On February 5, 1926, in Latvia on the Moscow-Riga train, three terrorists killed the Soviet diplomatic courier Theodor Nette and wounded his colleague Iogann Mahmastal, who were delivering diplomatic mail to Berlin.
One terrorist remained in the corridor, while two others rushed into the compartment, though the couriers shot them down. The police identified the dead terrorists as the Gabrilovich brothers, Anton and Bronislav, the smugglers from Lithuania, but did not get any information about the third terrorist, who managed to escape, or about the organizer of the attack.
According to another version, after the skirmish with the couriers, the two terrorists ran out of the compartment, both wounded. The third terrorist saw that they had not stolen the packages, shot them, dragged the bodies into the conductor’s compartment and ran to another carriage.
The witness of the assault, Leo Pechersky, recounted that representatives of the prosecutor’s office questioned only him and another Soviet citizen, Corneliy Zelinsky. All the other passengers of the carriage were allowed to leave the crime scene and did not have to wait for officials to arrive.
Mahmastal, badly wounded, delivered the mail to Riga. Arriving at the railway station he refused to go to hospital or to give the mail to anyone he was not acquainted with. Mahmastal guarded the parcels until the consul-general, who knew Mahmastal, arrived to take it.
Theodor Nette was buried in the Vagankovo cemetery in Moscow. He was survived by a young daughter, who the government took care of after his death. Posthumously, Nette was awarded a decoration – The Red Flag Order, and the steamship “Tver” was renamed after him. The famous Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky dedicated a poem to Nette – “For comrade Nette, the man and the steamship”.
Iogann Mahmastal was also decorated with The Red Flag Order. After the incident, he worked as a diplomatic courier in the embassy in Turkey until 1937. In 1937 he was arrested as “public enemy”, and spent two years in jail. In 1941, when the war began, Mahmastal escaped to the Bagryak village in the Ural Mountains, and died there in 1942.
The official Soviet version of the train events said that “criminal groups of the anti-Bolshevik emigrants” were to blame for the assault. Nowadays, the other popular version is that the assault was a provocation from Great Britain. According to this version, the British government knew that the USSR and Germany were going to sign a non-aggression pact, and tried to prevent it.
In 1925, the European countries declared a so-called “golden blockade” of the USSR – they refused to sell anything to the USSR for gold, because the Bolsheviks refused to pay the Russian Empire’s debts. Instead of gold, Europe took materials and corn as payment. Germany’s intent on signing the non-aggression pact meant that Germany was going to break the blockade.
After the attack, the British secret service spread a rumor that the German military department had been involved in the incident, and the Soviet secret service learned this rumor very soon. However, on April 24, 1926, the pact was signed, and Germany started to sell industrial equipment to the Soviet Union.
The other theory is that the Polish secret service planned the attack and one of the emigrant groups carried it out. The Polish government was worried by the rumors about cooperation between Germany and the Soviets, and there might be some evidence of it in the diplomatic delivery. In addition, the theft of the mail could help the emigrants to disseminate slander about the USSR and give them the opportunity to refer to those letters.
Poland’s secret service chose the Gabrilovich brothers to be the terrorists, which was practical. Anton and Bronislav wanted to join their brother Leopold, who lived in Poland, so they were offered Polish documents as a reward for the theft.
Regardless, the truth about the attack on the Riga-bound train remains unknown to this day.