I’m reading Joseph Telushkin’s biography (Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History). Here’s an excerpt from pg. 229-230:
The Rebbe then said that Kaganovich was a “big rasha” (an evil person) but added, “But you never know, maybe he’ll repent. When you go back the next time, you should tell him he should still do teshuva, he still has a chance.”
Lazar Kaganovich was among the horrific mass murderers of the twentieth century… It is likely that Kaganovich brought about the deaths of more people than any other Jew in history.
Kaganovich had the unique “distinction” of being the one Jew who always remained on close terms with the highly antisemitic Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. It was Kaganovich whom Stalin called upon to enforce the policy of forced starvation of kulaks (relatively well-off peasants) in Ukraine, a policy that resulted in the deaths by killing and starvation of an estimated six million people.
An effective administrator, Kaganovich also headed the construction of the subway system in Moscow. It is unknown how many over-worked and maltreated laborers died in the extremely rushed process of building the underground rail system (in addition to those executed for making critical remarks about Kaganovich’s employment practices. Stalin rewarded Kaganovich by naming the subway system the Kaganovich Subway.
Robert Conquest, the foremost historian of Stalin’s years of terror, portrayed Kaganovich as “a brilliant administrator. A clear mind and a powerful will went with a total lack of the restraints of humanity… There was no…pity at all in his make-up… He took the extreme line that the Party’s interests justified everything.” Referring on more than one occasion to the murderers of millions of people carried out under his and Stalin’s direction, and to the realization that many of those killed must have been innocent even by Kaganovich’s standards, Kaganovich explained that there were bound to be occasional mistakes: “When the forest is cut down, the chips fly.”
Basic to Kaganovich’s philosophy was that a Communist must be ready to sacrifice himself for the party: “Yes, ready to sacrifice not only his life, but his self-respect and sensitivity.”
…When his wife criticized him for enforcing an antisemitic policy (“Have you no sense, no compassion, no feelings for one of your own?”), he told her not to bother him with such pleas: “Stalin is my god. Doy ou hear me? Hear me good.”
Lazar Kaganovich was similar to Adolf Eichmann. Both efficiently carried out under orders the killing of six million innocents. I wonder why Eichmann’s name is associated with Evil while Kaganovich is unknown to most people? I wonder why the Holocaust is more remembered than the Ukrainian genocide? I suggest this as a topic of discussion around your Shabbos table.
Alex Trivunovic: “Same type. Efficient bureaucrat as opposed to bloodthirsty maniac. Banality of evil.”