Joseph Hansen

How Fatal Clues Exposed Frameup
in First Notorious Moscow Trial

(22 June 1946)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 10 No. 25, 22 June 1946, p. 7.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2018 by Einde O’Callaghan.
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(The fifth of a series on the Moscow Frameup Trials and their significance. Declarations of defendants and prosecutor are quoted from the English edition of the Report of Court Proceedings; The Case of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Centre published by Stalin.)

The mechanism of the Zinoviev-Kamenev-Smirnov frameup was exceedingly simple. Stalin set up a cross-fire on Leon Trotsky. First, the frameup maintained that the revolutionary exile had transmitted terrorist directives to the most prominent defendants through contact men.

This primitive device would seem sufficient to smear both Trotsky and the prisoners in the dock. Stalin, however, apparently thought that adding more lies would strengthen the frameup, and so he opened up on Trotsky from another angle. A few obscure GPU agents sat in the trial as defendants. These sad, unsavory figures posed as direct agents of Trotsky.

Ridiculous Claim

They claimed that in private conversation Trotsky had declared: “Now there is no other way out except the removal by violence of Stalin and his adherents. Terror against Stalin – that is the revolutionary task ... Stalin must be physically destroyed.” With such bloodthirsty directives, which a cloak and dagger villain in a comic strip would scarcely utter but which coincided perfectly with Stalin’s political needs, Trotsky allegedly hustled these agents into the USSR to organize terroristic acts on their own.

Hence the frameup maintained that Trotsky had sent agents through the tightly sealed borders entrusted with two missions (1) instructions to Zinoviev, Kamenev and Smirnov to kill Stalin, etc., (2) instructions to bump off Stalin, etc., themselves.

In the case of Smirnov, Stalin made a combination. Smirnov was alleged to have received terrorist orders directly from Trotsky’s son, Sedov, in Berlin in 1931. Then the following year Smirnov “received direct instructions from Trotsky through Yuri Gaven.” Contact man Gaven was neither a defendant nor witness at the trial. The “instructions” he brought were nothing but a figment of GPU imagination. Nevertheless, Smirnov was charged with having organized a “united centre of the Trotskyite Zinovievite terrorist organization ... on the basis of Trotsky’s instructions which he received in 1931.”

Arabian Nights

To clinch the connection between Smirnov and Trotsky, the prosecutor Vyshinsky added: “You also received the instruction from Dreitzer, not personally, but I am deeply convinced that you knew about it notwithstanding the fact that you were in a house of detention for political offenders.” And then just for good measure Vyshinsky accused Smirnov of having “a secret code for correspondence with Trotsky, for which purpose certain pages from the Arabian Nights were used.”

Unfortunately for Stalin even this simple mudslinging machine could not be operated without a little grease in the form of “evidence.” Here he faced a dilemma, for there is nothing more dangerous in a frameup than evidence. Consequently Stalin cooked up an ersatz product – “confessions.” These “confessions” were one of the most spectacular features of the trial, but they only, served to expose the frameup.

Thus the miserable GPU agents who “confessed” that Trotsky sent them to physically destroy Stalin succeeded in nothing but casting ridicule on the ingenuity of the GPU scenario writers. Not one of these “certified murderers” carried out a single attempt. Not one was seized in an attempt. No evidence whatsoever was produced to show they even made an attempt. The entire case against them boiled down to their unsupported assertions that they did try.

For instance, Berman-Yurin and Fritz David, according to the frameup, “drew up two concrete plans for attempts on the life of Stalin; the first was to be made at the Thirteenth Plenum of the E.C.C.I., the second at the Seventh Congress of the Comintern. Both plans failed, because Comrade Stalin did not attend the Thirteenth Plenum, while only Fritz David was able to get into the Congress of the Comintern, since he had failed to obtain a ticket for Berman-Yurin. Fritz David, according to his statement, was unable to commit the terroristic act because it was impossible to get near Comrade Stalin.” Resolute bandits!

V.P. Olberg was likewise sent by Trotsky, according to the frameup “to prepare and carry put the assassination of Comrade Stalin.” Olberg entered the USSR in March 1933, “lived secretly in Moscow for six weeks, and then went to Stalinabad where he obtained a position as teacher of history. As he had no documents regarding military service, he was obliged to return abroad.” Too bad!

Two years later Olberg again entered the USSR. It was July 1935, some four months after Kirov’s death, when the great mass purges were already under way. “This visit was also fruitless because he had a tourist visa, could not stay long, and had to return to Germany after a few days.” Try again!

Once more in July 1935 this indomitable terrorist entered the Soviet Union “to draw up the plan for the attempt at assassination. The terroristic act was to have been committed in Moscow on May 1, 1936.” Plugging away at his task with exemplary zeal, Olberg went to Minsk and then to Gorky. “He soon obtained employment in the Gorky Pedagogical Institute, where he remained until his arrest.”

As the sole piece of tangible “evidence” in support of the “confessions” of these rabid “terrorists,” Vyshinsky triumphantly produced a passport which Olberg like many another Nazi refugee had bought in Prague from the Honduran consulate. “It really was issued by a real consul in the name of the Republic of Honduras,” confessed Olberg. “There is such a republic in Central America.” In payment for his “confession” Olberg was shot as an “incorrigible and hardened” murderer.

Most of these alleged “emissaries” were utterly unknown to anyone outside the GPU. Those whose movements in other countries could be checked at all turned out to be Stalinists. Thus the attempt to link these “dogs gone mad” with Trotsky collapsed completely.

To tighten the link between the alleged “terrorist centre” in the Soviet Union and the great revolutionary in exile, the frameup called for letters signed by Trotsky. The prosecution listed five. All but one of these letters had miraculously been destroyed or vanished. Consequently the sole “evidence” of their reality lay in the “confessions” of the defendants. These “confessions” in turn were filled with fantastic contradictions.

Even in the case of the letter that Vyshinsky did submit as an “exhibit” a fatal contradiction exposed the gears of the frameup machinery. Holtzman confessed: “Yes, Trotsky could not put it in writing, and so I accepted it in verbal form and communicated the exact sense of it on my arrival in Moscow.” From this “confession” Vyshinsky drew the following conclusion: “That is why in March 1932, in a fit of counter-revolutionary fury, Trotsky burst out in an open letter with an appeal to ‘put Stalin out of the way’ (this letter was found between the double walls of Holtzman’s suitcase and figured as an exhibit in this case).” Thus it appeared that Holtzman carried Trotsky’s unwritten instructions in “verbal form” in the secret bottom of his suitcase!

This letter, however, turned out to be a public letter addressed by Trotsky to the Soviet authorities and published in the press throughout the world. The “appeal ‘to put Stalin out of the way’” was simply a reference to Lenin’s famous testament of 1923 calling on the Bolsheviks to “remove Stalin” from his post of General Secretary!

Thus the attempt to link up the defendants with Trotsky and smear both through fictitious letters demanding terrorism crashed likewise to the ground.

Since the “evidence” furnished by Stalin consisted solely of the “confessions” of individuals, the frameup rested on exceedingly unstable props. A single one of these individuals could expose the monstrous falsity of the confessions. Answers to questions asked by a competent newspaper reporter, for instance, would prove disastrous. If the defendants lived, world public opinion would inevitably place enormous pressure on the Stalinist authorities to let a fair-minded international figure or impartial commission put questions to them. Even walled up in prison, their conversations with other political prisoners could seep out of the Soviet Union and blow up the frameup. In Stalin’s eyes, consequently, these individuals constituted the most terrible evidence of the frameup.

Rushed to Death Cells

The compulsion to destroy this living evidence of the crime was irresistible, especially since it coincided with Stalin’s political aim of destroying Lenin’s generation of revolutionaries. Stalin rushed the men who had “confessed” to the death cells of the Lubianka prison. Dead men tell no tales.

But the defendants had already said more than enough. The weakest link in the chain of lies proved to be the alleged visits of the contact men with Trotsky. For these alleged visits occurred outside the Soviet Union and no matter how the prosecutor avoided questioning the defendants, still some of their assertions were subject to verification by people not controlled by the GPU.

Holtzman, for instance, testified that in November 1932 he met Sedov in the “lounge” of the Hotel Bristol in Copenhagen and was taken by him to meet Trotsky and receive terrorist instructions. The GPU thus attempted to utilize Trotsky’s 1932 visit to Copenhagen where he lectured in defense of the Soviet Union.

Holtzman did not name the day, the street, or the address at which he met Trotsky. Everything was left completely and conveniently vague. But Holtzman’s few words made history.

Proof of Frameup

It was proved by documentary evidence that Sedov was not in Copenhagen at all during Trotsky’s stay. He tried to get into Denmark to visit his parents, but the authorities wouldn’t grant permission. It was proved conclusively that Holtzman was not among the people who visited Trotsky and his wife, their friends and guards in Copenhagen. But still more devastating, the Hotel Bristol had been torn down in 1917! It was not rebuilt until 1936.

The non-existent “lounge” in the non-existent Hotel Bristol where Holtzman in Copenhagen met Sedov who was in Berlin proved as devastating, to the frameup as the explosion of an atomic bomb. From then on the entire thinking public recognized the words “Moscow Trial” as synonymous with “Stalinist frameup.”

(To be continued)


Last updated on: 22 December 2018