Posts Tagged ‘herbert southworth’

“In 1960 two significant judgements on the ‘documents’ [consisting of forged documents claiming a massive Communist conspiracy had existed in Spain, necessitating the ‘Nationalist’ revolt] were published by
Englishmen. One was by Hugh Thomas, a one-time Labour candidate for
the House of Commons and later ennobled by Margaret Thatcher; the other
was an English United Press war correspondent on the Republican side,
Burnett Bolloten, who later became a citizen of the United States.

Thomas’s initial positions about Documents I, II and III, were expressed
in his 1961 general history of the Spanish Civil War (probably the best-known narrative account of the conflict). In his later, and much superior,
editions, he was to change his mind. However, the publication of his second
edition in 1965 did not, understandably, have the same impact as the first.
The enormous commercial success of the first edition effectively ensured that
the majority of readers would have read what he first wrote about the documents rather than his later corrections.

In Thomas’s 1961 edition, the only authority on the ‘documents’ cited is
Loveday’s 1939 book, and it appears in a footnote. Thomas did not explicitly
mention Loveday’s 1949 book at all in connection with the ‘documents’
despite its presence in his bibliography. Still, the flagrant contradictions in
Loveday’s 1939 account of the manner in which the ‘documents’ came into
his possession should have been enough to put doubts into his mind.

It seems to me possible that Thomas’s opinions on the ‘documents’ were
influenced by Loveday (1939) as analysed by Madariaga (1942). However,
Thomas did not mention Madariaga in relation to the ‘documents’. Thomas
referred to Madariaga’s 1942 book a number of times in his text – usually in
footnotes – and in his bibliography. It is reasonable to suppose that Thomas was aware of the study of the Anglo-Spanish professor-diplomat touching on
the problems posed by Documents I, II and III. Certainly, their conclusions
were similar. Madariaga wrote, ‘If the documents reproduced … are forg-
eries, they are very thorough, and it is easy to understand that Mr Loveday
should have taken them for genuine … I incline to think they are genuine.’
Thomas, in similar vein, concluded ‘I have come to the conclusion that the
three documents … are not forgeries … The fact that these documents were
probably genuine …’.

If, as seems to be the case, Thomas did not take a look at the revised
editions of Madariaga’s 1942 book – for example, the New York edition of
1958, in which all references to the ‘documents’ are left out, with no explanation of this omission – it is regrettable. It seems probable that Madariaga
did see Loveday’s 1949 edition, with its two new explanations of how
Documents I, II and III came into the possession of the one-time English
businessman in Barcelona, and that even for Madariaga, harsh critic of the
Spanish Republic, four different versions of the same event were too

Thomas’s commentary on the three ‘documents’ is found in a fairly long
footnote, based on these lines of text:

All sorts of plots and plans to achieve this were now prepared. Despite
the fact that the establishment of a Communist régime in Spain would
have been contrary to the general lines of Stalin’s moderate foreign
policy at that time, the Communist Party of Spain, intoxicated by their
capture of the Socialist Youth, continued to feed Largo with flattery and
to egg him on to more and more extreme statements.

This citation had followed extracts from inflammatory speeches, one by
Margarita Nelken, the other by Largo Caballero (dated 24 May). Thomas
gave no further particulars concerning ‘all sorts of plots and plans’, save in
his footnote on the ‘documents’. Thomas’s opinions, by the sheer number
sold, were, after those of Madariaga, probably the most influential in the
English-speaking countries and elsewhere, in the interpretation of the ‘documents’. As we have seen, the propaganda of the ‘documents’ after the
outbreak of the Civil War was largely orchestrated from London. There is a
direct line from del Moral to Jerrold to Loveday (or Loveday to del Moral)
and with subsidiary lines to Bardoux in Paris, to ‘Belforte’, to Hart, etc., and
then to Madariaga and on to Thomas.

Here is Thomas’s conclusion:

I have come to the conclusion that the three documents alleged to have
been found in four separate places after the start of the Civil War, and making plans for a Socialist-Communist coup d’état by means of a simulated rising of the Right are not forgeries.

Thomas’s reasoning was that since the ‘first reference’ he had found to ‘those
documents’ (Loveday) was in Diario de Navarra of 7 August 1936, they
could not have been fabricated between 18 July and 7 August, for this latter
date is ‘rather early for clever propaganda forgeries’.  In fact, the Diario de
, which mentioned not three ‘documents’ but only Documents I and
II, was dated 8 August, which could have weakened Thomas’s cause by
twenty-four hours, but since the Diario de Navarra openly acknowledged its
own source to have been the Palencia newspaper cited earlier, dated 1
August, there was even less time to fabricate ‘clever propaganda forgeries’, a
mere two weeks. However, Thomas went on to write:

The fact that these documents were probably genuine does not mean
that the plans they envisaged were ever likely to be put into effect. They
were dreams more than blueprints, or rather plans for hypothetical
circumstances which might never arrive.

Thomas then continued that the fact that the ‘documents’ were ‘probably
genuine’ did not mean that they ‘justified the generals’ uprising, since the
plans of these latter were already very advanced before their enemies had
begun to prepare their own’. The net effect of this analysis was to declare
Documents I, II and III ‘probably genuine’ but without significance.

Hugh Thomas’s consideration of the historical and political problems of
the ‘documents’ led him into several errors. First, he concluded, following
Madariaga, that the ‘documents’ ‘were probably genuine’, which was, as we
shall see, inexact; and second, he declared them to be if ‘forgeries’ then
‘clever forgeries’. Third, Hugh Thomas, in deciding that the ‘documents’
were ‘genuine’, concluded that they were Republican plans and not the
production of the military rebels; and fourth, he made no effort to analyse
the ‘documents’ in the context of the Spanish political scene, nor in that of
the Soviet Union and the European political situation.

A spin-off from Thomas’s book brought a new guarantee to the ‘documents’, this time from Sir Charles Petrie, who reviewed Thomas’s book in a
popular London weekly immediately after its publication. Petrie seized on
the occasion to affirm his faith in the proofs of the ‘Secret Communist Plot’.
He wrote: ‘… it is clear that Franco’s blow forestalled one by the
Communists. Documents which fell into the hands of the Nationalists
proved that the plans of the extreme Left were complete …’! Petrie then
repeated ‘facts’ found in the three ‘documents’ and offered this judgement,
‘Russian complicity was fully established.’ He observed that the original
dates for the Leftist revolt had been changed and concluded that ‘this change
of plans enabled the Nationalists to get their blows in first’.

Hugh Thomas was a talented young graduate of Cambridge, where he was
President of the Union, published a novel or two, stood for the House of
Commons for the Labour Party in an unwinnable constituency, and then
produced for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish
Civil War the first scholarly general history of the conflict. His book gained
the encomiums of the English intellectual establishment (Cyril Connolly,
Philip Toynbee, etc.); he won a world-wide reputation, became a professor in
one of the newly founded English universities. Successfully launched from
the Centre-Left, he gradually moved to the Right and seventeen years after
having published his book on the Spanish War, he declared himself for the
Tory Party. 

Thomas had begun his career as a writer of fiction, of imaginative prose,
and, in his historical work, at times, his narrative instincts sometimes
seemed to gain the upper hand. In 1975, in my book La destruction de
, and in later editions, I called attention to Thomas’s method of
structuring his historical narrative, which was much as a novelist might do,
and which occasionally led to a greater elasticity than appeared justified by
the facts themselves. An example may be found in the way in which he
incorporated in the same chapter two events of the war: the bombing and
burning of Guernica by the Rebels and the siege of Santa María de la Cabeza
by the Republicans. 

I considered this linkage, though theoretically indicated by the
chronology, to be, in reality, unjustified. He placed in contraposition the
Franco atrocity in Guernica and the alleged Republican ‘savagery’ in Santa
María de la Cabeza: two examples of Iberian bloodthirstiness. Thomas
objected to my comments in a book review published in The Times Literary
and a discussion ensued.
Mr Thomas had written in 1961: 

The defenders were surrounded by 20,000 Republicans, who seemed
likely to be as savage as Red Indians. Doubts and difficulties arose. The
attacks began again. Aircraft and artillery led the way. The heroic Cortés
was wounded on April 30, and on May 1 the International Brigade and
the militia of Jaén broke into the sanctuary. For a while slaughter was
general. The sanctuary was burned. Flames engulfed the Sierra.

In my 1975 book on Guernica, first published in French, I had written: 

This basic anti-Republican prejudice on the part of Crozier can be seen
in his account of the end of the siege of Santa María de la Cabeza, in
Jaén province. According to Crozier, it ended with the ‘overrunning of
the improvised fortress by the Republicans, and the slaughter of the
defenders’ … However, in reality, the vanquished were treated with a generosity rare in the Spanish Civil War, and certainly nothing like it
can be found in the accounts of Nationalist treatment of Republican
prisoners. See Epopeya de la guardia civil en el santuario de la Virgen de la
. Also la Cierva, Historia ilustrada, II, p. 207. Crozier perhaps
obtained his impression of a ‘slaughter’ from Hugh Thomas, who wrote
concerning the surrender of the sanctuary, ‘For a while slaughter was
general’ … In Thomas’s book, this account followed that of Guernica,
and the English historian doubtless credited the Republicans with this
atrocity in order to keep things in balance.

In his review in The Times Literary Supplement, Hugh Thomas wrote:

Mr Southworth is entitled to read my chapter like that if he wishes. In
fact, my arrangement was logical since I had adopted a chronological
approach to my account. That Nationalist redoubt did fall on May 1,
five days after Guernica. [I presume Mr Thomas means ‘five days after
the attack
on Guernica’, for the town itself fell only on April 29.] On
April 26 itself, the fighting there was, in the words of Captain Cortés,
‘tough and murderous’ (tenaz y mortifero). There is thus a perfectly good
reason for considering the two events close together.

Mr Thomas seemed to have disregarded the first lines in my note concerning
Santa María de la Cabeza, and I replied as follows:

The chronology he [Hugh Thomas] observes is ‘logical’ and I can but
agree. However, it is clear from my text that I was protesting, not
against his chronologically ‘logical’ treatment of the two events in the
same chapter, but against the serious errors of fact in his dramatic (‘The
defenders were surrounded by 20,000 Republicans, who seemed likely
to be as savage as Red Indians’) account of the siege of Santa María de la
Cabeza. Mr Thomas wrote: ‘The heroic Cortés was wounded on April
30, and on 1 May the International Brigade and the militia of Jaén
broke into the sanctuary. For a while slaughter was general. The sanctuary was burned. Flames engulfed the Sierra.’

This dramatic account was demonstrably inaccurate. There was no
‘International Brigade’ at the final assault on the sanctuary. The attacking
forces, ‘who seemed likely to be as savage as Red Indians’ were in number
not even 20 per cent of those to whom Mr Thomas referred. The sanctuary
was not burned. No flames ‘engulfed the Sierra’. This early text of Mr
Thomas was vividly written, it made for exciting reading, but it was not
history based on facts.

More importantly, it is inexact that after the Republican forces ‘broke
into the sanctuary, for a while slaughter was general’. There was no
‘slaughter’, general or otherwise. This can be confirmed by both Republican and Nationalist accounts (Trayectoría, 1971, by Antonio Cordón, who
commanded the Republican forces; the Civil Guard’s own official history of
the siege; and Historia ilustrada de la guerra civil española, by the neo-franquist historian Ricardo de la Cierva).

I suggested in my Guernica book that Mr Thomas had used his account
of the siege of Santa María de la Cabeza in an effort to balance a Rebel
atrocity (Guernica) against a (supposed) Republican atrocity (Santa María de
la Cabeza). In my 1964 book, Le mythe de la croisade de Franco, I argued that
Mr Thomas tended to seek to equalize the blame for atrocities between the
two contending parties, ‘de couper la poire en deux’ (split the difference). I
can give many examples, but I consider the accounts of Guernica and Santa
María de la Cabeza, placed side by side, classic examples of the method. Mr Thomas’s reply did not justify his original choice of words:

Santa María de la Cabeza. The attack on this Nationalist redoubt was
undertaken by the Army of the South. Their effectiveness … surpassed
20,000 men, although the 16th Mixed Brigade which carried out the
assault, was, of course, smaller. Everything points to the fighting being
extremely violent. The Republican artillery fire was considerable. The
defending commander died of wounds and I think about 100 out of the
400 defenders were killed.


In the 1977 revision of his The Spanish Civil War, Thomas made substantial
corrections in his account of the siege. Laid aside was the comparison with
‘savage indians’, but Thomas maintained the encirclement by ‘twenty thou-
sand Republicans’. Antonio Cordón, the superior officer of Martínez
Cartón, wrote that during the occupation of the Cerro by the Civil Guards
the number under arms was around 700 and that the number of the
attacking forces was hardly superior to three times the defenders. Thomas
now eliminated from his scenario the aviation, for the good reason that the
Republicans had none. He also left the ‘brigada internacional’ on the
cutting-room floor, despite the colour it added to the story. And in the new
version there was no ‘slaughter’, ‘general’ or otherwise. But Thomas could
not cut out all the scenic effects and retained the lines: ‘The sanctuary was
burned. Flames engulfed the Sierra.’ Thomas did not mention the fact
that none of the occupants of the sanctuary was mistreated or brutally
punished after the surrender. I now want to include the epilogue to the
affair, written by Antonio Cordón. After insisting on the generous treatment
given the survivors, he wrote:

But the same thing did not happen to those who, whether soldiers or
not, had been in Andújar on our side when the Nationalists entered town after the Nationalist victory in 1939. From what I know, Pérez
Salas was shot, one of the doctors who treated Cortés, Dr. Velasco, was
shot, Rey Pastor was shot along with many more. Others spent long
periods in prison.

Thomas’s 1961 book quickly became accepted as a classic on the subject. Its
substantial sales had the effect of institutionalizing the errors regarding the
‘slaughter’ at Santa María de la Cabeza, and such careless conclusions as
those concerning the ‘Secret Documents of the Communist Plot’. As for the
influence of Thomas’s debatable account of Santa María de la Cabeza, we can
read in Brian Crozier’s Franco of ‘the overrunning of the improvised fortress
by the Republicans and the slaughter of the defenders’.Carlos Seco
Serrano, a Barcelona university historian, in his Historia de España. Epoca
, writes of those ‘who survived the slaughter that came after the
final assault’. Crozier gave no source for his account of the siege of the
sanctuary, but he refers frequently to Thomas’s book in his notes. Seco
Serrano gave no source either, but in the first edition of his book (1962) he
quoted from Thomas in the caption placed under a photograph of Santa
María de la Cabeza. Also in that first edition, Seco Serrano published a bibliography on the Spanish Civil War that was practically in its entirety copied
from Thomas’s book. It is therefore reasonable to assume that on the question of Santa María de la Cabeza, the accounts of Crozier and Seco Serrano
were following that by Hugh Thomas.

Earlier, in 1963, in El mito de la cruzada de Franco, I pointed out how
Thomas did not take a firm stand on the numerous polemical issues where
the Rebel and Republican interpretations differed. He sought to find a
middle position. This was true not only of the ‘Secret Documents of the
Communist Plot’ but also concerning the siege of the Alcázar, the Massacre of
Badajoz, the Murder of Calvo Sotelo, and a number of other events, including
the Siege of Santa María de la Cabeza. An exception was Mr Thomas’s account
of the atrocity of Guernica, where he clearly favoured the Republican version
as, overwhelmingly and outspokenly, did the bulk of English public opinion.

In his 1975 The Times Literary Supplement review of La destruction de
, Hugh Thomas made an effort to justify the campaign of misinformation carried on in England and the United States during the Civil War by
Douglas Jerrold and Arnold Lunn in defence of the Franco cause. Thomas
wrote that Jerrold and Lunn in 1937

were indeed convinced that as Mr Southworth says (though using the
words as a denunciation) the Civil War was a ‘holy war, a Christian
crusade to save the Catholic Church; as well as western civilization, from
oriental threats, and from communism’. Hence, they would champion
what their friends said and stick to it.  

It seems odd to find virtue in the sincerity of the political positions of
Jerrold and Lunn concerning the Civil War, inasmuch as most of what they
wrote about the war in Spain was incorrect and they could hardly have failed
to know it. I am still amazed that persons holding the beliefs of Jerrold
and Lunn could think ‘the Catholic Church, as well as western civilization’
could be ‘saved’ by lying and by endowing the Spanish people with forty
years of Francoism.
Thomas went on with an elaborate pun: 

These Christian gentlemen had, however, been fundamentally affected
by the terrible atmosphere of a witch’s sabbath which characterized
Nationalist Spain in those days. To understand this atmosphere requires
a more equable spirit than that of Mr Southworth who approaches his
victims with all the generosity with which the Count of Monte Cristo
approached his enemies. Was the origin of Danglar’s treachery to be
sought in the number of pregnant girls in the Rue du Chat Qui Pisse in
Marseilles in the Napoleonic era? Such pedantry would have been swept
aside by Edmond Dantes with contempt, just as Herbert Southworth,
the Count of Anti-Cristo, tries to sweep aside sceptical historians of the
next generation. With Dantes, as with Mr Southworth, you must take a

Mr Thomas seemed to wish to persuade his readers that he, unlike myself,
was above taking sides. In fact, by coming to the defence of Jerrold and
Lunn, he was surely taking sides. Jerrold had, after all, boasted of having
tried to get machine-guns for José Antonio Primo de Rivera’s Falangist

– Herbert R. Southworth,

Conspiracy and the Spanish Civil War: The brainwashing of Francisco Franco. Routledge: New York & London, 2002. pp. 51-58

Herbert Southworth takes Hugh Thomas to task in a very amusing and effective section of this really, really, great book.

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”The Entente Internationale contre la Troisième Internationale – the name was changed around 1938 to the Entente Internationale Anticommuniste (EIA) was founded in Geneva late in 1924 by a member of the Geneva bar named Théodore Aubert, with the close collaboration of a White Russian refugee, well-connected with the Comité International de la Croix Rouge (CICR), the medical doctor Georges Lodygensky.

Aubert was born on 8 September 1878 at Geneva. His family came from the French Dauphiné towards the end of the seventeenth century, fleeing Catholic persecution of the Huguenots, and settled in Geneva. ‘They were received into the bourgeoisie in 1702.’ Théodore Aubert studied law at the University of Geneva and was admitted to the bar in 1901; he later became a member of the Bar Council and a delegate to the Grand Council of the Swiss Bar.

During the First World War, Aubert was mobilized as an infantry officer and served in 1917–1918 as a special delegate of the Swiss Federal Council to visit prisoners of war and civilian internees in France, Switzerland having assumed the representation of the diplomatic interests of the Central Powers when the United States entered the war. In December 1918, Aubert was in Berlin as a delegate of the CICR. Here he had the task of looking after the interests of Allied war prisoners, especially the Russians. He was thus present at the outbreak in Germany of the social conflicts that followed the German defeat. In May 1919 he was again in France as a delegate of the CICR and during the following months he visited ‘concentration camps situated in the liberated areas of France’. Aubert then took part in the Conference of the International Law Association, again as a delegate of the CICR.

Georges Lodygensky had been before the Revolution of 1917 the official delegate of the Tsarist regime to the Comité International de la Croix Rouge (CICR) and continued this work in Geneva after the end of the First World War. This was possible because Switzerland had refused to recognize the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution, and, in fact, did not recognize the Soviet Union until after the end of the Second World War. Throughout the history of the Entente, one encounters frequent liaisons and helpful contacts between personalities of the CICR and the leading spirits of the EIA.

A tenuous relationship between Switzerland and the Soviet Union had begun in 1918, the year in which a Soviet delegation – the Berzine Delegation – visited Switzerland for the first time and was expelled manu militari. An article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1926) shows how far a generalized fear of the Soviet Union prevailed in the Confederation. The author of the article, Carl Burckhardt, identified as an ‘official of the Swiss Federation’, explained the expulsion of the Soviet delegation as follows:

the Soviet delegation acted mainly as an organ of propaganda and espionage, and the revolutionary tendencies of the general strike in that year were undoubtedly aggravated by its influence. The difficulties of the military in countering these tendencies, together with the suffering caused by a widespread epidemic of influenza, roused public feelings and the delegation was requested to leave the country.

This quotation might seem to indicate that Swiss public opinion somehow linked the influenza epidemic with the Soviet mission, an example of the irrationality frequently found in such situations.

Two important events in Swiss history preceded the founding of the Entente: the first was closely allied with a European phenomenon of the time, inspired by the social unrest resulting from the world war and the Russian Revolution. It began in 1918 and was called in each country, the Civic Union, (Union Civique). The second event came later in 1923. This was the murder of the Soviet representative in Rome, Vorovsky, in Swiss territory. Théodore Aubert was active in founding the Swiss Union Civique, and he achieved wide notoriety in successfully defending the accomplice of the assassin of Vorovsky.

The Civic Unions were right-wing paramilitary groups formed to combat workers’ organizations in many European countries. The Swiss Civic Union had been formed after the general strike of 1918, by Aubert and some of his friends. Colonel de Diesbach, who commanded the detachment of dragoons that escorted the Soviet mission to the frontier, was later a member of the Permanent Bureau of the Entente.

Dmitri Novik, Aubert’s hagiographer of 1933, while relating the story of the Swiss general strike of 1918 and the forced departure of the Soviet mission, struck the proper note for the Entente’s gallery of authors dealing with social unrest. He wrote, ‘This is insufficient to root out evil. The strike will continue.’ The strike, employed by the Swiss workers, was viewed as evil incarnate. Novik continued:

Troops were mobilised while, at the same time, civilian groups were established in several Swiss towns to maintain order and ensure the functioning of public services. Aubert was the chief initiator of this movement. After the strike was suppressed, for several years he was in charge of managing the Civic Unions in French-speaking Switzerland. It was thus that he was called on to study from very close at hand the various subversive movements and, in particular, Bolshevism. Aubert was also in contact with the leaders of Civic Unions in France, Germany, Belgium and Holland, thus widening his international relationships, for which he had prepared the ground during the course of his various missions. These relationships would later be of use to him.

Novik, while presenting Aubert as a resolute enemy of the right of the workers to strike, tried also to show him to be ‘a sincere friend of the working class’ and added that ‘he is beginning to be recognized as such in working class environments’. Novik explained that Aubert was in favour of class collaboration. ‘It is useless to insist that Aubert is strongly in favour of the most robust social reforms based on intelligent cooperation between employers and workers.’  

On 10 May 1923, Vyatzlaw Vorowsky, the Soviet representative in Rome, who had come to Lausanne to act on behalf of his country at an international conference which, among other matters, concerned the Dardanelles, was shot to death with a revolver by Maurice Conradi, who held both Russian and Swiss citizenship. He had as an accomplice, a White Russian émigré, Arcadius Polounine. A press report of the time read:

At 21.00 hours, on 10th May 1923, the Soviet agent Vorowsky was shot in the Cecil Hotel restaurant by a ‘Swiss Russian’, Maurice Conradi, a former voluntary officer in the ‘White’ Russian army. Conradi also wounded two other Soviet agents acting as Vorowsky’s bodyguards: Ahrens and Divilkowsky. He then laid down his weapon and asked for the police to be called, adding ‘I have done something good for the whole world.’

The assassination of Vorovsky involved both the White Russian movement and the Tsarist section of the CICR. When Lodygensky returned to Geneva from Russia after the Revolution, in April 1920, he continued to occupy the two rooms comprising the offices of the Russian Red Cross, while at the same time, engaging occasionally in the practice of medicine, especially with clients among the Russian refugee colony. Dr Lodygensky himself used one of the two rooms; the other one contained the archives of the Russian Red Cross. It was there that Arkady Pavolvitch Polounine worked with two female secretaries. Polounine had been sent to Geneva to work as first secretary under Lodygensky by the White Russian general, Peter Nicolaievitch Wrangel.

The assassin Conradi, or ‘executioner’, as Lodygensky preferred to name him, had met Polounine during the Russian Civil War, when both were with the White Russian Armies. Later, on 25 March 1923, Conradi came to the Russian Red Cross in Geneva to see Polounine, according to the former’s pre-trial testimony, confirmed by Aubert’s address to the jury in November 1923. However, Lodygensky, writing many years later, stated that Conradi had come to see him seeking medical advice. Both of these reasons for Conradi’s visit to the Russian Red Cross offices may well have been exact.

In the course of the conversation between the two former comrades in arms, ‘they also renew their conviction that Bolshevism should be destroyed’. ‘Together, Conradi and Polounine decided to do what they could, within their limited resources, to achieve this end. Then, to render the act useful, it was a matter of deciding whom should be executed. Polounine mentioned Vorowsky.’ After this conversation, Conradi travelled to Berlin for reasons unknown; on his return, Polounine gave him a sum of money. A short time later, Conradi, who was in Lausanne awaiting the arrival of Vorowsky, sent an urgent letter to Polounine requesting a hundred Swiss francs. Polounine not only sent the money, but joined with it a note which, unluckily for Polounine, Conradi lost at the scene of the crime. 

Lodygensky was quite naturally standing at his traditional post at the Russian Orthodox Church in Geneva on the Sunday morning, 13 May, after the assassination. Polounine appeared; the two men looked at each other, apparently to signify a meeting after the service. Polounine then disappeared.

Lodygensky was called to the telephone during luncheon. A police agent requested him to come to the Russian Red Cross offices immediately. There he found a number of policemen in civilian dress, and Polounine, who was under arrest. A policeman demanded to look into the files belonging to Polounine, and Lodygensky showed him the relevant cabinets. Lodygensky continued, ‘the police were going through the files. Although I appeared totally calm, I did not feel any the less worried. But, fortunately, the police search was only superficial and they failed to examine other Red Cross papers.’ The policemen left and, as Lodygensky wrote,

Ill at ease, I picked up Polounine’s file, leafed through it meticulously and discovered a letter from Conradi. This document left no doubt as to the fact that the former comrades in the White army had already established close contact from the first time Conradi came to Geneva. It goes without saying that I immediately destroyed such a compromising document.

Lodygensky feared to be arrested in his turn, but, nevertheless, sought to use his time to find a lawyer to defend Polounine.

Lodygensky and Aubert were on a more than friendly basis. The White Russian delegate to the CICR had met Aubert almost immediately after the former’s return to Geneva from war-torn Russia, and had related to the lawyer his first-hand impressions of the Revolution. They saw each other frequently thereafter, and when Polounine arrived in Switzerland, Lodygensky presented the White Russian officer to Aubert. ‘The latter immediately appreciated the true worth of my assistant’s vast intelligence and extraordinary learning.’

This background explains the reasons why Aubert at once offered his services to defend Conradi’s accomplice, Polounine. Aubert was assured of support from the White Russian émigrés, of the Tsarist embassy still func- tioning in Paris, and of the Tsarist Red Cross in Geneva and in Paris. Lodygensky noted, ‘The archbishop of our parish, the Venerable Orloff, told whoever wished to listen that he would pray without respite for justice and truth to triumph in the Lausanne trial.’

Aubert became so deeply involved in the defence of Polounine that he abandoned completely the other work in his law office, leaving it entirely in the hands of his associate. (The defence of Conradi had been confided to a lawyer of the Lausanne Bar, Sydney Schoepfer.) Aubert made no attempt to plead the innocence of Polounine, correctly persuaded that the letter signed by his client and found at the scene of the killing could easily be considered as proof of complicity. Instead, Aubert spent his time drawing up ‘an irrefutable bill of indictment against anti-religious and inhuman communism’. To this end, testimony was solicited from members of the White Russian colonies in Western Europe, from persons associated with the Tsarist Red Cross and from members of the Russian aristocracy then in exile. A number of Russian writers living in France and Switzerland were also recruited.


The consolidated trials of Conradi and Polounine were held in Lausanne, in the great hall of the Casino de Montbénon, in order to have enough room to hold the large number of journalists, Swiss and foreign, expected to come to cover the trials which lasted eleven days, from 5 to 19 November 1923. Aubert spoke for a total of nine hours, on two days, 11 and 15 November. 

According to EIA sources, Aubert’s address to the Lausanne jury was widely translated, but we shall deal with only two printings, the French original which was entitled L’Affaire Conradi, with a subtitle Le procès du Bolchevisme, and an English-language version which bore the poorly inspired title Bolshevism’s Terrible Record: An Indictment. The French transcript had, according to Lodygensky, this unusual origin: several days before the end of the trial, Aubert received the visit of a stenographer who had been engaged by the ‘partie civile communiste’ (Communist plaintiff) to record the transcript of the trial, intending to use it as propaganda, but the ‘partie civile’, realizing that the cause was lost, refused to pay the stenogra- pher, who then offered his work to Aubert at a low price.67 This scenario is possible, and it is certain that during those months preceding the trial Lodygensky was in extremely close contact with Aubert. However, it is clear from the Lodygensky typescript that Aubert was reading a prepared text to the jury and that he had, at the end of his nine-hour plea to the jury, a fairly accurate text concerning what he had said in the courtroom.

It is significant that the first transcript of Aubert’s courtroom plea was entitled L’Affaire Conradi and not ‘L’Affaire Polounine’. This underlines the evident fact that the trial of Conradi, the actual assassin, was far more important than that of his accomplice Polounine. A surprising amount of evidence against Polounine had accumulated during the preliminary investigation by the examining magistrate, as Aubert admitted in his speech. However, it was unlikely that the jury could have condemned Polounine, unless it had previously condemned Conradi; whereas, one could imagine the contrary: Conradi condemned and Polounine set free. Thus, Aubert’s arguments, of necessity, frequently encompassed the defence of both men. I have not seen Schopfer’s defence of Conradi, but it was probably more legalistic than was Aubert’s, which was 99 per cent political.

The central argument of Aubert’s address before the Criminal Court of Lausanne in justification of the killing of Vorowsky was that Conradi (and Polounine) had been seized by an ‘irresistible force’ which drove them to the murderous act. According to the law in force in the Canton of Vaud, of which Lausanne was the capital, anyone possessed by such an ‘irresistible force’ to commit a crime could not be held responsible for his or her behaviour.

Aubert proposed to the jury several incidents from Polounine’s life to illustrate the ‘irresistible force’ which propelled the White Russian officer to become an accomplice to murder. Among the events to which Aubert assigned responsibility for Polounine’s homicidal mania was the decomposition of the Russian Imperial Army:

At that time, Polounine does not belong to the White army. He does not belong to the Korniloff detachments, but he suffers deeply. He suffers because a short time after the revolution was unleashed, the decomposition of the army becomes terribly apparent; this decomposition had begun under Kerensky and was initiated by Bolshevik agents who were working – I can here solemnly declare – with German gold and on Germany’s behalf.

What is therefore the reaction of an officer such as Polounine to such circumstances? He sees the army he loves falling apart, he sees his country, for which he is ready to lay down his life, about to be considered a criminal country! Do you not understand that at that moment an irresistible force took hold of him, this same irresistible force that leads us on to the battle field, that makes us die for our country and for our honour?

Another circumstance of the Russian Revolution, and a very important one, which, according to Aubert, weighed heavily in the determination of Polounine’s conduct, was the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, by which Russia signed a separate treaty of peace with Germany:

What memories did Polounine bring with him to Geneva? The memory of his country’s dishonour, because of the betrayal of Lenin, because of the betrayal of Brest-Litovsk, the memory of that horrendous cruelty, of that misery, of that terror, of those nurses he had saved who had been so atrociously tortured. And his own family had not been spared. I will go on no further. Once again, here, Polounine appears as he is, in the purity of his motives, as a patriot. He has acted only on behalf of his mother- land and sacrificed himself for his motherland. He left this latter while she was being crucified. She is still on the cross.

Like the Princess Kourakine, whose evidence you have heard, Polounine, of peasant origin, was thinking of Russia, ‘this great dishonoured martyr, dismembered and bathed in blood’. Thus, always present was the irresistible force, the irresistible force of the desire for justice, the irresistible force of passionate love for his country; this country Russia.

During the first hour of his plea, Aubert challenged the State’s Attorney, insisting on attenuating circumstances based on the ‘irresistible force’:

You, the State Attorney, have said that Polounine did not warrant any mitigating circumstances since, in his case, there was neither provocation nor irresistible force. Let me say, however, that there was a force, and an irresistible force in the portrayal of Bolshevism such as we listened to last week, and so irresistible that you yourself, Sir, have yielded to it … so, you have experienced the effects of this irresistible force which Polounine obeyed …; but on Polounine, a Russian citizen who has seen blood spilt and who has lived through these horrors, this irresistible force exerted an influence a thousand times more powerful than on a magistrate who lives in a free and respected country.

Towards the end of his long plea to the jury, Aubert argued again for the ‘irresistible force’:

Do you understand that, in relation to the questions put to you [by the judge] all your answers should free Conradi and Polounine too? All the more so because Vorowsky’s arrival in Lausanne constituted for Polounine a violent provocation. His mind was haunted by the irresistible force for justice and by a love for one’s country. Do you understand? Yes, you have understood that if there are guilty persons, they are the Bolshevik leaders.

The pleading by Aubert of the ‘irresistible force’ as an exculpation for the criminal act of Conradi and Polounine could constitute a justification for any White Russian to kill any prominent Bolshevik anywhere. But why was Vorovsky chosen to become the victim of the two former officers of the White Russian Army? The reason given by Aubert was analogous to that proffered by mountain climbers: because the mountain was there. Vorovsky was killed because he was the most prominent Soviet functionary available in Switzerland. Any other representative of similar rank would have satisfied the requirements of the killer and his accomplice.

Vorovsky had been chosen for assassination because Conradi and Polounine were pushed by an ‘irresistible force’ to kill a prominent Bolshevik. But once Vorovsky had been designated as the victim, features of his own personality were found to justify the choice already made. One such aspect of Vorovsky’s curriculum vitae was constituted by proof of his significant Bolshevik past.

Early in his talk to the jury, Aubert referred to the fact revealed in the pre-trial investigation that Polounine had indicated Vorovsky to Conradi as a likely candidate for assassination: ‘He [Polounine] believed that the latter [Vorovsky] had a distinguished Bolshevik past and that he would certainly be one of the more prominent Bolshevik leaders in the very near future.’ Several paragraphs of Aubert’s speech before the Criminal Court were given over to establishing Vorovsky’s importance in the Soviet hierarchy: his death was a great blow to Bolshevism, hence morally justified. One example: Vorovsky was in Stockholm to greet Lenin when he arrived there on his way to the Finland Station.

Aubert showed in his oration how Polounine, and Aubert himself, were irritated by the fact that Vorovsky and other representatives of the Soviet Union were lodged in first-class hotels while travelling abroad. (This was a normal way of life for diplomats and other functionaries of all the countries in the world, then and now.) Aubert underlined the fact that ‘Vorowsky met his death in a luxurious restaurant’. Polounine was described as being filled with ‘indignation’ when he learned that Vorovsky, on an official mission in Genoa, was received with great consideration, ‘at these grand, over-polite dinner parties with princes and archbishops’. Hence, the assassination of Vorovsky was justified.

In addition to the basic plea of the ‘irresistible force’, Aubert discovered a further panoply of Communist ‘crimes’, which contributed to a justification of the murder of Vorovsky. Among these were such ill-defined conceptions as the accusation that Lenin had ‘poisoned the soul of Russia’:

Gentlemen, even if, instead of misery, instead of ruin, instead of distress, instead of famine, Lenin had brought the greatest prosperity to his country, the sole fact that he poisoned the soul of Russia would be sufficient to justify Conradi pulling the trigger!

Among other justifications invoked by Aubert for the murder of Vorovsky were petty reasons such as the affronts to Polounine’s Russian patriotism, racist reasons such as the foreign (non-Russian) elements allegedly among the personnel of the Cheka, or more easily understood reactionary reasons such as Soviet incitation to social unrest all over the world, co-education in Soviet schools and government-financed abortions in Soviet State hospitals.

Aubert denounced not only the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church, but insisted that ‘the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are persecuted quite as much’. But, true to his Huguenot ancestry, he could not resist the temptation to cite a previous religious persecution, nearer to Geneva than was Russia, the persecution of the Huguenots by the French Catholics, encouraged by Catherine de Medicis, and which resulted in the Massacre of St Bartholomew and the murder of Admiral Coligny, in 1572. To justify Polounine, Aubert quoted Charlotte de Laval, wife of Coligny, as saying to her husband, ‘Sir, I have on my heart so much of the blood of our people, that blood cries to God that you will be the murderer of those whose murder you did not prevent.’

The Lausanne jury, by a vote of nine to zero, declared that Conradi had voluntarily killed Vorovsky by means of a firearm, at the Hotel Cecil in Lausanne on 10 May 1923. The same jury, by the same unanimity, affirmed that Polounine had been an accomplice to that murder. And the same jury, by a vote of five to four, affirmed that both of the accused were guilty. The two accused were then set free. The leading newspaper of the city, Feuille d’Avis de Lausanne, explained the situation as follows:

The accused were declared guilty by five jury members out of nine and therefore benefited from a minority rule since the Vaudian criminal code requires a majority of six ‘yes’ and three ‘no’ for the accused to be declared guilty.

They were guilty but free from any punishment. The Conradi–Polounine case is a rarity in the annals of Western European justice. First, there was absolutely no doubt that Conradi had fired on Vorovsky and killed him, and that he had wounded two other Soviet citizens. Conradi self-proclaimed his culpability at the scene of the crime. Nor was there any doubt concerning Polounine’s guilt as an accomplice. Despite the criminal act of Lodygensky, destroying evidence in a case of murder, as he himself years later, with a bit of boasting, confessed, the investigating prosecutor quickly found more than sufficient guilt on the part of Polounine.

In the ‘Introduction’ to L’Affaire Conradi, we can read that, when three days after the murder, Polounine was arrested, he did not hesitate to admit that he had helped Conradi to carry out the deed, whether this was by discussing the possibilities with him, by giving him information about Vorowsky’s personality or even by giving him some money for his expenses on the trip from Zurich to Lausanne.

Second, neither of the accused showed the slightest sign of regret for his act. In most cases where the accused, confronted with irrefutable proof of his guilt, can hardly plead ‘not guilty’, he does proclaim before the court his profound remorse. Conradi, self-righteously announced his responsibility for the murder at the scene of the crime. Nor was there any scene of contrition in the courtroom at Lausanne, when Polounine was questioned. ‘To the question put by the Prosecution: Would he be prepared to do the same again? Polounine answered “yes”.’

Third, there was premeditation, a conspiracy. Since in one way or another, this book is entirely concerned with ‘Communist Plots’, it is highly relevant to underline the fact that the murder of Vorovsky was the result of an ‘Anti-Communist Plot’, openly presented as such by Aubert in his discourse to the Lausanne jury. I shall further here quote from the ‘Introduction’ to L’Affaire Conradi:

The detailed examination carried out by the examining Judge of Lausanne showed that no plot existed beyond this understanding between Conradi and Polounine; the Swiss National League in Lausanne and the former Russian Red Cross organization in Geneva were notably dismissed from the case in the clearest possible fashion, both by the findings of the inquiry and by the Prosecution.

(The public Prosecutor, in exonerating the ‘former organization of the Russian Red Cross’ from any complicity in the killing, was unaware that Lodygensky had purposely destroyed evidence of that complicity.)

It is impossible not to consider the verdict of the jury in Lausanne as a grave miscarriage of justice. There was no doubt of the physical culpability of Conradi and Polounine, who carried out the acts of which they were charged: there was premeditation, a conspiracy between the two men, and neither of the accused showed the slightest compunction for what they had done.”

– Herbert Southworth, Conspiracy and the Spanish Civil War: The Brainwashing of Francisco Franco.  Routledge: London and New York, 2002.  pp. 143-151.

Top photos: Münsterplatz in Zurich, November general strike, 1918. Photographed by Willy Gautschi. Source.

Middle photo: Le Monde illustré, May 19, 1923. No. 3413.

Bottom photos show, at left, Théodore Aubert, and Maurice Conradi.

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