Robert Soblen
Dr. Robert Soblen was a prominent member of the pro-Trotsky Left Opposition in Germany in the 1930s. He moved to the United States in 1941 with his brother Jack Soble
Jack Soble
Jack Soble Jack Soble (birth name:Abromas Sobolevicius, sometimes used Abraham Sobolevicius or Adolph Senin) Jack Soble (birth name:Abromas Sobolevicius, sometimes used Abraham Sobolevicius or Adolph Senin) (born May 15, 1903 in Vilkaviskis, Lithuania - ?, but possibly (1897-1974) was a Jewish...

, and was arrested in 1960 as a Soviet spy. Convicted and sentenced to life in prison, he fled the U.S. while on bail and sought asylum first in Israel, then England. He overdosed on barbiturates when his last appeal for asylum in England was denied.

Pre-trial career in Europe and the United States

Born in Vilkaviskis
Vilkaviškis Until 1940 the city had a large Jewish Community which was annihilated by the Nazis and their local collaborators. The whole Jewish population was killed in a single day,, after the entry of the Germans into the city.-Names:...

, Lithuania, both Soblen and his younger brother Jack (born Abromas Sobolevicius, also known as Abraham or Adolph Senin), were important figures in Trotskyist circles in the 1920s and 30s. They were very active in French and German Trotskyist movements, handling both Trotsky's secret correspondence to the Soviet Union and publication of his Opposition Bulletin. Jack Soble later claimed he and Robert began working for the Soviet Secret Police
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

 against Trotsky in 1931. In 1932, Trotsky broke with the brothers, and Robert joined Trotsky's enemies in the German Communist Party.

Soblen, Soble, and many members of their family moved to the United States in 1941. According to Jack Soble's testimony during Robert's trial, they were personally granted permission for the move by NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

 director Lavrenty Beria, on condition that they assist in Soviet espionage activities in the United States. After arriving in the United States, Soblen set up a psychiatric practice in New York. According to testimony at his trial, Soblen's activities also included spying on the Trotskyist movement in the United States, and transmitting stolen intelligence documents and military information to the Soviet Union.

Soble and Soblen Trials

Soblen's brother Jack was arrested in 1957 and charged with espionage, primarily based on the testimony of Hollywood producer Boris Morros
Boris Morros
Boris Morros was an American Communist Party member, Paramount Studios producer, Soviet agent, and FBI double agent.Morros was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and emigrated with his family to America in 1922...

. Morros first worked with Soble's organization providing business cover for Soviet agents, but later agreed to act as a double agent for the FBI. Soble pled guilty to the espionage charges, made a detailed statement of his activities, and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Robert Soblen was not indicted until 1960. He was charged with providing the Soviet Union with secret OSS documents in World War II and photographs of a U.S. nuclear testing site in 1950. Soblen pled not guilty. His trial, at which Jack was a primary witness, ended with his conviction, and on 7 August 1961 Soblen was sentenced to life imprisonment. Soblen, suffering from leukemia, was released on bail pending an appeal. His conviction was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals in March 1962, and an appeal to the Supreme Court was rejected in June 1962.

Asylum attempts

Following the rejection of his last appeal, Soblen jumped bail and flew to Israel. Once there, he claimed Israeli citizenship as a Jew under Israel's "Law of Return
Law of Return
The Law of Return is Israeli legislation, passed on 5 July 1950, that gives Jews the right of return and settlement in Israel and gain citizenship...

", and as an Israeli citizen asserted immunity to extradition. His claims were rejected and Soblen was deported from Israel to the United States on July 1. During a stopover in London, Soblen slashed his wrist and abdomen with a dinner knife. He was removed from the airplane and hospitalized, after which he filed an appeal for asylum in England. His appeal was ultimately denied. On the day of his deportation, he took an overdose of barbiturates, and died on September 11, 1962.


The Soble/Soblen trials revealed a great deal about Soviet espionage directed against Trotsky and his followers. They also revealed a number of aspects of Soviet espionage against the United States in the 1940s and 50s, and were one of the more successful espionage prosecutions in the early Cold War period. The extent to which the VENONA decryption project assisted in the case is not clear. The project was never mentioned during either of the brothers' trials, but according to Klehr and Haynes, a number of cables deciphered by the VENONA project mention Soblen under the covername ROMAN, the pseudonym he used in Germany. Soblen's expulsion from Israel was controversial enough to provoke a no-confidence vote against David Ben-Gurion
David Ben-Gurion
' was the first Prime Minister of Israel.Ben-Gurion's passion for Zionism, which began early in life, led him to become a major Zionist leader and Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization in 1946...

's government. The vote failed, but the controversy may have contributed to the passing of Israel's "Offenses Committed Abroad Act" in 1978, which sharply restricted the circumstances under which Israeli citizens could be extradited. Soblen's asylum request in England also generated controversy and calls for reform.


  • Abramovsky, Abraham and Jonathan I. Edelstein. "The Sheinbein Case and the Israeli-American Extradition Experience: A Need for Compromise," Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 32 (1999): 305
  • Anderson, David. "Soblen Branded Spy by Brother" New York Times, June 22, 1961, p. 11.
  • Deutscher, Isaac. The Prophet Outcast: Trotsky, 1929-1940, Oxford University Press (1963)
  • Haynes, John Earl, and Harvey Klehr. Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, Yale University Press (1999)
  • Haynes, John Earl, and Harvey Klehr. Early Cold War Spies: The Espionage Trials that Shaped American Politics, Cambridge University Press (2006)
  • Schafranek, Hans. "Kurt Landau," Cahiers Leon Trotsky, Paris #5, First Trimester 1980, 74.
  • Thornberry, Cedric H. R. "The Soblen Case," Political Quarterly 34, no. 2 (April 1963): 162-173.
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