Honor Thy Heroes

Kedrov Street is a fairly quiet road in the southwest of Moscow, an area known for good schools and relatively high property values. One can find Gymnasium 1534 nearby, ranked in the city’s top 30.

The street was named after Mikhail S. Kedrov (1878-1941). The gymnasium, unusually for a good Moscow school, has a revived Young Pioneers’ organization, named after the same man.

The logic being, apparently, that schoolkids are a nasty bunch and killers of these brats deserve the highest honors.

Here is what Roman Gul (1896-1986), a White Army officer and a prolific émigré author, wrote about M. S. Kedrov in his book Dzerzhinsky (the Start of the Terror).

A well-off son of a well-known Moscow notary, Mikhail Kedrov graduated from the Demidov lyceum in Yaroslavl and studied medicine in Berlin and Lausanne. In Yaroslavl, he used to appear in public wearing a perfectly tailored uniform, with a fencing sword – a handsome, conservative dandy student. By the way, Kedrov’s main occupation as a student was music: he was preparing himself for the career of a virtuoso pianist. But suddenly, instead of Beethoven, the young man was engulfed by Bolshevism. His uniform gave way to a proletarian’s smock; Marx took the place of Beethoven and Bach. It might have turned out all right if Kedrov had not exhibited, early on, signs of a mental disease.

Heredity was his curse: his elder brother, a violinist, died a mentally disturbed man in a psychiatric clinic in Kostroma. Kedrov’s eccentricities first manifested themselves as pathological greed that seized him. A rich man, Kedrov denied food to his children. He distributed the required “number of calories” among them with such exactitude that they cried and wept, and Kedrov’s wife begged his friends to persuade him to stop those “scientific experiments”.

By the time of the October revolution Kedrov had probably been afflicted by a serious psychiatric disorder. In spite of that, or precisely because of that – perhaps – he became a senior bureaucrat of terror in Dzerzhinsky’s department. Credit goes to Kedrov for introducing the notorious “seven categories” of detainees: the seventh category meant the firing squad at once; the sixth was the death row of a second order; the fifth, of a third. Kedrov was equally diligent in apportioning food among his children and detainees before execution.

In 1919 Dzerzhinsky dispatched Dr. Kedrov to pacify the north of Russia… In turning Russia’s north to Communism, Kedrov – well knowledgeable in history – parodied the murders of Nantes. Not far from Kholmogory [Lomonossov’s birthplace] he put over 1,000 people accused of counter-revolutionism on a barge and ordered to fire on them from machine guns. Dr. Kedrov watched the execution from the shore.

…Kedrov crowded prisons with 8-14 year-old children, as “spies of the bourgeoisie”… And on the orders of the same man overtaken by sexual insanity, Chekists – under the pretext of the same class struggle against the espionage of bourgeois offspring – executed children seized on their way to gymnasium.

However the aesthete Kedrov’s sophisticated inner self wore out quickly on the “wet” job. [“Wet job” = slang for “murder”.] The virtuoso pianist – Lenin was delighted by his playing… – Kedrov was not as thick-skinned as the lumpen-proletarians Eiduks and Lācis, who have been “polishing their blood” with murder for eighteen years [this refers to 1936, when the first edition of the book was published. 2nd edition, 1974].

After the fantastically bloody conquest of the Russian north Kedrov’s career came to a sudden halt. They say that Kedrov left the bloodied stage dramatically, having been placed into a psychiatric ward because of his mental illness. Apparently he recovered somewhat after a while, for at the 20th party congress [1956] Khruschev told of Beria arresting, torturing and killing Kedrov, “as if a lowly traitor to Motherland”. Kedrov implored in his letters from the Lubyanka prison: “My torment has come to a limit. My health is broken. Boundless pain and bitterness have overfilled my heart.” But once gangsters have quarreled among themselves, they are usually merciless to each other. Beriya put a bullet in the back of Kedrov’s head…


  1. In Yaroslavl, he used to appear in public wearing a perfectly tailored uniform, with a fencing sword – a handsome, conservative dandy student.

    As was often the case, I understand. In William Taubman’s superb Khrushchev: The Man and His Era, I was quite surprised to read a description of Khrushchev, along with a photo, of him being something of a Yuppie in pre-revolutionary Yuzovka. Once the strikes started, he spotted an opportunity and ditched the image for one of a horny-handed son of the Ukrainian soil. He was actually born in Russia to Russian parents, but maintained the image of a Ukrainian for most of his career.

    • Yes, it seems to me that Khrushchev was an inveterate climber. But his Yuppie look was in keeping with many Russian and Ukrainian boys who moved from poor villages to take up jobs in the cities — menial at first, well-paying after a few years of experience. Like my own great-grandfather in Moscow early in the 20th century.

      It could be fair to say that Khrushchev was Ukrainian in a broad sense, as an early Donbass settler. The area was still sparsely populated but growing fast in the early 20th century so newcomers like Khrushchev – whether from old Ukraine or Russia — became the new natives. Also see Voroshilov, a native of Lugansk. (BTW there were plenty of Ukrainians peasants in Kursk at that time so Khrushchev’s claim of ethnic Ukrainian ancestry was at least colorable.) It almost became de rigueur in upper party echelons after Krushchev to speak with a Southern Russian/Eastern Ukrainian accent.

      Back to Kedrov: Gul calls him a белоподкладочник, a student from a rich and/or aristocratic family who wears a well-tailored uniform with expensive while silk lining and does not sympathize with progressive or revolutionary ideas. Most Russian university students, starting from the 1860s, came from families of limited means and thought of themselves as progressives. Gul is basically saying Kedrov was not a stereotypical rebellious student.

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