Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1918, Russia, Volume I
File No. 861.00/3029
The Chargé in Great Britain ( Laughlin ) to the Secretary of State
[Received October 23.]
Sir: With reference to the Department’s telegraphic instruction No. 1581 of September 24, 1918, and to my telegrams No. 2452 of October 3, 4 p.m.,1 and No. 2493 of October 4, 5 p.m.,1 in regard to a report by the Netherland Minister, relating to conditions in Petrograd, I have the honor to transmit herewith, for the information of the Department, a copy of the note, dated October 1, 1918, together with a copy of the report enclosed therein, which was received from the Foreign Office in response to the representations of the Embassy in this connection, and upon which my telegrams referred to above were based.
I have [etc.]
The British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs ( Balfour ) to the American Ambassador ( Page )
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs presents his compliments to his excellency the United States Ambassador and, with reference to his note No. 1261 of the 25th September,1 has the honour to transmit, herewith, for his excellency’s confidential information, a copy of the report by the Netherlands Minister, relating to conditions in Petrograd, which was received through His Majesty’s Minister at Christiania.
Mr. Balfour trusts that his excellency will agree with him in considering that it is undesirable that any of the information contained in the report should be made public until the Allied subjects and citizens now in the power of the Bolsheviks have left the country.
Report of the Netherlands Minister relating to conditions in Petrograd
On August 30 I left for Moscow largely in connection with negotiations for evacuation of British subjects from Russia. The same day Uritski, commissary at Petrograd for combatting counter-revolution, was assassinated by a Jewish student Kanegiesser, whose father is a wealthy (? engineer) and holds a very good position at Petrograd. This murder was at once attributed by the Bolshevik authorities and Bolshevik press (only existing press in Russia) to French and English.
That same night Consul Woodhouse and Engineer Commander Le Page were arrested at 1 a.m. in the street. Every effort was made the next day (August 31) by my secretary Mr. van Niftrik to obtain their release and that of Consul Woodhouse was promised for the afternoon.
At 5 p.m. on August 31 when Consul Bosanquet and Acting Vice Consul Kimens who had been busy the whole day with Mr. van Niftrik in connection with his attempt to obtain release of the arrested were heading to the Embassy and were near the Embassy building, they were warned not to approach the Embassy, told that it had been occupied by Red Guards and that two persons had been killed. They at once decided to head back to find Mr. van Niftrik and asked him to endeavour to secure entry into the Embassy. While driving slowly away from Embassy their car was stopped by Red Guards in another car, one of whom levelled a revolver at them and told them to hold up their hands. They were searched and had to give their names and rank, but to their great surprise were allowed to proceed. Mr. van Niftrik drove with them to Gorokhovaya 2, headquarters of the Commission for Combatting Counter-Revolution, to which persons arrested are usually taken and where Mr. Woodhouse was confined. He had a long interview with the commandant of Petrograd, Bill Shatov, and strongly protested against the unheard-of breach of international law which had taken place, and demanded to be allowed to drive immediately to Embassy to be present at search there. Permission was refused by Shatov, who said that Embassy was being searched because authorities had documents proving conclusively that British Government was implicated in Uritski’s murder. When they had left Furm … and their car was passing the Winter Palace, staff of British Consulate and of missions and some civilians who were at Embassy when it was invaded were seen walking under guard to No. 2 Gorokhovaya.
A meeting of neutral Diplomatic Corps was held that night upon initiative of Mr. van Niftrik, at which following points were submitted:
- That immediate release of those arrested should be demanded;
- That it should be insisted upon that Mr. van Niftrik should be present at examination of arrested;
- That attention should be drawn to gross breach of international law committed by armed occupation of Embassy which bore on the door a signed and sealed notice to the effect that it was under the protection of Netherland Legation and by refusal to allow Mr. van Niftrik to be present at the search.
The meeting drew up a protest to be presented to Soviet authorities at Moscow.
On September 1 particulars were learnt as to the violation of Embassy and details will be found in a statement herewith enclosed made by Mrs. Bucknall, wife of Lieutenant Bucknall, now under arrest. Mrs. Bucknall was at the Embassy at the time of its invasion. The Red Guards under the direction of several commissaries had made their way into the Embassy at 5 p.m. and behaved with the greatest brutality. Captain Cromie who had tried to bar [Page 676] their entrance and had been threatened that he would be killed “like a dog” had fired, killing two men. He had then been shot himself and died nearly instantaneously. The whole staff of the consulate and missions and some civilians accidentally present at the Embassy had then been marched under escort to Gorokhovaya No. 2, where they remained until Tuesday, September 3, when (at 4 p.m.) they were conveyed to the Fortress of Peter and Paul.
During next few days repeated efforts were made by Mr. van Niftrik, Mr. van der Pals, also Consul and neutral legations to obtain release of those arrested but without success. Mr. van Niftrik endeavoured successfully to obtain an interview with Zinoviev, president of northern commune, on September the 1st; Mr. Scavenius, Danish Minister, who expressed profound indignation at what had occurred, saw Zinoviev at 9 p.m. on that day, and expressed himself in strongest terms. He was promised that body of Captain Cromie should be delivered up to him and Mr. van Niftrik, and on September 2 they together removed the body to the English Church. The funeral took place in the presence of the whole of the Corps diplomatique and the greater part of the British and French communities. The coffin was covered with the Union Jack and was completely wreathed with flowers. After it had been lowered into the grave I pronounced following short address in French and English:
In the name of the British Government and in the name of the family of Captain Cromie I thank you all, especially the representatives of the Allied and neutral countries, for the honour you have shown Captain Cromie.
Friends, we have all known Captain Cromie as a real friend, as a British gentleman, as a British officer in the highest sense of the word.
Happy is the country that produces sons like Captain Cromie.
Let his splendid and beautiful example lead us and inspire us all until the end of our days. Amen.
The doyen of the Corps diplomatique, M. Odier, Swiss Minister, gave expression to his deep sympathy and admiration for the late Captain Cromie who had died for his country.
In the evening of September 3 no impression having yet been made on the rommunal authorities another meeting of the Corps diplomatique was held. This meeting was attended by neutral diplomatic representatives and Mr. van der Pals representing the Netherland Legation. Unexpected feature of the meeting was the appearance at the suggestion of Mr. Scavenius of German and Austrian Consuls General. The whole of the body met together at 9 p.m., and proceeded to Zinoviev’s residence where they with difficulty succeeded in obtaining an interview with him. M. Odier strongly protested in the name of the neutral legations at action taken by communal authorities against foreign subjects. He emphasised the fact that for acts of violence committed against foreign subjects in Russia the Soviets’ officials would be held personally responsible. He demanded that permission should be granted for a neutral representative to be present at the examination of the accused. Zinoviev said that he must consult his colleagues on the matter. Mr. van der Pals afterwards again laid stress on this point. M. Odier was followed by German Consul General who made a forcible protest in the name of humanity against the terrorism now entered upon by Bolsheviks. He referred in strong terms to “sanguinary “speech of the other day by Mr. Zinoviev and said that even though French and English arrested belonged to nations at war with Germany yet it was impossible not to unite with neutral representatives in a strong protest against course now adopted by Bolsheviks. He appears to have spoken with great force through one line of [message or perhaps pages missing].
I returned to Petrograd yesterday as I had received a telegram from my secretary urging my return and could not therefore take responsibility of remaining longer absent from Petrograd where position I gather must be very [Page 677] bad. Up to to-day situation here has in no way improved. Besides British arrests numerous arrests of French citizens have taken place, including that of the commercial attaché to French Embassy, though French consular officers have not so far been touched. Thousands of Russians belonging to officer and wealthy classes not excluding merchants and shopkeepers are being arrested daily, and according to an official communication five hundred of them have already been shot; amongst arrested there are a large number of women. For last four days no further British arrests have been made. I enclose herewith a full list of British officials and civilians now under arrest at Petrograd.
Position of British subjects in prison is most precarious and during last few days constant reports have reached Legation that question whether to shoot or release them has not yet been decided. There seems to be also a strong tendency to regard those arrested as hostages. Those belonging to military and naval missions are probably in most danger and in present rabid temper of Bolsheviks anything is possible but there is some hope that consular staff and civilians may be released before matters become still more serious. With regard to members of missions hope of release seems very small.
Conditions under which Englishmen at Peter and Paul Fortress are kept are most miserable. I was informed yesterday by M. d’Arcy, commercial attaché to French Embassy just released, that they are crowded together with other prisoners, some twenty in a cell, twenty by ten feet. In each cell there is only one bed, rest must sleep on a stone floor. No food whatever is supplied by prison authorities, and they depend entirely on arrangements which this Legation had made, and food furnished by friends and relatives. Rugs, pillows, medicines, warm clothing and other comforts are being sent from time to time, but great difficulties are experienced in getting these articles delivered. From August 31 to morning of September 2 no food at all was accepted for prisoners. Since then they have received some supplies from outside, but it still remains to be seen whether it will reach them regularly at fortress, though I shall leave no stone unturned to secure its proper distribution. Russian prisoners in fortress appear to be absolutely starving and this will make the question of supply of British subjects even more difficult than it would otherwise be, owing to presence in their cells of famished Russians. I enclose herewith copy of letter just received from British prisoners which speaks for itself.1
Yesterday evening I endeavoured to see Zinoviev in order to inform him of appalling conditions at the fortress but he absolutely refused to see me. I was equally unable to see Uritski’s successor and could only gain access to a subordinate of latter, who behaved with lack of courtesy which may now be expected. I informed him of conditions obtaining in fortress and he eventually promised to speak to commandant of fortress whom he had occasion to see that night. He refused to give me the number of Zinoviev’s telephone or name of commandant of fortress.
As regards situation in Moscow I can only say that in my opinion it is most grave. Nineteen Englishmen and thirty Frenchmen have been arrested and are kept under the worst conditions. Mr. Lockhart who was released and subsequently rearrested was only saved from being shot on September 4 by my most strenuous exertions. Before I left Moscow a solemn promise was given to me that he would be released but his position is precarious in the extreme, while all those now under arrest there are in great danger. Mr. Lockhart is accused by Soviet government of organising a plot to overthrow it and Bolshevik official and unofficial papers are full of details of alleged conspiracy while it is asserted that British officials at Petrograd were concerned in plot. Attempt on life of [Page 678] Lenin is of course attributed by Bolsheviks to British and French and if he should die it is quite possible that all now under arrest at Moscow and Petrograd would be shot.
At Moscow I had repeated interviews with Chicherin and Karakhan. I consider Chicherin beneath contempt and can only apply to him term “reptile.” I was able to show pretty clearly what opinion I held of him. Whole Soviet government has sunk to the level of a criminal organisation. Bolsheviks realise that their game is up and have entered on a career of criminal madness. I repeatedly told Chicherin with all the energy of which I am capable that he must realise full well that Bolshevik government was not a match for England. England had a longer wind than the Soviets. She would not be intimidated; even if hundreds of British subjects should be executed by order of the Bolsheviks England would not turn one hair’s breadth from her purpose. Moment would come when the Soviet authorities, man by man, would have to pay for all the acts of terrorism which they committed. But in spite of persistence with which I drove those facts home, I could not obtain any definite promises from Chicherin but only a few evasive replies and some lies. Bolsheviks have burnt their boats and are now ready for any wickedness.
As regards original objects of my journey to Moscow, evacuation of British from Russia, I found it necessary to promise that Litvinov should be allowed to leave England at once provided that in exchange for this concession all British subjects in Russia including consular staffs and missions were allowed to leave the country. This was agreed to so far as consulates and civilians were concerned including those now under arrest at Petrograd but an exception was made with regard to members of military and naval missions who would be released only on arrival of Russian Red Cross delegates in France for the purpose of repatriation of Russian soldiers. Result of negotiations was reported by telegraph to His Majesty’s Minister at Stockholm through intermediary of Swedish Consul General at Moscow for communication to British Government.
As regards invasion of British Embassy at Petrograd I had occasion to present to Chicherin and Karakhan, in addition to my protest and demands for repatriation, embodied in my note to Chicherin of September 2, joint protest drawn up by neutral diplomatic representatives at Petrograd (see above) which I also signed, demanding release of all those arrested at Embassy and that Embassy should be handed over to me and stating that Soviet government would be held responsible in every respect for consequences of this breach of international law which was quite unique in history. This I reported to my Government, at The Hague, through the intermediary of Chicherin for transmission to British Legation there though I cannot affirm that telegram was sent. Chicherin wished to evade question of release of persons arrested at Embassy and only agreed to demand for Embassy to be handed over to me, but I told him plainly that it must be all or nothing, and that I would not consent to half measures of this kind. I have further demanded that all documents seized at the Embassy shall be delivered to me.
The foregoing report will indicate the extremely critical nature of the present situation. The danger is now so great that I feel it my duty to call the attention of the British and all other Governments to the fact that if an end is not put to Bolshevism in Russia at once the civilisation of the whole world will be threatened. This is not an exaggeration but a sober matter of fact; and the most unusual action of German and Austrian Consuls General before referred to, in joining in protest of neutral legations appears to indicate that the danger is also being realised in German and Austrian quarters. I consider that the immediate suppression of Bolshevism is the greatest issue now before the world, not even excluding the war which is still raging, and unless as [Page 679] above stated Bolshevism is nipped in the bud immediately it is bound to spread in one form or another over Europe and the whole world as it is organised and worked by Jews who have no nationality, and whose one object is to destroy for their own ends the existing order of things. The only manner in which this danger could be averted would be collective action on the part of all powers.
I am also of opinion that no support whatever should be given to any other socialistic party in Russia, least of all to Social Revolutionaries, whose policy it is at the moment to overthrow the Bolsheviks, but whose aims in reality are the same, viz., to establish proletariat rule through the world. Social Revolutionaries will never fight any foreign power and any profession which they may now make in this sense is merely a tactical move in their struggle with the Bolsheviks.
I would beg that this report may be telegraphed as soon as possible in cypher in full to the British Foreign Office in view of its importance.
Consul Bosanquet and Acting Vice Consul Kimens are staying at this Legation but it is essential that this fact should not be known to any one.