Alexander Ulanovsky

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Alexander Petrovich Ulanovsky (aka Ulrich, William Berman, Nathan Sherman) (1895-1968?) was the chief illegal rezident for Soviet Military Intelligence (GRU) in the United States from 1931 until 1934.

Born in the Ukraine, Ulanovsky joined the Socialist Revolutionary Party as a youth. Arrested by the Tsarist Okhrana for radical activity, he was deported to Siberia where he was confined to the same camp as Joseph Stalin. While in exile, he stole Stalin's fur coat and made a daring escape.

Following the October Revolution, Ulanovsky enlisted in the Red Army and served as the commander of an armored train during the Civil War. He fought in the Ukraine and the Crimea against both the Whites and the peasant army of the anarchist Nestor Makhno. After the war he joined Soviet military intelligence and served as a secret agent in Argentina and Shanghai.

Together with his wife Nadezhda, Ulanovsky came to America on the maiden voyage of The Bremen in 1931. His mission was to take over the GRU 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 memoir, Witness, Chamber's 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 memoir 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 principle activity was securing patent applications, blueprints, and technical manuals which they would pack into a large crate and ship to the Soviet Union. After Robert Osman was arrested while spying on the U.S. military installation in Panama, Ulanovsky was recalled.

The Danish police arrested Ulanovsky, operating under the alias Nathan Sherman, in Copenhagen in 1935, following a search of his hotel room which turned up codes, money, and multiple passports. Two other Americans, George Mink and Leon Josephson, were also arrested. Ulanovsky claimed they were Jewish anti-fascists fighting against Hitler, but the police had information, possibly obtained from the Gestapo, that proved they were operating a Soviet espionage ring. The Danes held a secret trial and Ulanovsky was convicted of spying and sentenced to eighteen months in prison. He was later deported to the Soviet Union.

Remarkably, Ulanovsky survived the Great Purge. In 1948 he was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in the Gulag for anarchist tendencies. To no avail, he wrote to Stalin begging for leniency and apologizing for the earlier theft of his coat. Upon his release, Ulanovsky became a dissident and he died in the Soviet Union in the late 1960s.


  • 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.