Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History

The Walter Held File

Revolutionary History has received further information about the fate of the prominent German Trotskyist Walter Held and his family which we reproduce here. It consists of the following items.

I. Two letters we received from Harrison Salisbury in response to the two original articles in Revolutionary History No.2.

II. A letter we received from Albert Glotzer also responding to the two articles.

III. The case of Heinz Epe (Held’s real name) – a chronological account drawn up by Nils Dahl with the Norwegian authorities just before he left Sweden for Britain in 1943.

IV. An English translation by Nils Dahl of the Norwegian version of Henryk Erlich’s letter – the original was in Polish – to the Norwegian Legation in Moscow concerning Held.

V. The text of a page of the pamphlet, The Case of Henryk Erlich and Victor Alter, published in London in 1943 by the Polish Bund. This shows that Molotov stated that Alter and Erlich, the leaders of the Polish Bund, died (or were murdered) in 1942. Erlich’s fate was bound up with that of Held.

VI. Held’s statement published in Sweden after his arrest in February 1942. This implies that he felt that Russia was a degenerated workers’ state, not state capitalist, though it is interesting to note that he had been in opposition to Trotsky over the Finnish Winter War.

VII. Nils Dahl’s interpretation, in the context of international affairs at the time, of the information that he had.

VIII. A summary by Nils Dahl of the material in the Epe file in the Norwegian Foreign Office, translated by him from the Norwegian,

IX. Some comments by Nils Dahl on the handling of the file.

From the documents printed here it is clear that a number of details concerning dates and events have now been cleared up. Perhaps we will now learn the names of those responsible for murdering, not merely Held, but his wife and child. An NKVD kindergarten sounds like a vile joke.

We would like to thank warmly Harrison Salisbury, Albert Glotzer and, in particular, Nils Dahl, who gave us permission to publish this material. With some effort Comrade Dahl finally persuaded the Norwegian Foreign Office to declassify the Held file in September 1988.

Readers who have not read the original articles on Walter Held in Revolutionary History No 2 should order their copy now, as a few remain in stock. This issue also includes a lengthy article by Held, Stalinism and the POUM in the Spanish Revolution, appearing for the first time in English.

I. Two letters from Harrison E. Salisbury (summary)

Harrison E. Salisbury writes to us that his interest in Held started on a very narrow basis when he was writing a history of the New York Times. He was told by a Soviet emigré, David Azbel, who met Held in the Saratov transfer camp in 1942, that Held had said that he had been, or was, a correspondent of the New York Times, and that Franklin D. Roosevelt would never permit Stalin to kill him. Mr Salisbury could find no trace in the Times’ archives or files that anyone called Held or Epe had ever been associated with the Times, or written for it, while the State Department’s consular records of the period had been almost entirely destroyed by routine weeding before he got to work.

He did find out that there was a friendship between Held and Mrs Harriman, the US minister in Oslo, and that she was of help to him after he and his family fled to Stockholm, where she had also gone. It clearly seems to be through her influence that he got his visa for the United States. Moreover, Mr Salisbury found that Held had received some financial help for his journey – apparently from Dwight Macdonald. They corresponded about this, and Macdonald’s papers are at Yale. He has not been able to locate Mrs Harriman’s correspondence, and very little remains of her legation archives and files from Sweden. Most of his information comes from the Swedish police files, which are meticulous. They interviewed Held several times.

There are some mistakes in the articles. Held purchased his tickets through Cooks. They were not used beyond Moscow. They provided for rail travel from Moscow to Odessa, a steamboat from Odessa to Istanbul, and then a ship to New York, so he did not intend to go via Vladivostok as Broué says. He told Azbel that he was arrested in Moscow, and this matches the evidence of the unused train tickets. Azbel is the source of Held’s meeting with Beria. Mr Salisbury thinks that it is true, though perhaps over-dramatised by Held.

Held seems to have met Erlich in prison at Saratov in July 1941, since Erlich was tried and sentenced to death there then, but after 10 days the sentence was commuted and he was moved to Moscow, as was Alter. There they were released and passed on their information to the Norwegians. They also launched a sharp public campaign for the release of all political prisoners by Moscow ’ particularly the ‘internationals’ and, in the opinion of Alexander Erlich (Erlich’s son – now, alas, dead), it was this campaign, which they carried on most vigorously, which led to their re-arrest and execution. Mr Salisbury believes that it was not the particular connection with Held that doomed them, but rather their campaign, which was about all ‘politicals’. They were putting forward the public argument that only a gesture of this kind would rally all elements, including the Poles, behind the Soviet war effort. In fact, though the execution of Erlich and Alter upset the Jewish population in the United States, it did not do so to the extent that they drew back from the war effort. The war swept everything along in a great tidal wave and the affair of Erlich and Alter was submerged by it.

It is impossible to prove that the turn in the war gave Stalin greater confidence, though it may be so, but both he and Beria seem to have hated and feared the Poles above all, as the Katyn affair shows.

The Russians in the Khrushchev period provided the Norwegians with the dates of death of Held himself, and his wife and son, each at a slightly different time. That was the end of the sad affair.

In a second letter Harrison Salisbury tells us that he has talked with the late Hjordis Knudsen’s husband, Arne Holt. Mr Holt says that Held was strongly warned by them and others not to go, or attempt to leave via the Soviet Union. Held knew it was very dangerous and Holt recalls that Held was drinking very heavily at the time. Holt emphasises that he thought Held was trying to screw his courage up.

II. A letter from Albert Glotzer

Dear Comrades

I am led to write you because of the articles Pierre Broué and Nils Dahl wrote on Walter Held for Revolutionary History, which I read with interest.

You are mistaken when you say that in the struggle in the American SWP both sides claimed Held. Maybe the SWP did, but the Minority did not, and I have absolutely no memory that any individual claimed that. My correspondence with Walter ceased about the time the conflict broke and, of course, the outbreak of war prevented our continued correspondence. We did not know that he sided with us on the Russian question, or agreed with our differences with LDT [Trotsky] on the Finnish invasion by the Russian army. Naturally I am pleased to learn this about my old friend. I was upset when I first learned that he accepted a visa from the Russian killers, and was certain that he would not survive entry into the ‘Degenerated Workers’ State’, whose method of political discourse was murder. I understand his desire to reach the US, but it must have been desperation for a man as intelligent as Held to seek an American haven through Stalin’s Russia. And I have never gotten over the murder of Walter and his family.

You refer to the inability of Held to get someone in Holland to marry Maria Reese. I must tell you that when I left the US for Paris in preparation for the youth conference in Laren, one of my tasks or assignments from our Political Committee was to marry Maria Reese and return with her as my wife. Though most of my time in Paris after the conference was spent with Held, I did spend a great deal of time with Reese. When I told her that I was ‘instructed’ to marry her, she burst into laughter, called me ‘das kind’, and said, ‘we will be arrested if we do that because you look like my son, not my husband.’ Having now seen her I agreed, the idea was stupid, and any attempt to pass her off as my wife would have been a minor disaster. When I told the Old Man about the PC proposal to me, he had a good laugh too. In the Memoir part of my book, now finished, I tell about this, as I do about the youth conference, and other matters relating to LDT.

I found some of Dahl’s reminiscences questionable. He says that Held used Mot-Dag’s office as a ‘forwarding address’ in Oslo in 1933-34. Why would he need such a forwarding address, when he was living in Czechoslovakia in ’33, and France and Holland in ’33 and ’34.

When I left France at the end of March 1934, I also left Walter there. I met him in Amsterdam and together we went to Paris, after the conference in Brussels, to be sure. Your picture of his relations with Brandt is an odd one. I recite the story of the preconference and the conference itself in my manuscript, and the picture I draw is different. For example, Walter and I tried to see Brandt before the conference opened, but found that he avoided us. This he did in cahoots with the Dutch OSP youth. Brandt was uncomfortable in Held’s presence. He knew that Held had a low regard for his intellectual and political ability, and regarded this representative of the SAP among the youth as an intriguer, who sought in this particular instance to organise a bloc against the Trotskyist delegation which I headed. The arrest of the conference and the deportation of the delegates spoiled his plan, and he was compelled to work with us to save the conference, though he did so reluctantly and continued to intrigue against us. He was a most untrustworthy person, and Walter treated him contemptuously. I tell the story of the conference, not just from my pretty good memory but in my report to the IS after the conference, my letters to LDT, and notes and documents including correspondence with Held afterwards. It is in two parts: 1. Memoir, 2. Critique of L.D. Trotsky, and I am trying to get it published either in the United States or abroad.

Albert Glotzer
14 September 1988

III. The case of Heinz Epe/Walter Held

The following is a chronological account drawn up by Nils Dahl with the Norwegian authorities, just before Dahl left Sweden on an aeroplane for Britain in 1943 when serving as an officer in the Norwegian armed forces.

Spring 1934. German-born Walter Held, arrived in Oslo.

30 December 1940. Held became a Norwegian citizen and obtained a Norwegian passport.

January 1941. He made an application for a Russian Transit Visa.

March 1941. The Russian Transit Visa was granted,

8 May 1941. The Norwegian Legation had to leave Moscow at the Russians’ request.

17 May 1941. Waiter Held left Sweden together with his wife and child. He made a declaration (copies of which he handed to the Norwegian authorities and to some friends). This was to be published in the event of his being arrested in Russia. This declaration is published below as document IV.

May-June 1941. He was arrested, either in Moscow or on the railway between Moscow and Odessa.

May-June 1941. As soon as it became clear that his travelling ticket through Turkey was not used, investigations were made from Sweden by Cook’s Travel Office and by Martin Tranmael through Madame Kollontai. At the same time the case was taken up by the Norwegian authorities in Stockholm.

May-June 1941. Both Martin Tranmael and the Norwegian authorities were informed by the Russians that they had no knowledge of Walter Held.

22 June 1941. The war between Russia and Germany broke out.

July 1941. Normal diplomatic connections were established between Norway and Russia.

9 September 1941. Erlich was released from imprisonment in Saratov and he immediately reported to the Norwegian representative Lunde in Kuibishev, that he had been imprisoned in the same cell as the Norwegian Socialist Heinz Epe.

27 September 1941. The Norwegian representative in Russia sent a communication to the Norwegian government in London, and to the Russian authorities, that they had knowledge that Waiter Held was imprisoned at Saratov, and demanded his release. (Their report to the Norwegian Government in London says that Held was arrested on a charge of espionage.)

September-October 1941. The Russian authorities replied requesting to know the source of the information concerning the imprisonment of Walter Held. The Norwegian authorities refused to disclose the source of their information. (It has been stated in an unconfirmed report that at the same time the Russian authorities refused permission for the Norwegian ambassador, Herr Antwort, to go to Saratov to make investigations on the spot.)

October 1941. Walter Held’s Declaration was published in the paper of the Swedish Syndicalists.

February 1942. The first official letter from the Norwegian Foreign Department in London, in the case of Heinz Epe, was sent to the Russian Foreign Department.

17 July 1942. The Russian Foreign Department replied, stating that they could find no trace of Heinz Epe through the usual channels.

Dahl has since pointed out (November 1988) that the Held case was first opened by letters from Eli Krog, the wife of Helge Krog, to Madame Kollontai. Eli Krog had translated Trotsky’s My Life into Norwegian. In her efforts on Held’s behalf she was supported by Martin Tranmael.

IV. Erlich's letter on Epe/Held

Here is the Norwegian copy of the letter of Erlich to the Norwegian Legation from the Norwegian Foreign Office file, translated into English by Nils Dahl. The original is in Polish, and is not in that file, but it does exist. It is addressed to Lunde, the head of the Legation. The arrival of the Legation had been reported in the Russian press.

I am a lawyer, journalist and member of the Warsaw city council, one of the leaders of the Bund – the Jewish Workers Party in Poland. I have spent two years in Soviet prisons and the last two weeks in prison at Saratov in the same cell as a Norwegian citizen, a well-known journalist and member of the Socialist Party, Walter Epe. He fled Oslo to Stockholm to escape Hitler. In Stockholm he obtained an immigrant visa to the USA for himself, his wife and child, and a transit visa through the USSR. He came to Moscow by plane and spent two days in the city. Thereafter he continued his journey through the USSR, following the route Turkey-Calcutta, and from there he would have taken a boat to the USA. On his way there, just before Riazan, he was arrested by NKVD agents, sent back to Moscow and put in prison. His wife, with a two-year old child, was left in Riazan.

At first Epe was treated harshly. He was accused of espionage, or perhaps only of Trotskyism (which is equated by the NKVD with espionage). After the Norwegian government had intervened in the case from London his treatment improved. He was then transferred to prison in Saratov without money or any belongings. He certainly suffered there from hunger and extreme cold. He was promised better conditions and even release. There was no improvement in his conditions up to 9 September 1941, when we were separated. We promised each other that if either one of us was freed they would take up the case of the other.

When I learnt from the papers that you had arrived in Moscow, I immediately, thanks to the helpful assistance of the Polish Embassy, sent you this information.

I can be contacted at any time through the Polish Embassy, and I am ready to provide you with any further details. When in prison we did not foresee that you would come to Moscow, and I promised to report his fate to citizen Finn Moe, secretary to the Norwegian Embassy in Washington. Moe is a political friend of citizen Epe and a personal friend of mine. Would you please tell me if you could send these details to citizen Moe, as it may be important.

With high esteem
H. Erlich

V. The fate of Erlich and Alter

The following passages are taken front the pamphlet, The Case of Henryk Erlich and Victor Alter, though the whole pamphlet is far too long to republish and does not mention Held.

The full title is as follows:

The Case of Henryk Erlich and Victor Alter, with a Foreword by Camille Huysmans, published by Liberty Publications, 2 Knightsbridge Court, Sloane Street, SW1 for the General Jewish Workers ‘Bund’ of Poland. Printed by Victoria House Printing Co. Ltd. Elm St, London WC1 1943.

The interesting portion from our point of view is:

Five weeks with Erlich and Alter at Kuibishev. Statement by Lucian Blit who shared a room with them at the Intourist Hotel at Kuibishev.


(Mr Blit is a member of the Central Committee of the ‘Bund’ in Poland, member of the Bureau of the Socialist Youth International. and a member of the Warsaw City Council)

There follows a four page statement. Held is not mentioned. Revolutionary History has been in touch with the brother and widow of the late Lucjan Blit, but they had no further information on Walter Held. We understand that there does not seem to be any further material on Held in the Bund archive in New York.

It thus appears from Litvinov’s statement here that Erlich and Alter were murdered in 1942.

On a day some time ago, there died at the hands of the executioner, in a prison in Kuibishev, two men, Henryk Erlich and Victor Alter, who had dedicated their lives to the cause of freedom and the welfare of their fellow men.


The following is the text of a cable, sent to the Soviet Foreign Minister, M. Molotov, on 27 January 1943, by a group of leading citizens of the United States, requesting once more the release of H. Erlich and V. Alter:

It is now more than a year that Henryk Erlich and Victor Alter two prominent leaders of Jewish masses Poland were re-arrested in Kouibyehev. Most prominent representatives of freedom loving people throughout the world of British and American labor movements repeatedly requested their release in vain. Today when universal public opinion unites in condemnation of Nazi criminals who are murdering in cold blood entire Jewish population of Poland we renew in name of justice and humanity our request for release of these outstanding courageous fighters against Fascism and Nazism Henryk Erlich and Victor Alter.

William Green, President, American Federation of Labor.
Professor Albert Einstein.
Rev. Henry Smith Leiper, Executive Secretary, Universal Christian Council.
David Dubinsky, President, International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.
Dr Alvin Johnson, Director, New School for Social Research.
Adolf Held, Chairman, Jewish Labour Committee.
Leo Krzyeki, President, American Slav Congress.
Dr Frank Kingdon.
Joseph Weinberg, President, Workmen’s Circle.
Reinbold Niebuhr, Chairman, Union for Democratic Action.
Clinton S. Golden, Assistant President, United Steelworkers of America.
Dr B. Hoffman, President, Jewish Writers’ Union.
Raymond Gram Swing.
J.B.S. Hardman, Amalgamated Clothing Workers, Editor Official Press.
Philip Murray, President, Congress of Industrial Organisations.


"Embassy of the Soviet Union, Washington, DC.
23 February 1943

Dear Mr Green,

I am informed by Mr Molotov, People's Commissar of Foreign Affairs, of the receipt by him of a of a telegram signed by you concerning two Soviet citizens, Alter and Erlich.

I am instructed by Mr. Molotov to inform you of the following facts:

“For active subversive work against the Soviet Union and assistance to Polish intelligence organs in armed activities, Erlich and Alter were sentenced to capital punishment in August 1941.

“At the request of the Polish Government, Erlich and Alter were released in September 1941.

“However, after they were set free, at the time of the most desperate battles of the Soviet troops against the advancing Hitler army, they resumed their hostile activities, including appeals to the Soviet troops to stop bloodshed and immediately to conclude peace with Germany.

“For this they were rearrested and, in December 1942, sentenced once more to capital punishment by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court. This sentence has been carried out in regard to both of them.”

Yours sincerely,
Ambassador, Maxim Litvinov

VI. Held’s Declaration

Declaration published in the Swedish Trade Union paper Arbetaren, translated by Nils Dahl.

I leave this Declaration for publication in the event of something happening to me during my journey through the Soviet Union.

As far back as 1938 I applied for an American Emigration Visa. However, I was not granted such a visa until the beginning of this year. I made the most strenuous efforts to travel through Petsamo or Gothenburg but, for obvious political reasons, all these efforts were unsuccessful.

The only course left open to me was to travel through the Soviet Union. Kindly aided by the Norwegian Legation in Stockholm, I made an application at the end of January for a transit visa through the Soviet Union, and received a positive reply granting the transit visa at the beginning of March. I am forced to take this only opportunity of travelling to the USA, and must leave immediately before the expiration of my American visa.

I shall leave Stockholm early on the morning of 17 May accompanied by my wife and child, and travel by aeroplane to Moscow. We intend to spend the evening of 17 May (Norwegian Independence Day) at the Norwegian Legation in Moscow. We shall probably leave Moscow the same day and travel by the night train to Odessa, which will leave Moscow at 23.40. We should then reach Odessa at 16.29 on 19 May. The boat for Istanbul leaves Odessa in the evening of 22 May and arrives at Istanbul at 17.00 hours on 24 May. I possess the following visas: Soviet Union, Turkish, Syrian, Palestinian. Indian and American. The travelling party is organised by Cook's Travel Agency, assisted by the Norwegian Legation. I have been asked to act as correspondent for the Social Democrat, Stockholm, and to send them reports of my journey, and I hold a press card from that newspaper.

My sole reason for travelling through the Soviet Union is for the purpose of reaching America with my family. I do not speak Russian, and I will have no contact with any Russian citizen except those officials in charge of our travelling party. Should I be arrested during my journey, the only reason for arresting me would be one of political vengeance. Although I have publicly attacked the present regime in the Soviet Union, I regard myself as a friend of that state insofar as it represents an attempt to build a new world on a rational basis. I therefore have no greater wish than that the Soviet Union shall survive the present catastrophic world crisis, and it is my opinion that, in spite of all that has transpired, it remains the duty of all workers and all true Socialists, to defend the Soviet Union against all imperialist attacks. The task of judging Stalin’s regime belongs to history and the Russian workers.

I declare that should I make any statement which contradicts the above written declaration, it will be forced from me by physical or mental torture, and I declare in advance that any such statement is null and void.

Stockholm 16 May 1941

VII. The international context of the Held Affair

Before he had sight of the Norwegian Foreign Office file, Nils Dahl made an attempt to interpret the meaning of the Held affair in the context of the international events of the time. Looking at the file since its declassification, it is clear that there are very strong grounds for his belief that Erlich suffered for the help that this valiant Jewish Socialist gave to a German Trotskyist. That is not to say, of course, that Erlich and Alter’s efforts on behalf of all the imprisoned political prisoners were not also a contributory cause of their murder – such is the opinion of Harrison Salisbury. However, it should be pointed out that it was these three, Blit, Erlich and Alter, who had raised the agitation about political prisoners. It was only Alter and, above all, Erlich who had had some contact with a Trotskyist. Though much better known than Blit, and therefore more likely to be spared, they were singled out by Stalin’s killers. For the truth we will have to await the opening of the Russian archives, and perhaps not even then.

July 1941: The Russians had, during the Hitler-Stalin pact period, regarded Norway as an enemy country until July 1941 – a month after the German attack on Russia. (Norway had been conquered and occupied since April 1940.)

9 September: Erlich reported to Lunde, a Norwegian diplomat, that he had been in prison with Walter Held.

27 September: The Russians replied that they had no information about Held, and demanded to know who had given this information to the Norwegian authorities. The Norwegians refused to disclose that their informant was Erlich. In Litvinov’s letter in the pamphlet it was stated that Erlich and Alter were shot because of active subversive work against the Soviet Union (was this as a ‘Trotskyist’ subversive?), and giving assistance to Polish intelligence organs in armed activities. If Polish is altered to Norwegian, then this second point makes sense. Lunde could, just conceivably, be regarded as a representative at the Norwegian Embassy of their. intelligence service, and Norway was a belligerent which, after all, had been an enemy until July and the German invasion.

The Russians probably did not find out that it was Erlich until December – then they shot him.

The pamphlet, The Case of Henryk Erlich and Victor Alter, was given to Dahl by Blit in St Andrews in 1943 or 44. (Dahl had contacted him via some Polish soldiers in that town.) There is no real explanation in the booklet from a military-political view for their murder. The hypothesis in the pamphlet that Stalin murdered all independent labour leaders that he could get his hands on, is correct. But that does not explain why Stalin did this in December 1941, when he needed help from everyone – including the Poles. The pamphlet explains that he had a breathing space, and this enabled him to return to his practice of murdering opponents. This does not make sense.

In spite of this, Stalin had Erlich and Alter shot and antagonised the whole world, including the very influential Jewish population of the USA, who were vitally important allies in the campaign to commit the USA to war with Hitler. The Russians snubbed the Americans less than two months after the USA had entered the war by telling the world that Erlich had been a Nazi collaborator! It seems overwhelmingly likely that Stalin saw in the connection, Trotsky-Held-Erlich-Alter-Bund, a conspiracy against him. He was well aware of Clemenceau’s view that the time to press criticism of a government’s unsuccessful war policies was when the enemy was at the gates – as Clemenceau himself had done in 1914. Since he was totally irrational about Trotsky, he may still have felt that Trotsky’s followers were a threat because of the German victories, so he had the Bundists murdered, even though he was in mortal danger from Hitler.

Dahl believes that here we have, not so much the tail-end of the Moscow Trials, when revolutionaries were shot for having had some minor contact with Trotsky, as their continuation. Erlich’s connection was closer than that of any of the leaders shot in 1936-38. It was not mentioned in the pamphlet because Trotsky was almost a taboo subject, but it was so important that neither Blit nor Dahl really grasped this when they met in 1943 or 44.

Dahl argues that such behaviour of the Stalinists toward leftists continued until well after the war. Any Communist who had led real struggles, and had won the confidence of a section of workers, was denounced as a ‘provocateur’: and he cites the example of the Norwegian Communist leader during the war, Furrbotn, who was expelled as a Trotskyist-Titoist-provocateur soon after the end of the war with 18 leading CP members. So was the Danish CP leader Larsen, not to speak of those murdered in Eastern Europe as Titoists. What is more, these are the ones that we know about, and it does not include those quietly done to death who have no memorial. If the CIA and MI6 were capable of that sort of thing, so was the NKVD. That was the method of Stalin, and it was to that that Walter Held and his family fell victim.

VIII. Summary of the Epe/Held File

This is the account of the handling of the Erlich letter according to extracts taken by Nils Dahl from the file in the Norwegian Foreign Office. It lakes the form of summaries of the correspondence between the Moscow Legation and the Foreign Office in exile.

27 September 1941. Legation to Moscow reports the content of Erlich’s letter. A footnote in ink points out that Heinz Epe was earlier Trotsky’s secretary.

1 October 1941. The Foreign Office requests the Legation in Moscow to help Epe as far as is possible. An application to get him released has already been made to Madame Kollontai.

4 October 1941. The Legation states that owing to Epe’s past an intervention by them cannot occur, since it will cause great displeasure and thus weaken the position of the Legation. Further instructions are awaited.

17 October 1941. The Foreign Office replies that Epe’s case must be taken up, but that the timing will have to be at the discretion of the Legation.

31 October 1941. Strictly confidential letter from the Legation enclosing Erlich’s original statement and the record of a long talk with Erlich:

Erlich was held for two weeks in the same cell as Epe together with both criminal and political prisoners. The circumstances were extremely unpleasant. The food was scarce and almost uneatable. Epe told him that he had been two days in Moscow, but had not met anyone there. In the train from Moscow he found himself in the same compartment as a Russian, who talked in a most friendly way about Norway and events in Norway. At Riazan the NKVD came into the compartment and told him that he was under arrest. He was taken off the train at Riazan together with his wife and family, but was then separated from them, and had heard nothing from them.

From Riazan he was transferred to Moscow and kept in the Lubianka prison. He had been persistently interrogated about any possible Russian contacts of his. They wished him to give the names of any Trotskyists in the USSR with whom he had been in contact. Epe told Erlich that he knew no Russian Trotskyists, either now or in the past, but, despite that, he had defended Trotsky’s politics to his interrogators. His final formal interrogation in Moscow was undertaken by the People’s Commissar from the NKVD. Epe was treated very harshly at first, but later things improved. His interrogator in Saratov had told him that the Norwegian government had intervened on his behalf, and from then on he was better treated.

Comments of the Legation officer, Lunde, on this statement:

Considering Epe’s past and the suspicious nature of the Russians, I do not think that our intervention would be any use. I have learnt from various sources about a Franco-Russian woman who had been in prison with Mrs Epe, and that the child was in an NKYD kindergarten. I went to see Mr Orlov and gave him a list of questions about the case a copy of these questions is attached. Mr Orlov promised to get the answers to these questions. He tried to find out from where I had got the information. It was clear that he regarded it as very suspicious that I was able to get information about prisoners in a provincial prison. I expressed myself very carefuly, and said that I had got information from the Stockholm Legation, and that some time ago they had made an application to the Legation here.

11 December 1941. The Legation reports that the Polish politician Erlich, who was recently freed, has been re-arrested. This has given a most painful impression, since it occurred during a visit of General Sikorsky. The Chargé d’Affaires, Lunde, thinks that it cannot be ruled out that the reason for Erlich’s detention was that, in one way or another, the Russians found out that the information about Epe stemmed from him.

IX. Nils Dahl’s comments on the case

There are other details which tell what was done after that until, in 1955, the Russians declared that all members of the Epe family died in 1942. According to Molotov’s reply to the Bund, Alter and Erlich were executed in the same year. Held’s declaration, published in Sweden, was in the file, together with the answers to Harrison Salisbury’s enquiries in 1980. Some of the bureaucrats in the department clearly dislike journalists and the press. In 1955, one of Epe’s Norwegian associates, a journalist, asked the Foreign Office for information, and it was flatly denied him. Then Harrison Salisbury asked for information on 15 September 1980. Though he was given some information, he was prevented from using it by being told that it was classified.

What really irritates me is that the diplomat who handled the case in 1980 told Harrison Salisbury that publication of this material would harm Russo-Norwegian relations. As an example he referred to the article in Arbetaren in 1941, which published Epe’s declaration of 16 May 1941, and which prevented the Russians arranging a Moscow trial of the Epe family, The case-worker in 1980 obviously thought that, since Epe had deposited his declaration with the Norwegian Embassy in Stockholm, the Norwegian Embassy had published Epe’s declaration in a far-left trade union paper! This was far from the truth. The same Swedish trade union had a publishing firm which published a book of mine on the events in Norway in 1940 and after. When writing this book I asked the Foreign Office if I could check in their files, so that I could publish what I had written to them in 1941-42. This they flatly refused to do, until they were instructed by the Labour Party Minister in charge to give me information and help. Though this snub may have been one reason as to why I was able to get access to the file this year. I think that the main reason was the change in the international climate because of the Gorbachev regime.

Nils Dahl
October 1988


(By the editors unless otherwise indicated)

1. We must take responsibility for the proof reading error. pointed out by Albert Glotzer, that Held was not in Norway until 1934. Mot-Dag was a sponsor of the youth international until 1935-36, and Held used their address for correspondence. After he broke from them he used Nils Dahl’s address.

2. Revolutionary History hopes at a future date to make available some memories of Nils Dahl and of his distinguished role both in the defence of Norway in 1940 and in the Resistance to the Nazis.

3. Here the Bund pamphlet implicitly refers to the German defeat before Moscow. In fact Zhukov’s main counter-attack with the Siberian Red Banner Armies went in on the night of 6 December. On 2 December an officer from one of von Hoth’s patrols (258 Infantry Regiment) had actually seen through his binoculars the evening sun sparkling on the golden turrets of the Kremlin. The German offensive was becoming bogged down in appalling weather conditions between 2-6 December. Dahl is quite correct ’ it was early days to celebrate victory by the murder of opponents. See Shirer, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1964, p.1032, and for the events at Stalin’s headquarters including negotiations with representatives of the Polish Government in exile on 3 December see Erickson’s The Road to Stalingrad, 1975, pp.292-4.

4. Pearl Harbour on 7-8 December – three days after Erlich and Alter were arrested. Hitler then foolishly declared war on the United States on 11 December. The first fortnight in December 1941 was perhaps the most critical in Stalin’s life.

5. This was not in fact true.

6. Madame Kollontai was then Stalin’s ambassador in Sweden.

7. Until 1953 this was Beria. (Note by Dahl)

8. Was this the same Orlov active for Stalin in Spain? (Note by Dahl)

Cf. Revolutionary History Vol.1, No.2, Summer 1988, p.55 note 10. On the whole problem of the two (?) Orlovs cf Bolleten, The Spanish Revolution, 1979, p.458. This is still unresolved. As the CIA debriefed the defector Orlov, they probably know. The defector said very little about Spain in his memoirs, The Secret History of Stalin’ Crimes, 1954.

Updated by ETOL: 5.7.2003