Friday, May 1, 2020

Stalin Hid His Anti-Semitism in Public During World War II, Emil Pain Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 29 – In the second part of his series on anti-Semitism in Soviet times -- the first is discussed at – Emil Pain says that during World War II, Stalin continued his anti-Semitic policies behind the scenes while proclaiming Moscow’s support for the Jews in public.

            The Kremlin leader did so both to solidify his alliance with the Western powers and to exploit Jewish expertise and enthusiasm in the Soviet war effort, the Russian specialist on ethnicity and ethnic conflict says; but after the war, Stalin reverted to his anti-Semitic position (

            Stalin’s shift happened when the Nazis invades the USSR. In his speech to the Soviet people on July 3, 1941, the Soviet leader said that the USSR was working together “in the struggle of the peoples of Europe and America for their independence and for democratic freedoms” and thus opened the way to relying on “international Jewish solidarity.”

            That represented a very public departure from the position he outlined in his 1913 article “Marxism and the Nationality Question” in which he explicitly said there could not be any solidarity among Jews living in different countries and speaking different languages, the Moscow scholar continues.

            This shift had immediate consequences. Stalin brought back Maksim Litvinov as deputy peoples commissar for foreign affairs and assigned him to be Soviet ambassador to the US. And on August 24, he convened a meeting of prominent representatives of Soviet Jewry and had that broadcast on the radio.

            That meeting resolved to create the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee under the Sovinformbuiro (the successor to the Communist International). The Committee whose public face was Solomon Mikhoels sent its leaders to the US, Mexico, Canada and Great Britain to stress the Soviet commitment to fighting the Nazis with Moscow’s allies.

            Pain observes that “the time of the Great Fatherland War became also a period of high activization and social mobility of Soviet Jews – or course, of that part which was not in the occupied territories and in the death camps.”  Jews continued to be largely excluded from party work, but they were widely used in the Soviet defense industry and military.

            By 1945, there were 501,000 Jews serving in the Red Army, “soon to be renamed the Soviet” one, with 305 of them rising to the rank of general or admiral.  “For comparison, in the US armed forces, there were 556,000 Jewish soldiers but only 23 generals and admirals. Perhaps not surprisingly Soviet Jews then were animated both by Soviet patriotism and love for Stalin.”

            But after the war, the situation began to change rapidly, Pain continues.  “In early 1946, Mikhail Suslov, then head of the foreign policy department of the CPSU Central Committee, wrote a report to his supervisor, Central Committee Secretary Andrey Zhdanov about the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee as a nationalist organization” that had ties with a “subversive” foreign organization, “the Joint.”

            Suslov’s argument found favor with his superiors and in 1947, he was named a CPSU secretary. “But the adoption of repressive measures was put off.” Initially, the struggle against “cosmopolitanism” which animated Soviet life from 1946 to 1953 “did not have a publicly declared ethnic coloration.”  It was about any “kowtowing” to the West.

            But as early as 1947, Stalin began to link specific ethnic groups with that practice and very rapidly identified the Jews as being among the most important. According to former deputy MGB minister Mikhail Ryumin, already in that year, it was decided to view “all Jews as potential ‘enemies of the people’” with all the ensuing consequences.

            In the same year, Ryumin’s boss, Viktor Abakumov reported to Stalin about what he called “’a Zionist conspiracy’ headed by Mikhoels and directed personally against the leader.” These actions did not immediately trigger mass propaganda against the Jews but they set the stage for that and worse in what came to be known as “the black years of Soviet Jewry.”

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