Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The "Secret" War Against Jewish Artists

The Jewish holiday of Purim starts this evening. We read the Megilla, the Book of Esther and commemorate the near annihilation of the Jewish people by an evil Persian. Well, colour me shocked-but we have another evil Persian to worry about! As I listened to Bibi Netanyahu's recent speech to AIPAC I was reminded once again of the main lessons of the Holocaust: Jews need their own state, lots of weapons, but especially nukes.

Here is an essay that I wrote a while back that was never published because I guess it was too Jewish, or too historical, or Jewishly historical or something.

Well, now that I have my own damned site, I can publish whatever I want-whenever I want. I'm a history slut and I'm proud of it. I read history for breakfast lunch and dinner.

I will periodically post book reviews, or book suggestions because I try to read as much as I can. So please enjoy this essay as we approach Erev Purim (tomorrow is the big holiday). I'm blocking comments because trolls are exhausting and I couldn't care less what trolls think of me. If you have something to say, please e-mail me.

The “Secret” War Against Jewish Artists in the Soviet Union 
 By Laura Rosen Cohen

In July 1948, a popular Jewish actor in the Soviet Union’s thriving Yiddish cultural scene died in what was officially claimed to be a traffic accident.  But the suspicious and untimely death of Solomon Mikhoels (Solomon Vovsi) was widely recognized at the time, in whispers, as the end of the brief reprieve from officially sanctioned anti-Semitism that the local Jewish community had enjoyed in the immediate post-WWII period. 

It was the beginning of a new wave of persecution directed by none other than Stalin himself.  Even as they faced sentences of the death penalty for treason, the betrayal was ultimately incomprehensible to communism’s many devoted Jewish adherents in the Soviet Union and their Jewish sympathizers in North America.   

Recently declassified trial transcripts are a chilling window into the judicial workings of totalitarian regimes, but also must be read and serve as warnings even to democracies about the potential for abuse when power is too heavily concentrated in any one area of government and rights are abused or ignored. 

Many in the western world are aware of the notorious 1952 “Doctor’s Plot”  -  the anti-Semitic targeting and persecution of Jewish physicians in the Soviet Union on fabricated charges– but fewer are aware that Stalin’s more aggressive anti-Jewish activities began with a campaign against Jewish artists, writers, musicians, actors and playwrights – all of whom earned their living courtesy of the state. 

Recently declassified and translated documents from the period demonstrate the relentless, merciless campaign that Stalin waged against members of the state-sanctioned and state-funded Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC).  It has been suggested that Stalin planned to use the doctor’s collective “guilt” in order to implement a large-scale deportation of Jews to Birobidzhan (about 5,000 miles east of Moscow near the border with China). However in life, as in everything – timing is everything.  Miraculously, some might say, Stalin died suddenly before being able to give a deportation order. 

JAC members, like other ethnicity-based ‘anti-fascist’ committees, were created by Soviet leaders for both surveillance and indoctrination purposes. 

The role of the JAC was unique in some ways, and the stakes higher for Stalin because Soviet leaders realized that they could use JAC members for propaganda purposes and to raise money – hard currency – for the Soviet Union from wealthy North American Jews, all under the guise of ‘anti-fascist’ political activity. 

Communist Jews were seduced by JAC members, who talked about the glories of the American-Soviet anti-Nazi wartime alliance, and spoke glowingly about new plans for a new Jewish worker’s paradise in the east.  Jews of course has always longed for Zion, but Stalin promised Birobidzhan –so Jewish communists dutifully adjusted their compasses and their sympathizers opened their chequebooks. 

The arrests of the Jewish artists were swift and silent. People simply disappeared. But even more sinister was the fact that Jewish communists in both the Soviet Union and in North America continued to uphold the charade that they either hadn’t seen their friends and comrades in some time, or didn’t know about their whereabouts – all the while knowing that the regime was imprisoning and torturing their Jewish brethren for the “crime” of being Jewish. 

The artists, who had been selected specifically for their JAC work because they were Jewish, were now being persecuted for that very reason. They were accused of being Jewish “nationalists”, “exceptionally nationalistic” or of cavorting with, or spying for “bourgeois” nations and collaborating with both real and imagined enemies of the Soviet regime. Their use of the Yiddish language, hitherto sanctioned by Stalin in order to accelerate the assimilation of Jews, formed the basis of the accusations of anti-Soviet “nationalistic” thought crimes. 

The devoted Jewish communists had been critical to the Soviet war effort. They produced thousands of pages of foreign language propaganda, raised funds for, and served in the Soviet army.  Jewish soldiers received the fourth highest number of medals for valour (after Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians) despite their small numbers relative to the greater Soviet population.  How could this be happening, they wondered? 

The artists, musicians, writers, actors and essayists were tortured day and night and subjected to relentless beatings. They were forced to sign confessions and endure endless prosecutorial sessions in the effort to have them, through this process, create self-incriminating “evidence” of their “crimes” when none (as Stalin himself acknowledged) actually existed. Their devotion to the regime was reciprocated with execution. 

There was much Jewish complicity in the silence about the “secret” pogrom against the artists. 

Word only really started to break of the multiple executions of Jews in March 1956, only a few short weeks after Khrushchev “secret speech” denouncing Stalin.  

To this day, there remain steadfast believers in the righteousness of the communist’s cause. There is also no small number of citizens in various democratic countries who wish to see extraordinary amounts of power concentrated in the hands of government – which is ultimately a collection of ordinary people with whims and faults, prejudices and opinions of their own. 

Although the reality of their plight faced them straight in the eye, many Soviet Jewish communists and their sympathizers preferred to remain in denial – even convincing themselves that they were in some way complicit in their “crimes”. They refused to believe their lying eyes, and continued to collaborate passively and actively with their eventual murderers.  

Ultimately, not only Jewish survival and security is imperiled by totalitarian undercurrents – where the Jew goes, other cultures have fallen and followed.  The lessons of the “secret” pogroms can therefore be seen in historic and contemporary terms as well.