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What the history of the Jews of the USSR teaches us
Dr. Haim Ben Yakov

What the history of the Jews of the USSR teaches us

The Jerusalem Post published a column by EAJC Director General Dr. Haim Ben Yaakov. The article in English is provided below.
The history of the Jews of the USSR is a universal lesson that in a country where the law is distorted, a citizen has nothing to protect himself from the state.

On January 12, 1948, on the day of the assassination of the outstanding Jewish actor and theater director Solomon Mikhoels, a new period began for the Jews of the Soviet Union.

He was brutally murdered, and other members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC) he headed—poets, actors, and writers—were prosecuted and executed three years later. The Soviet authorities saw the JAC as a propaganda tool to form a favorable public opinion for the USSR in the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition and to raise funds in the Jewish communities for the needs of the Red Army.

Having won an impressive prestige in the world, JAC became widely known within the country as well. At the same time, the Committee more and more went beyond the rigid framework of the foreign propaganda function prescribed from above, clearly evolving into an informal intercessor before the authorities for the aspirations of ordinary Jews who were looking for help and protection.

Mikhoels, whom Stalin considered a dangerous Jewish nationalist and American spy, did not really fit into the framework of political loyalty implanted from above. “At the end of 1947, one serious event took place, to which, due to thoughtlessness, we did not attach due importance,” recalled his daughter Natalya. — In Moscow, the anniversary date of the “grandfather of Jewish literature” Mendel Moykher-Sforim was celebrated. Mikhoels began his speech as follows: “Beniamin, having gone in search of the Promised Land, asks a peasant he meets on the way: “Where is the road to Eretz Yisroel?” And just recently, from the rostrum of the United Nations, Comrade Gromyko gave us the answer to this question! My God, what happened to the hall in response to this undisguised call of Mikhoels! There was literally a flurry of applause. People jumped up from their seats, but the father stood pale, motionless, shocked by such a reaction. The applause lasted for perhaps ten minutes. But the father knew that this performance would not be in vain for him. A week later, he was sent to Minsk, from where he never returned … ”

Members of the JAC were subjected to harsh, exhausting interrogations, the protocols of which were sent directly to Stalin. The accusations incriminated by the defendant were of the most incredible nature. Thus, the artist Zuskin was executed for “putting on plays together with Mikhoels that glorified Jewish antiquity, shtetl traditions and way of life and the tragic doom of the Jews … arousing nationalistic feelings among Jewish viewers.”

140 people were convicted in the case of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee.

This process was continued by a TASS report of January 13, 1953, “The Arrest of a Group of Wrecker Doctors” and a Pravda editorial titled “Sneaky spies and murderers disguised as medical professors.”

The State Security organs apparently found it difficult to prepare a public process, since the arrested representatives of the humanitarian intelligentsia not only did not commit any anti-state actions, but also did not possess state secrets, and therefore the punitive system involved more and more people, many of whom were doctors. These events became known as the Doctors’ Plot.

The intensity of anti-Semite phobia caused anxiety and even panic among the Jews. All sorts of rumors about the total deportation of Jews from large cities to Siberia and the Far East were being prepared by the authorities.

The “doctors’ case” started by Stalin was curtailed a month after his death in March 1953, but the authorities totally hushed up this shameful story. Even despite the partial de-Stalinization and democratization of the Soviet regime, as well as mass rehabilitation, the ideological and political tone once set by these repressions lasted another four decades.

All these years, Soviet Jews were under pressure from suspicions of “double loyalty”, in fact, direct disloyalty to the Soviet country (in the light of “Zionist sentiments prevailing among some of them”), which provoked everyday and state anti-Semitism (ban on professions, travel restrictions abroad, discrimination in admission to universities).

Throughout the years of the communist regime, the world watched from the sidelines as the anti-Semitic state machine mocked Soviet Jews, and the authorities practically did not allow Jews to leave for their historical homeland.

The history of the Jews of the USSR is a universal lesson that in a country where the law is distorted, a citizen has nothing to protect himself from the ruthless state “machine” if he is chosen as a target, and in the narrow, Jewish sense, the state of Israel is obliged to provide a free opportunity to make Aliyah for any Jew and in any circumstances.