Jews in Russia - The Post-War Period (1946-1966)

The Post-War Period (1946-1966)

If it were possible to describe the period of pre-war years and the war years with sufficient objectivity, even though it may not be an exhaustive description owing to the unavailability of many sources for research, which are inaccessible to us, the contemporaries of the events, the description of the events that occurred in the post-war years are still far more difficult to achieve for a number of reasons.

The first and basic reason involves the circumstance that all, or almost all, information and data about the condition of the Jewish ethnic group in the USSR were given in the light of the Cold War. This information, of course, left much to be desired in the sense of its objectivity.

The Soviet press endeavored not to touch the Jewish question in its whole extent, limiting itself only to rare indirect indications that some people committed improper acts, or inflicted harm on the USSR. The meaning "some people", of course, refers to the Jews. The phrase "indirect indications" is the precise description of the method used by which surnames, names and patronymics of such people were printed such that it was clear to the reader that the people in question were Jews.

The foreign press interpreted this as setting the masses against the Jews and diligently registered all such cases, calculating, of course, the percentage of the offended cases against the Jews perpetrated by the Soviet authorities.

The free exchange of opinions on this question in the pages of the press with the aim of establishing knowledge of the true conditions was impossible both in the Soviet Union and in the West, due to the atmosphere of the Cold War. It was during the stirring up of the Cold War that the question of the "persecution" and of "discrimination" against the Jews in the USSR became one of the main trumps in the propaganda against the USSR. This was called "anti-communist" propaganda, but in fact, was considerably more anti-Russian than "anti-communist".

Taking into consideration the situation, perhaps it would be safer and better not to touch this period at all and to end my sketch with the year that the war ended.

But, on the other hand, it is precisely during this twenty-year post-war period that the Jewish question in the USSR underwent such changes that not to mention them, even though in a brief condensed form, is impossible.

Therefore we will make an attempt, in the most general outlines to describe the events of this post-war period.

* * *

Since the war the feelings of the broad Soviet masses have changed. Many revelations which had been seen during the war years were endured silently by the masses, as they endured the Jewish dominance before in their own country. The broad masses were no longer inclined to accept what was revealed more than twice in the war years, and especially after the end of the war. The government took these feelings into consideration and, as said above, more and more non-Jews gradually began to appear in the leading administrative positions. These positions were occupied now by the representatives of the native population of the country: the Great-Russians, the Byelorussians, the Ukrainians and the representatives of the other national minorities, who had their own national territories. The same occurrence was also observed among the Soviet Ambassadorial and Trade Delegation positions, which in the pre-war years were almost completely filled by the Jews.

In these years, the first post-war years, the question in its broadest sense of the meaning arose before the country and before its political leaders, in particular about the actual Jewish "double citizenship". These Jewish subjects of the USSR divided their sympathies and loyalties between the USSR and the State of Israel, which was created in 1947. The creation was preceded by an endless and tireless propaganda throughout the whole world in the first days after the war. This propaganda ended with the decision of the United Nations to create the sovereign Jewish State of Israel.

The psychology of this "double citizenship", peculiar to each Jew of the Diaspora, is thoroughly discussed in the research of Professor Solomon Lourie, printed in Part II of this work. The essence of this psychology lies in the fact that at the time of the decision of any question, a Jew, regardless of the country he resided in and to which he owed his citizenship, must, first of all, explain to himself whether this or that decision or measure of a government in power, or of a political party, whether in power or in opposition, is useful or harmful to Jewry as a whole. Only then is the decision made to support those which are useful to Jewry as a whole, regardless of whether they coincided with the interest of the country or the nation in which a Jew at that time may be residing.

That which Professor Solomon Lourie so distinctly formulated in his book, published in 1922 in Petersburg, began to make itself felt in the USSR during the post-war period. The political direction of the country ceased to coincide with the interests and longings of all the Jewry of the Diaspora, as it was before, during the thirty-year period. In the USSR itself the Jewish ethnic group started gradually to lose its privi1eged position and to get equal rights and opportunities with the rest of the population. This was interpreted by the Jewry of whole Diaspora as "discrimination". The awakening of the national self-consciousness of the Russian people and, if not the cessation then the considerable curtailment of the ridiculing of its historic past, was interpreted by the Jewry as a revival of, if not "anti-Semitism" and "blackhundredism", then, in any case, of "Russian patriotism". This occurrence from the point of view of Jewry was undesirable and dangerous. And the larger part of the world's Jewry changed from advocates of the USSR to its opponents. The striving of all the Jewry, including those who were the citizens of USSR, in every possible way to support the demands concerning the creation of the State of Israel, regardless of whether these demands met the requirements and the interests of the State of the USSR, brought internal conflict between the Jews and the non-Jews of the Soviet Union. This conflict raised, not without reason, the question of their loyalty to the country, in which for thirty years they had occupied privileged positions.

In the critical months of the war the USSR propaganda machinery, which was almost entirely in Jewish hands, served to raise the army's spirit, an army on which international slogans and appeals used at that time did not have much effect. This propaganda machinery turned then to Russia's past. The medals of Alexander Nevsky, Suvorov and Kutuzov were instituted, and, soon after, titles that were known in pre-revolutionary Russia and golden shoulder straps which were so much hated by those who created the USSR, were also introduced.

The spirit of the past, against which various Goublemans, Apfelbaums, Suritzmans and their fellow tribesmen had fought to their utmost to eradicate it from the memory of the nation during quarter of a century and to deprecate it in every possible way, was let out from the bottle. As soon as this spirit got loose it found such response among those who had staunchly, with their blood, defended their Motherland, the land and the heritage of their ancestors, it was impossible to drive it back.

The international-cosmopolitan mist had disappeared and in its place life had returned to the seemingly dead patriotism of the Russian people and the patriotism of the whole population of the USSR, people who realized their own strength and their right to rule their own country.

From the self-consciousness, naturally, emerged the question of in whose hands the leadership of the whole cultural life of the country should rest. To be more precise, could this leadership be in the hands of the one ethnic group whose concept and sense of justice was alien to the spirit of the nation they sought to control? This is not a theoretically abstract question but one of the very existence of a national culture, of its essence, its manifestation.

This question is not new. It already hovered in the air for a long time, but was not voiced and, moreover, was not discussed in the press, because this inevitably would have been interpreted as "anti-Semitism", the accusation or even suspicion of which could have cost the people their social or literary careers.

This question hovered not only in the air of the USSR or of pre-revolutionary Russia. The question existed and was of concern to the elite of many nations, but remained unvoiced. Perhaps only in diaries, where concealed thoughts are expressed, and then only in some, did they venture to touch this "ticklish question" and place it under examination to the full extent of its implications.

Mark Vishniak, the former Secretary of the All-Russian Constituent Assembly, on his arrival in the USA devoted himself to the struggle with anti-Semitism throughout the world.

Dealing with this question, he made an interesting discovery which was published in the "Jewish World", New York, 1944. The discovery was widely received among all those who were interested in this question.

Here is what we read on pp. 95-97 of Collection II of this issue:

"The most extreme radicalism does not insure one against anti-Semitism, just as a revolution either in the past or in the present by no means guarantees that the discrimination and defamation of minorities' religion, race and skin color will not be finally and irrevocably swept away.

It is possible to give much evidence to the fact of how the outstanding and foremost minds found themselves at the mercy of anti-Semitism. Let us limit ourselves to one little known illustration taken from practical activity of the new time.

André Gide, in all fairness, was considered one of the leading figures in French fiction of the Twentieth century, one of its luminaries. You foreigners, take for instance the recently published biography of Gide, written by Claus Mann, the son of Thomas Mann. In this biography Gide is called 'the most prominent contemporary author', the 'moralist with the artistic genius', 'whose immortality is assured'. Gide was known for his extreme radicalism in many spheres of life and politically was connected with 'all the extreme Left' which developed in France only in the Twentieth Century. At one time he even became an adherent and follower of Bolshevism. He was on friendly terms with Leon Blum an frequently, from his younger years right up to the French catastrophe, visited Blum's house, was his confidant, and at one time was co-editor.

At the beginning of 1940, Gide published his diary, covering forty years, a huge volume of over a thousand pages. Here Gide turns out to have not only a personal hate for Blum, but also to be a 'cultural anti-Semite. He denies the Jewish writers who immigrated to France the right to consider themselves French writers, Porto-Riche, Blum and other authors who made their way in French literature, criticism and theatre, by writing in no other language but French, are, in the opinion of Gide, not French writers and cannot claim to be such. 'It is of no significance to me that the literature of my country enriches, if this enrichment will be detrimental to the importance of the literature. It is better to disappear, when a Frenchman cannot find strength to create, than to offer an ignoramus the opportunity to play the rôle of a Frenchman in his place and in his name'" — (Gide's record of January 24, 1914 p. 237).

It is necessary to remember the importance of Gide to France an its literature as he was the ruler of men’s minds and souls for two generations in France, in order to estimate the true worth of the tragic demonstration of this "case". This is an individual case, but not an insignificant one.

So writes Mark Vishniak who in the same book writes the following words on the next page: "even the most convinced enemy of the USSR, cannot say that anti-Semitism is cultivated by the government".

At that time, we suppose, the prosaic eye of Mr. Vishniak had not yet discovered the beginning of the equalization of Jewish rights, equalization which is now called "anti-Semitism".

And a few lines later in the same book and on the same page M. Vishniak writes: " The timid and double faced Jews and non-Jews, having an apprehension that discussions about discrimination and defamation on grounds of religion, race, or skin color only aggravate and promote defamation and discrimination by themselves, recommend avoiding such discussions of the subject".

Vishniak himself, however, not only speaks but also writes, addresses the public and organizes the struggle against anti-Semites on a world scale, struggle, which in his opinion, must be conducted " beginning with the information about the hotbeds of the infection and ending it with direct warning and suppression ... "

Addressing the general meeting of the Jewish Federation in Cleveland, in January of 1943, and rejecting the presence of even a hint of "anti-Semitism" in the USSR Government, Vishniak hardly could have supposed that in only three years the very same Government of the USSR would approve and support the statement made by Zhdanov, who raised the problem of "cosmopolitan without kith or kin" and started the struggle against their dominance in the cultural life of the country.

It is impossible to establish whether Zhdanov hit upon this idea himself or whether M. Vishniak helped him with his wide notification of the concealed thoughts of Andre Gide, who had written them in his diary. It is unimportant and insignificant. What is important is how it was welcomed by the men of culture in the USSR and that it was the beginning of the new policy of the government in dealing with the Jewish question, policy that was directed to the actual equalization, in word and deed, of the Jews with the rest of the population. This equalization inevitably led to the loss by the Jews of that privileged position which they had in the USSR for thirty years. It is not surprising then that this new political course of the government was interpreted by the whole Jewry of Diaspora as 'anti-Semitic'. It invariably averted a favorable Jewish attitude to everything which took place in the USSR and put Jewry on the way toward the active support of the powers and movements hostile not only to the system but also to the social order of the USSR. This course also put the Jewry on the side of those who aimed to liquidate, by means of dismemberment, the united country that was previously called Russia, and renamed the USSR during the rule of the Jewish ethnic group.

It is precisely in this change in the politics of the USSR Government, it is to be supposed, that one must look for the causes of the special sympathies shown by the Jewish Diaspora towards all kinds of separatist groupings of the individual nationalities of the USSR, which were not noticeable in the pre-war years.

The new course in the Jewish question, however, was interpreted quite differently by those cultural personalities who were not Jewish. Nothing was written about this in the newspapers, nor was it discussed at gatherings and meetings, but it definitely was felt that this new course showed the approval and gave hope to Russians that they actually would get equal rights and opportunities with Jews who up to that time had the monopoly in the sphere of culture in the USSR in general, and in propaganda in particular.

Zhdanov's statement and its support by the government did not result in an immediate removal of Jews from literary and propaganda activities. Very many, even disproportionately many Jews remained at their posts in literature, art, critics and propaganda and no one displaced or removed them. Erenburg, Zaslavsky, Vera Inber, Pasternak, Marshak and a great many others remained on the literary Olympus. Their number has not declined even now in the year 1967. Jews, for example Nickulin, Kozakov and many others, belong to the Union of Writers of the USSR. To speak about the complete dismissal of the Jews from participation in the cultural life of the USSR, of course, is impossible.

The fact that they had lost their previous monopolistic position and the leading rôle is obvious. It is precisely this circumstance that irritates the world Jewry.

Characteristic and deserving of special attention are the words that were said by Zhdanov, who laid the foundation of the recognition that the culture must be national in its own very essence and that its roots must be firmly implanted in the far past of the nation. And when Zhdanov, the communist and follower of the Third International, said, "Cosmopolitans without kith or kin", no one, besides the foreign Jews, protested against these words.

Is this not a proof of the realization by the people of the full value and depth of its national culture? And at the same time, is this not a proof of the unvoiced protest to those who speak and act in the name of the people whose national culture is alien, incomprehensible and hostile to them?

What Andre Gide wrote in his diary before the First World War, was repeated by Zhdanov after the Second World War in different words.

"Culture is a heritage of fathers and grandfathers and it must be handed down to their descendants". Thus teach the spiritual leaders and the elite of each nation. In the USSR this heritage of fathers and grandfathers was under prohibition for thirty years and if there was any mention at all, it was painted in black colors.

And when the words “cosmopolitans without kith or kin” were pronounced, people interpreted them as the recognition by the power itself that the loyalty of those who spoke and acted in their name was taken under doubt. This corresponded exactly to what people thought and wanted, and whose national feelings after the victorious war were aggravated in the light of all of what they had seen and had suffered during the war.

Stalin, who was well-informed about these feelings, took this circumstance into consideration and in every possible way always underlined the sacrifices and merits of the "Russian" people during the war, recalling nowhere either the Jewish people or its sacrifices and merits, the presence of which were doubted by the population of the whole country.

All the population of the country still well remembered the millions of sacrifices during the collectivization, famine and camps in which no Jews were seen. Moreover, these sacrifices were not the result of brutality inflicted by some invading enemy, but were inflicted by the ruling class which consisted mainly of the Jewish ethnic group.

In such a psychological circumstance, in circles of the "Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee", and among Jews in general, a thought occurred to turn the whole Crimea, which had been devastated during the war, into a Jewish national province or republic.

This venture, the so-called "Crimean Affair", entailed serious consequences. 'The "Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee" was disbanded and its organizers, the numerous Soviet personalities of Jewish origin, were repressed, among them Solomon Lozovsky (Drizdo), who was the head of the committee.

The population of the country new nothing of this plan, and it was not discussed anywhere, neither in the press nor at gatherings. But the Central Committee of the party intercepted and suppressed the plan because it realized the potential of it.

The details of the "Crimean Affair" are still awaiting the objective investigator, because the time has not yet come for such historical investigation. There is still too much that is dark and unknown about this "Affair". But the Soviet Government's lightning reaction to the plan shows what importance was attached to it.

Turning the whole Crimea, with its natural wealth, harbors and sea fortress, Sevastopol, into a Jewish province or even a republic, would have been a "military risk" for the Soviet Union, in the opinion of the Government of the USSR. Krushchov was also in agreement with this government’s opinion, as he confirmed in August 1956, calling this thought "monstrous". This was reported by P. Abramovich in the "Socialist Herald", in May 1957.

We will not judge how "monstrous" the thought is. But if we can conceive really how the realization of the "Crimean Plan" would have ended, then it is not so incredible that there was apprehension of the "military risk", expressed by Stalin and repeated by Krushchov.

In the atmosphere of the Cold War, with whole of Jewry on side of the Soviet enemies, the presence of a "Jewish state" in Crimea was indeed a "military risk".

And if this military risk was envisaged and prevented in the proper time, then from the point of view of the Soviet State it is difficult not to approve of the fact that such an "Affair" did not come about.

Even if P. Abramovich and his fellow tribesmen do not approve of this, the whole population of Russia-USSR adheres to the contrary opinion to make up for it. There can be no doubt whatsoever about this. It is also doubtful that the whole population of the USSR would be in grief if every last representative of the Jewish ethnic group abandoned the country forever. That is my opinion; there was no debate about that.

Furthermore, one more fact must also be taken into consideration that at that time, when the plan concerning the creation of the Jewish national republic in Crimea was in its fostering stage, there already existed in the Constitution of the USSR the provision for the Union and the autonomous republics of the Soviet Union to "enter into direct relationship with foreign countries, concluding with them agreements and exchanging with them diplomatic and consular representatives...", "to have its own republic military formations". And "for each union republic the right is reserved to leave the USSR freely", (Articles 18, 18-a, and 18-b).

And if the plan of creating the Jewish republic in the Crimea was realized, what guarantee was there that, with help and support from the whole Jewish Diaspora, the Crimea would not have seceded? It is also unknown whether this state would have been friendly or hostile to the USSR. And how would the rest of the two hundred million people of the USSR have regarded this venture?

It must be assumed that what has been stated above was well considered and taken into account when the attempt of actual separation of the Crimea from the rest of the country was averted, Crimea for which so much Russian blood was spilled.