In previous episodes, we have portrayed two Ukrainians living in 1930s Montreal, driven by radically opposed beliefs about the Russian Revolution. In this last text of our series, we will continue the investigation into the assassination of the first character, the indicator Soulgikoff. These include whether the second, the spy Volodarsky, could have been involved in this murder which occurred in August 1934.
To get close to the coffin of Alexandre Soulgikoff, on this fiery afternoon in August 1934, you have to know how to jostle. Nearly 2,000 people gathered in the center of Montreal to accompany the remains of the Ukrainian from the Greek Orthodox Church on Champlain Street to the Mount Royal Cemetery. Consternation reigns among his many friends involved in the anti-communist struggle: no one expected this collaborator of the Provincial Security to be coldly executed in the usually quiet streets of the city.
Almost no one, because the 55-year-old man had confided a few days before the tragedy to one of his relatives about how he wanted to be buried. Sensing a brutal death, Soulgikoff had then told him of his desire to be rolled up in an imperial Russian flag, holding in his hands an image of the deposed Tsar Nicolas II. His last wishes, which underline his nostalgia for pre-revolutionary Russia, were respected, and “several holy images, gifts from his mother when he was still a small child, were placed in the coffin”, adds the newspaper The Presswhich recounts the ceremony.
The newspapers do not lose a crumb of the funeral and the ongoing investigation, because public opinion shudders in front of the “red threat”. Two detective sergeants from the Montreal police are mobilized to quickly find the assassins. They search the victim’s apartment and go through his voluminous correspondence to discover his enemies.
Little-known facets of the character begin to emerge. He has been credited with countless trades since his arrival in Canada in 1922: carpenter, painter, and even doctor. He would have illegally practiced medicine in Quebec for a few months, before settling in Montreal. By scrutinizing his entourage, the police discover that their informant was lending money at usurious rates. One of his debtors, harassed by him, is also considered a suspect, before being cleared.
The attention of the detectives then turns to a woman who presents herself as a Russian aristocrat, whom Soulgikoff rubbed shoulders with. The “Princess Orlovsky” would have been denounced several times by the indicator for acts of theft. Determined to take revenge, she allegedly ordered the murder. This track will not last long, but it draws attention to the ambiguous frequentations of the character, who was not only engaged in the fight against the Communists.
“We admit that we are no further advanced in the Soulgikoff affair than on the first day of this tragedy. As one of the police officers in charge of the investigation explained to us, there are too many leads, “deplores The Press. Destabilized by these revelations, his friends begin to question certain parts of his biography which are difficult to verify. The image of the incorruptible man is cracking under the weight of rumours: “some people are now suggesting that his Montreal activities far exceed those of a classic police informer…”, reveals The Gazette.
New carnage in Montreal
A new bloodbath in the streets of Montreal reinforces the nascent doubts. On August 21, 1934, Charles Feigenbaum, a petty hustler in the Montreal Jewish Mafia, was coldly shot by six bullets during an ambush, near Mount Royal. The police note strange similarities with the murder of Soulgikoff: three men using the same caliber of pistol committed this murder in the middle of the street before fleeing in their vehicle. Detectives and the coroner quickly announce that they are linking the two murders.
The profile of the victims also has an important common point: the two men provided information to the police. Barely a year earlier, Charles Feigenbaum had brought down two drug traffickers of Jewish origin, heavily convicted following his testimony. From now on, no track is ruled out by the investigators, who are even considering links between Soulgikoff and the mafia.
A ballistic expertise – Montreal was then at the forefront in this field – finally separates the two cases, because the weapons used are in fact very different from one crime scene to another. The underworld hypothesis fizzled out, and all eyes turned to the Russian community. “Detectives have learned that Soulgikoff’s murder was perpetrated the same way executions are done in Russia. It is customary in this country to roar the engine of a vehicle at full speed while the victim or victims are killed, ”says Catholic Action at the end of August.
Killers under orders from Moscow
This thesis is coherent when we know to what extent Soulgikoff stirred up the hatred of communist militants from Eastern Europe. Prioritizing his image over his safety, Soulgikoff stood out through his thunderous appearances in the newspapers and in the courts. The Ukrainian has been heavily involved in foiling social movements for the benefit of the Provincial Security. A few weeks before his death, he had taken part in the violent repression of the strike of mainly Slavic workers in Noranda (strike of the Fros). In November 1935, another informant serving the police in this area was found murdered. It does not take more for the press to outline the presence in Quebec of a cell of killers piloted by Moscow to suppress opponents.
This track will never be explored by the police… Specialist of communism at the beginning of the XXe century, the Toronto historian Tyler Wentzell deciphers this negligence: “At that time, the police devoted their meager resources to monitoring the official activities of the Communist Party by infiltrating its public meetings and scrutinizing its publications. Counterintelligence has been totally neglected. Naïve on the issue, Canada let Russian secret service agents establish themselves on the territory. Our second character, Joseph Volodarsky, a communist spy in the pay of Moscow, has spotted Canada as the ideal gateway to North America.
A political elimination
Arrived in 1933 on the continent, this representative of the NKVD (ancestor of the KGB) took action by relying on local communist parties, particularly in Quebec. The Russian secret service has several functions. Besides collecting secret information, it can also be used to eliminate troublesome enemies for the regime, all over the world. In the 1930s, supporters of Trotsky, Stalin’s rival, were methodically murdered in Europe and even in the United States. White Russians like Soulgikoff, opponents of the communist revolution, are also in the sights, despite their exile.
“In the case of Soulgikoff, a political elimination seems plausible to me. There are famous cases of White Army officers being later suppressed by Moscow during this time abroad! launches Alexandre Jevakhoff, French historian, specialist in the history of these monarchists. General Alexander Koutepov, who coordinates the fight against the Stalinist regime from Paris, is an emblematic victim of the NKVD. Like Soulgikoff, he will be lured by a fake date that will lead to his downfall. “Often NKVD agents like Volodarsky were just the sponsors. They relied on local auxiliaries to carry out the dark task and keep their cover, ”explains Alexandre Jevakhoff.
If Paris and Montreal let the Soviet agents circulate, London took things in hand. The scheme to recover secret weapons blueprints, which required the false passport obtained by Volodarsky in 1936, fails miserably two years later. By unmasking the agents of the NKVD, the English counterintelligence discovers the network of false papers in Montreal. Alerted, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrest Volodarsky. Questioned many times, the man, identified as one of the few NKVD agents in Canada at the time, will reveal some secrets to avoid prison, but will always refuse to lift the veil on his actions in Montreal.