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Katia Landau

Stalinism in Spain



Revolutionary History, Vol.1 No.2, Summer 1988. Used by permission.


II. Comrades who have disappeared

Stalin purges the Revolutionary Vanguard

Commencing with a slander campaign the Stalinists did not hesitate to move into action for the physical destruction of the revolutionaries.

We wish to tell here how they set about executing the direct orders of Moscow. Until now the arrest and murder of the best militants of the revolutionary movement has been the prerogative of fascism. Stalinism, a political tendency that calls itself anti-fascist and socialist, and recruits a large part of its supporters from the ranks of the proletariat, is today committing the same crimes as fascism.

The Case of Andrés Nin

No-one knows what has become of him, what has become of one of the most passionate advocates of the proletariat of Spain. (Victor Serge, Farewell to Andrés Nin).

The story of Nin is one that requires no comment. We will therefore sketch out the salient features of his life, and recall his mysterious end.

As a young pioneer attached to the Socialist Party in 1919, Nin announced to the congress of the CNT that he had passed syndicalism. The dictatorship of Martinez Anido forced him underground. His comrade Cornella was slain alongside him by the gunmen of the ‘Free Trade Union’.

We now reproduce the account of our comrade Victor Serge, an intimate and faithful friend of Andrés Nin.

Nin was more than an old friend to me, more a sort of brother – by his ideals, the paths he trod, the trials he underwent, and all that there could be of what cannot be expressed in the contact between one man and another. I knew him, I know what he is, and what he meant to all of us. This is not the first time that I have written “For Andrés Nin” at the head of an article. It was necessary to carry on a tenacious campaign to get him out of prison in 1922 in Correspondance Internationale, L’Humanité and all the Communist papers.
As a young militant of the CNT, he lived a while in Egypt, and then was a delegate to the third Congress of the Communist International. At the same time he met there Joaquin Maurin, his companion along the road, Francesco Ghezzi [8], and several others who since have not betrayed, who never will betray. In the meantime Edouardo Dato, the President of Alfonso XIII’s Council, was killed in the open Madrid Street by Ramon Casanellas who took refuge in Moscow. The Madrid government wished to find the hand of Moscow in this attempt, and blamed Nin – in defiance of common sense, but that wasn’t the point. He was arrested by accident in Berlin. With the support of the Soviet legation we succeeded in wrecking the extradition procedure, and he returned to Moscow. Elected by a Congress to be the second secretary of the Red International of Labour Unions, he carried out these functions for some years, working with Lozovsky, when he was becoming more and more flabby and weak. He told me about its deceit in all our meetings. The RILU, instead of becoming a living and healthy international focus, became more bureaucratic month by month, ending up by becoming no more than a vast machine for mounting intrigues and disseminating occasional aberrant slogans. In 1923 Andrés Nin joined the first Left Opposition of Preobrazhensky, Piatakov and Trotsky. But he was not as yet entirely ready for these struggles; he suffocated in the offices of the Profintern and it should be said that the very atmosphere of these offices suffocated him. He gave way. He gained all the more credit when, three years later, he took up completely the decisive struggle amongst those who, at great personal sacrifice, wanted to make one last attempt to reform the Bolshevik party, and the Stalinist bureaucracy that was confidently holding onto power. Then he gained even more credit by sending a short but categorical letter to the Central Committee, more to the point than most that the CC received: “The Opposition is right. I am with it without reservations”, declared the secretary of the RILU. I do not know what the statutes of the International made of it, but he was no longer secretary of the RILU the next day. And he continued to joke, for he was a comrade of rare good humour, while he waited for them to come to arrest him along with the others. For my part, I was waiting for the same thing, for the same reasons. We would bump into one another either at my place or his, in Leningrad or in Moscow, somewhat amazed to be still at (relative) liberty. We had to do various jobs in order to survive. Nin set about translating, Dostoyevsky first of all, and then Boris Pilnyak, into Catalan. He wrote a book defending the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat against Monsieur Cambo, the Catalan theoretician of the dictatorship. He collected texts and memoranda. A hard worker, and rather home-loving, he lived only for his work, along with his companion, Olga Kareva, and their little daughters. We lost a mutual friend, George Andreychin, from the American IWW, who “capitulated”, and told us, with his face turned away, “I am a coward”. (in which USSR prison is George Andreychin now?) While surveying the Spanish Revolution, Nin sent the CC another really extraordinary letter, with a view to forcing them to let him leave or imprisoning him – and took a great risk. There was a strong chance of his being deported to some Siberian place. But finally they decided to deport him. He found himself in a street in Riga, with his wife and kids, utterly penniless.
Back in Spain, Andrés Nin threw himself into activity. Although free, he was several times imprisoned again. He edited the press of the Communist Left, the Trotskyist Opposition, translated books, wrote leaflets and gathered people together without sparing himself, refusing careers both easy and advantageous. He broke finally with Leon Davidovich Trotsky over theoretical and tactical matters, though he remained attached to him by an old and lasting friendship. He drew closer to Joaquin Maurin, and it was from the fusion of their two groupings that the Workers Party of Marxist Unification was born in 1935. In 1933, when the star of Señor Lerroux and Gil Robles was rising, the Republican police attempted a quite serious blow against Nin. Arrested in Barcelona and conducted to an unknown destination, he arrived, no one knows how, in a prison in Algeciras. Events were to save him.
A minister, or rather, councillor of justice in the Taradellas cabinet that had been formed the day after the workers’ victory of 19 July 1936, Andrés Nin tried to push this government in the direction of the revolutionary gains, and for his part proceeded to the most radical conceivable reform of the apparatus of justice. He was the creator of the new Popular Tribunals.
He was only 45 years old, but he had already lived more than twenty years of activist life. For six years he quietly risked his life and liberty every day, with a healthy optimism, though without any illusions, as I know well. His conversation and writings reveal an active and far-sighted revolutionary thought. His entire life was a straight path.

Andrés Nin was arrested on 16 June 1937, two days before the date set for the POUM congress. It was an isolated arrest, and it was only later that we understood why the police, who had come to arrest the entire EC of the POUM, had been so little ‘demanding’. The Stalinists understood better than anyone what the loss of Nin would mean to the POUM. Nin had not only dared to tell the truth about the role of Stalinism in the Spanish Revolution and within the international revolutionary movement; he had committed the unpardonable crime of counterposing to Stalin in Spain a party, doubtless not very large, but growing more and more because of its ideological solidity. The leader of this party, Nin, the old ‘renegade’ of the Communist International, had to disappear. Olga Nin saw her husband in the police prefecture in Barcelona on the afternoon of 16 June. When she came back to bring him food and blankets an hour later he could no longer be found, and no one could inform her what had become of him.

The Stalinist press was not lacking in cynicism on this subject. Let us look at the facts.

Some days after his arrest the famous Agence Espagne (Spain Agency), and then all the Stalinist journals in the peninsula and in other countries, announced the discovery of a document devastating for the POUM. It was a question of a plan of Madrid found upon a fascist by the name of Golfin, and on the other side a message to Franco was written in invisible ink, in which it was a matter of a certain N, deemed to be an active agent in Republican territory. The journals in question allowed it to be understood that the initial stood for Nin.

The inquiry carried out by the first International Delegation consisting of Fenner Brockway, the secretary of the ILP [Independent Labour Party], Louzon and Charles Wolff came to the conclusion that the document had been stolen (we can well imagine by whom) by a police chief and that the part written in invisible ink had been added afterwards.

To become better informed about Nin’s destination, the above-named inquirers made their way to Valencia, where they were able to talk with several members of the government. M. Irujo then made the following declaration, which referred not only to Nin but also to the other members of the EC of the POUM: ‘I can assure you that none of the detainees has suffered either a scratch or bad treatment, nor any pressure other than that of their own consciences’.

About 25 July it became known beyond the borders of Spain with some astonishment from a speech by Frederica Montseny, who had previously been a minister in the government of Largo Caballero, in which she represented the CNT. Word for word she said: ‘But it has ended by us being told that the corpses of Nin and two other comrades have been found in Madrid’.

In the face of the indignation arising inside and outside Spain, on 29 July the minister of justice addressed a note to the newspapers listing the activists of the EC of the POUM held in official governmental prisons.

The name of Andrés Nin did not figure there.

Some days later, the Spain Agency recorded the disappearance of Nin ... and concluded that he had escaped! This reminds us of the shameless rumours about Joaquin Maurin, whom the Stalinists claim to have seen arm-in-arm with Queipo de Llano in Seville! [9]

A second commission of inquiry on which were represented in particular James Maxton, president of the Independent Labour Party and a member of parliament, and Andre Weil-Cariel, a member of the executive committee of the Socialist Federation of the Seine (SFIO) left for Spain on 19 August and returned on 26 August. It reported:
1. Confirmation that the N document was worthless.
2. A certain number of declarations about the fate of Andrés Nin. Indalecio Prieto, the war minister, admitted that the arrest of Nin and the POUM leaders had not been decided by the government.
M. Irujo, the Minister of Justice, asserted that ‘Nin has never been in a governmental prison’.
M. Zugazagoitia, the Minister of the Interior, affirmed that the disappearance of Nin had occurred against the will of the government.


Nin’s Odyssey

From a certain number of indications provided, whether by the second delegation, the Spanish anarchists, or imprisoned POUM comrades, it emerged that before the disappearance of Nin, he had been transported from one prison to another, all of them secret, and all GPU!

When he had come from Barcelona he was first of all imprisoned in the building of the Special Brigade, Paseo de la Castillana in Valencia, then in the Cheka of Atocha in Madrid, and then in the Cheka of the Pardo, again in Madrid. Then he was taken to its isolated villa at Alcala de Henares, where all trace of him is lost.

The names of the three policemen who arrested Nin are known (Ramallo, Valentin and Rosell). According to the comrades of the CNT the man who brought about his disappearance was a Russian commander from the General Staff of the International Brigade, Orlov. [10]

The police chief, Ortega, who was under suspicion of complicity, and who in any case could not find Nin again, was dismissed. But he was replaced by a Stalinist called Moron, who once the investigation opened, set at liberty the police who had been arrested on the order of the investigating judge.

What Became on Nin?

This question can only be answered by guessing. Two things, however, seem to be definite.

The first is that this act of calculated terror is marked by the hand of Stalinism. The extent of the communist attacks against the POUM in the month preceding, the origin of the accusations of espionage, the transport of prisoners to the headquarters of the GPU, the assassination and disappearance of other revolutionary comrades (Berneri, Barbieri, Erwin Wolf, Marc Rhein, Kurt Landau), and finally the more or less veiled confessions of the ministers to the Second Delegation, all incriminate the gentlemen of the Third International.

The second is that Nin has not been found. If he did appear, he would have far too much to say, and we know that he would not keep silent.

In the period that extends from the month of August 1936 (the first Moscow Trial) to the days we live in now, a time that has witnessed the extermination of all the Old Bolsheviks, all those who had taken part in the October Revolution or the building of the Third International, a militant like Nin, who had been a witness and participant in the struggles of old, had lived through the Moscow years, and had an international reputation, could not have been spared.

The ‘isolated villa’ at Alcala de Henares is close to a Soviet aerodrome. Was Nin taken to be questioned by the Russian officers who were to be found there? Was he taken off and transported to Russia? [11] Was he killed where he was? No one knows.

Andrés Nin was one of those who compel respect by the whole assemblage of their human and intellectual qualities. He is one of the greatest victims of this new tyranny which is called Stalinism.

In the extent to which eyes are opened and illusions fall, the degenerate leaders of the Third International are obliged to resort to ever more violent, ever more cynical, and ever more odious practices to maintain their domination and to rid themselves of those who stand in their way.

But the time will come when blood cries out for justice, and when one of those changes of opinion will happen that stays the hand of the assassins. Slowly, but surely, one such movement is in the process of happening. Coming in the middle of a series of atrocities, the disappearance of Nin and so many other revolutionaries has aroused an immense movement of indignation both in Spain and in the entire world. The death of Nin will prove unfortunate for those who perpetrated it.

The Landau Case

Kurt Landau was arrested on 23 September by two persons claiming to be policemen, accompanied by a guard. We soon understood that this time as well it was not a matter of an arrest, but of a kidnapping. On this subject the comrades of the Der Funke group in Paris wrote:

Thursday 23 September 1937. Kurt Landau, known under the pseudonym of Wolf Bertram, was kidnapped from a small building in the neighbourhood of Barcelona. From the circumstances of his disappearance it is evident that it can only be a question of kidnapping by Stalinist agents. It was in this way that Nin, Marc Rhein, Wolf, and many others had disappeared. Neither the official police, nor the government, can give any information with regard to their case. For months the Stalinists had been accusing Wolf Bertram of being “the leader of a band of terrorists” and the liaison agent between the Gestapo and the POUM. With reference to his revolutionary past and his activity in the immediate present, the accusation of being an agent of the Gestapo only appears to be a delirious invention.
As secretary of the Der Funke communist group, Wolf Bertram had to flee Germany before the agents of the Gestapo in March 1933. All the supporters of his group Der Funke before 1933, with the exception of Bertram, his wife, and one comrade alone, have been arrested, tortured, and thrown into solitary confinement and concentration camps. And it is against Bertram, himself pursued by the Gestapo, that the Stalinists have launched the accusation of being an agent of the Gestapo!
The hatred of the Stalinists concerns the theoretician of the Communist opposition. It concerns the author of the pamphlet Spain 1936, Germany 1918, in which he had already shown that the crushing of the revolutionary workers in Spain by the Stalinists ... to which since May they had contributed ... was an inevitable consequence of their policy.
Their hatred concerns a man who dedicated his life exclusively to the revolutionary movement, in the ranks of the Austrian Communist Party since 1923, a member of the Editorial Board of Rote Fahne of Vienna and of the Propaganda and Agitation Section of the Central Committee of the Austrian Communist Party and who joined with Trotsky in his struggle against Stalin since 1923.
The hostility of the Stalinists took in more nourishment when he formed the Bureau of the International Left Opposition with Alfred Rosmer and Trotsky in 1930. It in no way diminished when he broke with Trotsky in 1931 on account of differences over organisational questions, nor in 1933 when he energetically opposed Trotsky on the subject of the founding of the Fourth International.
The hatred of the Stalinists continually followed him, rightly on account of his international activity, which whether in Austria, in Germany, in the emigration, or in Spain, drew upon the foundation of Marxism to combat the policy of Stalinism.
In the emigration he dealt with the problems of the international working class movement in numerous conferences and articles. In November 1936 he left for Spain and placed himself at the disposal of the POUM to offer his strength to the Spanish Revolution.
Incapable of competing with their antagonists on the political plane, and from fear of seeing their criminal policy revealed, the present leaders of the Communist International are substituting murder and terror for discussion.

The Kidnapping

On 9 October Comrade CD [Carlotta Duran] passed in front of the tribunal and made the following declaration:

I had staying in my apartment in Barcelona a man called Kurt Landau, an Austrian by nationality, and a well-known Marxist writer.
On 23 September about seven o’clock at night two police agents along with an Assault Guard came to arrest Kurt Landau. No search was carried out, but the prisoner was taken off rapidly.
Investigations made in the General Commissariat of Public Order as well as in all the official prisons have produced no result. Since his arrest it is no longer known to where Kurt Landau has been taken nor where he is to be found now. Even the Deputy General of Public Order, Paulino Gomez, told those who took an interest in the disappearance of Kurt Landau that he had not been able to obtain any information from Valencia in response to his intervention. All these facts permit us to suppose that Kurt Landau was arrested under the very eyes of the responsible authorities without informing the Deputy General of Public Order. Were these policemen working on their own account? Were they obeying the orders of their superior, the Police Chief, M. Burillo? Where was Kurt Landau taken after his arrest? What has become of him?
On the assumption that the facts as stated show the following offences: illegal kidnapping, deprivation of liberty and perhaps murder, the undersigned informs the authorities.

She requested the court to take action on it and open an investigation with the object of finding out what has become of Kurt Landau, and to punish those guilty of it.

Now we provide the statement of Katia Landau:

When I was told that Kurt Landau had been arrested by two policemen and an Assault Guard, to begin with I thought that it was a normal arrest. But later, when I myself was taken to the seat of the GPU at 104 Paseo San Juan, I understood that the GPU had been able to proceed “legally” using the state apparatus, and into the bargain using a certain number of “especialemente elegidos” (specially chosen) guards, as they called them, from amongst the most trustworthy of the Young Communists.
“No one knows where, or for whom we are working. And when our term is finished we have seen nothing and heard nothing. Yes, that’s blind obedience if you like, but that is fitting for whoever agrees to become a convinced militant”, they told me.
Yes, I do know them, these young “idealists”, who go for a few hundred pesetas or more a month are willing to lend themselves to anything, and gave quite disgusted us with their “pride” at being militants of the “first rank”. There was never the slightest doubt about who arrested Landau. We know that the house had already been watched for some days before by a couple, a man and a young blonde, at first sight strangers. The description of the young woman leads us to suspect that it is a matter of SK [12], an agent of the GPU in Barcelona. Moreover, the time had been chosen when Kurt Landau was alone in the house. Witnesses say that he was given at the most three to five minutes to change his clothing, and then the waiting car, a grand and elegant Rolls Royce, disappeared in the direction of Barcelona. There has since been no trace, and no news.
Of what did the Stalinists accuse Kurt Landau? I will only quote the main accusations, repeated in all the interrogations of the foreign comrades who were POUM members. The most serious accusation, the one to which they ascribed the most importance, was that Kurt Landau had been a member of the Executive Committee of the POUM. It goes without saying that this was an invention pure and simple, since the EC of the POUM only contained Spanish comrades. Afterwards the international Stalinist press even made him the “theoretical head” of the POUM (special number of L’Internationale for the month of September 1937). During the questioning of Comrade P [13], Landau was accused of setting up the POUM German group, a real terrorist organisation, to prepare for the May events. Political letters were transformed into documents proving the preparation of terrorist acts, not only against Stalin, but against all the leaders of the Third International! The Stalinist leaders really had no chance here, accusing an activist of terrorism who had always opposed individual terror with all his ability...but the truth means little to them.
One of the foulest agents of the GPU, Moritz Bressler, alias von Ranke, brought the whole accusation down to rock bottom. He and his wife, Seppl Kapalanz, arrested a comrade and accused him of knowing where Kurt Landau was to be found. “If you do not give us his address”, they said, “you will never get out of prison. He is an enemy of the Popular Front and of Stalin. As soon as we know where he has gone, we are going to kill him.”

The Hunger Strike

The kidnapping took place on 23 September. The Spanish comrades and their foreign friends undertook all the appropriate steps and interventions as in the case of a normal arrest. None of this produced any result. And on behalf of us, who had been imprisoned for months and months without being examined and without any formal charges, our comrades asked themselves: ‘Is it possible that we can keep silent in view of the fact that yesterday they made Andrés Nin disappear, and today Kurt Landau; whose turn is it to be tomorrow? Do we have to give up in the face of such methods of political gangsterism?’ There is no other means of protest for the political prisoner than the hunger strike. I have to say that my comrades did not support me out of pity, but from political conviction, to shout at the tops of our voices that we, although being prisoners condemned to political inactivity, could not and would not keep silent. We spoke up, and we were heard where we wanted to be heard – in the factories, wherever our comrades were working, the workers understood the political message of our hunger strike.

And the Minister of Justice, a ‘worthy’ Catholic, M. Irujo, also understood it; he understood that this strike was going to spread, and that by Sunday 22 November hundreds of anti-fascist prisoners were going to support it to protest vigorously against the methods of the Stalinists. M. Irujo’s sole intention was to put an end to this annoying tale at all costs, if possible in a conciliatory fashion. On 22 November the minister came in person to pay a woman prisoner a visit. For this reason he spoke of the murderers of Nin and Landau. He spoke without any proof, to put an end to the strike and to give a sharp slap to the Stalinists, who had been making themselves utterly ridiculous by accusing me formally of being implicated in the disappearance of Andrés Nin, to punish me for having talked about another disappearance.

A week after the hunger strike I was set at liberty. But a week after my release the ‘Grupo de Informacion’ arrested me again. It was a classic arrest, that is to say without a warrant and by sheer brute force. Along with me Comrade EH was also arrested. Before climbing into the car I wanted to call out to someone to note down its number; but then I perceived that there was none. Some days earlier, on 2 December, the Director of the Police, M. de Juan had told me: ‘Unfortunately, you are right. There have been kidnappings, and there are motor cars without a number, but I can assure you that there will be no more of them.’ And after my arrest carried out by the ‘Grupo de Informacion’, the Minister of the Interior, M. Zugazagoitia, replying to numerous interventions in my favour, declared that he was powerless in the face of the GPU, a part of his own ministry!

The Basis of the Accusation

If I dwell upon my second arrest, it is to show on what the accusations against the revolutionaries are based, and who these ‘men’ are who came to Spain to ‘judge’ us.

We finally arrived at 104 Paseo San Juan, the GPU building in Barcelona. We quickly entered an office, and the first interrogation began immediately, the first, moreover, that was carried out by a Spaniard. He asked about the May Events, and my participation in them. Afterwards, he asked me at least three times if I was Jewish. Given his insistence, I asked him why it interested him so much. He told me, ‘For us it is question of race’. I replied that for us Communists and Socialists the question of race does not come up. But it did remind me of the language of the German fascists. He wanted me to believe that we were in the Ministry of the Interior. I asked to see the Minister of the Interior who, I said, had set me at liberty only a week earlier. Then he admitted that it wasn’t the Ministry, but a ‘departamento’(a department), which amounted to the same thing according to him.

The director of the ‘departamento’ arrived at six o’clock at night, accompanied by a foreigner. This foreigner was shut up in an office with me. As I complained about being arrested by force, without a warrant, he told us: ‘We are the Ministry of the Interior, we arrest whoever we wish and we absorb our arrest warrants from the prefectures’. And referring to the recent arrest of Gaston Ladmiral, he said: ‘We have arrested – and without a warrant – men who have been freed on the direct intervention of the French government. We are working independently of everyone.’

He told me that I was not being detained, but only held, because I knew a great many people. What they were waiting for was for me to supply them with some precious information. I answered firstly that I knew very little in general, and secondly that I was not disposed to supply information to the ‘Grupo de Informacion’. After this statement the atmosphere changed. He very quietly told me that I would never come out of this building alive, and that in eight days time I would be shot. I replied that it was more likely that they would allow me to starve slowly. As he spoke with an Austrian accent I asked him some questions, from which it emerged that we must have known each other from the Austrian Communist Party. Finally, I remembered having seen him at the ACP centre in Vienna 10 or 12 years ago, and at last I remembered his name, Leopold Kulcsar.

After an hour of conversation with him, his secretary, a little Hungarian guttersnipe called Harry [14], and the director of the ‘departamento’, I went up to the first floor. I was admitted into a luxurious apartment with its own morning room, bedroom, toilet and bathroom. It was the director’s apartment. The same night I asked for information about the other comrades. I was told that everyone was alright, and that all had beds and blankets. Afterwards I found out that these brutes had left Else in a lumber room without either light or blankets for five days, and that another prisoner, a shop assistant who moreover had a weak heart, had been left for 10 days and nights on a chair, without a bed, mattress or covers. She fell gravely ill. She was taken from the Calle Vallmajor to hospital through the intervention of the Director of the Prison. She had been quietly left to die in the Paseo San Juan. I was often told: ‘If you want to start up the hunger strike again, go ahead. These Spanish idiots don’t know how to work, so we will let you quietly starve.’ In all these altercations this individual spoke of the Spaniards with great contempt, as imbeciles to whom it was necessary to give lessons. Other comrades questioned by the foreigners told me the same thing. Adventurers who had come from every corner of the world thought they were masters of Spain.

When, in the course of an interrogation, I talked about the Police Chief, Paulino Romero, or of the Security Director who had received us and given us our provisional identity papers, he threatened to punish them. ‘We will drive out all these people. Now we have taken charge of everything.’

On the second day of my arrest, Thursday 9 December 1937, Leopold Kulscar dashed into my room at seven o’clock in the morning with a few scraps of paper in his hand. He pretended that these bits of paper were plans, drawn up by me, that he had found in my room. He said that he had known that I was a spy beforehand, but that he did not expect to find such striking proof of it.

As I had not been present during the search of the apartment where I lived, I supposed that these papers had been introduced after that event, and were perhaps real plans. But it was not even a question of that. The room I had lived in with EH for a week belonged to a leading young designer of the time. The so-called plans were designs drawn up by him to participate in a conference. But that didn’t help me at all. When it emerged clearly that I had never seen these scraps, I was told. “So much the worse for you. There is a fresh proof. In addition you were carrying on espionage even in the women’s prison’, supported, apparently, by the Director whom he had promised to drive out, as well as by M. Tassis, the Director General of the Prisons, who, it seems, was too indulgent. ‘We know’, he told me, ‘that you wrote illegal letters to your friend M, the editor of the Journal des Nations in Geneva.’ ‘How could it be to my friend M, as I do not know him?’ The man broke out laughing. ‘That’s ludicrous; are you going to deny that for years you lived with him, in a menage à trois? Proof is not lacking’, he told me.

M was known to me as a 100 per cent Stalinist. Was he no longer as faithful to the Stalinist line as formerly? I do not know. He was ill-chosen in any case, as I did not know him personally. But when I insisted that I should be shown a single illegal letter written by me to M, Leopold Kulscar very quickly subsided. He said that it was ‘not me but Kurt who had carried on this correspondence with M, a character who would be particularly suspect as he was directly maintained by the English government in the capacity of an agent of the Intelligence Service’. But as Kurt could not be found, they had to content themselves with me, and make me the principal defendant in a future trial for military espionage.

I was threatened with being transferred to a military prison to effect the quickest trial possible and have me shot in eight days.

Leopold Kulcsar told me word for word:

I have come on a special assignment for the Landau case. My historic mission is to furnish proof that out of twenty Trotskyists, eighteen are fascists, agents of Hitler and Franco. Perhaps subjectively you are a good revolutionary, but you are convinced that the victory of Franco would be more favourable to the realisation of your Trotskyist ideas than the victory of Stalinism.

He spoke about Kurt with a particular personal hatred. The phrase, ‘I can take a bloody revenge on Landau’ came up on every occasion: ‘If he falls into my hands one day, I will make him pay dearly for it’. He never told me, however, what it was he wanted to avenge. I often had the impression in this man’s presence of being in front of a pathological case. The man no longer appeared to know what he was saying. I will always remember certain phrases, for example such as: ‘I am a deeply religious man. Your blood will be on my head. I am convinced that you are a spy, but if I am mistaken, what does it matter? I will take responsibility myself.’

‘If Kurt has escaped from Spain’, he said, ‘all has already been prepared to denounce him to the French police for espionage in the South of France in alliance with fascist elements.’ He also threatened to denounce to the French police other comrades who figured in my correspondence in order to make it impossible for them to stay in France.

I was accused in the first place of having sold plans to France, whereas Kurt had been organising the transport of weapons for the FAI and the POUM. My visit to the Austrian Consulate on the night of my arrest was above all emphasised; I was charged with carrying on espionage with the Austrian Ambassador in Paris. And the proof: that my passport had been extended for five years.

Occasionally Spaniards, functionaries of the ‘departamento’ like Alfonso Martinez, assisted at the interrogations. They came to see me afterwards to make fun of the foreigner who could not make me talk, or so they said.

Released without Trial

On 18 December I was transferred to Calle Vallmajor 5, a semi-secret prison directly and solely responsible to the ‘departamento’. Three weeks before my release the real head of the ‘departamento’ came to see me in prison, and asked me: ‘Tell me really, Madame Landau, why are you here? This question was being put to me by the same Señor Ordonez (a socialist who had called openly for the fusion of his party with the Communist Party) who on 9 December had signed the self-styled warrant for my arrest (arrested on strong suspicion of military espionage). I asked him who had authorised the coming of Leopold Kulcsar, as he himself said, on a special mission to take bloody revenge upon Landau. Unfortunately, Ordonez did not reply.

During the night of 29-30 December 1937, at two o’clock in the morning, my cell was abruptly opened. ‘Corre, corre, en libertad’ (‘Run, run, you are free’). I was given barely two minutes to dress. As everything had been taken from me, right down to the last chemise, I had no case to pack. Some hope!

I was taken along with EH to the Calle Corcega 299 (the Foreign police). Was it to be deportation, then? When I refused to accept it point blank, I was threatened with being thrown into the dirtiest and most wretched jails. ‘Are there any more wretched, then, than those of your own secret prison? No one answered this indiscreet question.

Then there was a resort to moral blackmail. If I refused deportation, none of my friends would leave. After speaking with VS, the director of the building, I gave in. He assured me in the presence of other comrades on his word of honour that Kurt was still alive, that he was in a Spanish prison, and that he would shortly be deported. When I straightaway asked him not to deceive me in order to get me to go, and that I would go if he had told me the truth, he said: ‘That would be a shameful game to play with you. I would never lend myself to playing such a part.’

And to give me more confidence, he told me of his past as a militant, and ended with these words: ‘Kurt will be deported, I promise you that, and in exactly the same way as yourself. Go quietly. Perhaps happiness is already awaiting you in Paris.’

A few more words about Leopold Kulcsar (Maresch), who had come to Barcelona in the capacity of an ‘examining magistrate’ in the Landau case. I always had the impression that he did not belong to the apparatus, but that he wanted to make his career out of the Landau case. I rather think that someone in the GPU had something on him, but that he had been allowed through because he had come from high up.

He and his wife, Ilse Kulcsar, had been expelled from the Austrian Communist Party in 1927 under suspicion of being police informers. Their moral reputation in the working class movement was most deplorable. Whereas she was a completely unscrupulous careerist, Leopold Kulcsar was accused of stealing money from the Social Democratic Party, a party he had joined after his expulsion from the Communist Party. Both of them, moreover, had belonged to the Neubeginnen Group in the same manner as Marc Rhein.

Having left Austria after the insurrection of February 1934, they made their way to Prague. Finally, Leopold Kulcsar worked for the Spanish embassy in Prague as head, so he said, of the News Service, but in fact as a military attache.

To get an idea about this Prague embassy we will quote the following case: The mother of a foreign member of the POUM who had been arrested along with us in Barcelona applied to the embassy to request an intervention on behalf of her son. ‘Your son is a brave lad,’ she was told. ‘But his friends are all agents of the Gestapo. Give us the names of two or three of them, and your son will be released. To prevent the worst happening we could even send a telegram today.’

Leopold Kulcsar died in Prague on 28 January 1938. M. Asua, the Spanish Ambassador in Prague, did not fail to render warm tributes to the deceased and to speak of the great services of LK during the Spanish Revolution. ‘Overwork’, he said, brought on the death of this brave man.’ The truth is that LK wore himself out questioning us for whole nights; he had overworked himself by continually inventing new methods of physical and moral torture.

M. Asua knew better than anyone, so it seems, how to estimate such services and sacrifices.

So perhaps he could tell us who authorised Leopold Kulcsar to go to Spain, who gave him absolute powers, and who opened for him the generally hermetically sealed doors of the Paseo San Juan.

Leopold Kulcsar is dead. But Ilse Kulcsar is ‘happily’ still alive and continuing the good traditions of her family. We saw her twice in the Paseo San Juan, assisting in the interrogations. She is at the moment in Paris, married again to a Spanish student. Ilse Kulcsar-Barea is spreading the story here that the Spanish government committed a grave error in releasing me, since I am very deceitful and I should have been made to talk (with the methods of Santa Ursula, isn’t that so, Ilse Kulcsar?) because it appears that I know very well where Kurt is, in Rio de Janeiro!

You can indeed spread the fabrications of the GPU when you are directly involved with it, but you should put a bit more spirit and intelligence into it.

However, Ilse Kulcsar, like Moritz Bressler and a number of others, are showing their devotion to the cause of Republican Spain in the course of the tragic hours that they are now quietly passing taking coffee in the ‘Dome’ in Paris.

We will end with the account of comrade EH, whom they wanted to make into a hostile witness against Katia Landau.

I was under arrest from 17 June 1937 to 29 November 1937 and placed at the disposal of the Special Tribunal of Espionage in Madrid. Having been released following the direct intervention of the Minister of Justice, then Irujo, I was again arrested along with Katia on the 8 December 1937, when I had gone to visit some female comrades in prison. The agent gave as an explanation that Katia had had to provide some details on a document issued by her Consul; I was only to be taken as security for Katia.
When we got to the building where the offices of the “departamento” were, our immediate separation was effected and I was locked up in the WC. Along with me in this strange cell was put a brutal-looking policeman, who incessantly threatened me with his revolver.
It was announced that I had been arrested on the order of the Minister of the Interior. I protested immediately against an action taken without a warrant of arrest.
I was led into an antechamber, where I found the same policeman who arrested us. He told me in conversation, “A fortnight ago I saw Landau in a cafe in Paris.”
All the policemen left the building during the dinner hour, and for three hours, in spite of our rigorous “isolation”. I had the opportunity of exchanging impressions with Katia.
When taken next up to the second floor, I recognised that apart from offices the building contained an entire prison. During the five hours that I had to spend on a chair, guarded by a policeman, I had occasion to see one prisoner in handcuffs and another shut up in a sort of cubicle with a double door.
At 23 hours I was led into another building in the block, where a foreigner, Leopold Kulcsar, who was later to interrogate me, looked at me for 10 minutes. Then he took my date of birth, and asked me for my handbag which had already been searched, which, however, he handed back to me. He sent every piece of a book of cigarette papers for them to examine in the laboratory. With reference to a piece of writing paper, he pretended to be able to disclose writing in invisible ink without a quartz lamp. Then he pretended that a simple case key was that of a strong box. Then he showed the extent of his imagination by a sensational discovery; a bead necklace of wax worth a hundred francs was made of real pearls. He took no notice of my observation that no one carries treasure in a handbag, pretending that this was really an old trick to disguise the value. He maintained that five photos of my husband represented five different men. Suddenly, placing one of these photos in front of my eyes, he exclaimed: “That’s Landau!” Then his secretary called Harry” who understood Spanish appeared, whereas his chief was almost totally ignorant of the language.
At dawn I was taken into a luxurious apartment to which Katia had been taken under the pretext that she had to identify me. Whilst leaving the chamber I was asked if the surroundings where Katia was staying did not lead me to think again, and when I replied “No”, I was told, “Well, she has confessed everything”. I was taken back to my cell after eight hours of questioning. This was a little room filled like a junk shop, with lamps, tables, etc. A metal bedstead without a mattress had to serve me for a bed, and a music stand for a pillow. There was no coverlet, and the shutters were hermetically sealed. There was no electricity, no air, and no light. At this time the cold was severe. Thanks only to continuous massaging was I able to prevent my legs and hands from freezing; and I was not able to get to sleep all night. The police had orders not to allow me to open the doors other than for going to the WC three times a day. All complaints on the subject of soap or towels were rebuffed. Thus I was not able to wash for 10 days.
During the nights they came to look for me for short interrogations and confrontations; and one day the Commissar came. He brought me the warrant of arrest forwarded by the same department, saying that I had been arrested on suspicion of military espionage. He took advantage of this visit to certify the “perfect” state of my accommodation.
Confrontations took place with comrades and also with unknown persons, among them Ilse K, the wife of LK.
When after 10 days I was given back my case, I quickly noticed that a box of films and photographs had been taken from it; and immediately I protested.
All the questions of the interrogation dealt with the activity of Katia and myself during our brief spell of liberty.
As I took care not to give the names of comrades, I was unceasingly accused of protecting fascists. When I spoke of a visit to the Austrian Consul the Commissar ascribed a tremendous importance to this interview, and talked about arms traffic that Landau had organised with the Consul. The main point of the interrogation turned upon the following question: “With what personage did Katia Landau make an appointment after coming out of hospital?” This question was repeated in a monotonous tone for half an hour, and when the Commissar lost his voice he passed over the talking to his secretary, who went on, and then they all questioned me in turn.
During this half hour in front of the desk I was made to remain upright. Even though all movement was forbidden me, in spite of the terrible cold I was forced to leave my coat. The question was always repeated in the same rhythm by tapping the measure with a comb upon the table.
‘ During the course of the questioning I was shown plans, illustrations, etc, that had been found in my room; these were designs drawn up by a young designer for an official conference, and no more than that. I was informed that I was to be judged in eight days. The Commissar, however, declared that he was prepared to save me the shame of being shot as a fascist on condition that I finally name my accomplices. Even though he was convinced of my innocence, he could not help me, because I had rendered this impossible. He pretended that all the correspondence (that reached me in the prison after being passed by the double censorship at the frontier and,the prison) had been sent by very suspect persons. He identified some English friends who owned a hotel in a little seaside resort near Barcelona (News Chronicle correspondents) as agents of the Intelligence Service. But as I had seen GPU agent — [15] and — [16] at their place in the March of the same year, both employed in the same “departamento”, I cited them as witnesses.
The declaration of the Commissar was always repeated, that he had no interest in pursuing the POUM comrades, but only fascists and the leaders of the conspiracy, whom he wanted to call Landau and his wife.
The final interrogation unfolded as follows: the Commissar was alone, and in a mysterious tone he asked me to confess everything now. He pretended that he wished to profit from the time that his secretary was absent to give me one last chance to acquit myself, to give him the possibility of saving me. He even held out the hope of an impending journey to Paris along with him. Finally, he announced to me that the following day would be the final interrogation and the presentation of the final transcript for my signature, but he produced neither the one nor the other. On 18 December l was transferred to the remand prison, Calle Vallmajor 5. I was placed in a small cell where there were already three Spanish women. There was no ventilation, as in my former cell. Three days before my release “Harry” appeared once more in my cell and gave me an unknown photo.” As I said that I did not recognise the figure, he insisted: “This is Landau”.
About two o’clock in the morning on the night of the 29-30 of January I was informed that I was released.

The Marc Rhein Case

During the night of 9-10 April 1937, the journalist Marc Rhein disappeared from the Hotel Continental in Barcelona where he was staying. Marc Rhein was a member of the French Young Socialists. Politically he was not a direct antagonist of Stalinism. He had defended the Popular Front and had collaborated with the Stalinists in France. Despite the desperate efforts of his father to find him, even with the help of the Spanish authorities, he did not succeed.

Marc Rhein was the son of the Russian Socialist Abramovitch, who played an important part in the emigration. He was a member of the editorial board of Courrier Socialiste the bimonthly of the Russian Socialist Party [Mensheviks], which is in touch with militants living in Russia.

The interest shown by the GPU in regard to people linked with it can well be understood. Was it only because of his family connections with the leaders of the Courrier Socialiste?

The visit of Marc Rhein to Barcelona was no secret to the GPU. Either its agents hoped to draw out of Marc Rhein some information that interested them, or they hoped to operate a blackmail on his father. [17] It is not impossible that they wanted to extract the name of the ‘Old Bolshevik’ who a year ago published a long letter exposing the crimes of Stalin in the USSR. [18]

He was a tempting possibility for the GPU. Marc Rhein, no supporter of the political ideas of his father, became a victim of the manipulations of the GPU. He was kidnapped from Barcelona and many of those who know Stalinist methods believe that he was taken back to Russia, either to make him accuse his father, or as a hostage.

Marc Rhein left his hotel on 9 April without either his coat or hat. Nobody has seen him since. After his disappearance only one letter arrived, coming from Madrid, addressed to his friend Nicolas Sundelevicz (since July 1937 under arrest on the scarcely original accusation of wanting to kill Stalin). [19] The handwriting was recognised by Abramovitch as being that of his son, the date of 12 May being doubtless added by an unknown hand. We might add that Leopold Kulcsar, the individual who came to Barcelona on a ‘special mission’ for the Landau case, and who arrested comrades Katia Landau, EH and others under the accusation of military espionage, belonged not only to the Austrian Socialist Party but at the same time to the Neubeginnen (Miles) group, of which Marc Rhein was part. Can we exclude the possibility that the wife of Leopold Kulcsar, Ilse Kulcsar, who was in Spain from October 1936 onwards, could especially inform us about the disappearance of Marc Rhein?

The Erwin Wolf Case

Erwin Wolf, a Czechoslovak citizen, came to Barcelona at the end of the month of May 1937 as the correspondent for an English journal supporting the Popular Front, Spanish News. [20] Immediately after his arrival he presented himself to the Spanish authorities and joined the official organisation of foreign journalists in Barcelona.

Towards evening on 27 July 1937 Erwin Wolf was arrested for the first time. He was taken to the Puerta del Angel 24 along with another journalist, and it was there that P and KTh saw him for the last time. Wolf was released the following day. It is extremely interesting to note that whereas the Spanish press published nothing about the arrest of Wolf and the other journalist, the Italian fascist journal Corriere della Serra of 29 July published the following note: ‘On the 27 July 1937 the Spanish Secret State Police proceeded to arrest journalists Erwin Wolf and RSt. They were taken to the Puerta del Angel 24, to open a preliminary investigation into their political activity.’

The arrest of these two journalists was only known to ‘insiders’ – yet another proof that the Italian fascists have placed their agents as well in the midst of the GPU. [21]

After being set at liberty, Wolf returned to his habitual domicile. Learning that his journal had ceased to appear, he decided to leave Spain. He had no difficulty in obtaining his exit visa. On the day of his departure his friend Tioli asked him on the telephone to pass by his place to pick up his letters. Wolf promised his wife that he would not be longer than an hour. An hour later he notified his wife that he would be coming a little later on.

Since that day Wolf and Tioli have disappeared. Tioli’s room at the Hotel Victoria was watched by the police for several weeks, and all those who asked for him were arrested.

Wolfs wife, a Norwegian, the daughter of a socialist deputy with whom Trotsky stayed in Norway, searched for her husband in all the prisons of Barcelona. Finally, she was advised to leave as quickly as possible so as not to share the fate of her husband. It was only thanks to the energetic intervention of the Norwegian Consul that she escaped arrest at the time she was due to leave.

The sister of Wolf intervened in favour of her brother at the Spanish embassy in Prague. On 10 October 1937 she received the following reply:

Spanish Legation
I have the honour to communicate to you that according to an official investigation of the General Management of Security, of which the Ministry of the Interior has informed us, your brother, Erwin Wolf, was in prison, arrested for subversive activity. He was set at liberty on 13 September 1937.
The Secretary of the Spanish Embassy in Prague

Let them dare to pretend that Wolf was arrested for ‘subversive activity’! We know only too well why Wolf was arrested, and why the GPU caused him to disappear. Wolf was Trotsky’s personal secretary, and it seems that he had to pay dearly for it.

In February 1937 Le Matin published a note saying that Wolf and Antonov-Ovseyenko had been shot in the USSR. That confirms the supposition that Wolf was kidnapped and taken to the USSR. [22]

At the same time, Wolfs lawyer officially received the news that Wolf was in a state prison in Spain, at the disposal of the courts. But he was not permitted to see his client, and with good reason!

The Moulin Case

Hans Freund, known under the name of Moulin [23], was one of the most active members of the Spanish Trotskyist group. A German emigré, he pursued his studies in Geneva. Immediately after 19 July 1936 he left for Spain to place himself at the disposal of the Spanish revolutionary movement.

In August he was working politically in Madrid. He went as a journalist to the Guadarrama front, where the Stalinist Galan threatened to shoot him for his propaganda work among the militiamen.

Since the month of December 1936 he was in Barcelona, working with all his strength. But the GPU did not lose sight of him in Barcelona. An agent of the GPU, a Pole called Mink, was specially ordered to watch him.

After the May Days, Moulin was able to hide in a Barcelona street. It was only on 2 August 1937 that ‘unknown men’ arrested him in that town. There has been no news since.

Moulin was a dedicated Trotskyist, a passionate defender of the Fourth International. In spite of the political differences that separated them, the POUM comrades always regarded him as a pure and devoted militant.

Agents of the GPU With Whom We Have Had to Deal

The real leaders of the GPU in Spain are some old agents of the Russian GPU – Specialists. The huge number of agents are Stalinists from all the sections of the Communist International, Germans, Poles, Italians, Hungarians, Austrians, French, etc. The greater part of them came to Spain after 19 July 1936. Instead of going to the front they preferred to stow away in the apparatus of the GPU.

With the exception of the names of Feldmann, Herz [28], Kindermann, — and Kulcsar, the other names are generally pseudonyms.

The names erased are those of a GPU agent and his wife. Dedicated Stalinists, they understood that they were questioning revolutionaries and not traitors. They succeeded in escaping and reached France, where they fought in the resistance against the Nazis.

Katia Landau


Editors’ Footnotes

8. Francesco Ghezzi is described by Serge as ‘the only syndicalist still at liberty in Russia’ (Memoirs of a Revolutionary, Oxford, 1963, p.322).

9. When the Civil War broke out Maurin was attending a conference of the Galician federation of the POUM in Santiago de Compostella, and was caught behind the generals’ side of the lines. For a while he went unrecognised, and the POUM and its international supporters tried to help him by claiming that he had been killed. He was subsequently recognised and arrested. A plan to exchange him and other prisoners for fascists held by the Republicans was blocked by the Stalinists (R. Dazy, Fusilez ces Chiees enrages, Paris 1981, p.170; Gorkin, op. cit., n3 above, p.110).

10. Apparently not the same as the Orlov who later defected to the USA, according to Elizabeth Poretsky, Our Own People, Oxford 1969, p.259, n1 (Nikolsky/Orlov).

11. There is some evidence that Nin, like Erwin Wolf and perhaps Marc Rhein, was taken back to the Soviet Union via the port of Alicante to be finished off there (Burnett Bolloten, The Spanish Revolution, 1979, pp.457-8).

12. Seppl Kappalanz, the wife of GPU agent Moritz Bressler (Gorkin, op. cit., n3 above, p.201).

13. Perhaps POUM leader Luis Portela.

14. From the age indicated it appears that it is not impossible that this lightweight is, in fact, Laszio Rajk (1909-49), the chief victim of the postwar East European purge trials at the time Stalin completed the drive he began before the war to eliminate the agents who worked for him in Spain. If this is indeed the case, the sympathy of the Hungarian people at the time of his rehabilitation and reburial (1956) was greatly misplaced.

15. This and the following name were deleted from the original pamphlet during the Second World War, for the reason explained at the end. Thanks to the work of Pouvoir Ouvrier, French section of the MRCI, we are able to identify them with Moritz Bressler, alias von Rank, and his wife.

16. Seppl Kappalanz.

17. Victor Serge was always of the opinion that this was the reason for Rhein’s kidnapping. (Gorkin, op. cit., n3 above, p.57, n4)

18. The Letter of an Old Bolshevik was put together by the Menshevik emigré Boris Nikolayevsky on the basis of conversations with Bukharin denouncing Stalin’s crimes, and published outside the USSR under this title (S.P. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, Oxford 1980, p.366.)

19. Nicolas Sundelevicz was the son of a famous Menshevik who had spent much of his life in Siberia, and was a Trotskyist. He was arrested carrying POUM stickers and accused of preparing an attempt on Stalin’s life (Gorkin, ibid.; R. Dazy, op. cit., p.194).

20. The newspaper for which Wolf secured his press credentials is identified by Pierre Broué with the News Chronicle (Quelques proches collaborateurs de Trotsky, in Cahiers Leon Trotsky, no.1, January 1979, p.7.

21. Some of the personnel of the Secret State police were double Stalinist/Fascist agents. This was certainly the case with the later head of the ‘Foreign Section’ of the SIM, Maxim Sheller, who later fled to France (H. Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, Harmondsworth, 3rd ed., 1977, p.809, n1). Perhaps he was the source of this information fed to the Italians.

22. On 8 February 1938, the Fournier Agency released a statement that he had been transported to the USSR and shot at the same time as Antonov-Ovseyenko (R Dazy, op. cit., n9 above, p.198).

23. Hans David Freund (1912-1937), also known as Winter, was born into a family of German Jews, and became disillusioned with Stalinism after a visit to the Soviet Union. Whilst in Spain he worked for the German language propaganda division of the POUM, and tried to unite the two Trotskyist groups there, the Voz Leninista (Munis) and El Soviet (Bartolomeo) groups. (Cahiers Leon Trotsky, no.3, July/September 1979, p.135.)

24. Nikolsky/Orlov cf. n10 above.

25. The gap here should be filled with ‘Moritz Bressler, alias von Rank’. We owe this research to Pouvoir Ouvrier (cf. note 15 above).

26. Here again the gap should be filled by ‘von Rank’. cf. the last paragraph for the reason for these deletions.

27. Franz Feldman: without doubt the sinister Stalinist hatchetman Erno Gero, placed by Stalin as one of the post-war dictators of Hungary. Born in 1898, the age would be about right.

28. Katia Landau is mistaken about the names of Feldman and Herz, both being pseudonyms. Feldman is probably Gero, Herz is another name for the Lithuanian Stalinist George Mink, called a ‘Pole’ in Katia Landau’s text (cf. Cahiers Leon Trotsky, no.3, July/September 1979, p.179).


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