Stalinism, Russia and the Jews

In August 1939 the Soviet-Nazi pact of non-aggression and co-operation between Russia and Germany was signed. From this date the position of the Jews in the Soviet Union became most difficult. The Soviet government did not allow the Russian Yiddish Press to mention Nazi atrocities against Jews in Europe; and, more important, when the Germans did make their attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, millions of Jews had not been warned or evacuated from the areas of Western Russia and Eastern Poland, annexed by Russia. Of the situation at the beginning of the war between Germany and Russia, David J. Dallin, the well-known Menshevik writer and commentator, wrote in his book, The New Soviet Empire:—


“The fury of the German occupation was directed primarily against the Jews and against members of the Communist Party. But the Soviet radio and press chose to say nothing of this. They sought to create the impression that the Germans were out to exterminate everyone alike. And so, while Berlin was maintaining a strict silence about its gas ovens, its concentration camps, and S.S. atrocities against Jewish women and children, the Moscow government also kept quiet. The motives may have differed, but the result was the same. Neither the Russian nor the Jewish population of Russia knew what the German war held in store for them” (p. 115).


At the beginning of the war 60,000 Jews were massacred in Riga; 12,000 in Minsk; 10,000 in Pinsk; 7,000 in Kerch; 6,000 in Vitebsk, and so on. But by 1942 the Soviet government began to show a great deal of interest in the Jews. It encouraged their nationalistic and religious feelings. It formed the “Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee.” But in areas overrun by the German armies anti-Jewish feeling, encouraged to a large extent by the Germans, began to show itself. Dallin, in his book, The Real Soviet Russia, says that under the German occupation, especially in the beginning, dozens of Russian pro-Nazi newspapers were started, in which they welcomed,”on behalf of the intelligentsia”and “ on behalf of the Russian people,” the liberation from Bolshevism and “Jewish rule.” (p. 209). And directly after the war Mr. M. Philips Price, M.P., who visited the Soviet Union, kept on hearing in Kiev, in the Ukraine, that “these Jews are here again.” (Russia, Red or White, p. 68). The Jewish population was—and still is—large in Kiev. Before the 1917 Revolution the Jews in Kiev, as elsewhere in the Ukraine and Western Russia, were mainly engaged in small trades, general dealing and petty business. Today most of their businesses and shops are nationalised and the Jews are found in large numbers as civil servants, clerks in state enterprises, etc. They were to a large extent the backbone of the Stalinist bureaucracy before the last war.


After the War


Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda had had a profound effect on sections of the Soviet people, and this strengthened Jewish nationalism, Zionism, and the desire for a national homeland. Later Jewish feeling in Russia was further stirred by the actual creation of the State of Israel. And the Soviet government feared that the establishment of the State of Israel would encourage Zionism or “Jewish bourgeois nationalism,” as they called it, even more in the Soviet Union itself.


From the end of 1947 the fight against “bourgeois nationalism” was on. It was conducted by the Stalinists with much violence, particularly in the Ukraine. “The first admission about the emergence  of Zionist tendencies in the post-war period,” writes Walter Kolarz,” was made in September 1947, during the plenary session the Union of Soviet Writers of the Ukraine, where ‘the existence of nationalist Zionist views in the work number of Jewish writers’ was unmasked.” (Russia and Her Colonies, p. 168). Later on, in 1949, the Yiddish almanac, Der Shtern, was banned for “ideological mistakes.” The Jewish publishing house, Der Emes, the Jewish newspaper, Aynikeit, and the Jewish theatre were all closed down in 1949; and the Jewish anti-Fascist committee was disbanded.


Stalinist persecution of the Jews continued for some time. In 1953 many Soviet Jews were disturbed by the so-called “Jewish doctors plot.” Communists in Russia, Britain and elsewhere denied that there was an anti-Semitic campaign in Russia. But since Stalin’s death they have changed their minds. They are now admitting much of the truth.


Communist Party Report


In October 1956 a delegation from the British Communist Party visited the Soviet Union. They have summarised their findings in the official Communist journal, World News (12/1/57).


The report states that prior to Stalin’s death rumours began to spread that all was not well, and that well-known Jewish writers and “intellectuals” in the Soviet Union had disappeared. After the Khrushchev revelations at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union specific charges were made in Folkszjtyme, a Polish Jewish workers’ paper, “that could not be ignored, for these charges were consistent with the kind of accusations which Khrushchev had levelled against Stalin, Beria and the security police.” The report continues:—


“The charges specifically named a number of Jewish writers, artists and intellectuals as having been tortured and physically destroyed, particularly during the period 1948-52, and this included the whole Jewish anti-Fascist Committee which had done yeoman service in helping to mobilise Jewish support of the Soviet Union during the darkest days of the war.”


The delegation found many difficulties in their search for information, but they found a certain amount of negative information at the Lenin State Library, where there was a Yiddish and a Hebrew section containing 15,000 and 70,000 items respectively. But: “It turned out that there is nothing in Yiddish later than 1948, when publication of Yiddish papers and journals must therefore have ceased.”


The Soviet Encyclopedia, which in its 1932 edition devoted 160 columns to the Jews, had in its 1952 edition only four columns.


“The biographies of many eminent Jews had been removed. Marx was no longer referred to as a Jew  . . .  For example, Heimland, a Yiddish journal, was in the library up to the volumes of 1948 and no later. The collected works of Halkin and Vergelis, Yiddish poets still alive, were there up to 1948.”


But, as the delegation reports, that year seemed to be marked out as a significant date.


The Black Years


It was through personal conversations by one of the delegation, H. Levy, that the delegation found out that the years 1948-52 were known by Soviet Jews as “The Black Years”—a period during which many Jews disappeared; when many more were dismissed from their jobs; when Jewish writers and poets and artists were arrested and charged with treason; when Jews were executed and murdered, and Yiddish disappeared from the street and the market place.


   “Conversations with the relatives of cultural workers who had been liquidated seemed to suggest that the procedure was invariable. Those arrested and charged in secret were prominent political or cultural workers. Shortly after his arrest the immediate relatives of the arrested man would be deported to some distant place and there set to work often at low wages. Finally, the husband would be shot, perhaps after torture, to try to force him to confess or incriminate others . . .  and this procedure was carried out by the security police under the direct authority of Beria, with the agreement of Stalin himself, who had apparently become convinced of Beria’s genuineness in seeking out the class enemy . . .
It is unnecessary to give chapter and verse as proof of these crimes. They are known, admitted and accepted as fact in the Soviet Union today, and no attempt is made to deny them. Since the Twentieth Congress many facts stand out as evidence of a changed attitude and therefore as indirect evidence of the terror that proceeded it.”


Life for the majority of people in the world today is not a particularly happy one—it is a life of general insecurity, of wars and of want. But, because of historical and social circumstances, life for many of the world’s Jews has possibly been more insecure, more unhappy. They have been the victims of periods of persecution and unspeakable atrocities; of mass murder in concentration camps and gas chambers, and of periodic pogroms. For the Jews of Russia, before and after the 1917 Revolution, the picture has been much the same: periods of relative tranquillity followed by pogroms, persecution and the like. For our part we would point out, however, that the solution of the “Jewish question” does not lie in a “Jewish Home”; a State of Israel or a Soviet Birobidzhan; or even mere assimilation into the non-Jewish working-class.


The problems that confront the Jews of Russia— and elsewhere—and other religious and social minorities, can only disappear when the vast mass of people have become socialist in outlook—in a truly Socialist world: not the sham Socialism, or Communism of Russia, and elsewhere we see today.


Peter E. Newell