Jēkabs Peterss

Jēkabs Peterss (Russian: Я́ков Христофо́рович Пе́терс, Yakov Khristoforovich Peters, English: Jacob Peters; 3 December [O.S. 21 November] 1886 25 April 1938) was a Latvian Communist revolutionary who played a part in the establishment of the Soviet Union. Together with Felix Dzerzhinsky, he was one of the founders and chiefs of the Cheka, the secret police of the Soviet Russia. He was the Deputy Chairman of the Cheka from 1918 and briefly the acting Chairman of the Cheka from 7 July to 22 August 1918.

Jēkabs Peterss
1st Deputy Chief of Soviet State Security
In office
December 1917  March 1919
Prime MinisterVladimir Lenin
Preceded byposition created
Succeeded byIvan Ksenofontov
Chief of Petrograd Defense
In office
March 1919  August 1919
Prime MinisterVladimir Lenin
Chief of Kiev Defense
In office
August 1919  August 1919
Prime MinisterVladimir Lenin
Chief of Tashkent Cheka
In office
Prime MinisterVladimir Lenin
1st Chief of East Department of GPU
In office
2 June 1922  31 October 1929
Prime MinisterVladimir Lenin
Aleksei Rykov
Preceded byposition created
Chairman of Moscow Control Commission of Party
In office
Prime MinisterVyacheslav Molotov
Personal details
Born21 November [O.S. 3 December] 1886
Brinken district, Kreis Hasenpoth, Courland Governorate, Russian Empire
Died25 April 1938 (aged 51)
Kommunarka shooting ground, Moscow Oblast, Soviet Union
CitizenshipRussia, Soviet Union
Political partySDLK (1904-38)
Spouse(s)May Freeman (m 1910s-1917)
ChildrenMaisie (daughter)
Alma maternone
ProfessionStatesman and revolutionary
Military service
AllegianceRussia, Soviet Union

Early years

He was born on 3 December 1886 in Brinken volost of Kreis Hasenpoth, Courland Governorate (now Nīkrāce parish, Skrunda Municipality), the son of Latvian farmers. He became a member of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party in 1904. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1905 he was arrested in March 1907 for the attempted murder of a factory director in Libau[1], but was later acquitted by the Riga military court in 1908. Peterss emigrated to England and lived in London where he was a member of the London Group of the Social Democracy of Latvia and of the British Socialist Party.

The Siege of Sidney Street

Peterss was a first cousin of Fritz Svaars, a Latvian anarchist, who was suspected of sabotage, robbery and of the murders of a shopkeeper and a policeman during the 1905 revolution, and was arrested and tortured in Riga, but escaped early in 1906. He moved to London, and was one of a gang who tried to rob a jeweler's shop in Houndsditch, in December 1910. Caught in the act, they killed three unarmed police officers. Svaars and a fellow anarchist were traced to a house in Sidney Street in January 1911, and opened fire on the police, setting off the Siege of Sidney Street which ended with the deaths of both suspects. Peters was arrested at his home in Turner Street, London, on 22 December. Unlike his cousin, he did not attempt to resist arrest. In May 1911, he and three other Latvian emigres were tried in the Old Bailey. The judge ordered the jury to acquit Peterss on the charge of murder, for lack of evidence. After he had given evidence under cross-examination, he was acquitted of the separate charge of conspiring to commit a burglary.[2]


In 1916, he married May Freeman, the daughter of a London banker, and together they had a daughter, Maisie Peters-Freeman (born 1914). After the Russian revolution, he invited his wife and daughter to join him there, where they discovered that he had a new family. Maisie was never able to leave Russia and died there in 1971.[3]

October Revolution

Peterss returned to Russia in May 1917 after the February Revolution. In Riga, Peterss became one of the leaders of the Social Democracy of Latvia working at the front-lines of the Northern Front. During the German advance he moved to Valmiera where he was an editor of the party newspaper Cīņa. Peterss was a peasant representative of the Governorate of Livonia to the Democratic discussion initiated by Kerensky.

Moving to Petrograd, he actively participated in the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917 being a member of the Military-Revolutionary Committee in Petrograd. At that time he was preparing military units for the October Revolution. Afterward, he was a member of Cheka Collegiate, the Deputy Chairman of the Commission, and the chairman of the Revolutionary Tribunal. He participated in the disclosure of the alleged Lockhart plot as well as leading the liquidation of the Left SR mutiny of 1918. Following Dzerzhinsky's resignation in the aftermath of the Left SR Uprising, assassination of Mirbach, and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Peterss briefly served as the chief of the Cheka until Dzerzhinsky resumed his duties. As one of the Cheka's leaders, Peterss was responsible for the first major Cheka operations involving killings. These were against alleged anarchists in Petrograd and later in May 1918 against anarchists in Petrograd and Moscow. He also was involved in the investigation of the SR attempt on Lenin's life in August 1918 (Fanni Kaplan case), for the indiscriminate Red Terror campaigns and reprisals that followed. He called it a "Hysterical Terror" in the newspaper "Utro Moskvy" (#21) of November 4, 1918. During these times appeared a term "room of souls" in numerous prisons such as Butyrka.

In March 1919 he was appointed as the Chief of internal defense in Petrograd, and then the Commandant of the reinforced raion. Following the retreat of the Yudenich forces he was appointed as the Commandant of the reinforced raion in Kiev in August 1919. Upon the sack of Kiev he was a member of the Military Council in Tula. In winter 1919-1920 Peters became the deputy chairman of the Special Committee of the STO in providing military preparations on railways.

Post Revolution

In 1920 he represented the Cheka in the Northern Caucasus and served there as the Commissar of the Northern Caucasus Railways. In 1920-1922 was the Cheka plenipotentiary in Turkestan ASSR, where he also was the local party bureau member. There he led numerous operations against the anti-Bolshevik formations of Dutov, Annenkov, Enver Pasha and Dzhanuzakov. He returned to Moscow in 1922 and worked as a high-ranking official in the OGPU, Rabkrin, and as the chief of the Eastern department of the GPU (created on June 2, 1922).

During the Great Purge, as a part of the so-called "Latvian Operation", Peterss was arrested and executed by the NKVD on April 25, 1938 at the Kommunarka shooting ground. He was posthumously rehabilitated in 1956.


In 1919, an American diplomat testified to Congress that Peterss was, with another Cheka leader Aleksandr Eiduk, considered the "most blood-thirsty monster in Russia".[4] At that time, Peters's influence was vastly overstated by English language newspapers, because he was known to the police in the UK, and because the only one of the founders of Cheka who spoke English. On 25 January 1919, The Times in London belatedly learnt that the Bolsheviks had been divided over whether to conduct a rveolutionary war with Germany, and claimed that One party is headed by Lenin, the other by Trotsky, Peterss, Radek and Zinovieff...The Trotsky and Peters party believe in heroic measures..." Peterss did not merit a mention in any of Trotsky's extensive writings about the period, and certainly was not in the front ranks of the Bolsheviks leadership. As a Chekist, he undoubtedly had many people killed, yet the portrayal of him as 'the most blood-thirsty monster contrasts with the opinion of the British diplomat, Robert Bruce Lockhart, who spent a month under arrest in Moscow in 1918 and was interrogated by Peters. Bruce Lockhart wrote:

He told me strange tales of his experiences as a revolutionary. He had been in prison in Riga in Tsarist days. He showed me his nails as a proof of the torture which he had undergone. There was nothing in his character to indicate the inhuman monster he is commonly supposed to be. He told me that he suffered physical pain every time he signed a death sentence. I believe it was true. There was a strong streak of sentimentality in his nature, but he was a fanatic as far as the clash between Bolshevism and capitalism was concerned, and he pursued his Bolshevik aims with a sense of duty which was relentless.[5]

See also


  1. "Петерс, Яков Христофорович". Retrieved 16 January 2019.
  2. Rumbelow, Donald (1990). The Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street. London: Penguin. pp. 48, 112, 171–177.
  3. "Donald Rayfield on The Forsaken by Tim Tzouliadis". Literary Review (356). 2008-07-01. Retrieved 2017-01-12.
  4. "R.E. Simmons and W.W. Welsh Tell Senators of Brutalities of Bolsheviki". The New York Times. 16 February 1919. Retrieved 2 June 2014.
  5. Bruce Lockhart, R.H. (1932). Memoirs of a British Agent. London: Putnam. p. 328.
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