Retovsky , Otto Ottovich (1902-1938)

A short biography of Russian anarchist Otto Retovsky who spent much of his life in prison and exile.

Otto Retovsky (sometimes transcribed into English as Ritovsky, see for example Maximov) was born in St Petersburg into a lower middle class family( He may well have been the brother of Leonid Ottovich Retovsky,born in St. Petersburg in 1904, a noted hydrobiologist, who participated in Arctic expeditions, and after whom a lake is named on the island of Novaya Zemlya. He was on October 5 1937, sentenced on November 3 1937 according to Article 58-6 (espionage) of the Criminal Code, and shot on November 10 1937. He is described as being of Polish origin).

He became an anarchist and as a result of his ideas and convictions was persecuted by the Russian state. He was a leading light in an underground anarchist group at Yuzovo, near Donetsk, in the Ukraine. In spring 1924 this group was broken up by the OGPU and Retovsky was arrested. Imprisoned at Verkhne –Uralsk, he attempted suicide in 1925 by slashing his wrists, as a protest against the conditions that he and other prisoners endured there.

Saved by another prisoner he was then transferred to the political isolator at Suzdal.He then appears to have been transferred to Minusinsk.

The Bulletin of the Relief Fund of the International Working Men’s Association for Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalists Imprisoned or Exiled in Russia reported the following in 1928:
“There is a small town, known as Minusinsk, in Southern Siberia, on the river Yenissei. To this place the G.P.U. has of late been sending political who are in bad health. In the colony of exiles there is the Anarchist Ritovsky who had tried to commit suicide while in the Upper Uralsk Polit-Isolator by cutting his veins. Ill treatment in prison had driven him to desperation, and when he was finally brought to Minusinsk he was in such weakened condition that he could hardly stand on his feet. The Bolshevik authorities of the “health resort” refused Ritovsky permission to remain in the city and he was therefore taken to a nearby village, a wild and deserted place where there is neither hospital nor any medical aid. Ritovsky asked that his wife, who had accompanied him to Minusinsk, though she was pregnant at the time, be permitted to remain to take care of him. The G.P.U. not only ignored the request, but even ordered Ritovsky’s wife exiled to the Tulunski District, hundreds of miles away, and that notwithstanding the woman’s condition and the fact that it was in the midst of a most severe winter.”

Because of an “unauthorised” absence was sentenced to another three years there.

He was again arrested at Simferopol in the Crimea on 24th March 1932 and accused of belonging to an anarchist group. He was expelled from Simferopol on 14th August of that year and sentenced to 3 years of exile in central Asia.

He was arrested by the NKVD in Minusink on 4th November 1937.He was sentenced to death on 11th April 1938 and was executed on May 4th, 1938 in MInusinsk.

Nick Heath

Maximov, G. The Guillotine At Work (1940)Ретовский_Отто_Оттович_(1902)

Posted By

Jul 11 2017 13:33


Attached files


Jul 12 2017 08:02

Thanks to information from Malcolm Archibald have updated information on Leonid, Otto's supposed brother. See