Highest Courts

The Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court (Voennaya kollegiya Verkhovnogo suda SSSR, called voenka by prisoners) and the NKVD Special Board (Osoboe soveshchanie or OSO) made decisions in the most important political cases, including those of the OOs and SMERSH. Both were unique in Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Military Collegium and Its Chairman

The Military Collegium was the highest military tribunal. It was one of three Supreme Court collegia, and had several functions. From 1934 on, it heard cases of ‘treason against the Motherland, espionage, terror, explosions, arson and other kinds of diversion’ (Article 58-1, 6, 8 and 9) that had been investigated by the NKVD and later by SMERSH, NKGB and MGB.1 In 80 to 90 per cent of these cases, which involved high-level commanders, Party functionaries, and intelligentsia, defendants received death sentences. The rest were sentenced to 8 to 25 years of imprisonment in labor camps.2 The Military Collegium’s decisions were approved by the Politburo, usually by Stalin himself.3

The Military Collegium also considered appeals from district military tribunals, and evaluated death sentences issued by lower military tribunals.4 The procedure was as follows: After a military tribunal pronounced a death sentence, it cabled the decision and a description of the case to the Military Collegium. The latter was obliged to respond to the tribunal within 72 hours, by either approving the death sentence or changing it to long-term imprisonment. However, from September 1937 onwards, in death sentences for sabotage and diversion (Article 58-7 and 9) appeals were not allowed and the prisoners were immediately executed.5 In addition, from 1926 to 1939, the Military Collegium administered the activities of all subordinate military tribunals, appointing chairs and members of tribunals, and so forth.

The Military Collegium’s staff was small: at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War there were 66 members, while toward the end, the number increased to 72 members plus six people supervising the activity of NKVD tribunals.6 From 1926 through 1948, Vasilii Ulrikh chaired the Military Collegium.7 Although he formally reported to the chairman of the Supreme Court, in a letter to Stalin he made it clear that he understood who was really in charge: ‘Although formally the Military Collegium is part of the Supreme Court, in fact it acts as an independent court… While hearing the cases on treason against the Motherland, preparation of terrorist acts, espionage, and diversions, the Military Collegium has been and still is working under the direct [italics in the original] guidance of the highest directive organs.’8 The ‘highest directive organs’ was one of the Party’s euphemisms for Stalin and the Politburo.

Ulrikh’s biography is among the strangest of senior Soviet officials. Like Bochkov, Ulrikh had no legal education, graduating in 1914 from the Polytechnic (general engineering) College in Riga. In 1910 he joined the Bolshevik Party and in 1918, the VCheKa. Ulrikh’s early career was boosted by the fact that his wife, Anna Kassel, worked in Vladimir Lenin’s secretariat. From 1920 to 1922, Ulrikh headed the OO of the Black and Azov seas fleet, and in 1922 he became famous as a supervisor of the extremely ruthless executions-without-trial of thousands of White Guard officers who surrendered to the Red Army in the Crimea. From July 1922 to October 1923, Ulrikh worked as deputy head of the Counterintelligence Department in Moscow, and then he was transferred to the Military Collegium. Although his father was German, Ulrikh was not persecuted in 1937 or 1941, unlike most other Soviet Germans.

Boris Yefimov, the main Soviet political caricaturist for Pravda and Izvestia, recalled visiting Ulrikh in March 1940 to inquire what happened to Yefimov’s brother Mikhail Koltsov (their birth name was Friedland), the famous Pravda journalist who was arrested in 1938. Koltsov, who appears in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls as Karkov, was the chief Soviet political adviser to the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War.9 Yefimov wrote: ‘A small bold man with a red face and precisely trimmed moustache stood at a desk inside a huge office covered with a rug… He received me with ostentatious good nature, clearly posing as an “easygoing” and polite guy.’10

Ulrikh did not conceal from Yefimov that he had chaired the Military Collegium session that sentenced Koltsov to a ‘ten-year imprisonment without the right to write letters’. Ulrikh added that Koltsov was probably being kept ‘in the new [labor] camps behind the Ural mountains’. In fact Koltsov had been executed a month earlier.11 It wasn’t until the 1990s that it became known that the phrase ‘ten-year imprisonment without the right to write letters’, widely used by the NKVD and later KGB, as well as by the Military Collegium in official answers to the inquiries of relatives, actually meant that a person had been sentenced to death and shot. Apparently Koltsov, who Hemingway said ‘was the most intelligent man he had ever met’ and ‘one of the three most important men in Spain [in March 1937]’ knew too much as a Soviet chief adviser about the NKVD’s activity during the Spanish Civil War.12

Despite the strong secrecy maintained around the Military Collegium’s work, Ulrikh allowed his wife to interfere in court decisions and even permitted his lover to be present during official briefings in his office.13 Also, Ulrikh did not live in a typical apartment building for Soviet officials, but rather in a hotel for foreigners, the Metropol, which was a three-minute walk from the Military Collegium building. Collecting butterflies and beetles was Ulrikh’s true passion. Yet during the Great Terror, under the chairmanship of this amateur entomologist, the Military Collegium sentenced 25,355 individuals to death and 11,651 defendants to lengthy prison terms.

Due to the enormous number of death sentences they pronounced, Soviet jurists called Ulrikh and his deputy, Ivan Matulevich, ‘Executioners No. 1 and 2’.14 This sobriquet became literally true on July 28, 1938 when Ulrikh personally shot Yan Berzin, former head of the Red Army’s Intelligence Directorate.15

Just before the war, Ulrikh—along with Andrei Vyshinsky, the former chief USSR prosecutor notorious for his speeches at Moscow show trials in the late 1930s—insisted on the creation of three separate high military courts for the army, navy, and NKVD.16Stalin did not agree. Apparently, he wanted the Military Collegium to remain in the civilian-government structure so it could continue to be used for show-trial sessions, which received wide publicity throughout the Soviet Union and abroad. Show trials took place before specially selected audiences and were the only military tribunal sessions to include a prosecutor and defense counsel (they were excluded entirely during closed sessions), although the defense counsel had no access to the defendant outside of the session. The March 1938 trial of Nikolai Bukharin, an old Bolshevik who was one of the most important Soviet theorists, is the most famous example.

In 1938 a new law introduced a complicated and confusing system of two-institution supervision of military tribunals by the Military Collegium and Justice Commissariat, which continued until Stalin’s post-war reorganization in 1946.17 The Military Collegium continued to be the highest military court, approving death sentences, considering appeals from tribunals, and overseeing the decisions of lower tribunals, but the Justice Commissariat took over the administration of military tribunals and the education of military jurists. By mid-1940, the departmental structure within the Justice Commissariat’s Directorate of Military Tribunals nearly replicated that of the Military Collegium. Its head, Yevlampii Zeidin, ‘was a clever and experienced, but also a cautious and slightly dryish man’.18 Joint orders of the Justice and NKO commissariats appointed members of military tribunals.

During the war, the Military Collegium supervised the activity of front tribunals directly. Ulrikh personally inspected the tribunals of the Western Front four times in 1942, while his deputy Matulevich chaired the Military Tribunal of the Southern Front, and collegium member Leonid Dmitriev chaired the Military Tribunal of the Bryansk Front.19

Exterminating the Enemies

From 1939 to 1941, Stalin and the Politburo approved all death sentences. There were several procedures for this. First, the Politburo approved Beria’s ‘death lists’ with the names of those prisoners whose cases had been concluded and for whom the NKVD recommended the death sentence without appeal.20 These prisoners were condemned by the Military Collegium and executed immediately after the Collegium’s session. For instance, in September 1941, at the beginning of the war, Beria sent Stalin a proposal that 170 prisoners, mostly former high-ranking Party functionaries, be executed. The Politburo decision stated: ‘Capital punishment should be applied to 170 prisoners who have been convicted of terrorism, spying, sabotage, and other counter revolutionary activity, and they should be shot. The Military Collegium of the Supreme Court should hear the materials of their cases.’21 Of course, the Collegium sentenced all the listed prisoners to death.

Similar lists of NKVD officers destined for execution were signed by Stalin alone, and then sent to Ulrikh. Ulrikh then wrote an order by hand for an immediate execution without having the cases heard by the Military Collegium.

The rest of the death sentence cases, including the decisions of military tribunals and appeals by the condemned, were considered by the special Politburo Commission on Court (Political) Cases before they were sent to the Military Collegium.22 Chaired by Mikhail Kalinin, a Politburo member and Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, the Commission included Matvei Shkiryatov, head of the Central Committee’s Commission of Party Control (a sort of watchdog commission within the Central Committee), NKVD Commissar Beria or his deputy, and USSR Prosecutor Bochkov. However, the Politburo approved decisions of the Commission and recommended the cases to be considered by the Military Collegium. At the beginning of the war, the Commission was reduced to three members: Kalinin, Shkiryatov, and Merkulov (Beria’s deputy and from 1943, NKGB Commissar). The number of death sentences considered by the Military Collegium during the war was very high. In 1944 and the first six months of 1945 alone, the Collegium considered more than 43,000 cases,13,000 of which were death sentences pronounced by military tribunals.23

Stalin also controlled a person’s right to appeal a death sentence. Ulrikh or Beria coordinated these appeals with Stalin before the Military Collegium sessions. If he allowed the appeal, the condemned wrote to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, but in fact it was Stalin, Politburo members Kalinin, Kaganovich, and Malenkov, and their close associates Semyon Budennyi and Shkiryatov, who decided whether the death sentence should stand or be changed to 20 (later 25) years of imprisonment in labor camps.24

The Collegium Procedure

From the 1930s until 1950, the Military Collegium heard most cases in closed sessions in the building at 23 October (now Nikol’skaya) Street, which still exists in the center of Moscow, between the Kremlin and Lubyanka Square. Each case generally took only ten to fifteen minutes. During the 1930s and 1940s, Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky and his seven co-defendants; 25 USSR commissars; 19 republic commissars; 131 brigade, corps, and army commanders; more than 100 professors from various universities and institutes; and over 300 directors of the most important industrial plants, among others, were sentenced to death and shot in the basement by the Collegium’s own team of executioners. A. V. Snegov, a former high-level Party functionary and a rare survivor (the Military Collegium sentenced him to 18 years in labor camps), described the procedure:

A prisoner used to be called from his cell and taken to the yard of the Interior [Lubyanka] Prison, where he was put in a bus called ‘Black Raven’. Usually several prisoners were transported together. The vehicle left through the iron gates at the back of the complex of the GUGB NKVD buildings and… moved backward into the closed narrow yard of the Military Collegium…

The accused were taken from the vehicle one by one, and brought, using the back stairs, to the second floor, where the Military Collegium was sitting. Usually the Army Jurist Vasilii Vasilievich Ulrikh presided during the ‘trial’.

The hearing was short, ten minutes per person. The verdicts—usually a sentence of death by shooting for everyone—were prepared in advance. After the announcement of the verdict, the condemned was brought to the deep basement by the same stairs, and was shot in the back of the head. The executioner was the commandant on duty at the Military Collegium.

The body was dragged to the corner of the basement, where a shoe was taken off the right foot [of the corpse], and a tag made of plywood was attached to the toe. The Investigation File number was written on the tag with a pencil. From this moment on the name of the person was never mentioned again.25

At the end of the day, the corpses of the executed were concealed in cartridge boxes and transported to the Moscow Crematorium at Donskoe Cemetery. They were burned during the following night in the presence of the commandant on duty. He also controlled the proper placement of ashes in a secret deep pit with brick walls. Detailed reports about the cremations were sent to Aleksandr Poskrebyshev, head of Stalin’s secretariat, who informed Stalin. Executions were also carried out in the basement of the building across the street from the Military Collegium.26Currently the mass graves at Donskoe Cemetery, which contain the ashes of thousands of victims, are maintained as a memorial.

At present, the Military Collegium building belongs to one of the oil companies and it is almost ruined. The Russian human-rights Memorial Society has appealed unsuccessfully to the Moscow city government to turn the building into a museum of repressions, but it is unclear if the building survives or it will be demolished.27

From September 1937 till 1940, because of the large number of death sentences pronounced by the Military Collegium and other Moscow military courts, condemned prisoners were also executed at the country house built for Genrikh Yagoda, former first NKVD Commissar.28 A team of NKVD executioners headed by Vasilii Blokhin, who served for 30 years as chief NKVD and then MGB (State Security Ministry) executioner, shot the condemned prisoners in the back of their heads and then buried the bodies. This site is now a memorial known as Kommunarka.

There was also a special room for Military Collegium sessions in Lefortovo Prison in Moscow. Defendants sentenced to dea at such sessions were shot in this prison. In some special cases, such as the February 1940 trial of former NKVD Commissar Nikolai Yezhov, a session took place in Sukhanovo Prison, which in 1938 became the most secret of Moscow’s investigation prisons.29 It even had its own small crematorium. Some Military Collegium trials were also conducted in Lubyanka Prison in Moscow and in various military districts.

NKVD Special Board

Appointing Viktor Bochkov chief prosecutor in August 1940 was not the regime’s only new lever of control over the legal system. Immediately Bochkov and USSR Justice Commissar Nikolai Rychkov signed two joint instructions giving the NKVD the final say over military tribunal decisions. 30 Accordingly, if by chance a tribunal acquitted the defendant, he was returned to prison until the court secured NKVD approval for his release, which typically resulted in the opening of a new investigation against him and sentencing, usually to 5–10 years in a labor camp, by the OSO (Special Board) of the NKVD.31

The OSO procedure was a particularly Kafkaesque invention of the Soviet system. Created in 1934, the OSO was an extra-judicial court within the NKVD not mentioned in the Soviet Constitution.32 It consisted of the NKVD Commissar and two of his deputies. The chief USSR prosecutor or his deputy attended the hearings, which were conducted without the defendant being present. The OSO considered cases investigated by the NKVD under Articles 58 and 59 that could not be heard in civilian or military courts ‘because of operational reasons’. This meant that the cases were so poorly supported that they could not stand in an open trial and the NKVD did not want to identify the secret informers who had been used in the case. Also, the OSO automatically sentenced the family members (chsiry) of those who had been condemned to death by the Military Collegium as ‘traitors’, ‘spies’, etc.

Before the sessions, the OSO secretariat typed the decisions, based on pre-approved indictments written by NKVD investigators. Until the beginning of the war the OSO did not have the right to confer the death penalty, giving primarily 5–10 year sentences. It met twice a week, hearing about 200–300—later as many as 980—cases per session. No appeal of OSO decisions was possible.

In November 1941, six months after the beginning of the war, Beria reported to Stalin that 10,645 prisoners sentenced to death, mostly by military tribunals, were still in NKVD investigation prisons throughout the country waiting for the Military Collegium and Party leaders to approve their sentences.33 To help clear this backlog, Stalin approved Beria’s proposal that the OSO be given the right to sentence to death political arrestees investigated under Articles 58 and 59.34 In addition, Beria ordered all finished cases investigated under Article 58 by the central NKVD and its local branches to be sent to the OSO.35

Now Viktor Abakumov, head of military counterintelligence (at the time called the UOO), or his representative presented the OO cases at OSO hearings. Since Beria was too overwhelmed with various other duties, during the war his deputies Merkulov, Sergei Kruglov, Ivan Serov, and Bogdan Kobulov chaired the OSO meetings.

The memoirs of Nikolai Mesyatsev, who worked from 1942–43 as an investigator at the Investigation Department of the UOO, include a unique description of the OSO bureaucratic procedure:

At the Secretariat of the Investigation Department… I was ordered to fill in on a typewriter a special form of the Special Board, which had several columns.

In the first column I typed in the biographical data of the accused, whom I’ll call ‘N’: his last name, first name, patronymic name; year and place of birth; nationality; matrimonial status; last place of work; date of arrest.

In the next column, I wrote the charges as they were described in the indictment that I’d signed, which was also signed by the head of the Investigation Department [Boris Pavlovsky], and approved by the head of the NKVD Special Departments Directorate [Viktor Abakumov] and a prosecutor.

In this particular case, [it was said that] the accused ‘N’ conducted espionage activity in the Red Army’s rear for German intelligence in such-and-such form, which is punishable under Article 58-6. In the next column I wrote that the accused pleaded guilty to espionage activity and his testimony was confirmed by operational data, documents, testimonies of witnesses, and so on.

Each of such forms (the others were written by investigators from other NKVD departments) was given a number and approximately 250–300 of the filled-in forms were stitched together in a file.36

Mesyatsev also described the OSO meeting:

The meeting of the Special Board took place in an office on the so-called Narkoms’ Floor [i.e., where Commissar Beria’s huge office was located]. The office was small, and the walls were painted a deep crimson color. Curtains on the windows were closed.

To the left from the window, there were two desks positioned perpendicular to each other; on them were desk lamps, turned on. [Sergei] Kruglov, deputy NKVD Commissar, was sitting behind one of the desks, and [Viktor] Bochkov, USSR Chief Prosecutor, was behind the other…

There was a row of chairs in front of the desks occupied by investigators who would make presentations of their cases… Each of them held a sheet of paper (some had several sheets) with a number that corresponded to the number in the files that were lying in front of the two members of the Special Board.

After the Deputy Commissar called my number, I (as well as the other investigators in their turn), was obliged to say the following: ‘“N” is accused under Article 58-6 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code of espionage for German intelligence. He pleaded guilty, which is confirmed by such-and-such investigation materials.’

My presentation took no more than a minute. The Deputy Commissar suggested sentencing ‘N’ to a 10-year imprisonment. The prosecutor agreed, and the fate of the accused ‘N’ was sealed. I left the room.

The cases for OSO meetings were prepared not only by the central NKVD in Moscow, but also sent to Moscow by the NKVD heads (commissars) of the republics, heads of regional UNKVD branches and heads of military district OOs. The decisions were short and were typed on a special form. Here, in the original formatting, is an example of a decision from the Archival Investigation File of the American Communist Isai (Isaiah) Oggins sentenced as a spy in 1940:

Excerpt from the Protocol [transcript] No. 1 of the Special Board under the People’s Internal Affairs Commissar, January 5, 1940

Heard: Case No. 85 of the GUGB Investigation Department of the NKVD, on the accusation of OGGINS Isai Samoilovich, b. 1898 in Massachusetts (USA), an American citizen.

Decided: To sentence OGGINS Isai Samoilovich to EIGHT-year imprisonment as a spy. The term begins from February 20, 1939 [the date of Oggins’s arrest]. The [Investigation] File is to be sent to the [NKVD] archive.

Head of the Secretariat of the Special Board under the People’s Internal Affairs Commissar.


NKVD’s seal.37

In fact, since 1928 Oggins spied not against, but for the Soviets—at first for the Comintern (Communist International, the international organization of Communist parties with its headquarters in Moscow), then for NKVD foreign intelligence—in Europe, the United States, and China.38As for Vladimir Ivanov, who signed the excerpt, he headed the OSO Secretariat of the NKVD/MVD from 1939 until 1946, the OSO Secretariat of the MGB in 1946–47, and then the OSO Secretariat of the new Beria’s MVD from July to November 1953.

A prison official announced the OSO decision to a prisoner while he was still in an investigation prison. The prisoner was obliged to sign a copy of the decision, but it made no difference if he refused to do so. Then the prisoner was transferred to a transit prison, and from there he was sent to a labor camp. As for death sentences, they were carried out within twenty-four hours, with the prisoner learning of his impending execution only a few minutes before it was to take place.

According to the MVD report to Nikita Khrushchev, dated December 1953, in 1940 the OSO convicted 42,912 people under Article 58, and during the war, this number varied.39 For comparison, numbers convicted of Article 58 crimes by the Military Collegium for the same years are given:




Military Collegium40



26, 534






















In fact, the number of the convicted by the OSO, especially during the war, might have been from two to three times higher. The other archival records show that in 1943 alone, SMERSH, NKGB, and NKVD submitted 51,396 cases to the OSO, and 681 of the accused were sentenced to death, while in 1944 the OSO convicted a total of 27,456 prisoners.41 For unknown reason the 1953 MVD report mentions only 10,611 convicted in 1944, and not 27,456. Similarly, the report gives the number 14,652 for 1945, while the historian Nikita Petrov gives the number 26,518 for that year.42

The following numbers, which are for 1945 only, illustrate the enormity of the persecution endured by the Russian populace:

899,613 defendants were sentenced by civilian courts and military tribunals

357,007 were sentenced by military tribunals only (of these, 134,956 were sentenced on counter revolutionary charges)

297 were sentenced by the Military Collegium

26,581 were sentenced by the OSO.43

Like the death sentences pronounced by the Military Collegium in closed sessions, the death sentences pronounced by the OSO remained a state secret. On September 29, 1945 Beria signed an instruction on how to answer inquiries regarding the whereabouts of those who had been convicted by the OSO to death and executed during the war. He ordered the continuation of claims that the prisoner ‘was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment and deprivation of the right to write letters and receive parcels’.44

The OSO within the NKVD/MVD existed until July 1950. However, in November 1946 on Abakumov’s order a second OSO was created within the MGB, which considered political cases from 1947 to 1953.45 It was reorganized after Stalin’s death and finally disbanded in September 1953.

Nikolai Mesyatsev, who had legal training, wrote in 2005: ‘The Special Board… was a mockery of the natural right of every individual to openly defend his innocence and publicly participate in the procedure of establishing the extent of his guilt.’46 Archival materials of the OSO have never been declassified, and the lists of the names of the convicted and the number of sentenced chsiry and foreigners remains unknown. But even if the OSO records are eventually declassified, it will not be easy to examine them: recently all OSO records were moved from the FSB Central Archive in Moscow to its archival branch in the city of Omsk in Siberia.


1. Paragraph 2 in Part I of the TsIK Resolution, dated July 10, 1934. Document No. 124 in Kokurin and Petrov, Lubyanka (2003), 547–8.

2. A 25-year term of imprisonment was introduced by TsIK Resolution dated October 2, 1937. G. M. Ivanova, ‘Zakonodatel’naya baza sovetskoi repressivnoi politiki’, in Kniga dlya uchitelya: Istoriya politicheskikh repressii i soprotivleniya nesvobode v SSSR, edited by V. V. Shelokhaev, 39–82 (Moscow: Mosgorarkhiv, 2002) (in Russian).

3. Beria’s report to Stalin, dated November 15, 1941, quoted in ibid., 56.

4. In addition to the Military Collegium, from 1923 to 1934, court sessions of three members of the OGPU Collegium that included high-level OGPU functionaries also handed down death sentences. The Collegium considered only important cases under Articles 58 and 59 in the absence of defendants whom it sentenced to long terms of imprisonment or to death. See (in Russian), retrieved September 4, 2011.

5. TsIK Resolution, dated September 14, 1937. Kniga dlya uchitelya, 70.

6. M. P. Charyev, ‘Deyatel’nost’ voennykh tribunalov vo vremya Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny 1941-1945 gg.,’ Voenno-yuridicheskii zhurnal, no. 8 (2006), 25–30 (in Russian). In 1941, there were 76 tribunals within the NKVD troops.

7. Biography of V. V. Ulrikh (1889–1951) in Zvyagintsev, Voina na vesakh Femidy, 52–55.

8. Ulrikh’s letter to Stalin, dated April 2, 1938, quoted in Kudryavtsev and Trusov, Politicheskaya yustitsiya, 282.

9. Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 231, 424. This novel was banned in the Soviet Union until 1968.

10. Yefimov, Desyat’ desyatiletii o tom, chto videl, 315–7.

11. On January 17, 1940 the Politburo approved the death sentence for Koltsov as a German and French spy, and on February 2, 1940 he was executed. Koltsov’s former wife, Maria Osten-Gressgener, also described by Hemingway, was executed on September 16, 1942.

12. The NKVD formed Special Departments (OOs) within the Republican Army and organized killing squads that committed numerous atrocities. Additionally, NKVD agents participated in the transfer of the Spanish gold reserve to the Soviet Union. Stéphane Courtois and Jean-Louis Panné, ‘17. The Shadow of the NKVD in Spain,’ in Stéphane Courtois et al., The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repressions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), 333–52.

13. Beria’s report to Stalin, a photo in Nikita Petrov and Marc Jansen, ‘On khvastalsya rasstrelami,’ Novaya gazeta. ‘Pravda GULAGa,’ no. 11, December 4, 2008 (in Russian),, retrieved September 4, 2011.

14. Yakov Aizenshtat, Zapiski sekretarya voennogo tribunala (London: Overseas Publishing Interchange Ltd., 1991), 19–20 (in Russian).

15. Petrov and Jansen, ‘On khvastalsya rasstrelami.’

16. Obukhov, Pravovye osnovy organizatsii, 79–81.

17. Ibid., 36, 41-43.

18. N. F. Chistyakov, Po zakonu i sovesti (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1979) (in Russian),, retrieved September 5, 2011.

19. Aizenshtat, Zapiski sekretarya, 15–19. During the war, the Military Collegium included V. V. Ulrikh (chairman), V. V. Bukanov, A. A. Cheptsov, I. V. Detistov, L. D. Dmitriev, B. I. Ievlev, D. Ya. Kandybin, F. A. Klimin, I. O. Matulevich, A. M. Orlov, M. G. Romanychev, A. G. Souslin, V. V. Syuldin, V. A. Uspensky, and I. M. Zaryanov.

20. In these cases, the verdict usually stated: ‘The sentence is final and not open to appeal. According to the TsIK decision dated December 1, 1934, it should be carried out immediately.’ This decision included the following orders: terrorist acts must be investigated within 10 days; there will be no prosecution and defense representatives at the trial; convicted parties are prohibited from making appeals; and death sentences must be carried out immediately after the trial. See, retrieved September 4, 2011.

21. GKO decision No. 634e-ss, dated September 6, 1941. Document No. 198 in Lubyanka. Stalin i NKVD–NKGB–GUKR ‘SMERSH.’1939–1946, edited by V. N. Khaustov, V. P. Naumov, and N. S. Plotnikova, 314 (Moscow: Materik, 2006) (in Russian).

22. Page 496 in A. B. Roginsky, ‘Posleslovie,’ in Rasstrel’nye spiski. Moskva, 1937–1941.’Kommunarka,’ Butovo. Kniga pamyati zhertv politicheskikh repressii, edited by L. S. Yeremina and A. B. Roginsky, 485–501 (Moscow: Zven’ya, 2000) (in Russian).

23. Figures from Charyev, ‘Deyatel’nost’ voennykh tribunalov.’

24. For instance, documents in ‘Kto utverdil smertnye prigovory N. I. Vavilovu i G. D. Karpechenko,’ in Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov i stranitsy sovetskoi genetiki, edited by I. A. Zakharov, 124–5 (Moscow: IOGEN RAN, 2000) (in Russian).

25. Quoted in Vladimir Pyatnitsky, ‘Khronika poslednego puti,’ Novaya gazeta ‘Pravda GULAGa,’ no. 3, April 3, 2008 (in Russian),, retrieved September 5, 2011.

26. Olga Bobrova, ‘Nado znat’ vysshuyu meru,’ Novaya gazeta. ‘Pravda GULAGa,’ no. 6, July 7, 2008 (in Russian),, retrieved September 4, 2011.

27. Yan Rachinsky, ‘Byvshii dom Voennoi kollegii Verkhovnogo suda’ (in Russian),, retrieved September 4, 2011.

28. A. B. Roginsky, ‘Posleslovie,’ in Rasstrel’nye spiski. Moskva, 1937–1941, 485–501.

29. Nikita Petrov and Marc Jansen, ‘Stalinskii pitomets’—Nikolai Yezhov (Moscow: Rosspen, 2008), 208–10 (in Russian).

30. Joint orders of the Justice Commissar and chief USSR Prosecutor, dated March 20 and May 9, 1940. A. I. Muranov and V. Ye. Zvyagintsev, Dos’e na marshala (Moscow: Andreevskii flag, 1996), 266 (in Russian).

31. S. Yu. Ushakov and A. A. Stukalov, Front voennykh prokurorov (ot repressii do rasstrelov) (Moscow: Synov’ya, 2000), 88–9 (in Russian).

32. On the OSO in 1934, see O. B. Mozokhin, Pravo na repressii. Vnesudebnye polnomochiya organov gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti (1918–1953) (Moscow: Kuchkovo pole, 2006), 138–40 (in Russian).

33. Beria’s report to Stalin, dated November 15, 1941. Document No. 203, in Lubyanka: Stalin i NKVD, 318–20.

34. GKO Order No. 903-ss, dated November 17, 1941, in Kokurin and Petrov, Lubyanka (2003), 77.

35. NKVD Order No. 001613 from November 21, 1941, in ibid.

36. Nikolai Mesyatsev, Gorizonty i labirinty moei zhizni (Moscow: Vagrius, 2005), 146–7 (in Russian).

37. On Isai Oggins, see Vadim Birstein, The Perversion of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001), 132–9. Andrew Meier, the author of a detailed biography of Oggins The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin’s Secret Service (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2008), gives a fictional scene of Oggins’s court trial (pp. 129–32). In fact, defendants were not present at the OSO sessions.

38. The Comintern had its own international intelligence network. See Iosif Linder and Sergei Churkin, Krasnaya pautina. Tainy razvedki Kominterna 1919–1943 (Moscow: Ripol-Klassik, 2005) (in Russian).

39. 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., 72-74 (Moscow: Demokratiya, 2000) (in Russian).

40. Data from Zvyagintsev, Voina na vesakh Femidy, 736–7.

41. Page 127 in Aleksandr Kokurin and Nikita Petrov, ‘NKVD–NKGB–SMERSH: struktura, funktsii, kadry. Stat’ya tret’ya (1941–1943),’ Svobodnaya mysl’, no. 8 (1997), 118–28 (in Russian).

42. Nikita Petrov, Istoriya imperii ‘Gulag.’ Glava 12 (in Russian),, retrieved September 4, 2011.

43. Ibid.

44. A. S. Kuznetsov’s report to Beria, dated Sepember 18, 1942, and signed by Beria on September 29, 1945. Document No. 40 in GULAG (Glavnoe upravlenie lagerei), 1917–1960, edited by A. I. Kokurin and N. V. Petrov, 133–4 (Moscow: Materik, 2000) (in Russian). From 1955 until 1963, all dates, places of and causes of death of the executed were falsified; see Document No. 46 in ibid., 163–4. Real information about the executions started to be released only after 1990.

45. Politburo decision P53/39, dated August 20, 1946 and MGB Order No. 00496, dated November 2, 1946. Petrov, Kto rukovodil organami bezopasnosti, 62.

46. Mesyatsev, Gorizonty i labirinty, 147.

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