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Goldenberg was arrested and exiled in 1878 to Arkhangelsk for his revolutionary activities. He escaped and joined Narodnaya Volya and assassinated Kharkov Governor-General Prince Dmitri Kropotkin (cousin of a famous anarchist) in February 1879. He was then arrested in November 14, 1879 in Elizavetgrad with a suitcase full of nitroglycerine, with the intention to deliver to associates in Moscow to blow up a train carrying the tsar, confessing his involvement and naming several other «Narodnaya Volya» members.
According to Richard Pipes in his book, The Degaev Affair: Terror and Treason in Tsarist Russia, after Goldenberg abandoned his Orthodox Jewish family as a youth and having established contacts with revolutionaries, successful assassination of the Governor of Kharkov and eluding subsequent arrest, that June (1879) he attended the secret gathering at Lipetsk which created the People's Will and was elected to its Executive Committee. He volunteered to assassinate Alexander II but was dissuaded on the grounds that it would be unwise for this to be done by a Jew.
Pipes further claims that once Goldenberg was incarcerated in Odessa (in November 1879) he was left alone for two months, after which he was interrogated by Odessa deputy procurator A. F. Dorbrzhinskii. Goldenberg was the first to be tested with this interrogation approach, later used by Lieutenant Colonel Georgy Sudeykin. Yarmolinksy describes him as "not unintelligent, but... inordinately gullible and given to day-dreaming" and "self-exaltation". This led him to, in a vision of redemption and the liberation of Russia through the czar's change of heart, prompted by the interrogators, willingly disclose all his knowledge about the operations and members of the People's Will. The idea suggested to him by the police was that the terroristic tactics were a tragic failure, and that the imprisonment of all his comrades would avert this catastrophe and be redeemed by the inevitable liberal reforms ushered in by the czar, which "under the sun of freedom the way would be speedily prepared for the advent of Socialism."
Having doubted his action after having conversations with a fellow prisoner, Goldenberg committed suicide in prison July 1880.
- Pipes, Richard (2003). The Degaev Affair: Terror and Treason in Tsarist Russia. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. pp. 42–45.
- Avrahm Yarmolinsky, Road to Revolution, 1957, Princeton University Press
- Yarmolinsky, pp. 266
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