Laws and Tribunals

The OO and later SMERSH cases were primarily based on Article 58 (and, in part, 59), the special section of the Russian Federation (RSFSR) Criminal Code adopted in December 1926, which described various ‘counter revolutionary’ or ‘state’ crimes.1 These were ‘political crimes’ that existed only in the Soviet legal system and were the only type that the NKVD investigated. Another unique character of the Soviet legal system was that not only a perpetrator of political crimes was punished, but also members of his/her family, especially if it was an OO/SMERSH case. The trials of OO/SMERSH cases were also unique. Military tribunals tried only cases of low-ranking servicemen, while high-ranking military officers were tried by the highest military tribunal, the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court or, if there was no real proof of the crime, by the NKVD Special Board which was an extra-judicial court consisting of the NKVD Commissar and his deputies.

Counter revolutionary Crimes

Article 58 begins with a definition of counter revolutionary crimes, unique to Soviet law:

1. Counter revolutionary Crimes

58.1. Shall be considered counter revolutionary any act directed to the overthrow, subversion, or weakening of the worker-peasant soviets or of governments elected by them on the basis of the Constitution of the USSR and constitutions of the union republics, as well as any act intended to subversion or weakening of the internal security of the USSR and of the basic economic, political, and national gains of the proletarian revolution.

By virtue of the international solidarity of the interests of all toiling masses, such actions are considered counter revolutionary also when directed against any other state of the toiling masses, albeit not a part of the USSR.2

Paragraph 58-2 states that ‘a military revolt or taking power by force’ is punished by death or by declaring the perpetrator ‘an enemy of working people’, depriving him of Soviet citizenship, and confiscating his property. Additionally, riots were punished by imprisonment or death under Article 59, paragraphs 2 and 3. Paragraph 58-6 covers espionage, ‘i.e., transmission, theft, and collection for the purpose of transmission of information that in content is a specially protected state secret to foreign states, to counter revolutionary organizations or to individuals’. Paragraph 58-8 states that ‘committing terrorist acts against representatives of the government or organizations of workers and peasants [in other words, the Communist Party], and participation in such acts’ is punishable by death. Paragraph 58-10 prohibits ‘propaganda and agitation aimed to overthrow, undermine or weaken the Soviet government’. This crime was punishable by death during wartime, and in 1941–42, at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War (as World War II is known in Russia), the number of sentences for ‘anti-Soviet propaganda’ (96,741) reached almost 50 per cent of all convictions for ‘counterrevolutionary’ crimes (199,817).3 However, ‘anti-Soviet propaganda’ in a written form was punished under Article 59-7.

Paragraph 58-11 allows the investigator to consider ‘any organizational activity’ or ‘participation in an organization created to prepare or commit’ crimes covered by Article 58 as a plot, which led to the discovery of numerous supposed ‘military plots’ before and during the Great Patriotic War. Finally, paragraph 58-14 introduces punishment for sabotage, described as ‘conscious negligence of duties aimed to weaken the government’s power’. On the whole, there were 14 paragraphs in Article 58 and five paragraphs in Article 59 that described ‘counterrevolutionary’ or ‘political’ crimes. Later, in 1951, four more paragraphs were included in Article 58.

In July 1934, simultaneously with the creation of the NKVD, paragraph 58-1 (treason against the Motherland) was divided into four parts, 58-1a–d, which were widely used until Stalin’s death in 1953.4 Paragraph 58-1a detailed the crime of treason: ‘Actions USSR citizens commit to the detriment of the military might of the USSR… to wit: espionage, disclosure of a military or state secret, going over to the enemy, flight, or crossing the border.’ While paragraph 58-1b declared: ‘Commission of the same crimes by servicemen is punishable by the highest measure of criminal punishment—shooting, with confiscation of all property.’ Paragraph 58-1b was most frequently used by military counterintelligence just before and during the war because it covers a wide spectrum of vaguely described ‘political crimes’, including espionage and ‘going over to the enemy’. Although paragraph 6 in Article 58 already covered espionage, from 1934 onwards, paragraph 58-1b was applied to military ‘spies’, while 58-6 was used for charging civilians (58-6/I) and foreigners (58-6/II). Paragraph 58-1d stated that a serviceman who did not report to the authorities upon learning of a treasonous plan or the fact of treason was punished by ten years of imprisonment in labor camps.

Paragraph 58-1c was the most outrageous. It legalized the practice of using family members as hostages to prevent servicemen from becoming traitors. Now family members who knew about a treasonous plan were punished by a 5-to-10-year imprisonment and confiscation of property, and even adult family members who knew nothing of any alleged plan (i.e., who were completely innocent), were punished by exile into distant areas and were deprived of the right to vote. Following the text of this paragraph, such family members started to be called chsiry, an abbreviation from chleny sem’i izmennika Rodiny or ‘family members of a traitor against the Motherland’.

Although the total number of persecuted chsiry remains unknown, one of the NKVD reports to Stalin mentions that in 1937–38, ‘according to the incomplete data, more than 18,000 wives of the arrested traitors were repressed [i.e., arrested and sentenced], including more than 3,000 in Moscow and approximately 1,500 in Leningrad’.5 Small children classified as chsiry were kept in specially organized orphanages.6 Conditions in these orphanages were terrible. Anna Belova, arrested as a chsir (her husband, Komandarm Ivan Belov, commander of the Belorussian Military District, was executed in 1938), recalled that when her mother tried to find her three-year-old granddaughter in an NKVD orphanage, she was told: ‘Klementina had died of hunger… We do not bury enemies’ offspring… Do you see that trench? Go there, there are many of them. Dig out the bones; possibly, you’ll identify those of your kid.’7 In 1937–38, the NKVD sent 22,427 children of the ‘enemies of the people’ younger than fifteen years to orphanages.8

After the child-survivors reached fifteen, they were tried and usually sentenced to imprisonment in labor camps or even executed. Legally this became possible due to the decree issued just before the war, on May 31, 1941.9 It stated that children could be criminally charged after they reached fourteen years. However, in December 1941 deputy USSR chief prosecutor Grigorii Safonov suggested that children sentenced as spies or terrorists be executed after they reached sixteen years.10

For instance, on July 6, 1941, the Military Collegium under Ulrikh’s chairmanship sentenced four teenagers to death (the future executions had been pre-approved by the Politburo). The teenagers were a son and nephews of Nestor Lakoba, Chairman of the government of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia (part of Georgia), poisoned in December 1936 by Lavrentii Beria, at the time first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party’s Central Committee. From 1937 until 1941, they were kept in Moscow prisons. On July 27–28, 1941, they were shot.11

Adult children of traitors and other ‘enemies of the people’ were also frequently imprisoned as ‘socially dangerous elements’ or SOE (an acronym of the Russian term), defined as ‘persons connected with the especially important criminals’ (Articles 7 and 35); in other words, people who did not commit any crime at all, although their relatives supposedly did. In August 1940, the Politburo ordered the Military Collegium to send materials on relatives of military defectors to other countries for their immediate arrest and punishment.12 The new draconian measures against the family members of military traitors were introduced in June 1941 and July 1942.

If a person was arrested under Article 58, but there were no incriminating materials apart from reports from secret informers about that person’s anti-Soviet conversations, Article 19 of the Criminal Code allowed the investigator to still apply Article 58. Article 19 stated that ‘an intent [sic] to commit a crime… is punished as the crime itself’. As a result, the arrestee was accused ‘through Article 19’, as the phrasing went, of the intent to commit a counter revolutionary crime. Some Chekists even considered themselves more sophisticated than their German analogue, the Gestapo. In 1944, Lev Vlodzimersky, head of the NKGB Investigation Department, bragged to a prisoner: ‘The Gestapo men are poor imitators of us.’13

The Soviets had big plans for Article 58. In 1940, an NKVD interrogator told Menachem Begin, the arrested Polish citizen and the future prime minister of Israel: ‘Section 58 applies to everyone in the world… It is only a question of when he will get to us, or we to him.’14 After the Red Army entered Eastern Europe in 1944, SMERSH began to make wide use of Article 58 against foreign citizens. Mostly they were accused of espionage (58-6) or ‘assisting the world bourgeoisie’ (58-4).

Military Tribunals

OO/SMERSH cases were tried under Articles 58 and 59 by military tribunals, which existed within the Red Army at the district (in the wartime, a military district was called a front), corps, brigade, and divisional levels, and within the NKVD troops.15 In the Red Navy there were fleet, flotilla and base tribunals. Tribunals were part of, to use the awkward official term, ‘the three-element system of the punishment organs’—OO/SMERSH, a military prosecutor, and a military tribunal.16 From 1926 to June 1939, military tribunals were subordinated to the Military Collegium only, and from June 1939–1946, to both the Military Collegium and the USSR Justice Commissariat.17

The Military Collegium, which had oversight over all military tribunals, was one of three collegia (Civil, Criminal and Miltary) of the USSR Supreme Court.18 The Supreme Court’s chairman, I. T. Golyakov, served from 1938 to 1948, a long term of service in those days. However, V. V. Ulrikh, who played an important role during the Great Terror, served as head of the Military Collegium from 1926–1948, one of the very few high level Communist officials to enjoy such a long tenure. The Military Collegium consisted of the following departments between 1939 and 1946:

First Department, Oversight of Trials (evaluation of death sentences from lower tribunals)

Second Department, Military Tribunals of the Red Army

Third Department, Military Tribunals of the NKVD Troops19

Fourth Department, Military Tribunals of the Navy

Appellate Section (appeals from the districts/fronts)

Archival-Statistics Section

Secret Ciphering Section

General Section

Commandant’s Office (Komendatura), in charge of prisoners and executions.

The Directorate of Military Tribunals, which was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the military tribunals, was part of the Justice Commissariat (headed by N. M. Rychkov from 1938–1948).20 This directorate was also responsible for the education of military jurists through their Military-Judicial Academy. Yevlampii Zeidin headed the Directorate from 1940-1948, which, during this time, was comprised of the following departments:

Personnel Department

Department of Military Tribunals of the Red Army

Department of Military Tribunals of the Navy

Department of Military Tribunals of the NKVD Troops

Section of Military Tribunals of Transportation

Statistics Section

Military-Judicial Academy (from 1939), education of military jurists for Military Tribunals and prosecutors’ offices.

From January 1940 till the German invasion, the NKVD district military tribunals heard all political cases investigated by the OOs.21After the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the divisional tribunals attached to the fighting troops heard most of the cases. Tribunals at the army level heard cases of commanders with the rank of major and above, as well as of battalion commanders and officers of the regimental or battalion staffs. Front tribunals considered cases of high-ranking commanders and generals, as well as the most important cases of low-ranking perpetrators.

Each military tribunal consisted of three officers and a secretary who recorded the minutes of the hearing. The chairman was always a military jurist, and until 1942, two members of divisional tribunals were also military jurists, but later, the members were chosen from officers of the same division.22 Therefore, the chair was, in fact, a judge.

Typically, a hearing was conducted with numerous violations of the Criminal-Procedure Code of the Russian Federation. M. Delagrammatik, former secretary of a corps tribunal at the Southern Front, describes:

Commonly, a copy of the indictment was not given to the defendant 24 hours before the trial as it should have been done according to law, but the indictment was simply read to him, usually during the day of the court trial. The defendant was shown and not given, according to law, a printed form that stated: ‘The indictment was announced to me’ (a date). This was a flagrant violation of the law. Most frequently, witnesses were not called up to the hearing because they supposedly were in fighting detachments, and only their testimonies were read.23

According to Soviet legal procedure, the defendant had the right not to testify against himself. However, the judges usually asked the defendant to testify because sincere admission of guilt by the defendant would supposedly help him. In fact, the judges needed this admission to pronounce the defendant being guilty.

The defendant was not told that there was no time restriction for his final statement. Deceptively, when giving the defendant his last chance to speak, the judge only said: ‘What do you ask from the court?’ This was a clear violation of the defendant’s rights.

The presence of a jurist as a chairman did not guarantee a fair court procedure. Delagrammatik explains: ‘Military judges had poor legal knowledge; they were poorly educated or even lacked education. The judges and prosecutors with the background of party functionaries were especially ignorant and semi-literate. This affected the quality of the pre-trial investigation and of a court trial, and as a result, justice suffered.’

Dual Function of Prosecutors

The role of Soviet prosecutors differed from that in the common law system of Britain and the United States. In general, the Soviet legal system followed continental criminal procedures in which prosecutors are not actively involved in prosecuting cases in courts. Prosecutors and defense representatives were not present at hearings in military tribunals. The military prosecutors’ role was investigation of criminal cases in the army, navy, and NKVD troops, and legal oversight of the OOs. The crimes they investigated were mostly covered by Article 193, the military part of the Criminal Code.

In 1941, Article 193 included 31 paragraphs.24 For instance, 193-7 described desertion as ‘an unauthorized leaving of a position for more than 24 hours’, while 193-10a introduced a one-year imprisonment for escaping draft during the wartime, and 193-12 covered self-inflicted injury. Four paragraphs, 193-17b (negligence or abuse of power by a commander), 193-20a (surrender of troops or a destruction of fortifications or a battleship by a commander), 193-21a (not following orders from superiors by a commander), and 193-22 (intentional leaving of a battlefield), required the death penalty. Paragraph 193-23, which also required the death penalty, applied specifically to the navy: ‘A commander leaving a sinking military vessel, who has not fulfilled his duties to the end, is punished by the highest measure of social defense [death].’ To such crimes as rape or embezzlement, prosecutors applied the ‘usual’, not military, articles of the Criminal Code.

Military prosecutor offices were attached to military tribunals. During the war, an Army Prosecutor had two assistants, two military investigators and several technical office workers.25 At the divisional level, there was a prosecutor and an investigator. A platoon of Red Army men was attached to each prosecutor’s office at the divisional and army levels to guard the arrestees and people under investigation.

Military prosecutors had their own vertical structure. District (front) military prosecutors reported to the Chief Military Prosecutor, who reported to the chief USSR Prosecutor, Bochkov (after November 1943, that position was filled by Konstantin Gorshenin), and needed his approval to appoint military prosecutors. The USSR Prosecutor appointed all front level prosecutors. Therefore, from 1940 to 1943 Bochkov oversaw the whole system of military prosecution and, through him, the NKVD maintained control.

The Chief Military Prosecutor’s office in Moscow consisted of the following departments:

Department of the Chief Prosecutor for the Red Army

Department of the Navy Prosecutor26

Department of the Prosecutor for NKVD Troops

Department of the Military Prosecutor for Railroad Transportation (from 1943)

Department of the Military Prosecutor for Marine and River Navigation (from 1943).27

It was headed by the following individuals:

N. F. Rozovsky, 1935–1939 (arrested)

P. F. Gavrilov, 1939–May 1940 (acting)

P. F. Gavrilov, May 1940–February 1941

N. I. Nosov, March 1941–March 1945

In an Army Prosecutor’s Office cases were usually opened on the order of a member of the Military Council of the Army. Military councils (not to be confused with military tribunals) were unique Soviet institutions of shared command and responsibility in the Red Army. Lieutenant General Konstantin Telegin, a long-time member of such councils during the war, described their role:

Fronts (as well as armies, except an air force army) were directed by a Military Council… [A military council] consisted of the military commander, two members, chief of staff, artillery and air force commanders…

To implement a commander’s decision, an agreement with [the senior] military council member was necessary. All directive documents issued by the front command were signed by the commander and [the senior] military council member with their names on the same line, while the chief of staff put his signature below, on the next line. This was done to emphasize the equal responsibility of the commander and the military council member for the realization of the decision.28

The senior of the two military council members was a high-ranking Party functionary like Nikolai Bulganin or even Politburo member Nikita Khrushchev. The senior member usually had no military training or experience; his role was essentially to be the Politburo’s eyes and ears in the field and directly control the activity of high commanders. Stalin frequently changed commanders at the fronts on the basis of reports from these members. The other member was usually a military supply commander. Besides their main duties, military councils were involved in the punishment of servicemen.

The total number of servicemen investigated and sentenced under Article 193 during the war was higher than the number investigated by OO/SMERSH under Article 58. On the whole, all military tribunals, including those in the Navy and NKVD, convicted 2,530,683 servicemen and of them, 471,988 were sentenced for ‘counter revolutionary crimes’ and 792,192 were convicted of military crimes. About 8 and a half percent, or 217,080, were sentenced to death and executed.29

Another count of persons convicted by the Red Army military tribunals only gives a more detailed picture. Of the total number of 994,300 servicemen convicted 422,700, or 42 per cent, served their sentences in their units (usually officers were demoted to privates) or, after July 1942, in special punishment troops called shtrafbaty and shtrafnye roty. However, this option was generally only available to those who committed military and real (bandits, rapists, embezzlers, etc.), not political, crimes. Most of the 436,600 convicts who ended up in labor camps (45 per cent of the total), were convicted of counter revolutionary crimes. The rest, 135,000, were sentenced to death and executed. One third, 376,300, were convicted of desertion.30 An NKVD report dated January 1, 1945, which gives a detailed breakdown of the sentences of all the prisoners in NKVD labor camps at that time, indicates that 28.3 per cent were incarcerated for counter revolutionary crimes and only 6.5 per cent were convicted of military crimes (Table 3-1).31

Overseeing political cases opened by the OO/SMERSH investigators was the second main duty of military prosecutors.32 For instance, before the war, in order to arrest a serviceman on counter revolutionary charges, both the OO head and a military prosecutor of the local district were required to sign an arrest warrant, which had to be authorized by a military commander. Additionally, the NKO Commissar had to approve arrests of all officers from platoon commander up, but usually no objections were raised.33NKVD requests for Kliment Voroshilov’s (NKO Commissar from 1926 to 1940) approval of persecutions comprise 60 thick archival volumes. Semyon Timoshenko, who replaced Voroshilov, approved the arrests of generals just before the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941.


Type of Crime

Article/Paragraph of the Criminal Code²

No. of Prisoners

% of Total

Counterrevolutionary Crimes (investigated by the OOs and other NKVD branches and after April 1943, by SMERSH and NKGB)

Treason against the Motherland

58-1a, 1b




58-1a, 1b; 58-6; 193-24



Terror acts and terrorist intentions












Counterrevolutionary sabotage




Anti-Soviet plots and organizations

58-2; 58-3; 58-4; 58-11



Anti-Soviet propaganda

58-10; 59-7



Political bandits and participants in riots

58-2; 59-2; 59-3



Illegal crossing the border








Family members of traitors (chsiry)

58-1c; 58-12



Socially dangerous elements (SOE)





No data






Military Crimes (investigated by military prosecutors)


193-7, 9, 10


















Real Crimes (investigated by militsiya [Soviet police] and civilian prosecutors)

Real crimes (bandits, thieves, etc.)

Various Articles



Special Laws and Decrees

Not in the Code



Violation of the Passport Law







Grand Total for All Crimes



1. NKVD report, dated January 1, 1945; quoted in Nikita Petrov, Istoriya imperiiy ‘GULAG.’ Glava 12 (in Russian),, retrieved September 15, 2011.

2. Classification of paragraphs according to the NKVD report on prisoners in the Correction-Labor Colonies, dated January 1, 1943. Document No. 96 in A. I. Kokurin and N. V. Petrov, GULAG (Glavnoe upravlenie lagerei) 1917–1960 (Moscow: Materik, 2000), 426–28 (in Russian).

During the war, the arresting procedure of OO/SMERSH operatives changed.34 The arrest of a private or a low-ranking officer required a military prosecutor’s approval; the arrest of a mid-ranking commander, the approval of the commander and prosecutor of the unit; and the arrest of a high-ranking officer, the approval of the Military Council of the Army. The highest commanders, as before, could be arrested only with the approval of the NKO Commissar—in other words, of Stalin himself.

To arrest a serviceman, an OO/SMERSH investigator wrote the arrest warrant (Postanovlenie na arrest) and decision (on the selection of a measure of restraint) (Postanovlenie ob izbranii mery presecheniya) which substantiated the necessity of keeping the arrestee in custody. Both documents were also signed by the investigator’s superiors and a prosecutor. Copies of these documents were included in the investigation file (Sledstvennoe delo), which contained mostly transcripts called protokoly of the interrogations that followed.

While concluding the case, the OO/SMERSH investigator summarized the results of his investigation in an indictment (Obvinitel’noe zaklyuchenie). This document was also signed by the investigator’s superiors, and a copy was sent to a prosecutor. The prosecutor was obliged to ask the accused if he agreed to the indictment and if he had complaints about, for instance, torture during the investigation. Commonly, the final verdict of the tribunal at the end of the hearing simply repeated the indictment.

The relationship between OO/SMERSH investigators and military prosecutors, as well as with military tribunal chairs and members, was uneasy. Prosecutors had legal training, while the majority of OO/SMERSH officers were uneducated and sometimes almost illiterate. Also, as a rule, OO/SMERSH investigators presented cases based on accusations provided by unreliable informers and confessions obtained under duress. Beyond that, the OO investigators used to try to influence the chair’s decision. Delagrammatik recalled: ‘Frequently the osobisty [OO/SMERSH officers] attached a sealed envelope with an inscription “For the Eyes of the Chair of MT [military tribunal] Only” to the case file received by our tribunal. It contained data about the defendant obtained from informers… Sometimes the seksoty [secret informers] testified as witnesses (or pseudo-witnesses, if necessary) at the hearing.’35

Many honest prosecutors rejected these falsified cases, insisting on a new investigation or even closing such cases entirely. These closures led Aleksei Sidnev, head of the OO of the Leningrad Military District (LVO), to send a report entitled ‘On the Anti-Soviet Practice of the Military Prosecutor’s Office of the LVO’ to Bochkov (an insubordinate act, since Sidnev should have sent the report through his superior, OO head Mikheev) in March 1941.36 Bochkov forwarded Sidnev’s report to his deputy and chief military prosecutor, Vladimir Nosov, who determined that Sidnev had slandered the prosecutors. However, no measures were taken against Sidnev, who later became a high-level SMERSH and then MGB functionary.

The independence shown by military prosecutors was rare and potentially dangerous. During Bochkov’s tenure as OO head, dossiers (or, in secret-service jargon, ‘operational files’) were collected on many military prosecutors, as well as members of military tribunals.37

Death Sentences

During the war, the Commander of the Front could disaffirm any decision of tribunals within his front, even a death sentence.38 In any case, the Front Military Council needed to approve or disapprove the death sentence of a high-ranking officer. In theory, a serviceman condemned to death had the right to appeal; in practice, appealing was useless. As Delagrammatik notes, ‘I recall no occasion when the commander of a unit did not approve the death sentence.’39

After the summer of 1942, military tribunals usually replaced death sentences in criminal cases with sending the condemned to a punishment unit fighting at the front. Delagrammatik gives an example: ‘Two servicemen from the Marine Brigade were convicted of self-inflicted injury “by shooting at each other from behind a tree in order not to be drafted”… Instead of the death penalty, the military tribunal… condemned each of them to 10 years of imprisonment in labor camps. The punishment was commuted to sending them to a punishment platoon. Only “espionage” [i.e., 58-1b] was inevitably punished by death.’ Delagrammatik gives more detail about an ‘espionage’ case of Olga Serdyuk, a woman from Kiev:

This large young woman, who was a medical nurse, was tried. She was charged with the worst crime—Article 58-1b, treason against the Motherland committed by a military person…

While writing down a transcript [of the hearing], I could not find any espionage activity in her testimony. She admitted that, while a prisoner of the Germans she signed a collaboration agreement with the German intelligence. That was all, but the fact of this recruitment, even in the absence of any espionage activity, was enough for the military tribunal. Even though she herself had told the court about the recruitment and there was no independent proof of it.

A guilty verdict and speedy execution followed.40

During the war, military tribunals sentenced more than 2.5 million Soviet military men and women.41 Of these, 472,000 men were sentenced for counter revolutionary activity, i.e. under Article 58, and a total of 217,000 were shot; of those, 135,000 were sentenced by military tribunals of the Red Army. Death sentences were usually executed by an OO (later SMERSH) officer or a Red Army platoon attached to the OO/SMERSH Department, before the eyes of the formation.

The enormity of these executions becomes evident from a comparison with death sentences in foreign armies. British military tribunals sentenced 40 servicemen, while French tribunals sentenced 102, and American tribunals sentenced 146 servicemen to death.42The German field military tribunals sentenced 30,000 servicemen to death, and approximately the same number of German deserters was shot at the end of the war without trial, mostly by the SS blocking units and military gendarmes.


1. A division of crimes into two groups, (a) crimes against the new political law and order, and (b) all other crimes already existed in the first Russian Federation Criminal Code of 1922 (Article 27). Criminal codes of the other Soviet republics had the same article as Article 58 but with a different article number—for instance, in the Ukrainian Criminal Code it was Article 54.

2. For an English translation of the paragraphs of Article 58 see Jacques Rossi, The Gulag Handbook: An Encyclopedia Dictionary of Soviet Penitentiary Institutions and Terms Related to the Forced Labor Camps, translated from the Russian by William A. Burhans (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 539–50. The main section of this volume is an invaluable dictionary of Gulag jargon and terminology.

3. Document No. 13, in Reabilitatsiya: Kak eto bylo. Dokumenty Prezidiuma TsK KPSS i drugie materialy. Mart 1953–fevral’ 1956, edited by A. Artizov et al., 77 (Moscow: Demokratiya, 2000) (in Russian).

4. Joint decision of VTsIK (All-Russian Central Executive Committee, predecessor of the USSR Supreme Council) and Sovnarkom, dated July 20, 1934. Sbornik zakonodatel’nykh i normativnykh aktov o repressiyakh, edited by Ye. A. Zaitsev, 161 (Moscow: Respublika, 1993) (in Russian).

5. NKVD report to Stalin, dated October 5, 1938 (FSB Central Archive, Fond 3, Opis’ 5, Delo 79, L. 281); quoted in Arsenii Roginsky and Aleksandr Daniel, ‘Arestu podlezhat zheny…’, October 30, 2003 (in Russian),, retrieved September 4, 2011.

6. Organizational details of persecutions of chsiry, including children, were given in NKVD Operational Order No. 00486, dated August 15, 1937; in Sbornik zakonodatel’nykh i normativnykh aktov, 86–93.

7. Quoted in Yulian Semenov, Nenapisannye romany (Moscow: DEM, 1989), Chapter 27 (in Russian),, retrieved September 5, 2011.

8. Report of Yu. D. Sumbatov to Beria, dated January 29, 1939 (FSB Central Archive, Fond 3, Opis’ 6, Delo 839, L. 35), quoted in Roginsky and Daniel, ‘Arestu podlezhat zheny.’

9. Decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet, dated May 31, 1941. Vedomosti Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR, no. 25 (1941) (in Russian).

10. Safonov’s report to Andrei Vysinsky, dated December 22, 1941. Document No. 212 in Deti GULAGa, 1918–1956, edited by S. S. Vilensky, A. I. Kokurin, G. V. Atmashkina, and I. Yu. Novichenko, 376 (Moscow: Demokratiya, 2002) (in Russian).

11. Details in S. Lakoba, Abkhazia posle dvukh imperii. XIX–XXI vv. (Moscow, 2004), 111–22 (in Russian).

12. Politburo decision P19/277, dated August 17, 1940. Document No. 124 in Lubyanka. Stalin i NKVD–NKGB–GUKR, 184.

13. Victor Levenstein, Po-nad narami tabachnyi dym… (Moscow: Russkii put’, 2008), 149 (in Russian). L. Ye. Vlodzimersky (1903–1953) headed the NKVD/NKGB/MGB Investigation Department for Especially Important Cases (OVD) until 1946.

14. Menachem Begin, White Nights: The Story of a Prisoner in Russia, translated from the Hebrew by Katia Kaplan (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1977), 81.

15. Anna Yatskova, ‘Istoriya sovetskogo suda,’ Otechestvennye zapiski, no. 2 (2003) (in Russian),, retrieved September 4, 2011.

16. M. Delagrammatik, ‘Voennye tribunaly za rabotoi,’ Novyi Mir, no. 6 (1997) (in Russian),, retrieved September 4, 2011. This source gives examples of a number of standard cases tried by military tribunals.

17. Vyacheslav V. Obukhov, Pravovye osnovy organizatsii ideyatel’nosti voennykh tribunalov voisk NKVD SSSR v gody Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny 1941–1945 gg. (Moscow: MVD Moscow University, 2002). Candidate of Sciences Dissertation, 41, 96 (in Russian). I am indebted to Professor Jeffrey Burds (Northeastern University, Boston, MA), who pointed out this source.

18. From 1943 to 1945, the USSR Supreme Court also included the Military-Railroad Collegium and the Military-Transportation Collegium. From the end of 1944 till April 1954, there was also the Collegium of Labor Camps Courts. Nikita Petrov, GULAG, Chapter 11,, retrieved September 4, 2011.

19. Details in Obukhov, Pravovye osnovy, 89–101.

20. In early 1942, the Directorate of Military Tribunals was renamed the Main Directorate of Military Tribunals which consisted of the Directorate of Military Tribunals and Directorate of the Navy Tribunals. Also, the Department of Military Tribunals of the NKVD troops became the Directorate of Military Tribunals of the NKVD troops. Ibid., 42 and 96.

21. Details in ibid., 48.

22. Interview with Zyama Ioffe, former member of a divisional military tribunal, February 5, 2009 (in Russian),, retrieved September 4, 2011.

23. Delagrammatik, ‘Voennye tribunaly.’

24. See whole texts of paragraphs 193-17, 193-20–23 in Vyacheslav Zvyagintsev, Voina na vesakh Femidy. Voina 1941–1945 gg. v materialakh sledsvenno-sudebnykh del (Moscow: Terra, 2006), 281–6 (in Russian).

25. Interview with Ioffe.

26. In 1939, the Office of the Chief Prosecutor of the Navy was established after a separate Navy Commissariat had been organized, and in 1941, it became a department within the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office.

27. The department structure from A. V. Kudryashov, “Deyatel’nost’ voennoi prokuratury v gody Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny,” Nauchnaya sessiya MIFI, 6 (2005): 169–70 (in Russian).

28. K. F. Telegin, Voiny neschitannye versty (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1988), 189–90 (in Russian).

29. Zvyagintsev, Voina na vesakh Femidy, 382-3, 736-7.

30. Ibid.

31. In fact, on January 1, 1945 the labor camps belonged to seven NKVD directorates, including the GULAG (Main Directorate of [Labor] Camps). Kokurin and Petrov, Lubyanka (2003), 199.

32. On the role of prosecutors in political cases, see V. N. Kudryavtsev and A. I. Trusov, Politicheskaya yustitsiya v SSSR (Moscow: Nauka, 2000), 303–9 (in Russian).

33. O. F. Suvenirov, Tragediya RKKA 1937–1938 (Moscow: Terra, 1998), 63 (in Russian).

34. GKO Order No. 460ss, dated August 11, 1941. Document No. 193, in Lubyanka: Stalin i NKVD, 310.

35. Delagrammatik, ‘Voennye tribunaly.’

36. Sidnev’s letter to Bochkov, dated March 5, 1941, in A. Muranov and V. Zvyagintsev, Sud nad sud’yami (osobaya papka Ul’rikha) (Kazan: Kazan, 1993), 226 (in Russian).

37. Bochkov’s letter to Ulrikh, dated April 23, 1939. A photo of the letter in Muranov and Zvyagintsev, Sud nad sud’yami, 73–76.

38. Interview with Ioffe.

39. Delagrammatk, ‘Voennye tribunaly.’

40. Ibid.

41. Zvyagintsev, Voina na vesakh Femidy, 736–7.

42. S. S. Zamyatin, ‘Vremennye boitsy’ (in Russian),, retrived Septmber 4, 2011.

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