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Alexander Petrovich Ulanovsky

Alexander Petrovich Ulanovsky (Ulrich, William Berman, Nathan Sherman) (1891-1970) was the chief illegal "rezident" for Soviet Military Intelligence (GRU) in the United States from 1931 until 1934.

Born into a Jewish family in the Ukraine, Ulanovsky joined the anarchists as a young man. Arrested for radical activity, he was deported to Siberia where he was confined to the same village as Joseph Stalin. While in exile, he made a daring escape and "on his way out" entered Stalin's flat and took his fur coat, as was customary among fellow-exiles in such a situation.

Following the October Revolution, Ulanovsky returned to Russia and enlisted in the Red Army. He served as the deputy-commander of an armored train (the commander was the anarchist revolutionary Anatoli Zhelezniakov) and took part in the fighting against the White armies in the Ukraine and the Crimea. After the war he joined Soviet military intelligence and served as a secret agent in, among other places, Argentina and Shanghai.

Together with his wife Nadezhda, Ulanovsky came to America on the maiden voyage of the SS Bremen in 1931. His mission was to take over the GRU (military intelligence) apparatus assembled by his predecessor, Manfred Stern, who was moving on to China. Some of the known members of the group were Lydia Stahl, Robert Gordon Switz, Leon Minster, Robert Osman, Joshua Tamer, and Whittaker Chambers. In his memoirs, Witness, Chambers provided an insider's view of the workings of the apparatus and a deferential portrait of Ulanovsky, whom he called "the only Russian who was ever to become my close friend." However, the spy Hede Massing who also knew Ulanovsky at this time, under the alias Bill Berman, wrote in her memoirs that he was a "confused and inept man" and "one of the least ambitious and offensive of the crew of Russian agents with whom I had to deal," The group's principal activity was securing patent applications, blueprints, and technical manuals which they would pack into a large crate and ship to the Soviet Union. Ulanovsky returned to Europe after the failure of several GRU operations, notably a bungled scheme to counterfeit U.S. currency and the arrest of Robert Osman in Panama on espionage charges. An NKVD illegal, Valentin Markin, came to America and took control of GRU operations in 1934.

Ulanovsky resurfaced in Copenhagen in 1935, operating under the alias Nathan Sherman and acting as the head of a Soviet espionage ring that collected military information on Nazi Germany. The Danish police arrested Ulanovsky and two Americans, Leon Josephson and George Mink, following a search of their hotel room which turned up codes, money, and multiple passports. The motive for the search was a charge of rape against Mink by a chambermaid. Ulanovsky claimed they were Jewish anti-fascists acting on their own, but the police produced information, possibly obtained from the Gestapo, that proved they were working for Soviet intelligence. The Danes held a secret trial and convicted Ulanovsky of spying and sentenced him to eighteen months in prison. He was later deported to the Soviet Union. (Josephson returned to America and worked as a lawyer representing Socialist clients of the Café Society. Mink went to Spain where he served as an NKVD assassin during the Civil War, and then disappeared from the historical record.)

Remarkably, Ulanovsky survived the Great Purge. In 1948, his wife Nadezhda was arrested. To no avail, he wrote Stalin a letter recalling their days in Tsarist exile, with assurances that his wife was a loyal Soviet citizen. He was arrested in 1949 as a former anarchist and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in the Gulag. They were both released under Khrushchev. In the 60s they were close to dissident circles in Moscow. Ulanovsky died in 1970 and his wife – in Israel in 1983.

Sources

  • Whittaker Chambers, Witness, Random House, 1952.
  • Hede Massing, This Deception, Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1951.
  • Sam Tenenhaus, Whittaker Chambers, Random House, 1997.
  • Maya and Nadezhda Ulanovskaya, Istoriya Odnoi Semyi (One Family's Story), Chalidze Publications, 1982.
  • Louis Waldman, Labor Lawyer, E.P. Dutton, 1944.
  • Улановские Надежда и Майя: История одной семьи. С.-Петербург : Инапресс, 2005.
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