The English translation of Chapter 22 of 200 Years Together (“From the End of the War to Stalin’s Death”) is now available.
The main theme is the post-WWII purging of Jews from many of the powerful positions they held as an elite in Soviet society. Solzhenitsyn’s account is similar to other mainstream accounts, such as Yuri Slezkine’s The Jewish Century. When Jewish intellectual activists write about the role of the Jews in the USSR, they generally focus on this period—Jews as the victims of anti-Jewish actions—rather than the status and role of Jews in previous decades. The following quote from a historian sums up the situation:
“‘Pushing’ Jews out of prestigious occupations that were crucial for the ruling elite in the spheres of manufacturing, administration, cultural and ideological activities, as well as limiting or completely barring the entrance of Jews into certain institutions of higher education gained enormous momentum in 1948-1953. … Positions of any importance in KGB, party apparatus, and military were closed to the Jews, and quotas were in place for admission into certain educational institutions and cultural and scientific establishments.”
Solzhenitsyn pointedly notes that Jews who had benefited from their nationality because they were officially classified as an oppressed minority under the Czar were now targeted on the basis of nationality:
Through its “fifth item” [i.e., the question about nationality] Soviet Jews were oppressed by the very same method used in the Proletarian Questionnaire, other items of which were so instrumental in crushing the Russian nobility, clergy, intellectuals and all the rest of the “former people” since the 1920’s.
Nevertheless, Jews were by no means eliminated from prestigious occupations. A historian comments that “Although the highest echelon of Jewish political elite suffered from administrative perturbations; but surprisingly it was not as bad as it seemed. … The main blow fell on the middle and the most numerous stratum of the Jewish elite — officials… and also journalists, professors and other members of creative intelligentsia.”
Anti-Jewish attitudes remained strong, fueled in large part because of the role of Jews as agents of oppression during the pre-war decades. For example, Solzhenitsyn notes that there were negative attitudes toward Jews returning to areas that the Germans had evacuated, particularly Ukraine. Anti-Jewish attitudes combined both traditional ideas (Jews as wealthy: demanding restoration of prime residential property they owned before the war) as well as the role of Jews as government officials during the pre-war Soviet oppression. A Jewish observer who claimed that Nikita Khrushchev had said, “In the past, the Jews committed many sins against the Ukrainian people. People hate them for that. We don’t need Jews in our Ukraine. It would be better if they didn’t return here.”
Jews complained about these attitudes as well as the fact that other groups were indifferent to Jewish suffering, but Solzhenitsyn notes the irony, quoting another Jewish observer who stated “that in the years of our terrible disasters, the Jewish intellectuals did not raise their voices in defense of the deported nations of Crimea and the Caucasus.” The example is a testimony to Jewish ethnocentrism–focused on their own suffering but never seeing, much less acknowledging, their indifference to the suffering of others or their role in causing it during the height of their power.
There was a similar scene throughout Eastern Europe as Jews returned from exile after the war.
A great overrepresentation of Jews occurred in the post-war puppet Polish government, among managerial elites and in the Polish KGB, which would again result in miserable consequences for the Jews of Poland. After the war, other countries of Eastern Europe saw similar conflicts: “the Jews had played a huge role in economic life of all these countries,” and though they lost their possessions under Hitler, after the war, when “the restitution laws were introduced… (they) affected very large numbers of new owners.” Upon their return Jews demanded the restoration of their property and enterprises that were not nationalized by Communists and this created a new wave of hostility towards them (22).)
Toward the end of Stalin’s life, he intensified the campaign against Jews, possibly resulting in his death in 1953. The main source of his hostility toward Jews was the age-old concern about loyalty: Jewish ties with Jews in other countries — in this case, Israel and the United States. During the Cold War there was a fear that Jewish sympathies would lie with Israel and the US as Israel’s main source of support. One result was that Stalin crushed the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (EAK), a Jewish organization that had been created to court support for the USSR among American Jews during WWII. During the Cold War, the ties between Soviet Jews and American Jews became a liability in the eyes of Soviet regime.
An indication of Jewish power is that the campaign against the EAK in 1952 was carried out “slowly and with great caution” because Stalin was “very well aware what kind of international storm would be triggered by using force.” It’s striking that the mass murders and deportations of the 1920s and 1930s were carried out without any international outcry, but the campaign against a rather small Jewish group was done very cautiously. Thirteen Jews were executed.
This is similar to what happened when Stalin ordered the murder of two Jewish leaders of the international socialist movement, Henryk Ehrlich and Victor Alter in 1942. These murders of two Jewish leftist activists created an international incident, and there were protests by leftists around the world — the same people who had previously ignored or rationalized mass murder during the 1920s and 1930s. Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt made appeals to Stalin, and American Jewish leaders, such as Nahum Goldmann of the World Jewish Congress and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress), helped quell the uproar over the incident and shore up positive views of the Soviet Union among American Jews.
Another manifestation of Stalin’s anti-Jewish campaign was the trial of Rudolf Slansky, the Jewish First Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. The trial was “openly anti-Jewish with naming ‘world leading’ Jews such as Ben Gurion and Morgenthau, and putting them into the same harness with American leaders Truman and Acheson.”
Stalin also arrested a large number of Jewish doctors —the “Doctors’ plot” — and “prominent Soviet Jews were forced to sign a letter to Pravda with the most severe condemnation of the wiles of the Jewish ‘bourgeois nationalists’ and their approval of Stalin’s government.” (The letter was preceded by an article in Pravda published on January 13, 1953 claiming “”The majority of the participants of the terrorist group… were bought by American intelligence. They were recruited by a branch-office of American intelligence — the international Jewish bourgeois-nationalist organization called ” Joint” [i.e., the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee]. The filthy face of this Zionist spy organization, covering up their vicious actions under the mask of charity, is now completely revealed.”)
In February, the Soviet Embassy in Tel Aviv was bombed. Solzhenitsyn accepts the idea that the “international anger” resulting from the Doctors’ plot “could possibly” have motivated “internal forces” to murder Stalin:
And then Stalin went wrong, and not for the first time, right? He did not understand how the thickening of the plot could threaten him personally, even within the secure quarters of his inaccessible political Olympus. The explosion of international anger coincided with the rapid action of internal forces, which could possibly have done away with Stalin. It could have happened through Beria (for example, according to [Abdurakhman] Avtorhanov’s version (66).)
The trimming of Jewish power in the USSR is important not just as a facet of Jewish history in the USSR but also because it had a major role in influencing some components of the American Jewish community to become less enamored with the left—notably Leo Strauss and the neoconservatives. Strauss believed that liberal, individualistic Western societies were best for Judaism. National Socialism was obviously bad for Jews, and Communism had become so. Despite their elite status, the events of 1948-1953 showed that Jews were vulnerable when the attitudes of an autocrat like Stalin turned against them. Liberal societies were best, but they had to be controlled against populist tendencies. After all, the working class had eventually opted to join the National Socialists.
Stephen Holmes describes Strauss’s solution to the Jewish dilemma as follows: “The good society … consists of the sedated masses, the gentlemen rulers, the promising puppies, and the philosophers who pursue knowledge, manipulate the gentlemen, anesthetize the people, and housebreak the most talented young” — a comment that sounds to me like an alarmingly accurate description of the present situation in the United States and elsewhere in the Western world. Given Strauss’s central concern that an acceptable political order be compatible with Jewish survival in the Diaspora and with the tendency for Jews to become an elite, it is reasonable to assume that Strauss believed that Jews would be a prominent part of the aristocracy and that the arrangement would serve Jewish interests–as indeed the current regime does.
Chapter 22. From the End of the War to Stalin’s Death
At the beginning of the 1920s the authors of a collection of articles titled Russia and the Jews foresaw that “all these bright perspectives” (for the Jews in the USSR) looked so bright only “if one supposes that the Bolsheviks would want to protect us. But would they? Can we assume that the people who in their struggle for power betrayed everything, from the Motherland to Communism, would remain faithful to us even when it stops benefiting them?”(1)
However, during so favorable a time to them as the 1920s and 1930s the great majority of Soviet Jews chose to ignore this sober warning or simply did not hear it.
Yet the Jews with their contribution to the Russian Revolution should have expected that one day the inevitable recoil of revolution would hit even them, at least during its ebb.
The postwar period became “the years of deep disappointments” (2) and adversity for Soviet Jews. During Stalin’s last eight years, Soviet Jewry was tested by persecutions of the “cosmopolitans,” the loss of positions in science, arts and press, the crushing of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (EAK) with the execution of its leadership and, finally, by the “Doctors’ Plot.”
By the nature of a totalitarian regime, only Stalin himself could initiate the campaign aimed at weakening the Jewish presence and influence in the Soviet system. Only he could make the first move.
Yet because of the rigidity of Soviet propaganda and Stalin’s craftiness, not a single sound could be uttered nor a single step made in the open. We have seen already that Soviet propaganda did not raise any alarm about the annihilation of Jews in Germany during the war; indeed it covered up those things, obviously being afraid of appearing pro-Jewish in the eyes of its own citizens.
The disposition of the Soviet authorities towards Jews could evolve for years without ever really surfacing at the level of official propaganda. The first changes and shuffles in the bureaucracy began quite inconspicuously at the time of growing rapprochement between Stalin and Hitler in 1939. By then Litvinov, a Jewish Minister of Foreign Affairs, was replaced by Molotov (an ethnic Russian) and a ‘cleansing’ of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NKID) was underway. Simultaneously, Jews were barred from entrance into diplomatic schools and military academies. Still, it took many more years before the disappearance of Jews from the NKID and the sharp decline of their influence in the Ministry of Foreign Trade became apparent.
Because of the intrinsic secrecy of all Soviet inner party moves, only very few were aware of the presence of the subtle anti-Jewish undercurrents in the Agitprop apparatus by the end of 1942 that aimed to push out Jews from the major art centers such as the Bolshoi Theatre, the Moscow Conservatory, and the Moscow Philarmonic, where, according to the note which Alexandrov, Head of Agitprop, presented to the Central Committee in the summer of 1942, ‘everything was almost completely in the hands of non-Russians’ and ‘Russians had become an ethnic minority’ (accompanied by a detailed table to convey particulars) (3). Later, there had been attempts to “begin national regulation of cadres… from the top down, which essentially meant primarily pushing out Jews from the managerial positions” (4). By and large, Stalin regulated this process by either supporting or checking such efforts depending on the circumstances.
The wartime tension in the attitudes toward Jews was also manifested during post-war re-evacuation. In Siberia and Central Asia, wartime Jewish refugees were not welcomed by the local populace, so after the war they mostly settled in the capitals of Central Asian republics, except for those who moved back, not to their old shtetls and towns, but into the larger cities (5).
The largest returning stream of refugees fled to Ukraine where they were met with hostility by the local population, especially because of the return of Soviet officials and the owners of desirable residential property. This reaction in the formerly occupied territories was also fueled by Hitler’s incendiary propaganda during the Nazi occupation. Khrushchev, the Head of Ukraine from 1943 (when he was First Secretary of the Communist Party and at the same time Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of Ukraine), not only said nothing on this topic in his public speeches, treating the fate of Jews during the occupation with silence, but he also upheld the secret instruction throughout Ukraine not to employ Jews in positions of authority.
According to the tale of an old Jewish Communist Ruzha-Godes, who survived the entire Nazi occupation under a guise of being a Pole named Khelminskaya and was later denied employment by the long-awaited Communists because of her Jewishness, Khrushchev stated clearly and with his peculiar frankness: “In the past, the Jews committed many sins against the Ukrainian people. People hate them for that. We don’t need Jews in our Ukraine. It would be better if they didn’t return here. They would better go to Birobidzhan. This is Ukraine. And, we don’t want Ukrainian people to infer that the return of Soviet authority means the return of Jews” (6).
“In the early September 1945 a Jewish major of the NKVD was brutally beaten in Kiev by two members of the military. He shot both of them dead. This incident caused a large-scale massacre of Jews with five fatalities” (7). There are documented sources of other similar cases (8).
Sotsialistichesky Vestnik wrote that the Jewish “national feelings (which were exacerbated during the war) overreacted to the numerous manifestations of anti-Semitism and to the even more common indifference to anti-Semitism” (9).
This motif is so typical — almost as much as anti-Semitism itself: the indifference to anti-Semitism was likely to cause outrage. Yes, preoccupied by their own miseries, people and nations often lose compassion for the troubles of others. And the Jews are not an exception here. A modern author justly notes: “I hope that I, as a Jew who found her roots and place in Israel, would not be accused of apostasy if I point out that in the years of our terrible disasters, the Jewish intellectuals did not raise their voices in defense of the deported nations of Crimea and the Caucasus” (10).
After the liberation of Crimea by the Red Army in 1943, “talks started among circles of the Jewish elite in Moscow about a rebirth of the Crimean project of 1920s,” i.e., about resettling Jews in Crimea. The Soviet government did not discourage these aspirations, hoping that “American Jews would be more generous in their donations for the Red Army.” It is quite possible that Mikhoels and Feffer [heads of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, EAK], based on a verbal agreement with Molotov, negotiated with American Zionists about financial support of the project for Jewish relocation to Crimea during their triumphal tour of the USA in summer of 1943. The idea of a Crimean Jewish Republic was also backed by Lozovsky, the then-powerful Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs (11).
The EAK had yet another project for a Jewish Republic — to establish it in the place of the former Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (where, as we have seen in previous chapters, Jewish settlements were established in the wake of the exile of the Germans). Ester Markish, widow of EAK member Perets Markish, confirms that he presented a letter “concerning transferring the former German Republic to the Jews” (12).
In the Politburo, “Molotov, Kaganovich and Voroshilov were the most positively disposed to the EAK” (13). And, “according to rumors, some members of the Politburo… were inclined to support this [Crimean] idea” (14). On February 15, 1944, Stalin was forwarded a memorandum about that plan which was signed by Mikhoels, Feffer and Epshtein. (According to P. Sudoplatov, although the decision to expel the Tatars from Crimea had been made by Stalin earlier, the order to carry it out reached Beria on February 14 (15), so the memorandum was quite timely.)
That was the high point of Jewish hopes. G. V. Kostirenko, a researcher of this period, writes: the leaders of the EAK “plunged into euphoria. They imagined (especially after Mikhoels’ and Feffer’s trip to the West) that with the necessary pressure, they could influence and steer their government’s policy in the interests of the Soviet Jews, just like the American Jewish elite does it” (16).
But Stalin did not approve the Crimean project – it did not appeal to him because of the strategic importance of the Crimea. The Soviet leaders expected a war with America and probably thought that in such case the entire Jewish population of Crimea would sympathize with the enemy. (It is reported that at the beginning of the 1950s some Jews were arrested and told by their MGB [Ministry for State Security, a predecessor of KGB] investigators: “You are not going to stand against America, are you? So you are our enemies.”) Khrushchev shared those doubts and 10 years later he stated to a delegation of the Canadian Communist party that was expressing particular interest in the Jewish question in the USSR: Crimea “should not be a center of Jewish colonization, because in case of war it will become the enemy’s bridgehead” (17). Indeed, the petitions about Jewish settlement in Crimea were very soon used as a proof of the “state treason” on the part of the members of the EAK.
By the end of WWII the authorities again revived the idea of Jewish resettlement in Birobidzhan, particularly Ukrainian Jews. From 1946 to 1947 several organized echelons and a number of independent families were sent there, totaling up to 5-6 thousand persons (18). However, quite a few returned disillusioned. This relocation movement withered by 1948. Later, with a general turn of Stalin’s politics, arrests among the few Birobidjan Jewish activists started. (They were accused of artificial inculcation of Jewish culture into the non-Jewish population and, of course, espionage and of having planned Birobidzhan’s secession in order to ally with Japan). This was the de facto end of the history of Jewish colonization in Birobidzhan. At the end of the 1920s there were plans to re-settle 60,000 Jews there by the end of the first 5-year planning period. By 1959 there were only 14,000 Jews in Birobidzhan, less than 9% of the population of the region (19).
However, in Ukraine the situation had markedly changed in favor of Jews. The government was engaged in the fierce struggle with Bandera’s separatist fighters and no longer catered to the national feelings of Ukrainians. At the end of 1946, the Communist Party “started a covert campaign against anti-Semitism, gradually conditioning the population to the presence of Jews among authorities in different spheres of the national economy.” At the same time, in the beginning of 1947, Kaganovich took over for Khrushchev as the official leader of Ukrainian Communist Party. The Jews were promoted in the party as well, “of which a particular example was the appointment of a Jew … the Secretary… of Zhitomir Obkom” (20).
However, the attitudes of many Jews towards this government and its new policies were justifiably cautious. Soon after the end of the war, when the former Polish citizens began returning to Poland, many non-Polish Jews “hastily seized this opportunity” and relocated there (21). (What happened after that in Poland is yet another story: a great overrepresentation of Jews occurred in the post-war puppet Polish government, among managerial elites and in the Polish KGB, which would again result in miserable consequences for the Jews of Poland. After the war, other countries of Eastern Europe saw similar conflicts: “the Jews had played a huge role in economic life of all these countries,” and though they lost their possessions under Hitler, after the war, when “the restitution laws were introduced… (they) affected very large numbers of new owners.” Upon their return Jews demanded the restoration of their property and enterprises that were not nationalized by Communists and this created a new wave of hostility towards them (22).)
Meanwhile, during these very years the biggest event in world Jewish history was happening — the state of Israel was coming into existence. In 1946-47, when the Zionists were at odds with Britain, Stalin, perhaps out of anti-British calculation and or opportunistically hoping to get a foothold there, took the side of the former. During all of 1947 Stalin, acting through Gromyko in the UN, actively supported the idea of the creation of an independent Jewish state in Palestine and supplied the Zionists with a critical supply of Czechoslovak-made weapons. In May 1948, only two days after the Israeli declaration of nationhood, the USSR officially recognized that country and condemned hostile actions of Arabs.
However, Stalin miscalculated to what extent this support would reinvigorate the national spirit of Soviet Jews. Some of them implored the EAK to organize a fundraiser for the Israeli military, others wished to enlist as volunteers, while still others wanted to form a special Jewish military division (23).
Amid this burgeoning enthusiasm, Golda Meir arrived to Moscow in September of 1948 as the first ambassador of Israel and was met with unprecedented joy in Moscow’s synagogues and by Moscow’s Jewish population in general. Immediately, as the national spirit of Soviet Jews rose and grew tremendously because of the Catastrophe, many of them began applying for relocation to Israel. Apparently, Stalin had expected that. Yet it turned out that many of his citizens wished to run away en masse into, by all accounts, the pro-Western State of Israel. There, the influence and prestige of the United States grew, while the USSR was at the same time losing support of Arab countries. (Nevertheless, “the cooling of relations [with Israel] was mutual. Israel more and more often turned towards American Jewry which became its main support” (24).)
Probably because he was frightened by such a schism in the Jewish national feelings, Stalin drastically changed policies regarding Jews from the end of 1948 and for the rest of his remaining years. He began acting in his typical style — quietly but with determination, he struck to the core, but with only tiny movements visible on the surface.
Nevertheless, while the visible tiny ripples hardly mattered, Jewish leaders had many reasons to be concerned, as they felt the fear hanging in the air. The then editor of the Polish-Jewish newspaper Folkshtimme, Girsh Smolyar, recalled the “panic that seized Soviet communist Jews after the war.” Emmanuel Kazakevitch and other Jewish writers were distressed. Smolyar had seen on Ehrenburg’s table “a mountain of letters — literally scream of pain about current anti-Jewish attitudes throughout the country” (25).
Yet Ehrenburg knew his job very well and carried it out. (As became known much later, it was exactly then that the pre-publication copy of the Black Book compiled by I. Ehrenburg and B. Grossman, which described the mass killings and suffering of the Soviet Jews during the Soviet-German war, was destroyed.) In addition, on September 21, 1948, as a counterbalance to Golda Meir’s triumphal arrival, Pravda published a large article commissioned by Ehrenburg which stated that the Jews are not a nation at all and that they are doomed to assimilate (26). This article created dismay not only among Soviet Jews, but also in America. With the start of the Cold War, “the discrimination against the Jews in the Soviet Union “became one of the main anti-Soviet trump cards of the West. (As was the inclination in the West towards various ethnic separatist movements in the USSR, a sympathy that had never previously gained support among Soviet Jews).
However, the EAK, which had been created to address war-time issues, continued gaining influence. By that time it listed approximately 70 members, had its own administrative apparatus, a newspaper and a publishing house. It functioned as a kind of spiritual and physical agent of all Soviet Jews before the CK (Central Committee) of the VKPb (all-Russian Communist Party of Bolsheviks), as well as before the West. “EAK executives were allowed to do and to have a lot — a decent salary, an opportunity to publish and collect royalties abroad, to receive and to redistribute gifts from abroad and, finally, to travel abroad.” EAK became the crystallization center of an initially elitist and upper-echelon and then of a broadly growing Jewish national movement” (27), a burgeoning symbol of Jewish national autonomy. For Stalin, the EAK become a problem which had to be dealt with.
He started with the most important figure, the Head of the Soviet Information Bureau (Sovinformburo), Lozovsky, who, according to Feffer (who was vice-chairman of EAK since July 1945), was “the spiritual leader of the EAK… knew all about its activities and was its head for all practical purposes.” In the summer of 1946, a special auditing commission from Agitprop of the CK [of the VKPb] inspected Sovinformburo and found that “the apparatus is polluted … [there is] an intolerable concentration of Jews.” Lozovsky was ejected from his post of Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs (just as Litvinov and Maisky had been) and in summer of 1947 he also lost his post as of Head of the Sovinformburo (28).
After that, the fate of the EAK was sealed. In September of 1946, the auditing commission from the Central Committee concluded that the EAK, instead of “leading a rigorous offensive ideological war against the Western and above all Zionist propaganda… supports the position of bourgeois Zionists and the Bund and in reality… it fights for the reactionary idea of a United Jewish nation.” In 1947, the Central Committee stated, that “the work among the Jewish population of the Soviet Union is not a responsibility” of the EAK. “The EAK’s job was to focus on the “decisive struggle against aggression by international reactionaries and their Zionist agents” (29).
However, these events coincided with the pro-Israel stance of the USSR and the EAK was not dissolved. On the other hand, EAK Chairman Mikhoels who was “the informal leader of Soviet Jewry, had to shed his illusions about the possibility of influencing the Kremlin’s national policy via influencing the Dictator’s relatives.” Here, the suspicion fell mostly on Stalin’s son—in-law Grigory Morozov. However, the most active help to the EAK was provided by Molotov’s wife, P.S. Zhemchyzhina, who was arrested in the beginning of 1949, and Voroshilov’s wife, “Ekaterina Davidovna (Golda Gorbman), a fanatic Bolshevik, who had been expelled from the synagogue in her youth.” Abakumov reported that Mikhoels was suspected of “gathering private information about the Leader” (30). Overall, according to the MGB he “demonstrated excessive interest in the private life of the Head of the Soviet Government,” while leaders of the EAK “gathered materials about the personal life of J. Stalin and his family at the behest of US Intelligence” (31). However, Stalin could not risk an open trial of the tremendously influential Mikhoels, so Mikhoels was murdered in January 1948 under the guise of an accident. Soviet Jewry was shocked and terrified by the demise of their spiritual leader.
The EAK was gradually dismantled after that. By the end of 1948 its premises were locked up, all documents were taken to Lubyanka, and its newspaper and the publishing house were closed. Feffer and Zuskin, the key EAK figures, were secretly arrested soon afterwards and these arrests were denied for a long time. In January 1949 Lozovsky was arrested, followed by the arrests of a number of other notable members of the EAK in February. They were intensively interrogated during 1949, but in 1950 the investigation stalled. (All this coincided [in accord with Stalin’s understanding of balance] with the annihilation of the Russian nationalist tendencies in the leadership of the Leningrad government — the so-called “anti-party group of Kuznetsov-Rodionov-Popkov,” but those developments, their repression and the significance of those events were largely overlooked by historians even though “about two thousand party functionaries were arrested and subsequently executed” (32) in 1950 in connection with the “Leningrad Affair”).
In January 1948, Stalin ordered Jews to be pushed out of Soviet culture. In his usual subtle and devious manner, the “order” came through a prominent editorial in Pravda, seemingly dealing with a petty issue, “about one anti-Party group of theatrical critics” (33). (A more assertive article in Kultura i Zhizn followed on the next day (34)). The key point was the “decoding” of Russian the Russian pen-names of Jewish celebrities. In the USSR, “many Jews camouflage their Jewish origins with such artifice,” so that “it is impossible to figure out their real names” explains the editor of a modern Jewish journal (35).
This article in Pravda had a long but obscure pre-history. In 1946 reports of the Central Committee it was already noted “that out of twenty-eight highly publicized theatrical critics, only six are Russians. It implied that the majority of the rest were Jews.” Smelling trouble, but still “supposing themselves to be vested with the highest trust of the Party, some theatrical critics, confident of victory, openly confronted Fadeev” in November 1946 (36). Fadeev was the all-powerful Head of the Union of Soviet Writers and Stalin’s favorite. And so they suffered a defeat. Then the case stalled for a long time and only resurfaced in 1949.
The campaign rolled on through the newspapers and party meetings. G. Aronson, researching Jewish life “in Stalin’s era” writes: “The goal of this campaign was to displace Jewish intellectuals from all niches of Soviet life. Informers were gloatingly revealing their pen-names. It turned out that E. Kholodov is actually Meyerovich, Jakovlev is Kholtsman, Melnikov is Millman, Jasny is Finkelstein, Vickorov is Zlochevsky, Svetov is Sheidman and so on. Literaturnaya Gazeta worked diligently on these disclosures” (37).
Undeniably, Stalin hit the worst-offending spot, the one that highly annoyed the public. However, Stalin was not so simple as to just blurt out “the Jews.” From the first push at the “groups of theatrical critics” flowed a broad and sustained campaign against the “cosmopolitans” (with their Soviet inertial dim-wittedness they overused this innocent term and spoiled it). “Without exception, all ‘cosmopolitans’ under attack were Jews. They were being discovered everywhere. Because all of them were loyal Soviet citizens never suspected of anything anti-Soviet, they survived the great purges by Yezhov and Yagoda. Some were very experienced and influential people, sometimes eminent in their fields of expertise” (38). The exposure of “cosmopolitans” then turned into a ridiculous, even idiotic glorification of Russian “primacy” in all and every area of science, technology and culture.
Yet the “cosmopolitans” usually were not being arrested but instead were publicly humiliated, fired from publishing houses, ideological and cultural organizations, from TASS, from Glavlit, from literature schools, theaters, orchestras; some were expelled from the party and publication of their works was often discouraged.
And the public campaign was expanding, spreading into new fields and compromising new names. Anti-Jewish cleansing of “cosmopolitans” was conducted in the research institutes of the Academy of Science: Institute of Philosophy (with its long history of internecine feuding between different cliques), the institutes of Economy, Law, in the Academy of Social Sciences at the CK of the VKPb, in the School of Law (and then spread to the office of Public Prosecutor).
Thus, in the Department of History at MGU (Moscow State University), even a long-standing faithful communist and falsifier, I. I. Minz, member of the Academy, who enjoyed Stalin’s personal trust and was awarded with Stalin Prizes and concurrently chaired historical departments in several universities, was labeled “the head of cosmopolitans in Historical Science.” After that numerous scientific posts at MGU were ‘liberated’ from his former students and other Jewish professors (39).
Purges of Jews from technical fields and the natural sciences were gradually gaining momentum. “The end of 1945 and all of 1946 were relatively peaceful for the Jews of this particular social group.” L. Mininberg studied Jewish contributions in Soviet science and industry during the war: “In 1946, the first serious blow since the end of the war was dealt to the administration and a big ‘case’ was fabricated. Its principal victims were mainly Russians…there were no Jews among them,” though “investigation reports contained testaments against Israel Solomonovitch Levin, director of the Saratov Aviation Plant. He was accused on the charge that during the Battle for Stalingrad, two aviation regiments were not able to take off because of manufacturing defects in the planes produced by the plant. The charge was real, not made-up by the investigators. However, Levin was neither fired nor arrested.” In 1946, “B.L. Vannikov, L.M. Kaganovich, S.Z. Ginzburg, L.Z. Mekhlis all kept their Ministry posts in the newly formed government… Almost all Jewish former deputy ministers also retained their positions as assistants to ministers.” The first victims among the Jewish technical elite appeared only in 1947 (40).
In 1950, academic A. F. Ioffe “was forced to retire from the post of Director of the Physical-Engineering Institute, which he organized and headed since its inception in 1918.” In 1951, 34 directors and 31 principal engineers of aviation plants had been fired. “This list contained mostly Jews.” If in 1942 there were nearly forty Jewish directors and principal engineers in the Ministry of General Machine-Building (Ministry of Mortar Artillery) then only three remained by 1953. In the Soviet Army, “the Soviet authorities persecuted not only Jewish generals, but lower ranking officers working on the development of military technology and weaponry were also removed” (41).
Thus, the “purging campaigns” spread over to the defense, airplane construction, and automobile industries (though they did not affect the nuclear branch), primarily removing Jews from administrative, directorial and principal engineering positions; later purging was expanded onto various bureaucracies. Yet the genuine, ethnic denominator was never mentioned in the formal paperwork. Instead, the sacked officials faced charges of economic crimes or having relatives abroad at a time when conflict with the USA was expected, or other excuses were used. The purging campaigns rolled over the central cities and across the provinces. The methods of these campaigns were notoriously Soviet, in the spirit of 1930s: a victim was inundated in a vicious atmosphere of terror and as a result often tried to deflect the threat to himself by accusing others.
By repeating the tide of 1937, albeit in a milder form, the display of Soviet Power reminded the Jews that they had never become truly integrated and could be pushed aside at any moment. “We do not have indispensable people!” (However, “Lavrentiy Beria was tolerant of Jews. At least, in appointments to positions in government” (42).)
“‘Pushing’ Jews out of prestigious occupations that were crucial for the ruling elite in the spheres of manufacturing, administration, cultural and ideological activities, as well as limiting or completely barring the entrance of Jews into certain institutions of higher education gained enormous momentum in 1948-1953. … Positions of any importance in the KGB, party apparatus, and military were closed to the Jews, and quotas were in place for admission into certain educational institutions and cultural and scientific establishments” (43). Through its “fifth item” [i.e., the question about nationality] Soviet Jews were oppressed by the very same method used in the Proletarian Questionnaire, other items of which were so instrumental in crushing the Russian nobility, clergy, intellectuals and all the rest of the “former people” since the 1920s.
“Although the highest echelon of the Jewish political elite suffered from administrative perturbations, surprisingly it was not as bad as it seemed,” — concludes G. V. Kostyrchenko. “The main blow fell on the middle and the most numerous stratum of the Jewish elite — officials… and also journalists, professors and other members of the creative intelligentsia. … It was these, so to say, nominal Jews — the individuals with nearly complete lack of ethnic ties — who suffered the brunt of the cleansing of bureaucracies after the war” (44).
However, speaking of scientific cadres, the statistics are these: “at the end of the 1920s there were 13.6% Jews among scientific researchers in the country, in 1937 — 17.5%” (45), and by 1950 their proportion slightly decreased to 15.4% (25,125 Jews among 162,508 Soviet researchers) (46). S. Margolina, looking back from the end of the 1980s concludes that, despite the scale of the campaign, after the war, “the number of highly educated Jews in high positions always remained disproportionally high. But, in contrast with the former “times of happiness,” it certainly had decreased” (47). A.M. Kheifetz recalls “a memoir article of a member of the Academy, Budker, one of the fathers of the Soviet A-bomb” where he described how they were building the first Soviet A-bomb — being exhausted from the lack of sleep and fainting from stress and overwork — and it is precisely those days of persecution of “cosmopolitans” that were “the most inspired and the happiest” in his life (48).
In 1949 “among Stalin Prize laureates no less than 13% were Jews, just like in the previous years.” By 1952 there were only 6% (49). Data on the number of Jewish students in USSR were not published for nearly a quarter of century, from the pre-war years until 1963. We will examine those in the next chapter.
The genuine Jewish culture that had been slowly reviving after the war was curtailed and suppressed in 1948-1951. Jewish theatres were no longer subsidized and the few remaining ones were closed, along with book publishing houses, newspapers and bookstores (50). In 1949, the international radio broadcasting in Yiddish was also discontinued (51).
In the military, “by 1953 almost all Jewish generals” and “approximately 300 colonels and lieutenant colonels were forced to resign from their positions” (52).
As the incarcerated Jewish leaders remained jailed in Lubyanka for over three years, Stalin slowly and with great caution proceeded in dismantling the EAK. He was very well aware what kind of international storm would be triggered by using force. (Luckily, though, he acquired his first H-bomb in 1949.) On the other hand, he fully appreciated the significance of unbreakable ties between world Jewry and America, his enemy since his rejection of the Marshall Plan.
Investigation of EAK activities was reopened in January 1952. The accused were charged with connections to the “Jewish nationalist organizations in America,” with providing “information regarding the economy of the USSR” to those organizations… and also with “plans of repopulating Crimea and creating a Jewish Republic there” (53). Thirteen defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death: S. A. Lozovsky, I. S. Ysefovich, B. A. Shimeliovich, V. L. Zuskin, leading Jewish writers D.R. Bergelson, P. D. Marshik, L. M. Kvitko, I. S. Feffer, D. N. Gofshtein, and also L. Y. Talmi, I. S. Vatenberg, C. S. Vatenberg — Ostrovsky, and E. I. Teumin (54). They were secretly executed in August. (Ehrenburg, who was also a member of the EAK, was not even arrested. (He assumed it was pure luck.) Similarly, the crafty David Zaslavsky survived also. And even after the execution of the Jewish writers, Ehrenburg continued to reassure the West that those writers were still alive and writing (55). The annihilation of the Jewish Antifascist Committee went along with similar secret “daughter” cases; 110 people were arrested, 10 of them were executed and 5 died during the investigation (56).
In autumn of 1952 Stalin went into the open as arrests among Jews began, such as arrests of Jewish professors of medicine and among members of literary circles in Kiev in October 1952. This information immediately spread among Soviet Jews and throughout the entire world. On October 17th, Voice of America broadcast about “mass repressions” among Soviet Jews (57). Soviet “Jews were frozen by mortal fear” (58).
Soon afterwards in November in Prague, a show trial of Slansky, the Jewish First Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, and several other top state and party leaders took place in a typically loud and populist Stalinist-type entourage. The trial was openly anti-Jewish with naming “world leading” Jews such as Ben Gurion and Morgenthau, and placing them in league with American leaders Truman and Acheson. The outcome was that eleven were hanged, eight Jews among them. Summing up the official version, K. Gotwald said: “This investigation and court trial … disclosed a new channel through which treason and espionage permeated the Communist Party. This is Zionism” (59).
At the same time, since summer of 1951, the development of the “Doctors’ Plot” was gaining momentum. The case included the accusation of prominent physicians, doctors to the Soviet leadership, for the criminal treatment of state leaders. For the secret services such an accusation was nothing new, as similar accusations had been made against Professor D. D. Pletnev and physicians L. G. Levin and I. N. Kazakov already during the “Bukharin trial” in 1937. At that time, the gullible Soviet public gasped at such utterly evil plots. No one had any qualms about repeating the same old scenario.
Now we know much more about the “Doctors’ Plot.” Initially it was not entirely an anti-Jewish action; the prosecution list contained the names of several prominent Russian physicians as well. In essence, the affair was fueled by Stalin’s generally psychotic state of mind, with his fear of plots and mistrust of the doctors, especially as his health deteriorated. By September 1952 prominent doctors were arrested in groups. Investigations unfolded with cruel beatings of suspects and wild accusations; slowly it turned into a version of “spying-terroristic plot connected with foreign intelligence organizations,” “American hirelings,” “saboteurs in white coats,” “bourgeois nationalism” — all indicating that it was primary aimed at Jews. (Robert Conquest in The Great Terror follows this particular tragic line of involvement of highly placed doctors. In 1935, the false death certificate of Kuibyshev was signed by doctors G. Kaminsky, I. Khodorovsky, and L. Levin. In 1937 they signed a similarly false death certificate of Ordzhonikidze. They knew so many deadly secrets — could they expect anything but their own death? Conquest writes that Dr. Levin had cooperated with the Cheka since 1920. “Working with Dzerzhinsky, Menzhinsky, and Yagoda. … [he] was trusted by the head of such an organization. … It is factually correct to consider Levin… a member of Yagoda’s circle in the NKVD.” Further, we read something sententious: “Among those outstanding doctors who [in 1937] moved against [Professor of Medicine] Pletnev and who had signed fierce accusative resolutions against him, we find the names of M. Vovsi, B. Kogan and V. Zelenin, who in their turn… were subjected to torture by the MGB in 1952-53 in connection with “the case of doctor-saboteurs,” “as well as two other doctors, N. Shereshevky and V. Vinogradov who provided a pre-specified death certificate of Menzhinsky” (60).)
On January 3, 1953 Pravda and Izvestiya published an announcement by TASS about the arrest of a “group of doctors-saboteurs.” The accusation sounded like a grave threat for Soviet Jewry, and, at the same time, by a degrading Soviet custom, prominent Soviet Jews were forced to sign a letter to Pravda with the most severe condemnation of the wiles of the Jewish “bourgeois nationalists” and their approval of Stalin’s government. Several dozen signed the letter. (Among them were Mikhail Romm, D. Oistrakh, S. Marshak, L. Landau, B. Grossman, E. Gilels, I. Dunayevsky and others. Initially Ehrenburg did not sign it — he found the courage to write a letter to Stalin: “to ask your advice.” His resourcefulness was unsurpassed indeed. To Ehrenburg, it was clear that “there is no such thing as the Jewish nation” and that assimilation is the only way and that Jewish nationalism “inevitably leads to betrayal.” Yet that the letter that was offered to him to sign could be invidiously inferred by the “enemies of our country.” He concluded that “I myself cannot resolve these questions,” but if “leading comrades will let me know … [that my signature] is desired … [and] useful for protecting our homeland and for peace in the world, I will sign it immediately” (61).)
The draft of that statement of loyalty was painstakingly prepared in the administration of the Central Committee and eventually its style became softer and more respectful. However, this letter never appeared in the press. Possibly because of the international outrage, the “Doctors’ Plot” apparently began to slow down in the last days of Stalin (62).
After the public announcement, the “‘Doctors’ Plot’ created a huge wave of repression of Jewish physicians all over the country. In many cities and towns, the offices of State Security began fabricating criminal cases against Jewish doctors. They were afraid to even go to work, and their patients were afraid to be treated by them” (63).
After the “cosmopolitan” campaign, the menacing growl of “people’s anger” in reaction to the “Doctors’ Plot” utterly terrified many Soviet Jews, and a rumor arose (and then got rooted in the popular mind) that Stalin was planning a mass eviction of Jews to the remote parts of Siberia and North — a fear reinforced by the examples of postwar deportation of entire peoples. In his latest work G. Kostyrchenko, a historian and a scrupulous researcher of Stalin’s “Jewish” policies, very thoroughly refutes this “myth of deportation,” proving that it had never been confirmed, either then or subsequently by any facts, and even in principle such a deportation would not have been possible (64).
But it is amazing how bewildered were those circles of Soviet Jews, who were unfailingly loyal to the Soviet-Communist ideology. Many years later, S. K. told me: “There is no single action in my life that I am as ashamed of as my belief in the genuineness of the “Doctors’ Plot” of 1953! — that they, perhaps involuntarily, were involved a foreign conspiracy…”
An article from the 1960s states that “in spite of a pronounced anti-Semitism of Stalin’s rule … many [Jews] prayed that Stalin stayed alive, as they knew through experience that any period of weak power means a slaughter of Jews. We were well aware of the quite rowdy mood of the ‘fraternal nations’ toward us” (65).
On February 9th a bomb exploded at the Soviet embassy in Tel Aviv. On February 11, 1953 the USSR broke off diplomatic relations with Israel. The conflict surrounding the “Doctors’ Plot” intensified due to these events.
And then Stalin went wrong, and not for the first time, right? He did not understand how the thickening of the plot could threaten him personally, even within the secure quarters of his inaccessible political Olympus. The explosion of international anger coincided with the rapid action of internal forces, which could possibly have done away with Stalin. It could have happened through Beria (for example, according to Avtorhanov’s version (66).)
After a public communiqué about the “Doctors’ Plot” Stalin lived only 51 days. “The release from custody and the acquittal of the doctors without trial were perceived by the older generation of Soviet Jews as a repetition of the Purim miracle”: Stalin had perished on the day of Purim, when Esther saved the Jews of Persia from Haman (67).
On April 3 all the surviving accused in the “Doctors’ Plot” were released. It was publicly announced the next day.
And yet again it was the Jews who pushed the frozen history forward.
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