- June 7, 2013
The assassination with Vilnius backgruand
The 7th of June 1927, comrade Rosenholz who was just relieved of his post of chargé dʹaffaires of The Soviet Union in Great Britain, was crossing Warsaw.
About 9.30 the train carrying Rosenholz stopped in the Central Station in Warsaw. He was personally welcomed by the Soviet ambassador in Warsaw Pyotr Voykov. Men went to the station to drink a cup of coffee and after that, they strolled along the train on the platform. At some point, a young man approached them and started a few-minute-long conversation with Voykov.
Polish railwaymen did not hear a word because interlocutors whispered and, what is more, they spoke in Russian. At a certain point, they said goodbye and two diplomats headed towards the wagon. Suddenly, the young man who said goodbye few seconds ago, turned back, passed the men, took out a revolver and, from a very short distance, he shot four times at Voykov crying “Die for Russia!”. The ambassador was shot near the heart, he lost his balance, pulled out a gun from the inside pocket and tried to shoot the assassin. However, after a moment, he fell unconscious on the platform. The assassin remained in place and calmly turned himself into the police.
Voykov was transported immediately to the Infant Jesus Hospital where he died after an hour. The youth who killed Voykov was a nineteen years old junior high school student Boris Kowerda. The assassin did not have Polish citizenship and he used so called Nansen passport for stateless refugees.
He was born in Vilnius in mixed Russian-Belorussian family. His father worked in a bank and during the World War I was a czarist officer. In 1920, when the Kowerda family lived in central Russia, Boris’ father was mobilized into the Red Army and forced to fight in the war against Poland.
However, a year later, the Kowerda family managed to sneak away and settle down in hometown Vilnius in Užupisdistrict on Kreivas ratasstreet.
Shortly before the assassination, Boris desired to come back to Russia and contribute himself to the White Movement. That is why, he left junior high school and spent few weeks in Warsaw. Meanwhile, he was visiting the Soviet legation in order to obtain permission to return to the motherland legally. Exactly few days before the assassination he received the final refusal of getting entry visa to Russia.
He decided to take revenge. He read in Russian papers that Rosenholz will pass through Warsaw and he made a plan to go to the railway station. The murder victim Pyotr Voykov was an activist with years of experience in Socialist Underground. He was born in 1888 in Crimea in a baptized and fully assimilated Jewish family. His father, Lazar Moiseyevich Voykov, was the headmaster of junior high school in Kerch. He himself, being a fresh student, followed the assassination attempt on the life of the mayor of Yalta, General Dumbadze. Having an all-points bulletin out on him, he went into exile in Switzerland. In 1917 he returned to Russia together with Lenin and soon he became thePeople’s Commissar for Government Supply for the Ural region council in Yekaterinburg.
Exactly on the strength of the decision of idem council, the family of Tsar Nicholas II was murdered in the basement of merchant Ipatiev’s house on July 17, 1918. Voykov was a participant in this crime. As an qualified chemist he delivered sulfuric acid on the murder scene . It was poured on victims’ corpses. When the authorities of Soviet Union declared that they intend to nominate Voykov as an ambassador and send him to Warsaw, the Polish government thought about granting accreditation for quite a long time. In reply to the writing of Minister of Foreign Affairs Aleksander Skrzyński, People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Georgy Chicherin wrote a comprehensive letter showing his diplomatic cleverness off and, in the same time, the deep cynicism. Citing examples from the poetry of Mickiewicz and Słowacki, he was surprised that people who, through the agency of their poets, demanded the death of the Tsar so many times, suddenly refer to this fact as to a circumstance that can cast a shadow on Polish-Soviet relations. Poles eventually conceded.
The assassination of the Soviet diplomat caused, of course, a great ferment. Soviet papers immediately started to blame the Polish and British government for committing the crime. The authorities of USSR declared the operational readiness of troops stationing in the western part of the country.
Surprised Polish authorities promptly took appropriate security measures. The very next day, seven emigrant activists, including 2 czarist generals and the director of Russ-Press agency, were arrested in Warsaw. Whereas in Vilnius, 24 Whites were kept under lock and key and another 15 people were arrested in Vilnius province.
Among arrested inhabitants of Vilnius was the former commander of Cossack Brigade fighting in 1920 alongside the Polish army Michail Jakovlev. He was en editor of Novaya Rossiya paper and, at the day of the crime, he released a special supplement, in which he appealed to Russian community in Poland for donations in favor of Kowerda defense. It was Jakovlev who gave a revolver to Kowerda.
The majority of arrested Russians were released after few days. At least eight of the most active Russian monarchist were deported to the Free City of Danzig where they were supposed to wait for entry visa to Czechoslovakia and Hungary. One of them, Prince Alexander Drucki-Sokolnicki asked Polish authorities not to be send to Gdańsk because the last time he was there he revealed the Soviet spy network of Adamowicz and he was afraid of revenge. Therefore, the government appointed the city of Gniew in Tczew County as a place of temporary stay till he leaves Poland.
Likewise, they chosed Nowe Miasto Lubawskie set in Pomerania near the border with East Prussia as a place of tempoary stay for related with czarist family Olga Massalska. Her husband was killed by Bolsheviks during the Revolution. The Polish government informed her that she will not get Polish citizenship even if she gets married again.
In any case, the Soviet government was not pleased with the reaction of Polish authorities to Russian emigrants. It demanded that Warsaw should ban on all emigrant associations and banish 300 hundreds of activists from Poland. What is more, a well-known communist lawyer Teodor Duracz, on the behalf of Voykov’s wife and daughter, sued the Polish State Treasury and claimed material reparation, whereas, lawyer Sokolov insisted on reimbursement of Voykov’s funeral expenses of 340 thousand zloty in favor of USRR.
Bolsheviks repaid for the death of their diplomat in their own way. The State Political Directorate shot 20 Russian monarchists without any court judgment. Among them was a 61 years old Prince Pavel Dolgorukov who, under a different name, worked as a servant in the orthodox church. June 14, 1927 in Odessa, 111 people were sentenced to death for supposed spying for Romania. 4 Poles were shot in Minsk and Kharkiv and 480 alleged sympathizers of Tzar were arrested in Ukraine. Some of them were re-emigrants who only recently trusted Bolsheviks and returned from the West to homeland. In the same time, the Soviet authorities organized menacing demonstration out front the Polish embassy in Moscow. In Kiev ably incited mob demolished almost all stores that belonged to Poles. After all, it was the final period of NEP – trade was still in the hands of private entrepreneurs.
The martial court over Kowerda took place on June 15, 1927 in Warsaw. He was defended by four lawyers. The first one to enter for this case to the Russian Committee in Poland was lawyer from Vilnius Andreyev, the father of a well-known professor of criminal law. In 1941 Bolsheviks cruelly avenged themselves on him for helping Kowerda. He died after tortures in NKVD casements in Vilnius. The others lawyers were: Niedzielski from National Democracy and Paschalski and Ettinger who were close to the Sanation movement. The prosecutor of appeals court Rudnicki was accusing whereas the judge Gumiński was presiding over trial. 18 witnesses were examined including Rosenholz, Kowerda’s parents and his Russian Orthodox father confessor from Vilnius, priest Dziczkowski.
Public opinion was full of understanding and even sympathy for the assassin. At the hearing Kowerda said: “During the Bolshevik Revolution I was in Samara. With my very own eyes I saw how a train driver was thrown into the red-hot furnace and a station master was beaten. I saw ill-treatment of Russian Orthodox churchmen, shooting innocence people and looting. I deeply felt the tragedy of Russia”. In the defense speech, the lawyer Anreyev said that “the pain in the hearts of emigrants who miss their homeland ruled by bloodthirsty maniacs” is the reason of tragic behavior of Russian emigrants .
Warsaw court punished Boris Kowerda with life sentence but, in the same time, asked the President of Rzeczpospolita for changing the punishment for 15 years in prison. President Ignacy Mościcki acceded to the request. The Soviet authorities were not satisfied with the sentence and calculated it as too lenient. There were some protests and demonstrations next to the Polish embassy in Moscow. However, after a while, the case abated and the relations between countries stabilized. Kowerda served out his sentence in prison in Grudziądz together with Polish communists.
In 1949 within the suit brought by the authorities of the People’s Republic of Poland against prewar prison guards that were accused of ill-treatment of communist prisoners, the member of Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party Tadeusz Ćwik examined: “In prison, together with us, there was the killer of Russian deputy Voykov, Kowerda who enjoyed special favors from the prison’s management. He had unlimited stay in the fresh air and special food. It shows, what kind of attitude guards had towards communists”.
In 1937, Kowerda was freed from prison under the terms of the amnesty. He went to Yugoslavia where he took A-levels in the local school. He died in 1984 in USA.
Tłumaczenie by Jadwiga Granowska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Jadwiga Granowska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.