The Beauty of a Tortured Soul

The Beauty of a Tortured Soul. Leonid Kannegiser – a depiction of a hero who sacrificed himself to clear the name of his people.

“I will not pass by the enlightened conviction that suffering is
a virtue for it eases the way into the Kingdom of Heaven.” 

– Leonid Kannegiser

The Beauty of a Tortured Soul. Leonid Kannegiser

On August 30th, 1918, shortly after 10:00 AM, in St. Petersburg, out of an apartment in Sapyornyi Court walked a handsome young man wearing a leather jacket. He was about 20 years old, a poet, coming from a bourgeois Jewish family. This was Leonid Kannegiser. The young poet mounted a bicycle and rode to the Winter Palace Plaza. In front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where Uritsky, head of Petrograd Cheka, usually came, Kannegiser stopped, dismounted, and entered the half-round palace, to which Uritsky usually drove.

‘Does comrade Uritsky receive visitors?’ the young man asked the old doorman.
‘He did not arrive yet’, said the doorman.

The poet walked towards the window facing the plaza. He sat on the window sill and looked through the window for a long time. People were walking down the plaza. A whole eternity passed within twenty minutes. Finally, a soft engine roar announced the arrival of the automobile that slowed down and stopped at the entrance to the palace.

Uritsky, a short shrill-voiced bow-legged ugly little man, with a waddling gate like a duck, entered the palace. The word on the street was that Uritsky liked to brag about the number of death sentences he signed in a day. How many was he supposed to sign today? But the young man in a leather jacket got up. And as the chief of the Cheka was waddling towards the elevator, Kannegiser shot him from a distance of six steps. Leonid Kannegiser killed Moses Uritsky on the spot.

Translated from the memoirs of Roman Gul

Why is the figure of Leonid Kannegiser so important? First, he is a remarkable representative of the Jewish people who fought against Bolshevism, and second, with the assassination of Moses Uritsky, Kannegiser tried to redeem the Jewish people in the eyes of the Russians and to make up for the guilt of the Jewish Bolsheviks. Before his execution in October 1918, Kannegiser said the following words:

“I am a Jew. I killed a vampire Jew who was drinking drop by drop the blood of the Russian people. I tried to show the Russian people that to us, Uritsky is not a Jew. He is an outcast. 

I killed him, hoping to redeem the good name of the Russian Jews”.

Short biography. Leonid Kannegiser was born on March 15th (old calendar), 1896, in Saint-Petersburg, in a wealthy Jewish family. His father, Ioakim Samuelovich Kannegiser was an engineer working in the field of shipbuilding and metals processing. He occupied a high position in the imperial administration, basically being the head of the empire’s metallurgical industry. Leonid’s mother, Roza Lvovna Sacher, was a physician.

From his childhood, Leonid mingled with the most intelligent, famous, and bright personalities of the time, to whom the house of the Kannegisers was a sort of a salon. Leonid graduated from school and in 1913, was admitted to the economics department of the Polytechnic University.

Personal life. In 1915, Leonid had a romantic relationship with Pallada Bogdanova-Belskaya, and between 1915 and 1917 he was involved with Olga Gildebrandt, an actress. In her memoirs Gildebrandt writes that they were almost engaged, but after Leonid’s brother Sergey committed suicide, their relationship came to an end.

Leonid was also a Yunker (cadet) of the Mikhailovsky Artillery School. Among other Yunkers, he went to defend the Winter Palace on the night of 25/26 October 1917. After the assassination of Uritsky he was arrested, interrogated and executed by firing squad in October 1918.

Moses Uritsky - head of Petrograd Cheka in 1918,
believed to be the initiator of the Red Terror.

Mark Aldanov, a notable Russian Jewish writer, knew Kannegiser personally and wrote an essay titled “The Assassination of Uritsky”, quotes from which you will find below.

The diary of Leonid, with all its naiveté of style and thought, astonishes me. Searching for logic in it would be in vain, but every page screams about the pain of his tortured soul. I met him in the house of his parents in Sapyornyi Court. He also visited me sometimes. I could not help but see the tragic sides of his nature. But nothing about him foretold that he would become a terrorist.

The events of 1918, the Brest-Litovsk peace, changed Kannegiser’s mind about the Bolsheviks. He started hating them with a red-hot hate and even participated in conspiracies against them. But he became a terrorist after his friend, V. Perelzweig, an anti-Bolshevik as well, was shot.

At the time, St. Petersburg was swarming with conspirators. There were all sorts of conspiracies, monarchical and republican, with German and Entente orientation. I knew some of the conspirators. And they were weird people… They were naïve and serious like children. One could see that they were up to something from a mile. In the summer of 1918, Leonid Kannegiser walked the streets of the city armed to the teeth. I remember, he once came to dinner to my place. He had two revolvers and a box that he handled with special care and emphasised secretiveness. He left the box at my place for the night and came to pick it up the next morning. I still don’t know what was in the box, but I remember him mentioning that he wanted to blow up the Smolny Institute.

I also knew Perelzweig and a number of other young men, Yunkers and officers from the same circles as Leonid. They were caught and executed even before the assassination of Uritsky, and this fact was a terrible tragedy for Leonid.

The assassination of Uritsky became the trigger for the start of the Red Terror. Gleb Bokiy, who became the next chief of the Cheka, ordered the killing of 512 people who were allegedly suspected of anti-Bolshevik conspiracy, on the next day after the execution of Kannegiser.

Leonid Kannegiser acted, lived and died like a hero, without any hope of victory. No one knows where he is buried. Will Russia ever install a monument over his grave?

Happy is he who falls head first Even for a moment, but the world looks different to him.”

The last lines in the diary of Leonid Kannegiser were these:

A human heart does not need happiness, it needs shining. If only my dear ones knew what shining is filling my soul now, they would rejoice, not shed tears…


Photo of Kannegiser taken by Cheka after his arrest.

Leonid Kannegiser (left) with friend and Russian poet Sergei Yesenin.

The case of Leonid Kannegiser was found in the archives during the Perestroika era. The General Prosecutor’s Office reviewed it. Its verdict was “Not Subject to Rehabilitaton”. Kannegiser would remain officially as a criminal terrorist, at least until Uritsky, Zinoviev, Lenin and the other “red butchers” will be legally confirmed as criminal terrorists.

But no one opened a criminal case against them yet… Even in the light of the aforesaid, to us, Leonid Kannegiser remains a hero fighting for Russia, “an insanely unhappy nation”, as he wrote in solitary confinement of the Petrograd Cheka. And even though the name of the killer’s killer is only known to a few intellectuals – the time will come when his name will be known across the world as a symbol of light, redemption, and hope.

“I don’t care whether I am the Pope or a shoe-shiner in Calcutta, I do not connect certain states of my spirit with these positions, my sole goal is to bring my soul to divine enlightenment and to inexpressible delight.”
– Leonid Kannegiser

Roman Gul. Dzerzhinsky, the Beginning of Terror
Mark Aldanov. The Assassination of Uritsky
Arkady Waxberg. From Hell to Heaven and Back
Vitaly Shentalinsky. The Terrorist Poet

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