictator Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Government have been executed, it was officially announced today.
A terse statement said the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union had declined an appeal for mercy and that all the convicted and sentenced early yesterday, had been shot.
The defendants — including Leon Kameneff and Gregory Zinovieff, once high in Bolshevik councils — had been sentenced to suffer “the highest measure of social defence” ‒ death before a firing squad.
All had confessed their participation in the plot and many had even admitted they “deserved” death. In a series of self-accusations which even surpassed the prosecutor’s charges.
The communique said: “The Presidium of the Central Executive Committee declined the appeal for mercy of the persons (the 16 conspirators herewith named) condemned by the Military Collegium of the USSR, August 24.
“The sentence in regard to all has been carried out.”
No mention was made of where or how the executions were performed, nor why the action was so sudden. A previous announcement had said they would have the 72 hours of grace.
TROTZKY READY TO FACE COURT.
Oslo. Norway. August 24 (AP)—Leon Trotzky, exiled Russian Bolshevist leader, said tonight he stood ready to answer charges he had fomented a plot to overthrow the Soviet regime and incidentally kill Joseph Stalin.
Trotzky said he was willing to appear before an impartial Norwegian court and answer the charges levelled against him at the Moscow trial of 16 conspirators condemned to death for their part in the plot which they laid to Trotzky.
Trotzky’s declaration followed suggestions by a Labor Party chieftain that he return to Moscow and face trial.
Johan Scharffenberg, writing in the Labor newspaper Arbeiderbladet, said “Trotzky says he can prove the accusations made against him at the Moscow trial were false. If so, it is his moral duty immediately to go to a Moscow court.”
Trotzky at the trial of the conspirators was accused by both the State and the defendants of plotting to ride back to power in Russia in the wake of a terrorist regime.