Vasiliy Ulrikh

Vasiliy Ulrikh

Vasiliy Vasilievich Ulrikh (July 13, 1889 – May 7, 1951) was a senior judge of the Soviet Union during most of the regime of Joseph Stalin. In this capacity, Ulrikh served as the presiding judge at many of the major show trials of the Great Purges in the Soviet Union.

Early life

Vasili Ulrikh was born in Riga, Latvia, then a part of the Russian Empire. His father was a Latvian revolutionary of German descent, and his mother was a Russian noblewoman. Because of their open involvement in revolutionary activity, the entire family was sentenced to a five-year period of internal exile in Irkutsk, Siberia.

In 1910 young Ulrikh returned to his native Riga and entered a course of study at the Riga Polytechnical Institute. He graduated in 1914, and with the beginning of World War I he was sent to the front as an officer.

After the Bolshevik Revolution, Leon Trotsky secured him entrance into the Cheka. Ulrikh subsequently served on a number of military tribunals, and came to the attention of Stalin, who apparently liked the efficient way in which he carried out his duties and his terse, even laconic style of reporting these tribunals' actions.


In 1926 Ulrikh became Chairman of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR. It was in this capacity that he handed down the pre-determined sentences of the Great Purges. Ulrikh sentenced Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Tukhachevsky and many others. He attended the executions of many of these men, and occasionally performed executions himself.Fact|date=February 2007

During the Great Patriotic War, Ulrikh continued to hand down death sentences to people accused of sabotage and defeatism. He was also the main judge during the Trial of the Sixteen leaders of the Polish Secret State and Armia Krajowa in 1945, and Estonian Separatists.

After the conclusion of the war, Ulrikh presided over a number of the early trials of the Zhdanovshchina. In 1948 he made the mistake of exiling to Siberia a group of Ukrainian peasants instead of sentencing them to death. Stalin demanded his resignation, and he was subsequently reassigned to be the course director at the Military Law Academy. He died of a heart attack on May 7, 1951 and was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

His legacy

When gauging the reputation of Vasily Ulrikh as a judge and man of law, it is necessary to look at Soviet legal philosophy. In contrast to some countries that ask a judge to serve as the finder of fact and the defender of an objective process, Soviet criminal law authorized the police to serve as the finders of fact, and laid upon the judge the duty of serving as the facilitator of a verdict that could have been based upon facts that had already been discovered before the trial.

The judge was willing to preside over secret trials, and was able to render verdicts based on sealed evidence. The priority he placed upon time management and efficiency made it possible for him to conduct an entire trial, including the verdict, in fifteen minutes; and he frequently utilized this ability. Ulrikh's reputation has come under severe attack from his own countrymen. Anton Antonov-Ovseenko, for example, labeled him a "uniformed toad with watery eyes." [Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko, "The Time of Stalin: Portrait of a Tyranny" (New York City, N.Y.: Harper Colophon, 1983), page 83. ]


*Anton Antonov-Ovseenko, "The Time of Stalin"
*Robert Conquest, ""
*Amy Knight, "Who Killed Kirov: The Kremlin's Greatest Mystery"
*Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, "The Gulag Archipelago"
*Arkady Vaksberg, "Stalin's Prosecutor: The Life of Andrei Vyshinsky"
*Dmitri Volkogonov, "Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy"


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