Undoubtedly Nazi Germany was the biggest enemy of the Jewish people. Organized, systematic attempt of destruction of whole nation should never be forgiven and always must be remembered to prevent from it happening again. But, Jewish oppression continued even after the holocaust. However, there was another totalitarian regime that for many decades tried to assimilate, hinder and oppress Jewish community. It was Soviet Union who is largely responsible for constant abuse of national rights of all nations that lived in Soviet Union. It was not only Jews; Latvians, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Fino-Ungrian peoples also were subjects of Russification and suppression of the national culture. The constant abuse of national rights and culture have done great damage to Jewish community in former Soviet Union. The result is almost complete extinction of Eastern European Jewish language the Yiddish, the decline of Jewish Ashkenazi culture and Jewish religious life. Latvian Jews have also greatly suffered from this Soviet policy. In last 20 years in former Soviet Union there have been Jewish cultural awakening, the revival of old culture and independent historical study of Jewish nation. However, the aging Jewish population is running out of time to pass their legacy to younger population. Why this has happened will be discussed further in this post.
After the World War II there were 12 million Jews in the World. 3, 2 million Jews lived in Europe, 2 million lived in Soviet Union. There were only 225 thousand Jews remaining in Poland, mostly refugees from Soviet Union that returned. Also many Polish Jews were deported to Soviet camps. 700 Jewish officers of the Polish army were murdered in the Katyn massacre. In war affected parts of Europe only 1,6 million Jews had survived.
Therefore Soviet Union was potential place for new cultural center for Eastern European Jewish Diaspora. It could replace the Poland and the Baltic states. The Jews had every rights for it as the 500 thousand of them had fought in the Red Army and were awarded with Orders and Medals. The Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and his government decided to use the Jewish factor in his foreign policy. In 1942. the USSR Jewish Anti-Fascist committee was founded. Its leader was Daugavpils born artist Solomon Mikhoels the director of Moscow Jewish Theater. The JAC issued a call to whole world to support the Soviet Union in fight against the Nazi Germany. On 1943. Mikhoels and his deputy Izick Fefer went to United States and acquired greater support from American society and businessman for more funding for Soviets. Even after the war JAC continued to call for greater friendship between USSR and US. Stalin wanted to use the contacts between Soviet Jews and American Jews to gain support from American financiers for rebuilding of the war-torn economy. A scheme was made to promote the Soviet and other countries Jews emigration to Crimea where the Jewish Autonomous Republic was to be founded. Mikhoels was intended as the chairman of the republics higher council. According to KGB official Pavel Sudoplatov the idea of Crimea Jewish Autonomous republic was made by Soviet foreign minister Molotov and supported by Stalin, who wanted to use this to get 10 billion dollars from the US. The JAC only had to submit the proposal.
However, the Stalin’s scheme to use Jews for his foreign policy failed. It was because Stalin wanted the new state of Israel to be under the Soviet influence. The American support for right-wing Zionists angered him. Therefore the KGB now issued a report that JAC is against the Soviet foreign policy in Middle East and spreads Jewish nationalism. KGB concluded that JAC has fallen to Zionist – nationalist positions and poses danger to Soviet Union. However, Stalin still hoped that he can influence the founding of the Jewish state in Palestine and spared JAC. Mikhoels even received the Stalin’s price.
It soon turned out that Soviet Union cannot influence the Zionist movement. The new State of Israel was founded as western democracy and American ally. Stalin’s gamble had failed. The Kremlin blamed Mikhoels for it. The KGB was alarmed by the JAC proposal for making not Autonomous, but united Jewish republic in Crimea that could secede from USSR according to constitution. KGB ordered the assassination of Mikhoels. He was killed January 1948, by poisonous injection at his summer cottage in Belarus. After that his body driven over by a truck to fake his death reason. KGB arrested all members of JAC and the organization was closed. The repression campaign was hidden from public as the antisemitism was still officially condemned.
In same time the communist party started campaign against “cosmopolitanism” – the unpatriotic bowing to western ideas, works of art and western lifestyle. From Autumn 1948, Soviet newspapers begun to uncover the “spreaders of cosmopolitanism” placing emphasis on their Jewish names and surnames and disclosing their pseudonyms. After that these persons were fired from their workplaces. Every Jew who was working intellectual job was fired, Jewish officers and generals were fired, professors, academics, members of writers unions even top communist party members became victims of anti-Jewish action. Even Molotov’s wife P. Zhemchuzina was arrested for having links with Zionists in US, where his brother lived and for her friendship with Israeli Ambassador Golda Meir the future prime minister of Israel.
On July 1952. after long painful interrogation the 15 members of JAC were sentenced to death. Along with them the deputy of Foreign minister Solomon Lozovsky, writer Izik Fefer were shot but academic biologist Liza Stern was deported.
From 1951 to 1952 almost all Jewish artistic collectives across Soviet Union were banned. The theaters, troupes, writers groups and studies were closed. That was the beginning of the decline of the Jewish cultural life and shift in to Russian culture. Jewish songs could only be sung in private apartments or closed restaurants the Jewish language was replaced by Russian.
The Stalinist antisemitism was beginning of the new ideological takeover in Soviet Union. The 19. century Marxist ideas was to be replaced with new imperialistic Russian nationalist government model. Stalin considered Jews as the enemies of this model that had to be dealt with at the very beginning in the time of new changes.
The culmination of the Stalinist Antisemitism was the so called doctors plot. After party veteran and Stalin’s personal friend Andrei Zhdanov died in rehabilitation center, the KGB presented Stalin a fabricated information about the plot by nine Kremlin doctors six of them Jews against him personally and the whole Soviet government. The named leader of the conspirators was Mikhoels cousin Miron Vovsi (also from Daugavpils) who has secret contacts with Jewish organizations in US. In November 1952, the doctors were arrested. The case was discussed by the politburo and the Soviet main newspaper begun a series of antisemitic publications about the “Jewish, Zionist murderer conspiracy. Jews were fired from medical institutions on February 1953. 37 people were arrested. Jews suffered from insults and verbal attacks in public places, in Jurmala a leaflets were found with slogan “Beat the Yidds!”. Stalin was planing to initiate Jewish pogroms in major Soviet cities that would result of mass deportations of Jews to Siberia and Far East. Barracks for captives were already under construction. According to documents found in early nighties also the Latvian Jews were intended to deported. The culprits of the doctors case was to be hanged in Red Square. All these actions were halted by Stalin’s death in 5. March 1953.
According to some historians and publishers Stalin was killed by his closest aides, who were afraid that they will become the victims of the new purge. Beria, Malenkov and Khrushchev either killed Stalin or did everything to prevent his recovery from stroke that he suffered. There are even wilder theories that Stalin was preparing for new war with Western powers. In all possible scenarios, his successors brought halt to doctors case and all anti-Jewish repressions.
During the Khrushchev era the state antisemitism did not disappear, it was under the guise of anti-Zionism and condemnation of Soviet Jews who wanted to emigrate to Israel. Soviet Union considered Israel as its enemy and did much to finance its enemies, supply them with weapons. Any support for Israel was considered a national treason, Jews were forced to publicly denounce Israel and support the pro-arab coalition. After the Six Day war in 1967, the campaign against Israel was getting stronger.
The economical pressure by the Western powers made Soviet Union to allow emigration to Israel. The military victories by Israel sparked national awakening of the Soviet Jews. Soviets were against it since many important leading specialists in science and technology were Jews. Soviet attempts to block the emigration sparked resistance as in 1970 a group of Jews some of them from Latvia, tried to hijack a plane in Leningrad to escape to Israel. They were sentenced to long years in prison.
But, the wave of emigration was unstoppable in 1967. 1416 Jews left Soviet Union, but on 1971 already 13 033, 1972 – 31 681 and in 1973 34 733. After the another Israeli victory in 1973 Yom Kipur war, the emigration quota was downsized, but later again increased. It was decreased again after the Soviet Invasion in Afghanistan 1979.
The growing Jewish resistance sparked even more Soviet Antisemitism. It was banned to commemorate holocaust or to write about it. Attempts of doing so were met with repressions. Also Moscow became main center of antisemitic publications. Soviet Union mastered the anti-Zionist ideology and exported it to Western world and the Middle East. Most Israeli enemies – Syria, Lebanon, Iran and the terrorist groups received support from Moscow.
The Gorbachev perestroika and glasnost lifted the barriers of Soviet antisemitism. Large waves of Jews left Soviet Union. However, the political reforms also sparked the rise of Russian nationalism, extremism and neo-czarism that was aggressive towards the Jews.
Today’s Russia is not officially practicing state antisemitism. Jewish cultural and religious life has returned. Jewish national and cultural organizations are working again. Famous cultural workers, artists and singers no longer hide their Jewish nationality. However, many aspects of the Russian Jewish culture has become long forgotten as the Yiddish language is rarely spoken today. In Latvia and Russia a hard work has been done to educate Jewish history and culture to younger generation.
The remnants of the Soviet antisemitism has not completely disappeared, it’s still down in Russian society and affects the Latvian society also. Russian internet is full of antisemitic sites, and antisemitic books are still published and exported. Russian anti-Zionist ideology has largely influenced the Western antisemitism. Local Latvian antisemites take many of their ideas straight from Russian antisemite propaganda. The reason for this is to hide Russian aggressive foreign policy by blaming the US and Israel in the worlds troubles. Russia is a creative center of the various conspiracy theories headed against the west. Its part of Russian policy of deception that seems to never end no matter of what kind a political order is in Russia.