Józef Unszlicht

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Józef Unszlicht
(June 1930)

Józef Unszlicht or Iosif Stanislavovich Unshlikht[1] (Russian: Ио́сиф Станисла́вович У́ншлихт; nicknames "Jurowski", "Leon") (1879 - 29 July 1938)[2] was a Bolshevik revolutionary activist, one of the founders of the Cheka,[3] and Soviet government official from Polish Masovian region. Unszlicht participated in and in fact initiated some of the worst excesses of the Bolshevik revolution including mass murders of political opponents.


Unszlicht was born in Mława, Płock Governorate. He joined the revolutionary movement in 1896, as a student in Warsaw studying electrical engineering. In 1900, he joined the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL), led by Rosa Luxemburg and her lover, Jan Tyszka. Operating illegally in Warsaw and Lodz, he was arrested seven times in 1902-13.[4] In 1911, he joined the rozlamovists, a group of mainly younger SDPKiL members, led by Yakov Hanecki, who opposed Tyszka's leadership methods, and who were close to Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks. The split became so acrimonious that the SDPKiL leadership accused Unszlicht of being a police agent, an accusation that seems to have been baseless.[5]

At the time of the February Revolution, Unszlicht was in exile in Siberia, where he was elected a member of the Irkutsk soviet, and joined the Bolsheviks. In April, he moved to Petrograd, where he helped organise the Bolsheviks' military organisation. He was arrested for his role in the July Days and held in Krestny prison, but soon released. In December 1917, he was a founder of Cheka. In 1919 he served briefly as People's Commissar for Military Affairs in Lithuania and Belarus. During the Polish–Soviet War, in August 1920, he served on the Provisional Polish Revolutionary Committee, which would have become the government of communist Poland had the Poles lost the war.

In 1921, Unszlicht was appointed Deputy head of Cheka, under Felix Dzerzhinsky, but they fell out in 1923, after a series of bomb outrages in Warsaw, which Unszlicht appears to have instigated, without consulting Dzerzhinsky or the leadership of the Polish Communist Party.[6] He was transferred to post of chief of supply for the Red Army, although Leon Trotsky, then still People's Commissar for War, regarded him as "an ambitious but talentless intriguer" who had been placed there to undermine him.[7] On 6 February, 1925, he was appointed Deputy People's Commissar for War. In 1930, he was transferred to economic work, in an apparent demotion. In September 1933, he was appointed head of the Civil Air Fleet. In February 1935, he replaced Avel Yenukidze as Secretary of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union.

Arrest and execution[edit]

Józef Unszlicht was arrested on 11 June 1937. Two weeks later, the head of the NKVD, Nikolay Yezhov told a plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party that the police had uncovered a "Polish Military Organisation" of spies who had infiltrated the USSR by posing as political émigrés, and named Unszlicht as its leader.[8] He was sentenced to death on 28 July 1938, and executed at the Kommunarka shooting ground. He was rehabilitated in 1956. [4]

Józef Unszlicht was Jewish.[3]

His brother Julian was a journalist who "fought against the socialist movement in general and especially against Jewish involvement in it."[9] In later years, Julian converted to Catholicism and joined the priesthood.[9]

His nephew, Max Maximov-Unszlicht, was chief of the Soviet military intelligence operating in Nazi Germany for nearly three years and was also arrested and probably executed during the Great Purge.[10]

Honours and awards[edit]

Order of Red Banner ribbon bar.png Order of the Red Banner


  1. ^ Rimmington, Anthony (2018-10-15). Stalin's Secret Weapon: The Origins of Soviet Biological Warfare. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-005034-4.
  2. ^ Rhyne, George N.; Adams, Bruce Friend (2007). The Supplement to The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian, Soviet and Eurasian History: Deni, Viktor Nikolaevich - Dzhungaria. Academic International Press. ISBN 978-0-87569-142-8.
  3. ^ a b Mendes, Philip (2014-05-20). Jews and the Left: The Rise and Fall of a Political Alliance. Palgrave Macmillan; 2014 edition (May 19 2014). p. 136. ISBN 978-1-137-00830-5.
  4. ^ a b Abramov, V. "Уншлихт Иосиф Станиславович (Абрамов, 2005)". Расстрелянное полокление 1937-йи дрыге годы. Retrieved 7 October 2020.
  5. ^ Nettl, J.P. (1966). Rosa Luxemburg. London: Oxford U.P. pp. 584–85.
  6. ^ Carr, E.H. (1969). The Interregnum, 1923-1924. London: Penguin. p. 231.
  7. ^ Trotsky, Leon (1975). My Life. London: Penguin. p. 533.
  8. ^ Marc Jansen, and Nikita Patrov (2002). Stalin's Loyal Executioner: People's Commissar Nikolai Ezhov, 1895-1940. Stanford CA: Hoover Institution Press. pp. 76–77. ISBN 978-0-8179-2902-2.
  9. ^ a b Hoffman, Stefani, and Ezra Mendelsohn. The Revolution of 1905 and Russia's Jews. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. ISBN 0-8122-4064-2, ISBN 978-0-8122-4064-1 P. 283.
  10. ^ Krivitsky, Walter G. (1939). In Stalin's secret service: An Exposé of Russia's Secret Policies by the Former Chief of the Soviet Intelligence in Western Europe. New York: Harper Brothers. p. 246.

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