Vasiliy Ulrikh

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Vasiliy Ulrikh
Vasiliy Ulrikh in 1924 as presiding judge, seated at the table, second from the right
Chairman of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union
In office
2 February 1926 – 25 August 1948
Preceded byValentin Trifonov
Succeeded byAleksandr Cheptsov
Personal details
Vasiliy Vasilievich Ulrikh

(1889-07-13)13 July 1889
Riga, Governorate of Livonia, Russian Empire
Died7 May 1951(1951-05-07) (aged 61)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Political partyCommunist Party of the Soviet Union

Vasiliy Vasilievich Ulrikh (Russian: Василий Васильевич Ульрих; 13 July 1889 – 7 May 1951) was a senior judge of the Soviet Union during most of the regime of Joseph Stalin. Ulrikh served as the presiding judge at many of the major show trials of the Great Purges in the Soviet Union.

Early life[edit]

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 began to study at the Riga Polytechnical Institute. He joined the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in the same year.

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 sentences of the Great Purge. Ulrikh sentenced Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Tukhachevsky, Rodzaevsky, Beloborodov, Yezhov and many others. He attended the executions of many of these men, and occasionally performed executions himself.[1] Ulrikh personally executed Yan Karlovich Berzin, former head of Red Army Intelligence Directorate, later called GRU.[2]

During World War II, Ulrikh continued to hand down death sentences to people accused of sabotage and defeatism. He was also the chief judge during the Trial of the Sixteen leaders of the Polish Secret State and Home Army in 1945.

After the conclusion of the war, Ulrikh presided over a number of the early trials of the Zhdanovshchina.

In 1948, a number of top judges, including Ulrikh, were removed from their positions for severe drawbacks in the judicial system, including corruption and what were classified as political errors.[3] Ulrikh 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.


Anton Antonov-Ovseenko labeled him a "uniformed toad with watery eyes."[4]


  1. ^ Nikita Pietrow, Psy Stalina, (Warszawa 2012: Demart), page. 218 (Russian original: Пaлaчи. Oни выплняли ӡакаӡы Сталина, 2011).
  2. ^ Vadim Bristein SMERSH: Stalin's Secret Weapon, Soviet counterintelligence in ww2 page 65
  3. ^ „Члены Верховного суда брали взятки“ ("Members of the Superior Court Took Bribes") magazine «Коммерсантъ Власть», no. 31 (785), August 11, 2008
  4. ^ Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko, The Time of Stalin: Portrait of a Tyranny (New York City, N.Y.: Harper Colophon, 1983), page 83.