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Jews in totalitarian ‘cage’
Dr. Haim Ben Yakov
Itzik Feffer, Albert Einstein and Solomon Mikhoels (1943)

Jews in totalitarian ‘cage’ – opinion

The Jerusalem Post published a column by EAJC Director General Dr. Haim Ben Yaakov dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee members execution. The article in English is provided below.

On August 12 this year we will note the 70th anniversary of the brutal execution of members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, via a series of commemorating events for this tragedy.

As we approaching the 70th anniversary of the brutal execution of members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, we can’t forget this terrible historical lesson.

“In January 1949, it became clear that the Russian Jews would pay a ‘heavy price’ for the reception they gave us,” wrote Golda Meir in her autobiography about her being the first Israeli Representative in Moscow.

“For the Soviet government, the joy that local Jews welcomed us with, meant a ‘betrayal’ of communist ideals. The Jewish theater in Moscow was closed. The Jewish newspaper Einikait was closed. The Jewish publishing house Emes either. No matter that they were all loyal to the party. Russian Jewry showed too much interest in Israel and the Israelis for the Kremlin to like it. Five months later, not a single Jewish organization remained in Russia, and the Jews tried not to approach us any more.”

It was a year after Solomon Mikhoels, the popular Jewish actor and director of the Moscow State Jewish Theatre was brutally assassinated, while other members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC) – poets, actors and writers – were prosecuted, which led to the execution three years later, on August 12, 1952, exactly 70 years ago – a date which will be remembered as the “Night of the Murdered Poets.”

The commemorating events of this tragedy have become symbols of the revival of Jewish life in the countries of the former USSR, and the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress organizes them with special feeling. The Museum of the Jewish People – ANU – is hosting a number of such events for the second year in a row.

In the early Soviet years, the Jewish culture was separated and cleared of Zionist sentiments. Thus, the Yiddish culture, opposed to the Hebrew one, was granted permission by the Party to to exist and truly flourished in the coming years. By the beginning of World War II, the Soviet public was well aware of the Jewish names in cultural life, such as Solomon Mikhoels, Itzik Feffer, Veniamin Zuskin, Peretz Markish and others.

The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee was founded in 1941 as a union of prominent Jewish public figures – politicians, writers, actors and scholars – to affect public opinion, secure political support and raise funds for the Soviet fight against Nazi Germany. They were allowed to cross the border, and visited United States, Mexico, Canada and the United Kingdom. Throughout their pro-Soviet rally they met with Albert Einstein, Chaim Weizmann, Marc Chagall and many others. JAC leaders succeeded in raising significant funds and other material help for the Soviet needs.

Beyond their main mission, JAC leaders became a somewhat unofficial, but recognized representation of the diffused and leaderless Soviet Jewry, especially after the war. That was clearly out of their mandate and the Kremlin’s plans. It’s exactly when their tight connections with the West, which helped the Soviets enormously during War, ultimately backfired, as they were proclaimed traitors and international spies who carried out anti-Soviet affairs.

The charges against them were absurd. The Jewish theater artist Veniamin Zuskin was sentenced to death for “staging the plays that glorified Jewish antiquity, portrayed shtetl traditions and the tragic doom of Jewish People, which aroused nationalist feelings among Jewish viewers.” The journalist and literary critic Miriam Eisenstadt was shot for publishing the list of 135 Jewish war heroes in Einikait and writing essays about some of them. In a note left to her husband and daughter, the journalist wrote: “The accusations against me are monstrous. I won’t sign anything, and that means we’ll never meet again.”

In a totalitarian ‘cage’, where the law is distorted and misused, you have nothing to protect yourself from the the ruthless state ‘machine,’ if you were chosen as a target.

In such regimes, sooner or later the question arises of loyalty to the state and quite quickly it becomes an ultimate excuse to justify all means of fighting ‘the threat.’ Concerning the Jewish population, the well-known anti-Semitic accusation of the dual loyalty, claiming that Jewish interest in Israel and worldwide Jewish community somehow makes one disloyal to the own state, is indeed a very easy trap to fall into. According to the poll conducted by the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress in 2019, half of the the respondents think a Jewish person should be a patriot of their own state and the State of Israel equally. This can be easily misinterpreted and used by those who need it.

During all the years of the communist regime, the entire world watched from the sidelines as the antisemitic state machine mocked the Soviet Jews while the authorities practically did not allow Jews to leave for their historical homeland. Clearly, no one wants the new ‘Iron Curtain’ ever again.

The organized Jewish world stands for the unconditional and undeniable right of all Jews to make aliyah to Israel at any time they need it. The dark history of the past century shall not repeat itself.