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In the Soviet military unit No. 24565, located in the Karelian town of Suoyarvi, it was tense in March 1953. Barely had the tears of bitterness dried among the comrades after Stalin's death when a "cosmopolitan" in their midst, Private Kaganovich, was neutralized.

Private Sigmund Iosifovich Kaganovich was arrested at his place of service on March 18, 1953. A few days before that, the military prosecutor Kanunnikov, upon receiving information that Kaganovich was spreading anti-Soviet propaganda among the servicemen, decided to initiate a criminal case against him under the infamous Article 58-10 Part 1 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR.

The clouds above the soldier Kaganovich had been darkening earlier. It all started after the announcement on January 13, 1953, in "Pravda" regarding the involvement of Jewish doctors in the premature death of party leaders, the Jew Sigmund Kaganovich was brought up for political information. However, instead of "confessing for the Jews," the soldier spoke about something entirely different. First of all, Sigmund criticized the mental shortcomings of Lydia Timashuk, whose letter about improper treatment of a member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks member Andrei Zhdanov was used by Soviet authorities in fabricating the "doctors' plot." Then he targeted the anti-Semites who had raised her. Right in the presence of the command and fellow soldiers, Kaganovich pointedly emphasized the involvement of party and security authorities in the "blood libel". Watchful comrades immediately reported this.

The enlisted soldier Sigmund Kaganovich, who fell into the hands of the Soviet punitive system, was a native of Kyiv.

He was born on April 22, 1931, into the family of Joseph Mendelevich Kaganovich, a locksmith at the "Arsenal" plant, and housewife Berta Iosifovna Fruman. Sigmund also had a younger brother, Dmitry. In the 1930s, Sigmund's father worked in the Party Control Commission of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, but despite that, the Kaganovich family adhered to Jewish traditions.

Before the Soviet-German war, Sigmund managed to complete two classes. In July 1941, before the Germans occupied Kyiv, the Kaganovichs were able to evacuate to the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. When German troops approached Malgobek and Mozdok in September 1942, the Kaganovich family had to move to the settlement of Balkhash in Kazakhstan, and from there to Karaganda. In 1943, Joseph Mendelevich went to the front, leaving Sigmund with his mother and younger brother Dmitry in Kazakhstan. The family was able to return to Kyiv in December 1945, although life in the post-war city did not immediately stabilize. For several years, the Kaganovich family struggled to regain their previous residence – a room on Vladimir Street in a communal apartment with 36 residents. When they finally got their room back, Sigmund lived there with his parents, brother Dmitry, grandmother Manya Borisovna, and bedridden grandfather, Joseph Noskhovich. After the war, the parents of Sigmund's mother moved from Sochi to Kyiv.

Sigmund studied at Boys' Gymnasium No. 11, completing the first 7 classes. He did well in his studies, but it was difficult to call him a home boy. He befriended the street gang in Kyiv, ready to defend his point of view with fists and sharp words at any moment. Known as Zorik to his street friends, he didn't take the criminal path but was never one to back down from a confrontation. This trait played a cruel joke on him in 1953.

After graduating from school, Sigmund Kaganovich enrolled in the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute but had to drop out at the end of the first year. In the fall of 1948, his father, Joseph Mendelеvich, who worked for 'Myasomolsbyt,' was imprisoned on economic charges. To support his family, Sigmund took a job as a ticket inspector at the Kyiv Tram-Trolleybus Control. In September 1949, he found a more interesting job as a junior geological technician at the organization 'Promstroyproekt.' Just a few days after starting this job, he left for the Lower Don geological expedition, with its headquarters located in the town of Melikhovskaya.

Kaganovich worked on the expedition until March 1951, when he was drafted into the army. He served in several military units, but the longest stint was at Military Unit 51046 - the 8th Railway Brigade, where he initially performed duties as a photo lab assistant and later as a draftsman for a laboratory wagon for building materials, with access to classified documents. In addition to the excellent performance of his immediate official duties, Private Kaganovich was the leader of an amateur artistic circle in the unit. However, on January 28, 1953, without explaining the reason, Sigmund Kaganovich was unexpectedly transferred to Military Unit No. 24565.

The situation was as follows. Upon learning about Private Kaganovich's public statements regarding the "doctors' plot," the head of the Counterintelligence Department of the State Security Ministry (MGB) of the 8th Railway Brigade, Guard Colonel Golubev, immediately ordered the troublemaker to be removed from secret work. Sigmund was transferred to another place of service, his correspondence was subjected to "PK" (postal control - the term used for mail inspection at that time), and he was "put under surveillance" - assigned informants.

However, the soldier had no intention of remaining silent in his new assignment. It soon became known to the military prosecutor's office, which on March 13, 1953, began questioning witnesses. One of them, Junior Lieutenant Boris Makarov, deputy commander of the 3rd company in the political division, reported that in early March 1953, while in the company's office, he witnessed Private Kaganovich 'maliciously slandering' the Soviet Union. According to Political Officer Makarov, Kaganovich told other soldiers that 94 percent of American families owned a personal car. When Lieutenant asked where Kaganovich got such information, he did not answer but reinforced his thesis: "In the USA, a passenger car costs, in terms of our money, a hundred rubles, and therefore, everyone in America has the opportunity to buy one."
Well-aware of the risks associated with such reasoning, Junior Lieutenant Makarov immediately steered the conversation to another topic: "Before being drafted into the Soviet Army, you worked on the construction of the Volga-Don Canal. It would be better if you told our soldiers about the heroic deeds of Soviet people in building this structure." To this, Kaganovich told everyone present that the only things he saw there were barbed wire and towers with machine guns installed. "There were about a million prisoners working only on the construction of the Tsimlyanskaya Hydroelectric Power Station," he bluntly stated, chopping up the truth.

No matter how hard the political officer tried to silence Kaganovich, the soldier boldly declared for everyone to hear that in the Soviet Union, prisoners constituted about 10 percent of the population. In Cossack villages, where he managed to visit, the repressed were literally in every family. He also told his comrades about the devaluation of the Soviet ruble against the dollar, the attribution of foreign inventions to Russian scientists, and the dreadful bureaucracy that existed in Soviet institutions, dealing with unnecessary paperwork.

The fact of Kaganovich's confrontation with Political Officer Makarov was confirmed by witnesses: Private Anatoly Glistin, Lance Corporal Boris Belonin, the commander of the 3rd platoon of the 3rd company Junior Lieutenant Yuri Ivlin, and several other servicemen who were present in the office that day.

As it turned out, the fact of Kaganovich’s anti-Soviet statements was far from the only one. Interrogated on March 13, 1953, Junior Sergeant Mikhail Morin, the commander of the first squad, reported that when he lived in the same tent with Kaganovich at the end of February, he heard from him news about the division of power in the USSR. Private Kaganovich, who regularly listened to the radio in his laboratory, informed Morin that the "Voice of America" was reporting on the escalating conflict between Beria and Malenkov, who were preparing to seize power from the ailing Stalin. Kaganovich added that Stalin, too, had once eliminated competitors, such as the People's Commissar of Internal Affairs of the USSR, Yezhov, and later got rid of his overly informed accomplice.

Sigmund Kaganovich was arrested and placed in the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) prison in Petrozavodsk. After a few weeks, on April 13, 1953, his case was transferred to Deputy Chief of the Counterintelligence Department of the MVD of the Northern Military District, Senior Lieutenant Yastrebov.

The investigator did not hide the fact that Kaganovich ended up behind bars after refusing to denounce his fellow countrymen at a political lesson "doctor's plot." However, they decided to attach other crimes to him, seemingly avoiding the sensitive topic. Well-informed about the soldier's past, the investigator initially attempted to accuse him of espionage in favor of the United States.

As a teenager, he lived with relatives on Pushkinskaya Street in Kyiv, near the mission of the American Humanitarian Aid, and befriended the mission's driver, who owned the only Studebaker car in Kyiv at that time. It should be noted that Kyiv youngsters had a "thing" back then — riding in all the trophy and allied cars in Kyiv. They kept lists of their rides, which they boasted about. The Chekists seized on this acquaintance between the guy and the American. They claimed that they knew and could prove that the driver from Utah, through Kaganovich, distributed leaflets that denigrated Soviet authorities. This version later fell away, presumably for political reasons, and they decided to charge Private Kaganovich with a more modest offense of "anti-Soviet agitation."

The servicemen, interrogated for the second time by Lieutenant Yastrebov, confirmed their initial statements. Some became witnesses for the first time but also incriminated Kaganovich with the same charge. For instance, the supply clerk of military unit No. 61345, Lance Corporal Moisey Rubinstein, who listened to "Voice of America" with Kaganovich, confessed during the interrogation on May 14, 1953, that Kaganovich not only used the American standard of living as an example but also criticized the national policy in the Soviet Union. According to Kaganovich, Jewish press and culture were destroyed in the USSR, and Jews suffered constant humiliations. According to him, this intensified, especially from his perspective, after the Israeli ambassador Golda Meir appealed to the Soviet government, raising the issue of allowing Soviet Jews to repatriate to Israel. Kaganovich suggested to his friend that a solution could be the compact residence of Jews in a separate territory. If not in Israel, where nobody was allowed to leave for, then at least in their own republic within the USSR.

The joint listening to "enemy voices" with Kaganovich was confirmed by another soldier, Rudolf Kukarskih. During a face-to-face meeting with Sigmund Kaganovich on May 21, 1953, Kukarskih added to the pool of anti-Soviet statements by his comrade with new facts: the arrested soldier claimed that American fishermen owned their own boats and motors, earning significant money from their trade. Another indication of the vast difference in the standard of living, from Private Kaganovich's perspective, was that in Murmansk, American sailors made good money off Soviet citizens by selling them "all sorts of stuff." The arrested soldier confirmed this fact, telling Investigator Yastrebov that an American sailor managed to get 25 rubles for a regular shirt, expressing his surprise about it on the "Voice of America" broadcast. According to American standards, this price was incredibly high, while in the Soviet Union, where light industry significantly lagged behind heavy industry, it was considered quite normal.

In addition to witness testimonies, Counterintelligence Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Northern Military District had another crucial piece of evidence - a personal diary that Sigmund Kaganovich kept from November 1946 to the day of his arrest. The diary, which consisted of three notebooks, was filled with various provocations.

In the first notebook, consisted of 89 pages, with entries ending on March 30, 1948, Sigmund not only shared his youthful experiences but also cleverly criticized the Communists and Soviet authorities. On the ninth page, the young man addressed the Creator of the world: "...Dear God, if you send 100 rubles next time, don't send it through the NKVD: those scoundrels stole 25 rubles." In the same notebook, Sigmund expressed his feelings towards "Mother Russia": "...You are hungry, you are abundant, you are mighty, you are powerless, Mother Russia. How good you are, and how vile you are, with so much intelligent, beautiful, and cultured, and so much foolish, cynical, and vulgar. How much happiness, luck, and life you brought me, and, alongside that, sorrow, misfortune, and suffering. May you live forever, and - may you be cursed."

In another notebook, which Kaganovich maintained during the trial of his father, he mocked the employees of the OBKhSS (The Department Against Misappropriation of Socialist Property) who worked "through the back door, through the kitchen." He also shared his thoughts on the naive Soviet belief in a communist future: "Can communism exist in one country? No, it cannot. To build communism in our country, we need to fundamentally re-educate our people... Can we, with our paperwork, bureaucracy, national discrimination, 'freedom of speech,' and so on, come to communism?"

Sigmund Kaganovich wrote the third part of his diary while in the army. This notebook was filled with a soldier's reflections on his place in an unfree society: "...In essence, I have no rights; I cannot build my life independently, cannot draw conclusions, cannot evaluate, and most importantly - cannot think. Am I a human being? No. I am a soldier! Simply put, I am a machine, a blind executor of someone else's will. And all these political activities and such are lubricants to the machine, for a clearer, more blind execution of the will of those higher beings standing somewhere up there. Simply put, we are a flock of sheep led by a shepherd - a commander."

In the diaries, the Chekists found Kaganovich's admission of his intention to leave the Komsomol. He did so by moving to work in the Rostov region and intentionally stopping the payment of membership fees. Kaganovich was excluded from the ranks of the Komsomol in March 1951, and he demonstratively refused to pay the Komsomol cell around 350 rubles in debt.

The Military Tribunal of the Northern Military District convened for the case of Sigmund Kaganovich on June 6-22, 1953 in the city of Petrozavodsk without the participation of representatives from the prosecution and defense. In his closing statement, the defendant requested the court to approach his case "objectively and logically." He had no expectations of leniency.

He was sentenced to seven years of corrective labor camps with a deprivation of rights for a three-year term. He did not file a cassation appeal.

A year later, on June 28, 1954, the Karelo-Finnish Republic Commission for the Review of Cases of Persons Convicted for Counterrevolutionary Crimes decided to submit a protest regarding Kaganovich's case to the Supreme Court of the USSR. However, after studying the case materials and considering the arguments presented in the protest, the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR refused to mitigate Kaganovich's sentence.

Kaganovich had to serve his sentence in corrective labor camps, first in Nadvoitsy settlement in Karelia and later in the Kuneevsky corrective labor camp in the city of Stavropol (now Togliatti), where he worked on the construction of facilities for the Kuibyshev Hydroelectric Power Station.

He was released from imprisonment on May 17, 1956. In December of the same year, he was rehabilitated by the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the USSR. This time, Soviet justice did not find evidence of criminal offenses in his diary entries and statements.

After his release, he returned to Kyiv and found a job as a crane operator at the "Promstroydetal" plant on Garmatnaya Street. In the memorable year of 1956, as part of the preparations for the International Youth and Students Festival, the factory held its own amateur festival. Despite being a newcomer to the plant, Sigmund Kaganovich participated in the festival by reciting fables. His old hobby of artistic self-expression had not disappeared. During the same festival, he met his future wife, Berta Grinberg. The day after, on a Sunday, about twenty factory workers headed to the beach, and from that point on, Sigmund did not leave Berta's side. The couple got married two months after they first met on November 10, 1956.

The life of the former political prisoner was slowly getting better. In 1961, he graduated from the Kyiv Industrial Technical School with a specialization in "metal processing", while simultaneously mastering the profession of a projectionist. In 1958, the Kaganovichs had their first child, Anatoly, and in 1964, another son, Evgeniy.

Despite the apparent well-being in the post-Stalin Soviet Union, Sigmund Iosifovich stated at home in the late 1960s that the only correct decision for the family would be repatriation to Eretz-Israel. He emerged from the camp as a convinced Zionist. Long nightly conversations with a friend named Orest, a fellow "bourgeois nationalist" but Ukrainian, significantly contributed to this shift in his perspective. Sigmund's wife, who grew up with communist ideals, vehemently opposed the idea. The discussion about emigration took place in the family more than once, but Berta Aizikovna remained steadfast. Sigmund Iosifovich's mother was also firmly against leaving. Despite the opposition, Kaganovich did not lose hope, raising his sons in Jewish tradition. He did this demonstratively, hammering a large "Star of David" onto the entrance door of the apartment with nails. Once, while in Leningrad, he specifically went to a synagogue to obtain another "Star of David" – a pendant, for his eldest son Anatoly, a rare item to wear openly in Soviet times.

Until his retirement in 1991, Sigmund Kaganovich worked in various construction organizations in Kyiv. From the first days of May 1986 until the beginning of 1987, in his capacity as a senior engineer at the Kyiv Regional Construction Department, he participated in the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident. Sigmund Iosifovich was responsible for the installation of tower cranes in the area of the ill-fated station and the town of Slavutich, and he visited the Zone many times.

In March 1993, Sigmund Iosifovich and Berta Aizikovna finally repatriated to Israel. Their younger son, Yevgeny, had already moved to Israel in November 1990 and soon got married. When Sigmund and Berta learned that they would soon have a granddaughter, they immediately set off. Kaganovich tried to convince his mother, Berta Iosifovna, to go with them, but she refused once again. Not even Sigmund's pleas on his knees could change her mind. The eldest son, Anatoly, stayed behind to take care of his grandmother.

After settling in Israel, Sigmund Kaganovich applied to be recognized as a "Prisoner of Zion." Israeli authorities requested some evidence of Sigmund Kaganovich's sufferings, as they found his only document, a rehabilitation certificate, insufficient. His son, Anatoly, went to the Kyiv office of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), where he not only had the opportunity to review his father's case but also received, with a signed receipt, the diaries confiscated during the arrest. Sigmund Iosifovich had long tried to retrieve these diaries, but all his efforts had been in vain.

Soon, Anatoly came to visit in Israel. A picnic was arranged upon his arrival, with relatives gathering, a bonfire burning, and shish kebabs being prepared. When he handed his father the bag with the diaries, Sigmund quietly asked to distract the people. He then threw all three notebooks into the fire, bidding farewell to the haunting past and inhospitable “Mother Russia”.

Sigmund Iosifovich was very proud of his silver star “Prisoner of Zion”, received in 2000, but tenderly continued to love Ukraine and his native Kyiv. He also rejoiced at Israel, Acre, his granddaughters and the sea. And he really wanted to travel half the world with his beloved wife.

On August 30, 2001, he passed away. The health issues from the labor camps and work in Chernobyl took their toll. He died in Acre. During the burial, the "Hevra Kadisha" covered his body with the Israeli flag – a customary practice when bidding farewell to those who fought for Zion. His grave bears the inscription "Prisoner of Zion Sigmund Kaganovich," and beneath his name is the nickname "Zorik." This was how he was known by his relatives and close friends from Vladimir Street, Pushkin Street, and Khreshchatyk.

Bibliography and Sources:

Case against Kaganovich Sigmund Iosifovich for the offense under Article 58-10 Part 1 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR // Main Directorate of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Kyiv, F.6, d.55896fp; 55896fpkns; 55896fpoc; 55896fpss.

Memoirs and records of Kaganovich Anatoly Sigmundovich.

Photos used in the article are from the personal archive of Anatoly Sigmundovich Kaganovich.

Sigmund Kaganovich

1931 – 2001

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