Letter from I. Terziev to Dimitrov and Kolarov describing his arrest and the methods of investigation.


To the leader of the Comintern and the Bulgarian Communist Party

-- Georgy Dimitrov and Vasil Kolarov.

From Terziev, I. T. (Yanko Atanasov).[i]

Dear comrades,[ii]

On 6 February 1938, I was arrested for no reason by NKVD organs and, after spending 15 months in the Ashkhabad prison, was released on 25 April 1939. After my release, I learned that almost all of the Bulgarian émigrés had been arrested and were still held in prisons and camps. I do not know whether you are aware of all the reasons that led the [Bulgarian] émigrés to this tragic situation, therefore I will tell you everything that happened to me. Because, even if it is not typical for all the arrested émigrés, it is typical for the comrades whom I got to know during the investigation: those comrades who are still [being held] in prisons and camps.

In Ashkhabad (Turkmenia), I worked along with Ivan Piperkov[iii] and Piotr Stanev.[iv] We were instructors in the CC of the Communist Party of Turkmenia, sent personally by Ezhov. Georgy Tsanev[v] worked as a woodworker, and I [worked] as a head of section of the social sciences in an institute. I was sent there in accordance with a directive of the CC VKP(b), which was signed personally by A. A. Andreev.

Our party papers and travel documents indicated that we were important party members. However, in early November 1937, Iv. Piperkov and Georgy Tsanov were arrested. 20 days later, Piotr Stanev was also arrested. Immediately after their arrest, I wrote to the section,[vi] via c. Anton Ivanov,[vii] describing everything that had happened and, a month after their arrest, I went to the Turkmenian NKVD to inquire about the reasons for arresting the comrades in question. I was received by an investigator named Erastenko, to whom I described all the activities of the comrades in Bulgaria and expressed my opinion that the NKVD made a mistake by arresting them. In addition, I presented written references for the comrades with whom I worked in Bulgaria, and declared that I was only fulfilling my party duty and wanted to assist the organs in clarifying the question of Bulgarians in Turkmenia. Erastenko told me that I was vouching for them in vain, since they had already confessed of espionage…

Soon after that, I was also arrested and sent to the Ashkhabad prison. There I met many party activists, soldiers, doctors, etc. When I said that I was Bulgarian, those arrested told me: “You, com. Terziev, will be a Bulgarian spy, and, if you want to save your skin, [you have to] recruit as many accessories as you can and confess immediately. Otherwise, you are dead.” The slogan “recruit as many as you can” was promoted by the Turkmenian Trotskyists, in particular by the old Trotskyist Rubinstein, a member of the CC of the party, and the director of a chemical plant in Kara-Bugas, Tol. Around this slogan, a sharp ideological struggle went on between the Trotskyists and the loyal party members. Using this slogan, the Trotskyists managed to deliver a heavy blow both to the party and the NKVD, since many of the arrested gave in to this provocation, and especially to the prosecutors. As a result of this provocation, one arrested [person] dragged down with him dozens of innocent and honest party members and non-party Bolsheviks. I simply can not describe this issue more specifically, but I urge you to pay  special attention to it, because the roots of the problem are in Moscow -- this slogan was implemented in an organized manner everywhere.

My case was investigated by Lieutenant Kovalevsky. On 9 February, he called me in for interrogation. His first question was, “By whom, when and how were you recruited [to work] for foreign intelligence?” Then he continued: “The prosecution possesses reliable information that you are the IKR spy. Confess by yourself, because voluntary confession will lighten your penalty. Your fate was sealed before your arrest, and keep in mind that, if you do not confess, you will be shot.” I told him that I had no idea about this work. He then made me sit on a “stool,” on which it was absolutely impossible to sit. I spent three days, without being able to move, on this stool; my limbs swelled, I felt particularly strong, dull pains in my legs. Along with the physical suffering, I was insulted with refined obscenities. Not only was my honor as a communist and a man outraged, but also the honor of my deceased parents. On 13. II-39, they started beating me. I was beaten by the investigator Kovalevsky and his assistant who, in addition to regular beatings, struck me several times in the back of my head. I do not remember what they did to me afterwards, but when I recovered, I felt a strong pain in the eyes. As a result of the shock, my eyes hemorraged. At present, the treatment can only localize the disease, but, as doctors told me, I will never regain normal sight.

After these physical and moral treatments, and after a long “rest,” the investigator again summoned me to an interrogation and subjected me to new tortures. [I] was standing on my knees with hands raised up, while the investigator opened a book and read a number of Bulgarian names, of which I remember Grancharov,[viii] Dr. Maksimov,[ix] Novakov,[x] Nikolov,[xi] etc. He characterized them as Trotskyists and asked if I knew them. I answered that I knew them as loyal communists. After that I was beaten again.

It is hard to describe what I lived through in those days, but I felt that I was fading away, that I would die in a NKVD dungeon. A person commits suicide only under extreme psychological conditions, which I reached twice. However, the investigators must have been watching my feelings and intentions. They used to guard me particularly closely, so I could not approach the window or the stairs. I decided to break my head against the wall, but when I started doing it, I was caught by two investigators. They must have been frightened by my terrible act and started to calm me down saying that I should not torment myself, that there was a way out, I only had to agree to write something. I objected saying indicating that I could not invent crimes and attribute them to myself because that would mean misleading the party and the government and thus actually help the enemies. Kovalevsky told me several times: “Regarding the truthfulness of the testimony, we warn only the witnesses. But you have to provide the testimony of a spy, remember that.”

I could not stand on my knees anymore, and I asked [them] to give me some rest, after which I would testify. With a bloody head and tormented body, I was returned to the prison [cell] for a rest. After several hours, I was again taken for interrogation. I decided to ruin myself, but not to permit additional victims, and, if I could not hold this line, to mention comrades who were not in the Soviet Union or who had already been arrested.

I started to write a confession that I was an agent of French intelligence, but my investigator, after having read it, told me that it was no good, that I had to write something more intelligent if I wanted to avoid tortures.

They made me stand on my knees again, however this time, they put six-sided pencils under my knees. One can only stand [the pain] for a maximum of 4-5 hours, after which he passes out. After this procedure, the following day I became a German spy. My confession, in short, consisted of the following:

I supposedly had met, through one comrade, a woman who, in turn, led me to a worker in the German embassy, to whom: 1) I provided information about the political émigrés [and] the moods among them, about who was coming to the USSR and who was going back; 2) On his orders, following special plans, I prepared to sabotage factories in case of a war. In this confession, I included, as the members of the espionage group, Dustabanov,[xii] Kiskinov[xiii] and Iv. Sterev.[xiv] In late February, I signed the final examination record. However, the next day, during the night I was brought [back] to my investigator and the head of the NKVD’s III department, [a man] named Bolshakov, who started to swear at me and said: “We will liquidate all of you political émigrés.” He was dissatisfied with my confession because I recruited too few people. He ordered the physical tortures to continue. Then I declared to him that being a foreigner, I can give valuable testimony, but for several reasons, could only do so before the Narkom, and they, in the interests of investigation, would have to let me see him. He agreed.

Three or four days after this conversation, in early March, I was called for questioning. My investigator repeated again a series of physical tortures, this time in a more disgusting form. I could not stand it, and started to write new confession, this time as an agent of Bulgarian counterintelligence. I decided to involve in the espionage organization people who had been compromised in the movement, or those representing no special interest [to the movement]. My confession can be reduced to the following: 1) That in 1925, Dustabanov accidentally introduced me to P. Topalov,[xv] to whom I expressed my disillusionment with the revolution. Topalov promised me rehabilitation by the Bulgarian government if I agreed to provide information about the émigrés. 2) [That] Topalov and I supposedly named those émigrés  who returned to Bulgaria and who later were shot by the Bulgarian government. 3) That we engaged in provocation in Constantinopole throughout the whole period. 4) That, through Todor Lukanov[xvi] and Georgy Popov,[xvii] we conducted sabotage activities in the Narkomvneshtorg and in Tsentrosoiuz. 5) That Topalov and I stole some central archive [Tsentro-Arkhiv] documents that compromised a number of bourgeois parties in Bulgaria.

I signed this confession on 21. III-38. In early April 1938, I was again interrogated and made sign a new examination record which included, besides those first records, the following paragraphs:

1) That I was supposedly connected with the Popov-Tanev group,[xviii] and that I rehabilitated them in the émigré circles, and that we supposedly carried on a struggle against c.c. G. Dimitrov and V. Kolarov.

2) That Topalov supposedly told me that the Plenipotentiary Minister in Moscow, Antonov, was connected with the German counterintelligence.

Having signed this confession, I waited every night for 5 months for them to shoot me.

I retracted my confession on 20 September 1938 and again on 19 October. The last time, my retraction was documented, and the “conditions” under which this confession was given were noted. I repeated this retraction in front of other investigators.

5 more months passed, and only on 1 April was I summoned for questioning by my first investigator, Kovalevsky. He composed a detailed examination record, refuting the records of 21. III and 5. IV-38. After that I was called 3 times to the military procurator who questioned me in detail about the methods of investigation, and what I knew about the escape from “St. Anastasia.”[xix] I answered that c. G. Dimitrov characterized this escape as a CPB affair. On 25. IV-38, I was summoned to a Commission where they asked me who in the Comintern knew me. After that, they told me that I was free and could appeal to the Comintern or CC VKP(b). 

As to the other Ashkhabad comrades, I learned that Georgy Tsanev confessed to being a member of some terrorist group which sought to murder c. G. Dimitrov. He was sentenced to 8 years and exiled.

In October 1938, Professor Dziakovsky from the Med[ical] Institute was transferred to my cell. He told me that Ivan Piperkov had been  subjected to terrible beating. He confessed to being agent provocateur. After he recovered, he was transferred from a common cell to solitary confinement.

On 1 April 1939, during the interrogation, investigator Kovalevsky let me read one page from Iv. Piperkov’s testimony. It said that, in Odessa in 1926, Iv. Piperkov had organized a counterrevolutionary group consisting of Iv. Piperkov, Boyan Atanasov, Vasili Ivanov,[xx] Yakim Ivanov,[xxi] Terziev, V. Novakov, Stoenchev, K. Nikolov, Stareishinsky,[xxii] Dr. Maksimov and a number of other comrades. I thoroughly refuted that statement in order to rehabilitate comrades. Judging from the investigator’s behavior, I understood that Piperkov was alive.

I could not learn anything specific about Peter Stanev. In prison they said that he he had been shot.

I have described to you, very objectively, the procedures and methods of the investigation of my case. I declare before you that I have never been a member of any oppositional groups, never shared anti-party views, but in spite of this, they attempted to turn me into the enemy of the party and a fascist hero.

The opinion of some comrades who think that the NKVD does not arrest those non-guilty is wrong. In prisons, I met many innocent comrades.

Besides the Boikovtsevs, Zlatorovtsevs[xxiii] and some other types, Bulgarian p[olitical] emigres, and the p[olitical] emigres in the USSR in general, are the victims of a planned and broad provocation undertaken by Trotskyists and [agents of] foreign counterintelligence in the NKVD apparatus. It would be interesting to know about the role played here by the Bulgarian Trotskyists and sectarians, many of whom worked for the NKVD officially or non-officially.

These arrests had as a goal the political degeneration of the émigrés, the compromising of the CC VKP(b) and c. Stalin personally, [as well as of] the Comintern and c. Dimitrov personally. Many of the arrested shared the opinion that everything that was going on in the country was sanctioned by c. c. Stalin and Dimitrov.

In addition, there was created in the party a certain psychosis against foreigners. The word “vigilance” was substituted for “mistrust,” which has nothing to do with the revolutionary vigilance. As a result of this psychosis and the false denunciations, many political émigrés were imprisoned.

Bulgarian political émigrés were educated ideologically in Bulgaria under your direct guidance. Under your guidance, these émigrés offered examples of selflessness and heroism. [Events in] Spain have once again verified the remarkable qualities of Bulgarian communists.

Ideologically, our emigres have never been with the Boikovtsy[xxiv] and Iskrovtsy,[xxv] except for a few petty-bourgeois types and comrades who incidentally lost their way. The Bulgarian political emigration has a great respect for the party’s past and for its founders.

You have to do everything possible to save the people, because without your active involvement in this question, the émigrés will not be freed and will vanish in the camps. The cadres, which you have been creating for decades, will vanish.


5. VIII – 1939.

With fraternal greetings,

P. Terziev (Ya. Atanasov).

Translation correct.


RGASPI, f. 17, op. 121, d. 19, ll. 115-119.

Original in Russian (translation from Bulgarian). Typewritten.





[i] Iordan Terziev (real name – Yanko Dimov Atanasov). Born in 1900 in Bulgaria, he was a member of the CPBul in 1922-1926, and later of the CP of Argentina. In 1930, he emigrated to the USSR. Between 1930-1936, he attended the Institute of Red Professors. In 1936-1938, he was professor in the Agrarian Institute in Ashkhabad, Turkmenia. On 6 February 1938, he was arrested by the NKVD. In 1939, he was released and his case closed.

[ii] The letter from I. Terziev to Dimitrov and V. Kolarov (handwritten in Bulgarian) was received in Dimitrov’s Secretariat on 10 August 1939. The letter and its translation into Russian were sent to the CC VKP Secretary G. Malenkov on 14 December 1939 “for consideration.” The letter was sent for storage to the Organizational Bureau of the CC VKP, and is preserved in the RGASPI’s CC VKP collection.  The document is published from its Russian translation.


[iii] Ivan Piperkov (1902-1938). A member of the Bulgarian Komsomol from 1919, he joined the CPBul in 1922. In 1925, he emigrated to the USSR and joined the VKP. Between 1925 and 1930, he worked as a statistician for the Oil Syndicate (“Neftesindikat”) in Odessa. In 1935, he became secretary of the Blagoev regional committee of the CP of Ukraine. In 1935-1936, he was instructor of the CC CP of Turkmenia and later director of the Turkmen film studio. In 1937, he was arrested; on 17 June 1938, he was sentenced to be shot.

[iv] Piotr Stanev. Born in 1887 in Bulgaria. On 2 July 1937, the OSO NKVD of the USSR sentenced him to eight years in a corrective labor camp.

[v] Georgy Tsanev. Born in 1905 in Bulgaria. On 2 August 1937, the OSO NKVD of the USSR sentenced him to eight years in a corrective labor camp.

[vi] The author is referring to the delegation of the CPBul in the ECCI.

[vii] Anton Ivanov (alias Ivan Bogdanov, Anton Borov). A member of the CPBul from 1919, he was a deputy in the parliament from 1919 to 1923. In 1923, he was a member of the commission that prepared the armed insurrection in Bulgaria. On 21 September 1923, he was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison. In September 1925, he emigrated from Bulgaria and worked on CPBul and the Comintern assignments in Turkey, Yugoslavia, Austria, and Germany. Between 1925-1926, he was a member of the Profintern’s Executive Committee. In 1922-1923, 1927-1929 and in 1935-1942, he was a member of the CC of the CPB. In 1931, he went to the USSR with the permission of the CC CPBul. He was a member of the VKP between 1933 and 1941. Between 1938 and September 1941, he was deputy representative of the CPBul in the ECCI. In 1941, the Comintern sent him to conduct party work in Bulgaria. He was later arrested and, on 13 July 1942, sentenced by a Bulgarian military tribunal to be shot.

[viii] Vladimir Grancharov (Gryncharov) (1903-1938). In 1921, he emigrated to the USSR. On 7 September 1937, he was arrested by NKVD organs; he was shot on 14 January 1938.

[ix] Nikolai Maksimov (Nikola) (1875-1937). A physician, he was a member of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (later CPBul) from 1885. After the suppression of the September 1923 armed insurrection in Bulgaria, he was arrested. After being granted an amnesty, he went to Turkey as a political émigré. In 1924, he was expelled from the CPBul as a “liquidator.” He went to the USSR in December 1927, where he worked as a doctor in Odessa. On 24 March 1937, he was arrested. On 16 November 1937, the “troika” of the Odessa regional NKVD Board sentenced him to death and he was shot.

[x] Vasili Novakaev. Born in Burgas, he joined the CPBul in April 1919. In 1920, he participated in the work of the Burgas CPBul regional organization. He participated in the factional struggle over the question of parliamentary tactics and was expelled from the party for six months. He was readmitted in 1921. After the defeat of the September armed insurrection, he was persecuted, arrested and sentenced to prison. Together with forty-two other inmates, he escaped to Turkey. In 1925, with the party’s permission, he went to the USSR. In the meantime, in Bulgaria he was sentenced in abstentia to death. In 1926, he was admitted to the VKP. At the request of the CPBul delegation in the ECCI, he was sent to the “Vystrel” military school. After graduation, he worked in Odessa until he was arrested in 1937.

[xi] Konstantin (Kostadin) Nikolaev Georgiev (1901-1938). A house-painter, he joined the CPBul in 1923. For taking part in the Bulgarian revolutionary movement he was sent to “The Island of St. Anastasia” prison, from which he escaped together with forty-three other prisoners. In 1925, he went to the USSR and was admitted to the VKP. He worked in a factory in Odessa, and later as deputy director of the Buialykskaia Machine Tractor Station (MTS) (Blagoevsky district, Odessa Region). He was arrested and, on 9 October 1938, the “troika” of the Odessa regional NKVD sentenced him to be shot.

[xii] Stoino Dustabanov. Born in 1884, he was a metal worker on the railways. He was a member of the BSDWP (T) from 1908 and the CPBul from 1918. In 1923, he emigrated to the USSR and was admitted to the VKP. In 1924, he was sent to Bulgaria to work in a regional CPBul organization. He left Bulgaria and went to Turkey. In 1926, he again went to the USSR. Between 1926-1936, he worked in a carriage-repair plant in Moscow. In 1936, he was paralyzed and unable to work.

[xiii] Iordan Stoianov Kiskinov (1896-1941). A member of the CPBul from 1919, he was admitted to the VKP in 1925. In September 1923, he participated in the armed insurrection in Bulgaria. Between 1924 and 1925, he was commander of a guerrilla detachment. Following the decision of the CPBul, he crossed the Yugoslav border and, in 1925, he went to the USSR. He was sentenced in absentia to capital punishment in Bulgaria. Between 1925 and 1929, he worked in the Bulgarian delegation in the ECCI. In 1926, he graduated from the OGPU Higher Party School and worked for the CPBul. Between 1929 and 1936, he worked as a metal worker. In November 1936, he went to Spain. On 11 January 1937, during the battle for Madrid, he was severely wounded and evacuated to the USSR. After 1 August 1938, he was a pensioner.

[xiv] Ivan Nikolov Shterev (1900-1942). A member of the CPBul from 1920, he was arrested and imprisoned in April 1925 for participating in the September armed insurrection. In July 1925, he escaped from prison together with other inmates, and was sentenced in absentia to capital punishment. In 1925, he went to the USSR as a political émigré with the permission of the CPBul. Between 1926 and 1931, he studied in the Leningrad Polytechnical Institute. In 1931-1933, he worked as an engineer in the Moskabel plant. In March 1937, the CPBul and the Comintern sent him to Madrid to organize production of the military searchlights. In December 1938, he returned to the USSR. Between June 1938 and May 1941, he worked as head of the Municipal Energy Trust (“Kommunenergostroi”) in Moscow. In June 1941, he was sent to Bulgaria to accomplish a military assignment. On 15 May 1942, he was arrested in a safe apartment in Sofia. On 26 June 1942, a Bulgarian military tribunal sentenced him to be shot.

[xv] Panaiot Topalev. Born in 1887, he was a lawyer.  A member of the BSDWP and then CPBul between 1914 and 1928. In 1928, he went to the USSR. Between 1931 and 1933, he worked in the Institute of History of the USSR’s Academy of Sciences. In 1933-1935, he was a lecturer at the Higher Transport School of the NKVD of the USSR. In 1935-1937, he was a lecturer in the Communist University of the VKP Moscow City committee. On 8 March, he was arrested by the NKVD. His case was under investigation until 1940 when he was released. In 1940-1941, he taught at the Pharmaceutical Institute in Moscow. After 1943, he was an assistant professor at the 1st Medical Institute in Moscow. In August 1945, he left for Bulgaria.

[xvi] Todor Stanchev Lukanov (1874-1946). A member of the BSDWP (T) from 1898, a member of its CC from 1903. In 1921, he was elected second (organizational) secretary of the CC CPBul. After the defeat of the September armed insurrection, he was sentenced in absence to 12 years in prison, and emigrated to the USSR. In 1924, he joined the VKP. In 1930, he was named deputy chairman of the First Hydrometeorological Committee of the SNK of the RSFSR, and inspector of the Cadres Department of the Main Board of the Hydrometeorological service of the SNK RSFSR. At the 2nd CPBul Conference (1928), his attitude towards the CPB tactics during the September 1923 insurrection was criticized. In 1928, at the initiative of the CPBul, he was expelled from the VKP for “strikebreaking.” In 1931, he was readmitted to the VKP. In 1940, he retired.

[xvii] Georgy Popov. A lawyer, he joined the CPBul in 1919. In 1924, he emigrated to the USSR with the permission of the CPBul and with the assistance from MOPR. He worked in Tsentrosoyuz. At the 2nd CPBul Conference (1928), he was expelled from the CPBul. In 1940, he left for Bulgaria.

[xviii] The so-called Popov-Tanev group never existed.

Vasil Tanev (1897-1941). A CPBul member from 1919, he emigrated to the USSR in 1926. In early 1933, he went, via Germany, to Bulgaria. On 9 March 1933, he was arrested in Berlin together with Dimitrov and B. Popov. He was one of the accused at the 1933 Leipzig trial. Between 1934 and 1941, he lived in the USSR. In fall 1941, he was transported to Bulgaria with a group of parachutists. He died in battle.

[xix] In 1925, 43 (from other sources – 93) prisoners managed to escape from the “Island of St. Anastasia” prison after disarming the guards. The escape was organized by the local CPBul organization. Among the escapees were members of the CPBul, who later emigrated to the USSR: Ivan Piperkov, Ivan Sterev, Vasili Novan, Konstantin Nikolov, and others.

[xx] Vasil Ivanov.  He was born in 1909 in Sofia. A construction worker, he joined the CPBul and later emigrated to the USSR. In August 1937, he went to Spain. After serving in the Albacete camp, he fought with the International Brigades during the battles for Levante. Later he returned to Bulgaria.

[xxi] Stefan Stoenchev (1901-1937). A member of the Bulgarian Komsomol from 1919, he joined the CPBul in 1923. In September 1923, he participated in the armed insurrection in Bulgaria, was convicted, and later amnestied. In 1925, he emigrated to the USSR with the permission of the CPBul. In 1925, he joined the VKP. After studying in the KUNMZ, he was sent to Odessa to work in the Odessa regional committee of the CP of Ukraine. He was arrested in 1937, and, on 21 November 1937, the “troika” of the Odessa regional NKVD sentenced him to be shot.

[xxii] Anton Stareishinsky (1899-1938). A teacher, he was sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for participating in the September 1923 insurrection in Bulgaria, and later amnestied. On 17 September 1925, he emigrated to the USSR and was sent to study at the Leningrad Communist University. In 1925, he joined the VKP. Between 1932 and 1933, he taught in the Bulgarian section of the KUNMZ. He graduated from the Institute of Red Professors and was sent to Ivanovo, where he taught in the Pedagogical Institute. He was arrested and, on 27 September 1938, the Ivanovo regional NKVD “troika” sentenced him to be shot.

[xxiii]Dimitri Zlatarev (alias Ivan Fedorov).  Born in 1896. A railroad metalworker, he participated in the September 1923 insurrection and was a member of the Sofia military committee and of the military council of the CC CPBul. In 1925, he emigrated to the USSR, was admitted to the VKP, and graduated from the Higher Party School. He was a member of the board of the Political Émigrés Club in Moscow (Bulgarian section). He criticized mistakes of the CPBul leadership. In November 1928, he was expelled from the Club board for factional struggle. In 1937, he was arrested. On 14 April 1938, the Military Board of the Supreme Court of the USSR sentenced him to the shot.

[xxiv] Refers to the leaders of the CPBul in the late 1920-1930s, who were deposed in 1934 and later repressed.

Filipp Boiko (real name – Ilya Todorov Vasiliev).  Born in 1902. He joined the Bulgarian Komsomol in 1920, and the CPBul in 1922. In 1922-1931, he was one of the party leaders  in Bulgaria. In 1926-1929, he was member of the Komsomol’s CC. After 1929, he was a member of the CC CPBul. In 1931, he went to the USSR and joined the VKP. Between 1933 and 1937, he worked in the Gorkovsky regional committee of the VKP. On 25 June 1937, he was expelled from the VKP and arrested. On 28 June 1937, the OSO NKVD of the USSR sentenced him to five years in the corrective labor camp.

[xxv] Refers to the so-called left sectarian group of Iskrov.