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…

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