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Vyacheslav Rudolfovich Menzhinsky (Russian: Вячесла́в Рудо́льфович Менжи́нский, Polish: Wiesław Mężyński; 19 August 1874 – 10 May 1934) was a Polish-Russian Bolshevik revolutionary, Soviet statesman and Party official who served as chairman of the OGPU from 1926 to 1934. He was fluent in more than 10 languages (including Korean, Chinese, Turkish, and Persian, the last one learned especially in order to read works by Omar Khayyám).
Vyacheslav Menzhinsky, a member of the Polish nobility, was born into a Polish-Russian family of teachers. His father was a Russified Pole and tsarist official. He graduated from the Faculty of Law at Saint Petersburg University in 1898.
He joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) in 1902. In 1905 he became a member of the military organization of the Petersburg Committee of the RSDLP. In 1906 Menzhinsky was arrested, but was able to escape from Russia. He lived in Belgium, Switzerland, France, United States, working in foreign branches of the RSDLP. He joined the editorial board of Vpered, aligning himself with Grigory Aleksinsky and Mikhail Pokrovsky, rejecting the concept of proletarian culture developed by Alexander Bogdanov and Anatoly Lunacharsky. After the February Revolution of 1917, Menzhinsky returned to Russia in the summer of that year.
Menzhinsky with his sisters
Menzhinsky sometime in the 1880s
Menzhinsky with his son Rudolf
Menzhinsky, cover of Time magazine, 1931
Menzhinsky, 1933 (last known photo)
Later life and death
According to G. von Schantz, Menzhinsky "personally conducted the wrecking of the Russian banks, a maneuver that deprived all opponents of Bolshevism of their financial means of warfare."
From 1919 he was a member of the Presidium of Cheka, and five years later became a deputy chairman of its successor, the OGPU. After Felix Dzerzhinsky's death in July 1926 Menzhinsky became the chairman of the OGPU. Menzhinsky played a great role in conducting the secret Trust and Sindikat-2 counterintelligence operations, in the course of which leaders of large anti-Soviet centers abroad, Boris Savinkov and Sidney Reilly, were lured to the USSR and arrested.
At the same time, as a senior Chekist, Menzhinsky was loyal to Joseph Stalin, whose personality cult had already begun to form, coinciding with several important purges in 1930–1931. Trotsky, who had met him before the revolution, thought him unremarkable: "He seemed more like the shadow of some other unrealized man, or rather like a poor sketch for an unfinished portrait."
Menzhinsky spent his last years as an invalid, suffering from acute angina since the late 1920s, which rendered him incapable of physical exertion. He conducted the affairs of the OGPU while lying upon a couch in his office at the Lubyanka, but rarely interfered in the day-to-day operation of the GPU. Stalin tended to deal with his first deputy Genrikh Yagoda, who essentially took over as head of the organization in all but name beginning in the late 1920s.
Menzhinsky died in 1934. When his successor, Yagoda, made his public confession under duress at the Moscow Trial of the Twenty One in 1938, Yagoda stated that he had poisoned Menzhinsky.