Stalin and the Jews

Nepravedniy Sud: Posledniy Stalinskiy Rasstrel (The Unjust Trial: Stalin’s Last Execution)

edited by V.P. Naumov
Moscow: Nauka Publishers

It has been just over half a century since the Holocaust. And we are told that many of those now in school in this country have only the vaguest notion of it. That sends one back to the realities, to the results of a lunatic criminality that still persists in different forms in our own day, back to the heart-rending eyewitness accounts, but even more to the large-scale works that examine, and as far as possible explain, how such horror could be enacted in Europe in the twentieth century. In particular we return to the three-volume 1985 edition of Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews, first published in 1961. But whatever can add further to our knowledge and understanding of the entire phenomenon is to be welcomed.

If the Holocaust is now inadequately remembered, this is naturally far more true of the Stalinist anti-Semitic purge which followed during the 1940s and early 1950s. Its results have been known with far less completeness. It was devious, gradual, camouflaged, and never reached its intended climax. Only a limited number of Jews were tortured and murdered for specifically Jewish offenses, though in Stalin’s last year the entire Jewish community was living in fear and under persecution.

A number of good general books have been written on this theme—beginning with Yehoshua A. Gilboa’s The Black Years of Soviet Jewry (1971). Arkady Vaksberg’s Stalin Against the Jews, published in the US in 1994, had much useful information. But Out of the Red Shadows (whose Russian title, In the Captivity of the Red Pharaoh, is rather more apt) is the first book available in English which presents a full documentation of the anti-Semitic activities between 1943 and 1953. Out of the Red Shadows is not as “readable” as Vaksberg’s book, which like most of his work was something of a breakthrough. But it tells the intricate story of Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign, and presents the evidence for it at every step. It should be on the shelf of everyone concerned with these matters.1

Stalin’s first blow at Jewish victims was in the tradition of Bolshevik politics. During its early days in the Russian Empire the social-democratic movement included Mensheviks, Bolsheviks, and autonomous Latvian and Polish organizations. But by far the best organized and largest of these groups was the Bund, the “General Union of Jewish Workers of Lithuania, Poland, and Russia.” (Its members were usually the best educated in Marxist theory as well.) The Bund’s relations with the other social democrat groups went through complex variations which are often misunderstood. In The Bones of Berdichev, their book on the dissident Russian novelist Vasily Grossman, John and Carol Garrard write, for example, that “Lenin drove the Bund out of the Bolshevik party in his single minded drive for total power.” But the Bund was never in the Bolshevik party.

After the Revolution, the Bund was not allowed to exist in Russia, but it continued as a social-democratic party in Poland and Lithuania. Among its leaders were Henryk Erlich and Viktor Alter. Soon after the Red Army entered Poland, in 1939, they fell into Soviet hands. Interrogated on various charges over the next year or so—including that of hostility to the Nazi-Soviet Pact—they were sentenced to death in July and August 1941. This was soon commuted to ten years in labor camps.

They were released in September by Stalin’s government, which wanted them to form a World Jewish Committee under Soviet sponsorship to mobilize international Jewish opinion against the Nazis. Put in touch with leading Soviet Jews, they became active in planning international activities involving Jewish matters. However, they still considered themselves Polish citizens and they kept in contact with the Polish and British embassies, and with the old “anti-Soviet” Jewish Socialists abroad. On December 3, 1941, they were arrested once again.

The Garrards eccentrically account for the timing of the arrest as a matter of Stalin’s getting rid of them as soon as he could afford to. He could now do so, they argue, because he knew, through his agents, that Japan was about to attack the US, and because he was about to win the battle for Moscow, and so felt he no longer needed help from the Bundists. This argument is not convincing; and in any case Stalin could have waited a few days until those events actually occurred.

The rationale for such arrests is to be found elsewhere. Stalin was prepared to cooperate with former enemies, but these unrepentant heretics were another matter. In any case, he did not cease to make use of ideologically incorrect assistance when he wanted it. He arranged for a new Polish Army to be organized by General Anders, who previously had been under arrest in Moscow’s Lubyanka prison; he arranged a rapprochement with the Orthodox Church; and he created, early in 1942, a purely Soviet Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC).

Ehrlich and Alter were accused (in a statement issued by the Soviet Embassy in Washington in 1943) of urging surrender to the Nazis. One might have thought that such crude charges would have provoked at least some revulsion in the West—at least a warning to Stalin against anything similar in future. But the only protest was organized by David Dubinsky, head of the International Garment Worker’s Union in New York, and himself formerly a Bundist; and Dubinsky issued his protest in the face of pressure from the White House and the State Department to remain silent and not to offend the USSR. This surely strengthened Stalin in his hopes that silence, diversion, and falsification would blunt any Western perception of Soviet brutality and terror. Ehrlich apparently committed suicide in prison in 1942, while Alter was shot in February 1943—details that became known only a few years ago.

The new Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee was headed by the great actor and director Solomon Mikhoels, the Soviet Union’s leading Jewish cultural figure, whose Yiddish King Lear is said to have been the best performance of Lear ever given in any language. Itzik Fefer, a well-known writer, became executive secretary. Members represented every sphere of Soviet Jewry. Mikhoels and Fefer were sent to America in 1943, and found much enthusiastic support for the Soviet war effort, raising large contributions to it.

For several years the JAC operated fairly freely. Nor were there at this stage any overt signs of official anti-Semitism. Indeed anti-Semitism as such was never an official doctrine. Jews had been vulnerable throughout Soviet times because they were bourgeois, or religious, or Bundists, or Zionists. But overt persecution of Jews, as Jews, was forbidden.

The key word is “overt.” The third arrested member of the Ehrlich-Alter group, Lucjan Blit, who survived, told me that when he was arrested in 1939, after the Soviet attack on Poland, he was vilely treated, but never heard any anti-Semitic abuse. But after his second arrest in 1942 the interrogators vilified him as a Jew. This, he deduced, could only have been inspired from the top.

We now learn from Out of the Red Shadows that as early as August 1943 the Party’s Agitation and Propaganda Department (Agitprop) reported to the secretaries of the Central Committee that many institutions in the arts were full of “non-Russian people (mainly Jews)”; the Agitprop Department gave, for example, a series of lists of Jews working in the Bolshoi Theater and the State Conservatory as well as in the literary, musical, and theatrical sections of all the leading newspapers. The Moscow Directorate of Art Affairs made a survey of artistic agencies in order to set a quota for the Jews. This was a reversion to the numerus clausus policies of (for example) pre-war Russia and Hungary, where Jewish entry to universities was limited to a given percentage—something like affirmative action for gentiles.

Two main kinds of complaint now gradually merged—first, that in a given institution there were too many Jews; second, that they were collectively a hotbed of nationalism. The various motives for anti-Semitism within many Soviet institutions seem to have been mixed. Some denunciations of the Jews seem insane. Others are soaked in primitive xenophobia. Others seem to reflect the mean, denunciatory habits long prevalent in Soviet society. But we should not neglect the even more primitive motives of the old provincial looters during Czarist pogroms—to secure the pay, power, and positions of the victimized Jews.

One of the most revealing documents, in itself justifying the publication of the Kostyrchenko book, describes what happened in October 1950 to the Bolshoi’s planned production of Saint-Saëns’s opera Samson and Delilah. The Agitprop Department, in a long analysis, concluded that it might “play a negative role…as a stimulus for kindling Zionist sentiments among the Jewish portion of the population.” As a result the Fine Arts Committee canceled the project.


The great novelist Vasily Grossman, whose career and creative work are intricately linked with the persecution of Jews, writes that there were three levels of anti-Semitism: “the relatively harmless day-to-day type”; a “social” variety found in the press and television and such activities as boycotts of Jewish merchants; and third and worst, “State anti-Semitism,” common to “totalitarian countries where society as such no longer exists.”

Day-to-day anti-Semitism, as seen lately in some black quarters in New York, tends to emerge among poor or deprived people, some of whose members see, and envy, the more prosperous neighborhood shopkeepers of different origins—Jews, Koreans, and others. The situation was roughly analogous in some Russian localities.

As for state-sponsored anti-Semitism, Hitler said that without ideology violence cannot be relied on. Similarly, among the evidence against Isaac Babel (shot in January 1940) was an informer’s report which included his having said in 1938, “The Soviet system only survives thanks to ideology. Without it, all would have been over ten years ago. It was ideology that enabled them to carry out the sentences on Kamenev and Zinoviev….” Stalin’s anti-Semitism, developing later, was not, like Hitler’s, based on race theory. But neither was it simply the erratic unideological anti-Semitism of the sort that condemned Jews to live in the Pale of Settlement in Czarist times. For the last ten years of his life Stalin’s hostility to Jews was constant; and though not racist in principle it was, as Grossman said, conceived in ideological terms. Marx had, of course, pronounced his general disapproval of Jews on anticapitalist grounds, and Stalin seems to have absorbed this view early on.

Was Stalin right about the Jews being, or tending to be, unamenable to full-scale totalitarianism? The answer must surely be yes. Most Soviet Jews, even if in some cases hardly consciously, were aware of the existence of the outside world, in particular of the Western diaspora—often having direct family connections of a type seldom found among the other Soviet populations. They had at least a potential alternative loyalty.

Stalin’s own full responsibility not only for the anti-Semitic policies he pursued in the 1940s, but also for their detailed implementation, emerges clearly from Out of the Red Shadows. We still find in the West a lumpen-academic school of thought which plays down Stalin’s role in sponsoring terror (as with the de-Hitlerization of Nazism by some German professors); but the documents quoted by Kostyrchenko again and again show his direct intervention ordering specific murders, tortures, and executions.

One thing that had not previously been clear and now emerges is that the two factions competing for Stalin’s favor after the war—that of Andrei Zhdanov and that of Georgi Malenkov—equally accepted the anti-Semitic line. Zhdanov’s ascendancy from 1946 to 1948 was less oppressive to Jews simply because it covered only the first phase of the campaign against them.

A provisional exception may be made for the dreadful Beria. In the years following the war he was no longer in direct charge of the secret police; his main responsibility was the Soviet nuclear program. Here, when a Jew was denounced, Beria simply asked whether he was necessary for the work—he always was—and he then retained him. This even applied to the great scientist L.D. Landau, who indiscreetly expressed his loathing for the regime and who had barely survived the purge of the 1930s when it destroyed the leading Soviet physics institute at Kharkov. (On a slightly different note, Beria and others sponsored, as late as the fall of 1952, an attack on a scientist who said modern physics theory was non-Marxist—as indeed it was.) One is reminded of the attempts by the vehemently Nazi Nobel Prize physicists Philipp Lenard and Johannes Stark, to ban “Jewish science,” and the way they were rebuffed by the German defense research authorities.

Still acting deceptively, Moscow officials announced in January 1948 the death of Solomon Mikhoels in a street accident. We now have in Kostyrchenko’s book the documented account of Stalin’s ordering his murder through the Soviet Minister of State Security Abakumov, the Deputy State Security Minister Ogoltsov, and Tsanava, the Byelorussian Minister of State Security. They were secretly awarded medals for the killing, while Mikhoels was given a grand funeral.

Stalin had a variety of motives in his treatment of the Jews. He hoped at first to use Israel against the West; he continued to accuse the West of anti-Semitism; and he preserved, in public, the vocabulary of internationalist ideology. His first moves against Jews were unreported, or falsified. However, Golda Meir’s visit to Moscow in September 1948 seems to have been the last straw for Stalin. She was warmly welcomed by Moscow Jews—including Molotov’s wife, the veteran Bolshevik Polina Zhemchuzhina. At the end of 1948, the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, already in trouble, was dissolved, and most of its members and other leading Jewish figures, including Zhemchuzhina, were arrested during the next couple of months. None of this was made public.

At the same time the first public assault came—in the rather oblique form of a series of violent press attacks on Jewish theater critics, all referred to by their Russian and Jewish names and accused of being “cosmopolitans,” which became a code word for Jews. In more Marxist terms, they were called “bourgeois nationalists”—a category of people who were already legitimate targets for repression in the 1920s and 1930s and were much purged in all ethnic groups in the 1930s. In the 1940s the label was used to justify the mass deportation of entire nations, man, woman, and child.

Though something of a side issue in the historical sense, Stalin’s family life enters powerfully into the story. He deplored his daughter’s first marriage to a Jew, Grigori Morozov, telling her that Morozov had been “thrown her way by the Zionists.” When she said that the younger Jews had no interest in Zionism, Stalin retorted, “No! You don’t understand. The entire older generation is contaminated with Zionism and now they’re teaching the young people too.” He blamed her fall in part on her aunts; but here far more lethal suspicions also emerged. The two women—his dead wife’s sister Anna (whose husband Stalin had had shot in 1940), and Evgenia Alliluyeva, the widow of their brother Pavel—had Jewish connections. They were accused of taking part in a plot by foreign intelligence to obtain information about “the personal life of the Head of the Soviet Government.”

One of their friends, the Jewish scientist I.I. Goldshtein, was arrested at the end of 1947 and badly tortured. He was accused of being their link to the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, and was sentenced, at a time when the death penalty was in abeyance, to twenty-five years’ imprisonment. He died in jail. Anna Alliluyeva herself got five years “for the distribution of slanderous publications” about Stalin, and when her sentence was about to expire late in 1952, had another five years added. Evgenia Alliluyeva got ten years, and her daughter was also sentenced. All this is now fully documented—for example, the details of Goldshtein’s interrogation.


Stalin’s actions concerning Jews sometimes may have seemed contradictory. Right up to 1953, he continued to award Stalin Prizes to some Jewish writers (though never writers in Yiddish) and to some internationally known Jewish musicians. The USSR was the first to recognize Israel. Stalin’s adherents in the West were encouraged to decry anti-Semitism in the imperialist world. (The arrested Academician Lena Shtern was criticized when, having been required at a meeting of her colleagues to condemn a recent “pogrom” in England, she suggested getting confirmation of the facts.)

Such actions were devious and deceptive, no doubt. But they were no more contradictory than, for example, Stalin’s proclaiming “the most democratic constitution in the world” at the time of the fearful repressions of the late Thirties. His great “Peace Campaign” came to a climax as he sponsored the Korean aggression—the entire North Korean army were among the millions of signers of the Campaign’s Stockholm Appeal. On the Jewish issue, as on others, Stalin tried, as far as possible, to have it both ways. Or, to put it a little differently, he tried to conceal his real actions under a mask of misdirection and silence. After all, he and his successors managed to blame the Katyn massacre on the Nazis, to the satisfaction of at least some Western opinion, for over fifty years.

Not a word was printed in the USSR about the trial of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee between May and July 1952, which resulted in thirteen executions, some of them of people well known in politics and the arts. They had, moreover, all disappeared from public view three years earlier. So accustomed were Stalinophiles in the West to the Soviet practice of withholding information that this was scarcely noticed. When the Soviet writer Boris Polevoy was asked by the American writer Howard Fast, then a Soviet devotee, what had happened to Itzik Fefer, Polevoy simply lied, saying he had seen him quite recently, busy writing poetry. In fact, even after the rehabilitation of the JAC victims in 1955 nothing was said about them publicly, and the basic facts only emerged when questions were raised by foreign Communists during the following year.

The full story of the JAC members has come out gradually only in the 1990s. Nepravedniy Sud, the complete text of their trial, with an excellent preface by V.P. Naumov, is a shattering document; an English translation should be sponsored without delay by some responsible foundation or fund. It is one of the fullest demonstrations of the Stalinist cast of mind ever to be made public—four hundred pages of contorted legalism, insane accusations, absurd confessions—but also courageous withdrawals of confession and descriptions of the tortures (accompanied by anti-Semitic abuse) by which they were obtained.

The incredibly brave Dr. Shimeliovich, medical chief of the elite Botkin Hospital, just sixty years old, told the court that in January and February 1949 he was beaten with rubber truncheons “day and night” with 80 to 100 blows (about 2,000 in all). He testified that he had signed a document in a state of semi-consciousness, and had then withdrawn his signature. Far from confessing in court, he demanded his immediate release. He was shot.

The seventy-four-year-old S.A. Lozovsky had a long record of service to the Soviet regime. He was former head of the Profintern, the long-ineffective trade union equivalent of the Comintern (misidentified by the Garrards as “the Soviet trade union organization that liaised with trade unions in foreign countries.”) Later he was Deputy People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs and still later in charge of the Soviet Information Bureau, having responsibility for the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. He said in court that during eight nights of brutal interrogation Colonel Komarov had told him that “the Jews are a base and filthy people, that all Jews in the whole Soviet Union spit on the Soviet power, that all Jews want to exterminate all Russians.” Lozovsky too was shot.

In November 1952 came the open (or at any rate publicized) trial in Prague of leading Czechoslovak Communists, mostly Jewish, organized by Soviet secret police officials. They were prosecuted under their pre-assimilation Jewish names; Rudolf Slansky, former Secretary General of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, for example, was prosecuted as “Salzman” and it was publicly said that he was “by his very nature a Zionist” because of his Jewish bourgeois origin. Artur London, one of the few who survived, said that a “high police official” shouted at him, “You and your dirty race, we shall eliminate you! You are all the same! Not everything that Hitler did was bad, because he killed the Jews and that was a good thing. Too many escaped the gas chambers. What he did not finish, we shall complete….” This came, London commented, from a man wearing a Party badge, in the presence of three other officers: “All this by a security official in a socialist country, a member of the Communist Party.” London’s mother, brother, aunt, and uncle had died in the Nazi Holocaust.

We now have, in Kostyrchenko’s book, the full story of what would have been the public climax of Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign, the famous “Doctors’ Plot” in which the USSR’s leading medical men were arrested, tortured, and then publicly accused of plotting to poison Stalin and kill other Soviet leaders on behalf of American and British intelligence. It is a more intricate story than we had long supposed.

Here too Stalin had it both ways. In the list of the doctors arrested that was published on January 13, 1953, two out of the eight names given (out of the thirty-seven who were in fact arrested) are Russian, not Jewish. Though most of the accused were charged with working for the American Jewish organization “Joint,” the case was, therefore, not strictly “anti-Semitic.” And, from Stalin’s point of view, international Communist solidarity in support of the arrests stood up fairly well. The announcement of the Doctors’ Plot was followed by a public letter from eight leading French medical men of Communist persuasion denouncing their Moscow colleagues. (And Artur London’s wife, then in Paris, repudiated him.) If Stalin had not died in March 1953, there seems little doubt that the alleged plot would have been made the basis for a devastating purge of Jews.

A major charge against several of the leading doctors was their alleged murder of Zhdanov in 1948, of which, of course, they were innocent. A completely new, ironic piece of information provided by Kostyrchenko is that they were in a sense responsible for his death, though only out of Soviet-style laziness and incompetence, having misdiagnosed Zhdanov and given him inappropriate medical treatment. On this point a later Stalinist informant was right, although she was much abused for saying so.

One of the most interesting pieces of information to emerge recently from the archives—it is not in Kostyrchenko’s book—concerned the repudiation of the Doctor’s Plot, in a famous announcement by Beria’s MVD in April 1953. This statement included an admission that the innocent doctors had been tortured, and was criticized at the Central Committee plenum following Beria’s arrest the summer of that year. Some members of the Committee said that though the doctors had to be rehabilitated, this should not have been done publicly. Presumably what was envisaged was something like the largely concealed rehabilitation of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee.

A major link between Nazi and Soviet anti-Semitism is to be found in Kostyrchenko’s account of the Soviet Black Book, a collection of documents on the Holocaust that was to have appeared simultaneously in the US and the USSR. The American edition of The Black Book, 2 it should be noted, covers the whole of Europe, and only contains some of the material in the Russian edition, which confines itself to the USSR.

The Soviet Black Book was edited originally by Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman—but after the spring of 1945 by Grossman alone. It was passed by the censorship organ Glavlit, and in 1946 was at its Moscow publishers. In September 1947, however, the Central Committee Propaganda Directorate decided that “the book contains serious political errors…. The Black Book cannot be published.” Even the secret investigative documents do not mention it until February 1952, when they characterize it as a product of “bourgeois Jewish nationalism.” It became available in Russia only quite recently. (The Garrards are wrong in saying it can be obtained only in Lithuania. In 1991, a two-volume Russian edition was published jointly in Jerusalem and Zaporozhe in Ukraine and it can be bought in Moscow.)

Vasily Grossman himself powerfully described both Nazi and Soviet anti-Semitism. In addition to editing The Black Book, he had written a harrowing account of a death camp, Hell of Treblinka. Although still apparently acceptable to the Moscow regime almost as late as the time of Stalin’s death, his work had nevertheless been severely criticized, and he had been secretly incriminated in the case of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. It is clear enough—and Grossman thought so himself—that if Stalin had lived he would have been among the victims. His later career centered on the writing of such powerful novels as Life and Fate and Forever Flowing, both of which were barred from publication in the USSR. Both books strikingly and repeatedly state the parallels between the Hitler and the Stalin regimes, for example in their uses of concentration camps and mass killing. Forever Flowing has a chapter on the terror-famine of 1933 inflicted by Stalin on the peasants of Ukraine in which millions perished. When the Holocaust Museum in Washington recently organized a series of lectures there on massacres other than the Holocaust itself, I gave the one on Ukraine and I relied for much of my account on the testimony of Grossman (and indeed dedicated the lecture to him).

The Bones of Berdichev sets out to be a life of Grossman, combined with an account of the Nazi murders in Berdichev, Grossman’s largely Jewish home town, in which his mother was killed. The two approaches do not hang together very well. But that is a minor fault compared with the ones that afflict both sections, in particular an inadequate grasp of minimally necessary background material and a tendency to unsupported assumptions.

The biographical part has much useful and interesting material as it traces Grossman’s well-off Jewish family background, his schooling in the sciences, his jobs as a chemical engineer, and his emergence as a writer in the 1930s. The Garrards describe his successful intervention when his wife was arrested, his well-earned fame as a war correspondent, and his later and gloomier years. As a biography its great faults include speculations about what “Grossman must have thought,” and the acceptance of opinions at their face value. In the long account of the troubles between Grossman, his wife, and his mistress in his later years, the authors are fervent partisans of the mistress. These matters are almost impossible for outsiders to judge, and to say that when the authors met her “her pale blue eyes danced; her voice rippled with silver laughter” does not take us very far. “Probably,” “most likely,” “one can imagine,” “almost certainly,” and “it seems more likely” are common usages here—the last phrase, for example, is used in attributing mercenary motives to Grossman’s wife over matters in which, as we also learn, his mistress’s best friend thought she was merely naive.

Worse is the frequent failure to check elementary facts. It is impossible to understand Jewry in Russia if one makes the kind of error about the Bund that has already been noted. The terror-famine of 1933 is several times said to have occurred in 1930 or 1931—once in connection with the thoughts that Grossman, who was in the affected region at the time, “must have” had about it. We are told of a promenade “renamed Liebknecht Street, to honour an obscure German Leninist”—Liebknecht being, of course, one of the best known of all revolutionaries. The Smyth Report, the major document on nuclear energy, becomes “a book by Smith on atomic power.” We read of “the civil war between the Bolsheviks and the Poles”; and we are told of Peter the Great’s “newly created city on the Baltic, modestly named after himself and canonized, St. Petersburg.” This last is an instance, too, of the book’s deplorable English, of which examples mar almost every page.

Of course, a badly written book may still be valuable. But, as Orwell points out, there is a sort of bad writing which is a reflection of muddled thinking. When the authors present direct evidence, for example in their striking and horrifying account of how Jews were massacred in the Nazi genocide at Berdichev, much of what they say is fresh and useful. Their lack of historical background, however, results in major distortions. They think, for instance, that the Soviet army received no Allied aid until after the battle of Stalingrad—that is, in 1943. They also insist that, in England and America, “movies carried the main burden of keeping spirits high and turning Germans and Japanese into blood-drooling monsters.” The attentive reader will find other examples.

The Garrards believe that the British wrongfully failed to return the captured members of SS Galicia Division—composed of volunteers from Ukraine—to the USSR as war criminals. The British are more usually accused of returning Soviet citizens against their will. In this case, as the very thorough Canadian Commission of Enquiry on War Crimes (the Deschenes Commission) reported to the Governor General in 1986, “charges of war crimes against members of the Galicia Division have never been substantiated, either in 1950 when they were first preferred, or in 1984 when they were renewed, or before this Commission.”3 It is true that the Galicia division briefly fought for the Germans against the Soviets; but its full story is a complex one, involving an attempt by Ukrainian nationalists to exploit German support, as well as efforts by the Germans to use fresh manpower. The Garrards give no sense of the various motives of the participants. They are equally simplistic when they categorize the leaders of Ukrainian churches as Nazi accomplices—a point in effect rebutted by Raul Hilberg.

This is, however, no more than a part of their gravest offense, their treatment of the behavior of Ukrainians, as a nation, in the Holocaust. The Garrards, at one point, even speak of “the collaboration of the [Ukraine’s] population in the murder of their Jewish neighbours.” This is a typically crude indictment. Grossman himself never says or implies anything of the sort about the Ukrainians, either in the work he published, or hoped to publish, in the USSR, or anywhere else. He is clear and deadly about the more murderous Ukrainian collaborators; but he also records cases of Ukrainians saving and hiding Jews. This was indeed exceptional. Raul Hilberg described the crushed civilian population in Ukraine as mostly inactive, neither helping nor harming the Jews, as was the case elsewhere in Europe.

In discussing German-Ukrainian relations we may also note (though the Garrards do not) that the Ukrainian nationalists were able to organize a major partisan army which, as Khrushchev complained, fought first against the Germans and then against the Soviets. As in every country occupied by the Nazis, there were also active collaborators in Ukraine, and some were directly involved in the murders of the Jews. In Ukraine, as the Garrards point out, the “Ukraine Polizei” took part in the massacres. Misnamed in the sense that they included a high proportion of non-Ukrainian Volksdeutsche, they were certainly a disgusting lot. But the numbers of Ukrainian war criminals seem similar to those of other occupied territories—though there were, of course (as in all other territories), collaborators who cannot be accused of taking part in killing. In any case, the word “collaborator” should remind us of those with whom they collaborated—the principals of whom they were the accomplices. The Holocaust was, after all, a German operation.

Hilberg cites reports from the German Einsatzgruppen—the army units charged with killing Jews—in Ukraine that “almost nowhere can the population be persuaded to take active steps against the Jews; and that the inhabitants were even not betraying the movements of hidden Jews”; while “only the ethnic Germans in the area were busily working with the Einsatzgruppe.”

This was after the occupation had taken over. But even in its earlier stages in traditionally anti-Semitic borderlands, Hilberg writes,

truly spontaneous pogroms, free from Einsatzgruppen influence, did not take place. All outbreaks were either organized or inspired by the Einsatzgruppen. Second, all pogroms were implemented within a short time after the arrival of the killing units. They were not self-perpetuating, nor could new ones be started after things had settled down.

We should, it seems, conclude that Grossman’s “ideological” anti-Semitism can feed on the more primitive variety, but that it does so in a limited and temporary way.

In his book Pandaemonium: Ethnicity in International Politics,4 Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan reminded us of how until the 1940s various more or less hostile ethnic groups lived in Eastern Europe in an uneasy coexistence marred by occasional wars, massacres, and pogroms, but never the cold-blooded genocide of the Nazis. The old hatreds and prejudices were bad enough, but at least they weren’t made a matter of systematic ideology.

Among the most horrible things in Hilberg’s account are the frequent Wehrmacht orders to treat the war on the Soviet front not as any other campaign, but as a fight literally to the death between hostile ideologies and hostile races. This, too, is a theme of much of Grossman’s work, particularly For a Just Cause. And these orders were carried out, often enthusiastically. When the Germans arrived in Ukraine and elsewhere, Jews expected them to be no worse than their predecessors in the previous war. Germany had not been noted for anti-Semitism. The Dreyfus case had been French, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Russian. Earlier anti-Semitic prejudices no doubt contributed to German behavior, but what seems so unprecedented is the malleability of mind which enabled so-called soldiers to accept a criminal ideology of ruthless hatred for other human beings, justifying not merely the cowardly slaughter of the defenseless but the actual enjoyment of that slaughter that is described in so many accounts.

As Grossman stresses time and again, it was this Manichaean division of humanity into “categories” which formed the common bond between Nazism and Stalinism. “Just as the Germans proclaimed that Jews are not human beings,” he wrote, “thus did Lenin and Stalin proclaim Kulaks are not human beings.” In his novels and other works Grossman, like Hilberg, gives the frightful story in its full complexity, and sees it in a convincing historical perspective. The lack of these qualities in the book by the Garrards is such that, though it contains some striking testimony, the uninstructed reader will find it hard to separate the truth from a great deal of inaccurate and misleading commentary.


Ukrainians & the Holocaust October 17, 1996

Stalin’s Anti-Semitism October 3, 1996

  1. 1

    There are, indeed, other important books not yet translated—such as the similar, though more personal, Obvinaetsya Krov, by Aleksandr Borshchagovski (Moscow, 1994), himself one of those attacked in the 1940s, which has as yet appeared in the West only in French, as L’holocauste inachevé: ou, Comment Staline tenta d’éliminer les juifs d’URSS (Paris: J.C. Lattès, 1995). The phenomenon of useful books on the Soviet theme appearing first, or only, in French is a strange one, and includes such examples as Vaksberg’s Hôtel Lux, on the Comintern, Karlo Stajner’s 700 Jours en Sibérie, and Vladimir Bukovski’s Jugement à Moscou.

  2. 2

    Translated by John Glad and James S. Levine (Holocaust Library, 1981).

  3. 3

    Deschenes Commission Report (Canada Communications Group, 1986), chapters 1-8, pp. 2-57.

  4. 4

    Oxford University Press, 1993.