Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

Surviving Stalin’s Purges

Why couldn’t Soviet Jews see the dictator—who died 60 years ago—for the anti-Semitic murderer that he was?

Print Email
“Evidence of a crime,” cartoon from the January 1953 edition of Krokodil. (NCBI)

Robert paused to gather his thoughts. “Also, you have to remember that Jews were strongly represented in the medical profession,” he added, “so I thought that the Jewish origins of the majority of the accused was just a reflection of our disproportionate numbers.”

***

Other historical and psychological associations helped to delay the realization among Jews like the Kesselmans that anti-Semitism was becoming state doctrine in the Soviet Union. To begin with, Stalin’s coterie included a fair number of Jews. Among them were Lev Mekhlis, the editor of Pravda, and Solomon Milshtein, who, in his capacity as the boss of the Soviet railway system, oversaw the mass deportation of hundreds of thousands of prisoners to the gulags. And with memories of World War II still fresh, many Jews still believed that Stalin was their savior. In their minds, anti-Semitism was a dogma rooted in racist pseudoscience, indelibly linked to the Nazi atrocities. The notion that it might adapt to Soviet conditions seemed unthinkable.

Then there were the gruesome fates of other national minorities. For example, in Kalmykia, a constituent republic of the Russian Federation in the south of the country, 90,000 Kalmyks, a Buddhist people who trace their origins to northwestern China, were deported en masse by the Soviet authorities during a single night in December 1943. Such bestial acts that targeted, in this case, mainly women and children, cemented the belief among Jews that, while they might be victims of prejudice, others had it far worse.

Moreover, the deadly blend of Soviet patriotism and Russian nationalism encouraged by Stalin after the war forced the belief upon Soviet Jews that they had suffered not as Jews, but as Soviet citizens. Under the Soviet regime, the monument at Babi Yar, a ravine near Kiev where almost 34,000 Jews were shot by the Nazi Einsatzgruppen in 1941, made no mention of the Jewish origins of the victims. On the bitterly cold steppe of Gulshan Balka, the site of a mass execution committed by the Nazis in Kalmykia during six months of occupation in 1942, the stark angular monument referenced not Jews but “resistance fighters.”

A handful of elderly Jews still reside in Elista, the capital of Kalmykia. Grigory Goldvarg, an 87-year-old Red Army veteran with a gaunt face and an icy stare, is one of them. A German speaker, Goldvarg served with the Red Army units that liberated Auschwitz in January 1945. In a voice scorched by the Russian cigarettes he still smokes, he recalled approaching the concentration camp with his comrades. “The odor of burning flesh was everywhere,” he said. “We’d heard rumors about what a dreadful place this was. We were thinking, ‘We’ll free the camp and take the glory.’ But once we were inside, we started to weep.”

Yet despite having witnessed these horrors himself, Goldvarg didn’t present Auschwitz as a Jewish tragedy. There were Jews among those who were liberated, he said, but also Russians, Bulgarians, Poles, and Ukrainians. Throughout our conversation, he spoke of Stalin in reverential tones. When I asked about the Doctors’ Plot, he shrugged his shoulders and said he’d never heard of it.

Was this the fading memory of an elderly man, or was it self-censorship? When I met with Goldvarg’s brother Boris later that day and reported what Grigory had told me, he laughed. “My brother is an incorrigible Communist,” he said, “but I love him.” Asked if he remembered the Doctors’ Plot, Boris said, “Of course” he had, adding: “All the problems of the Jews started with this. You could feel it in the air then and after, in ’54, ’55, and ’56. In ’56, I was a student in Stavropol. Some of my fellow students would whisper about me, ‘He’s one of them.’ ”

***

Grigory Goldvarg at the entrance to his apartment in Elista.
Grigory Goldvarg at the entrance to his apartment in Elista.

A good deal of evidence has amassed that suggests that Stalin had a grand plan to deport the Soviet Jewish population en masse. In his book Stalin Against the Jews, journalist Arkady Vaksberg quotes a number of aides close to Stalin who claimed that the dictator intended, after the seven surviving doctors had been publicly hanged in Red Square, to transport the Jews to the eastern gulags. Ultimately, it was Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953, that saved the Jews of the Soviet Union–or at least transformed them into accidental survivors. As Vaksberg notes with a certain relish, one of the reasons Stalin’s life could not be saved was that the most eminent doctors were either in prison or had been executed or deported.

This last point was underlined by Alexander Tchen, a doctor from Kazakhstan who accompanied me to the Jewish museum in Moscow. The son of a Polish Jewish mother, who fled the Nazis only to wind up in the gulag, and an adoptive Korean father, Tchen told me that it was thanks to the Doctors’ Plot that “real medicine arrived in Kazakhstan.”

Many of Tchen’s professors were Jews forcibly sent to Kazakhstan in the wake of the Doctors’ Plot. “They were afraid to speak about what happened,” he said, “because we could have had another Doctors’ Plot, another instance of ‘blame the Jews.’ The events that happened then could have been repeated under Brezhnev or any of the other Soviet leaders.”

Indeed, while it’s true that the mild thaw that followed Stalin’s death eased the pressure on the Jews–Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, admitted that the Doctors’ Plot had been a hoax and revoked Lidia Timashuk’s Order of Lenin–a distinctly Soviet model of anti-Semitism continued to flourish upon fertile ground. In the decades that followed, Jews continued to face admission quotas at universities and bans from any jobs deemed sensitive, all the while being subjected to a constant barrage of anti-Zionist propaganda. “The rule was that some are more equal than others,” said Robert Kesselman. “I was head of the orthopedic department at the hospital in Sumy, but I never had any special privileges, like a car or a bonus, because I was a Jew. It was the same for other Jews.”

If Kesselman sounds stoic about his fate, it is because the outcome could have been so much worse. Had Stalin lived, it is very likely that he would have set into motion a second Holocaust less than a decade after the first one ended with the defeat of the Nazis.

***

Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.

1 2View as single page
Print Email

It should be known to readers that communism was a Jewish political ideology and that the Soviet Union voted for the establishment of Israel in the UN because they thought Israel would go communist. But when it turned out Israel was not going communist, attitudes towards Soviet Jews went sour.

Habbgun says:

Under Soviet Communists you could be executed in the streets for simply teaching the Talmud. Sadly enough there were Jews who were the informers.

This is a chronic problem of Jews throughout history, identification and justification of the enemy. It continues to this day among “progressive” Jews rejection of Israel, and unwillingness to recognize Obama, Hegel, the NY Times, the BBC, etc., etc., as hostile to Israel (see some of the Tabletarians for example).

This is addressed & dealt with in Ken Levin’s book “The Oslo Syndrome”.

hg

BTW, a hotbed of Jewish support for Stalin was in mandatory Palestine / early post 1948 Israel among the “progressive” lefty parties like Hashomer Hatza’ir, Mapam etc. There are still some pockets of Stalin nostalgia in the remnants of the Israeli communist parties found in Haddash and elsewhere in the Israeli far left. It should be noted that current Labor party head Shelley Yechimovich (who now labels herself as a “socialist”) was an open and unabashed Haddash voter in the 1990s

hg

Stockholm syndrome.

Levin’s book is entitled “The Oslo Syndrome”, not Stockholm syndrome. See here: http://www.amazon.com/Oslo-Syndrome-Delusions-People-Under/dp/157525557X

hg

Anyone thinking Stalin was anti-Semitic is totally ignorant.

Stalin surrounded himself with beautiful Jewish women, and his son-in-law was Jewish.

If the Russians hadn’t defeated the Nazis, there’s a good chance that many Jewish (and Russian) people alive today wouldn’t even be alive; where were America and Britain during Auschwitz and Treblinka?

Read Young Stalin before you make that assertion. Read Vassily Grossman before you make that assertion.

Was Stalin an “anti-Semitic murderer?” Anti-Semitic yes, but not a “murderer” on a large scale. Had he lived, we do not know what would have happened. Asuming Stalin would have deported the Jews like he had deported other minority nationalities during WWII that he considered disloyal, there is no doubt that many Jews would have died in the process.
But until 1948 or so, Jews were not specifically targeted by Stalin and most did well, as individuals, in the party and state bureaucracies.
Therefore, their generally pro-Soviet attitude, especially in light of the Red Army’s defeat of Nazi Germany, is not surprising.

Stalin was no an anti-Semitic murderer. He may have become one, but he died first.
Soviet Jews fared better than other minority nationalities in Stalinist times. Jews occupied important positions in the State and Party bureaucracies. They were grateful for their rise in status from Czarist days and especially for the Red Army’s role in defeating Hitler.
I think the article does a good job of showing this. It is the subtitle that is misleading.

what an argument. properly belongs in New York magazine

meirmoses says:

Mapai were more pro-Soviet than pro-Stalin but their minority views differed significantly from mainstream Zionisits like Ben Gurion and most of the founders of the State who were also Socialists albeit of the Democratic variety. Hashomer were never pro-Stalin (and anyway, their bravery in Europe and in Palestine makes up for a lot) and in fact merged with DBG’s Mapam who were decidly aligned with the West and anti-Soviet.

meirmoses says:

While this is true, it doesn’t hide the fact that pre-and post war Soviet Jewry were subject to abysmal anti-semitic purges. Even the Red Army was a hotspot for anti-semitism during and after WW2 and Jews were generally not trusted or liked despite their undoubted bravery and loyalty to the USSR. It was repaid by terrible social repression.

meirmoses says:

Communism is not a Jewish political ideology you ignoramus. it was an ideology that appealed to certain Jews but there is nothing Jewish about it and Jewish belief and faith does not inform Communism. Have you even read Marx or Engels? It is an anti-clerical ideology that rejects and mocks Judaism (especially Marx).

meirmoses says:

Stalin is on record as having deep anti-semitic views.

Has I said before, why don’t you and your cunt wife emulate Adolph and Eve and kill yourselves.

Yes and if Stalin was not a Allied with Adolf Hitler dividing up Eastern Europe war would not have started 1939 Thanking the Soviet Union for saving Jews seems a little ridiculous

One thing and This is really funny blaming Israel for Jew hating Russians next you be blaming the bush family

It was actually his daughter in law who was Jewish. His son Yakov married a Jewish dancer from Ukraine.

We were busy kicking the nazis out of North Africa, Italy, and France. Americans and Brits liberated their fair share of concentration camps in Western Germany including Bergen-Belzen.

genelevit says:

I don’t think Stalin was an anti-semite. He was Georgian. Anti-semitism doesn’t exist in Georgia. He was just a dictator like any other dictator. He had just more power than other dictators because his country was more powerful. That is all. Replace him with Chavez or Assad and you won’t see any difference. His attitude toward Jews was, most likely, dictated by the suspicion of the dual-loyalty (another one to USA) but not hatred.

genelevit says:

Stalin’s daughter Svetlana had a love affair with the Jewish man by the name Alexi Kapler when she was 16. Kapler was 40 years older than her. Later he was arrested and sent to Gulag.

bo james says:

Why would any Jew step foot in the lands that did not want us, repressed us , murdered us? Germany, Poland, Austria etc, did not want us . I am happy to grant them their wish and never go there, ever.

Alexei Kapler was 24 years older than Svetlana, as he was 40 and she was 16 (although it is still quite disturbing). However, they never got married, so he can’t be his son-in-law. Yakov actually married a Jewish woman, so Stalin did have a Jewish daughter-in-law.

Hard Little Machine says:

For much the same reason that red and pink Jews generally rooted for Stalin in the first place. After all, everyone KNEW about the Kulak extermination, about the Gulags, about Kolyma, about Lubyanka for decades and they still sang Stalin’s praises, quietly telling themselves and each other they were really Trotskyites but that they ‘had’ to embrace Uncle Joe as he was the best bad option.

Ron Lewenberg says:

“It should be known to readers that communism was a Jewish political ideology”

That’s odd. Socialism was founded by the antisemite Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Communism was founded by two former Lutherans, Marx and Engels. An ignorant person would say, but Marx was a Jews. True, but only until age 3. His family became Lutheran and Marx was a Lutheran for the next 20 years. And, of course, Marx wanted to eradicate Judaism and Jewishness. Please see “On the Jewish Question”. Socialism and communism are the religions of antisemites and fallen Jews too stupid to read or think past their own sin of greed. Any Jew who become a communist is an atheist and definitional apostate. And that isn’t even counting a Cherem on them.

“that the Soviet Union voted for the establishment of Israel in the UN because they thought Israel would go communist”

That was the hope, but not the assumption. The goal was to damage the British Empire.

“But when it turned out Israel was not going communist, attitudes towards Soviet Jews went sour.”
Odd. Practicing Judaism was a crime in the USSR from the early years.

andrew r says:

It wouldn’t kill you to use your head a little and make a distinction between the Stalin regime and the Red Army soldiers who actually fought the Germans.

Svetlana’s first husband, Grigory Mazarov, is supposed to have been Jewish.

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/grigory-morozovworlds-bravest-man/

francis321 says:

If you think Keith`s story is good…, 1 weak-ago my sis also easily
made $5815 sitting there a 20 hour week from there apartment and their
friend’s step-aunt`s neighbour has done this for seven months and earnt
more than $5815 parttime from a mac. the guide at this website… jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

I think you’d be quite childish and silly we were talking about the Soviet government Joseph Stalin who probably murdered more Russians then Adolf Hitler. And to think Russian soldiers are fighting to save Jews, is a joke and not very funny PS you talking about the ford companies. You don’t talk about all supplies and raw materials Stalin was sending Hitler when they were great Allies dividing up Poland and Eastern Europe

Also a crafty politician. Supporting a Jewish State in Palestine was pure genius! Drawing the ignorant hostility to Jews that would be used by corrupt Arab politicians, protected Russia’s south from intrigue headed by the West. More could be gotten from this by ‘driving’ Soviet Jews out.

All three of Stalin’s partners were the jewess. I know nothing of a Jewish Holocaust in Europe but I know that in the Ukraine, that between five to ten million perished in wretched circumstances, during the twenties and thirties (Holodomor); where the jew did much of the dirty work: Frenkel, Yaguda, Molotov etc. Around 80% of the evil Political Commissars were the jew and let us never forget Stalin’s brother-in-law Lazar ‘Butcher’ Kaganovich. Solzhenitsyn puts the slaughter of White Christians by the jew in the Soviet Union at 66 million, I am not sure about this figure but I believe it exceeds what jewish slave traders inflicted on Black Africans during the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. This begs the question: Why are the jews so cruel? Are they human?

Genrikh Yagoda.

Look him up – He was a purger of 10 million Russians.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genrikh_Yagoda#Early_life_and_career

2000

Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Surviving Stalin’s Purges

Why couldn’t Soviet Jews see the dictator—who died 60 years ago—for the anti-Semitic murderer that he was?

More on Tablet:

Ctrl-F-Genocide

By Liel Leibovitz — Sam Harris reminds Andrew Sullivan to choose his words wisely on Gaza