Jews in Russia - The War Years

The War Years

Was the war with Germany unexpected for the ruling class of the USSR or was it foreseen and expected? Up to now it is still not established with certainty.

Several well-informed investigators of this question and authors of memoirs hold the opinion that Stalin expected either to avoid the war completely or to enter into it at a moment most suitable to him.

In support of the latter supposition we find the circumstance that, as the events have shown, the armed forces of the USSR, of course, could not have happened, if Stalin had anticipated the possibility of sudden German attack.

The war put the question pointblank before the Russian Jewry, subjects of the USSR, regarding their total physical extermination if the Germans were not defeated or repulsed.

For the ruling class, in which the Jews played such an enormous rôle, the war was a verification and examination of the attitude of the whole Soviet population toward the Jews. This attitude was to take definite and predetermined form by the end of the war.

Participation in a war, it is known, is not limited only to immediate participation in battles and fights and a show of personal bravery, sacrifice and talents of military leadership. The home front, in its broadest meaning, is an organization of whole country's resources and corresponding propaganda. As it is in the country so it is outside, the home front plays an enormous rôle, and on a well organized home front also depends the final victory.

Understanding this, the Jews of the USSR had shown from the very beginning of the war their feverish activity, aiming at the ultimate victory over the Germans, while underlining Jewish active participation in the war activities at the front. For example, at the first Jewish meeting in Moscow, as the sole non-Jewish speaker, a Red Army soldier named Kuznetsov spoke, praising "the sons of the Jewish people" for their heroic deeds at the front. Several months after the beginning of the war, Soviet Jews held a congress in Moscow. The congress published an appeal to the "whole of Jewry", calling for support of the USSR, in every possible way, in the war with Germany. In Moscow the "Jewish anti-Fascist Committee" was created to develop propaganda activity, and this consisted almost exclusively of Jews.

The world press, outside of Germany, was full of reports about active Jewish participation in the war and their military bravery and sacrifices.

True to character the atheistic Soviet power permitted what would have been unthinkable earlier in conducting the propaganda. So, for example, in the "Jewish World" (the Collection 11 of 1944, New York) we read the following: "During the big Jewish holidays in 1941, the synagogues of Moscow, Leningrad and Kharkov were filled with the praying, not only with people of the old generation but also with the young Jewish soldiers fighting in the ranks of the Red Army. During Easter Week of 1942, for the first time since the October Revolution, big public Seders were arranged" (p. 237).

What impression this report could have made on the conservative Jewish circles, which had a well known "repulsion" for the USSR and the cause of official atheism proclaimed there, hardly merits comment.

And on the 20th December, 1941, the Moscow radio station, broadcasted in Polish, and repeated on the next day five times in German, "comparing the successful Russian winter offensive with the miracle of Maccabeus. The Germans were reminded that the 134th Nuremberg Division, named after that city in which the racial legislation came into being, was annihilated exactly in Hanukkah Week when the Jews celebrate the victory over the oppressors of the Jewish people" (quot. from the book "Jewish World", p. 238).

Side by side with this in the foreign press the courage of individual Jews at the front was regularly reported, as well as reports of the number of rewards received by Jews for brave deeds. So, for example, only in the first fifteen months of the war, five thousand one hundred and sixty three Jews received decorations for bravery. The Soviet Army had one hundred generals who were Jews, and besides that, it was possible to find in each new list records of decorations and promotions of many Jewish generals...

E. Stalinsky, a Jewish emigrant, in his article "Jews in the Red Army", published in 1944 in the USA, enumerates a great number of Jews distinguished in the war, and also those with the Gold Star on their chests — Hero of the Soviet Union (the highest award). He ends his enumeration with the words: "their list is too long to include in the frame of this small article".

Neither will we enumerate them. We can add only one comment that, to establish who among the generals or the heroes is Jewish and who is not does not appear possible, for when promotions and decorations are made neither tribal nor national origin is mentioned. How Jews establish this is unknown. Moreover, many Jews have pure Russian names and surnames, such as General Karponosov, Barinov and Zlatotzvetov, for example.

No one disputes the presence of the Jews in the Red Army in different ranks, up to and including the rank of general. It is true, that, at the beginning of the revolution, a Jew, Bronstein, known as Trotsky, commanded the whole armed forces of the country, and the political part was also in the hands of the Jew named Gamarnik, but this was not during the Second World War, Neither were there Jews among the commanders of the fronts nor army groups, individual armies or even corps commanders. The Jewish generals were more in the home front departments, military technical units and military medical units, to name only few. But there were Jews, of course, in combat units, some of whom were also killed and wounded. There were even generals in the engineer-technical service, for example, General Naftaly Aronovich Frenkel, or General Iakov Danilovich Rapoport, who were preoccupied with concentration camps and maintaining order in them.

But all of them, on the front as well as behind, on the home front, made every effort not to fall into German hands, which was for them certain death.

For a Jew, regardless of his rank, if he fell prisoner, there was no possibility of surviving and ending the war alive. That kind of possibility existed and was used by the Jews in the First World War, but not in the Second World War. Owing to this, Jews who were in the ranks of the Red Army did not display any defeatist feelings and fought for conscience and for fear, if they could not obtain their release from the front. (This was a reserved warrant against the military draft, given to those whose profession was deemed necessary to the war industry).

A great number of the Soviet Jews had such reserved warrants. This was noticed by the whole country and provoked feelings far from friendly toward the Jews.

The reserved warrants were given to executives in the different sectors of important industries and, at the time of evacuation, these specialists were evacuated first, of course, with their families and possessions. And because an overwhelming majority of these executives were Jews, who during the evacuation saved also their families, it appeared that only the Jews were evacuating, occupying rail and auto transport.

The Government of the USSR, taking into consideration the danger for the Jews of falling into German hands, endeavored on its own part to evacuate the Jews first.

This last circumstance, of every possible assistance by the Government of the USSR in undertaking to save the Jews in the face of the German offensive, is hushed up by the world Jewry or even denied altogether by some Jewish investigators of this question. To acknowledge this means to acknowledge also something positive done for the Jews by the Government of the USSR, Government which from the end of Forties is in great disgrace in the eyes of the world Jewry, who accuse it of "anti-Semitism" and "persecution" of Jews.

But during the war years, the Jews used to speak of the Soviet Union quite differently. Mark Vishniak, one of the initiators in the creation of the central organ for the struggle with anti-Semitism, at the meeting of the Jewish Federation in Cleveland in 1943, in published article in the collection "Jewish World" in 1944, is writing the following (p. 98): "The most convinced enemies of the USSR cannot say that the USSR is cultivating anti-Semitism…" Mark Vishniak, the former Secretary of the All-Russian Constituent Assembly and for many years editor of the Tolstoy émigré journal in the Russian language is a highly informed man.

In another place, in the same "Jewish World", we read the confession that "the Soviet Government delivered the necessary transport to save the Jews, even to detriment of the conduct of the war efforts".

An evacuation of the Jews in the face of the attacking Germans went not only by railroad, trucks and automobiles, overloaded by the Jews and their moveable possessions, (frequently including furniture and even pianos) but also on horses harnessed to carriages and carts. The Germans bombed railway lines and big highways, but it was comparatively safe to travel on the country roads. This is why many Jews preferred this method of evacuation: although it was slow, it was safe. The Jews, when evacuating, received written directions from city councils to the chairmen of collective farms and state farms, and upon presentation of the directions, they got a pair of horses with a buggy and required fodder. With such directions the Soviet Jews travelled during their evacuation by the country roads changing their horses and replenishing fodder on the way until they could reach a railway station safe from German bombers, to embark on trains to go on further to the land behind the Ural Mountains. At such railway stations the escaping Jews left their horses and buggies to the mercy of fate.

The German army, during its offensive, discovered, a few miles from the provincial city of Sumy, not far from Kharkov, many thousands of abandoned horses with wrung withers and hurt shoulders that were therefore unfit to be harnessed. These horses had been abandoned by the evacuating Jews who were lucky enough to escape further east. The authorities of Sumy, shortly before the Germans came, organized a veterinary hospital, with the aim of giving the horses treatment and making them suitable for harnessing.

So, by all ways and means possible, a wave of Jewish evacuees was moving toward the east ahead of the advancing Germans.

According to a statement made by the Soviet Jewish writer Bergelson, 80% of the Jews who resided in the regions occupied by the Germans were evacuated. Only in the cities, like Kiev, for example, where there was no time to evacuate all the Jews, the Germans, because of their quick advance, were able to trap and destroy certain number of them.

The exact number of Jews destroyed by the Germans in the occupied regions of the USSR has not been established for certain even today, in 1966. For example, even the figure concerning the largest mass destruction of Jews in Kiev (Baby Yar — 1941) cannot be considered absolutely exact. At different times, different authors and investigators quote different numbers. At first it was said that seventy or eighty thousand were destroyed; now this number has fallen to thirty four thousand. To establish the exact number is the task of future objective investigators of this question, if it is at all feasible. It is necessary to take into consideration that the Germans used to destroy not only the Jews, by mass shooting, as it was at the Baby Yar. They also destroyed many other nationalities by mass starvation in the prisoner of war camps, as happened in the Darnitz, only a few kilometers from the Baby Yar. In the prisoner of war camps at Darnitz tens of thousands of those six hundred and sixty five thousand Soviet soldiers and officers who were trapped in the Kiev encirclement in September of 1941 perished from starvation and deprivation. The exact number of these prisoners who perished is also unknown; however, it is beyond doubt that their number was definitely not less than, but larger than the number of Jews shot at the Baby Yar.

Generally speaking, each objective investigator of the question concerning the evacuation of the Jews at the time of the German advance cannot fail to recognize that those in those hands the power of the USSR at that time was did everything possible to save the Jews. They often did it to the detriment of even native population, toward whom there was immeasurably less concern (or none whatsoever) than to the representatives of the Jewish ethnic group. The people saw this, but, chained by fear, they kept silent, not daring to raise their voice in protest.

Only rarely, in a moment of panic, these feelings broke through and it was possible to hear from a crowd "of second class citizens", that is, the non-Jews, words of indignation and threats, but the representatives of the ruling class, who were in charge of the evacuation, put forward the appearance that they did not hear it or attempted affectionately to persuade and reassure the protestors.

In the war years, and also in the first years after the end of the war, the fact that the Soviet power helped to save the Jews in all possible ways was considered beyond any doubt. Much of this was written in the periodical press, both Jewish and non-Jewish, outside of the USSR.

Thus Eugene M. Kulisher in the bulletin "Khaiasa" wrote in 1946: "No doubt can be raised that the Soviet authorities undertook special measures for the evacuation of the Jewish population or to alleviate their spontaneous flight. Side by side with government personnel and industrial workers and executives, the priority was given to all the Jews during the evacuation. The Soviet authorities offered thousands of trains especially for the evacuation of the Jews, recognizing that they were the most threatened part of the population".

Later in his extensive work about the migration of the Jewish population, published in 1948 by Columbia University, Kulisher writes: "The whole factory equipment were taken out and, together with trained personnel and other skilled workers' removed from the urban centers. In addition the government employees and broad masses of the Jews were evacuated".

Moshe Kaganovich, the former partisan, published two books of memoirs (one in 1948 in Italy, the other in 1956 in Argentina), in which he categorically confirms that according to the instructions of the Soviet authorities all the available means of transportation were given for the evacuation of the Jews; furthermore, an order was given to evacuate the Jews first.

In the winter of 1946-47, in order to verify everything on the spot, the New York correspondent of the Jewish newspaper "Der Tog" B. Z. Goldberg visited the USSR, and in particular Kiev, and wrote about his impressions and investigations in his article "How Soviet Russia Evacuated the Jews During the War" ("Der Tog" — February 21, 1947).

The author, as he writes, set for himself the task to clear up: "what kind of Soviet policy was used in dealing with the Jewish evacuation". He questioned many about this, both Jews and Christians, military men and those who had been evacuated' and all answered that "the policy of the Soviet authorities was to give priority to the Jews during the evacuation, and to their utmost to pull out as many of them as possible so that the Nazis would not be able to destroy them". Among the persons Goldberg talked to, he also names the Kiev's Rabbi Shekhtman.

The statements given above of several Jewish emigrants completely coincide with numerous eye-witness accounts of those USSR citizens who themselves were in the midst of the events when the evacuation of the Jews was taking place.

And up to the year 1948, when the sharp turnabout came in Jewish relations with the USSR, no one raised this question again. But as soon as it became known that the Jews in the USSR had begun to lose their monopolistic right in ruling the country, everything sharply changed and became subject to reappraisal. Everything was studied, including the question of whether the Soviet Government helped to save the Jews during the war or was indifferent to their fate.

In 1966, a book was written by S. Schwartz entitled "Jews in the USSR from the Beginning of the Second World War", published in New York. In this book the author refutes all the previous statements of different people regarding the Soviet help given in saving the Jews from the Germans and their' timely evacuation. S. Schwartz doubts all that was previously stated and printed about this question, even the evidence of Rabbi Shekhtman, for the simple reason that nowhere in the Soviet press and the Government orders could he find written confirmations that the Jews had to be evacuated in the first place, or that priority had to be given to them. "And if it is not found to documented, it means such a thing did not take place", concludes Solomon Schwartz, forgetting that in this world many events and actions of different governments take place without written orders or confirmations. Nevertheless they in fact did and do take place every day. Nowhere, for example, was the overcrowding by the Jews of the Russian revolutionary parties and its central committees printed, of overcrowding of all kinds Soviet departments, diplomatic and trade missions in foreign countries, of overcrowding of the organs of Cheka and departments of propaganda in the first quarter of this century after the October Revolution. But all this took place and Solomon Schwartz himself cannot even deny this. Nowhere, for example, was it printed that a diplomatic representative of the State of Israel cannot be a person of a non-Jewish tribe or non-Judaic faith. But this rule, though printed nowhere is implemented and strictly carried out in real life in the democratic State of Israel, whose population is more than ten per cent non-Jewish.

That, which S. Schwartz was looking for in the Soviet press and could not find, was not printed for a reason obvious to each objective investigator. This reason was the unwillingness to aggravate the sharply negative attitude of the whole population of the country on account of the privileged position which the Jews occupied in the USSR up to the moment when the war began. To print something akin to which S. Schwartz was looking for and could not find would have been a provocation toward the whole population of the country and could have easily escalated to a consequence undesirable for the whole ruling class. The feelings of the broad masses of the USSR were very well known to those who, at that time, guided the politics and the propaganda of the country. Therefore, nothing was printed, in the interest of the Jews themselves.

But to make up for it, those undertakings were strictly carried out and due to this fact hundreds of thousands of Jews were able to escape German massacre and were able to safely and happily sit out the war behind the Ural Mountains. The Soviet power can be reproached for other things, but not for its unwillingness to save the Jews.

One does not have to possess a great imagination in order to have an idea of what would have happened, for example in Kiev, during the month of August of 1941 if an order was printed and proclaimed by the authorities concerning the giving of means of transportation for the evacuation of the Jews "to be sent before others". How would the non-Jewish Kievites have reacted to this edict once it was proclaimed? Would they not have had grounds for a mutiny, the reason for which they had already been ripening for two decades?

“Why was it not printed? Why was it not underlined? Why was it not mentioned? Why was it not noted? Why did they not erect a monument for the Jews at the Baby Yar?” S. Schwartz repeats these questions in all manners in his bulky book of four hundred and twenty five pages entitled "Jews in the Soviet Union from the Beginning of the Second World War". The whole population of the USSR, and any investigator who is able to be objective without examining everything from the exclusively subjective Jewish point of view, can give the answer at once to all these questions.

There can be only one answer: "in order not to provoke the irritation and the indignation of the whole population of the country by making out the Jews as the only ones who suffered from Germans, while at the same time immeasurably more non-Jews perished than Jews. In order not to arouse memories of the many million non-Jews who perished in the years of terror and artificial famine, when the country was ruled by the Jews. In order not to resurrect in the people memories of that time when the Jews were ruling Russia, and humiliated its historic past by abolishing and destroying the monuments of its past."

If that is not clear to Mr. Schwartz, who throws the accusation at the whole population of the USSR that they are lacking respect for the perished Jews, it is quite clear to those who now hold the power of the USSR. It is clear and understandable to them and this is why they do not erect SPECIAL monuments for the Jews.

The demand to erect such monuments, which is presented not solely by Mr. Schwartz, only provokes the reverse reaction throughout the whole of the USSR.

This reaction might easily pour out into a demand for the exact calculation of how many lives it cost the whole population of the USSR during the thirty years of oppression when the Jewish class ruled the USSR. This calculation will hardly be profitable for the Jews.

If the Jews are constantly occupied in calculating and recalculating the number of Jews that perished at the hands of the Germans, then it is quite possible that some day the Russian people will take to calculation also. The living memories of the millions who perished from the artificially created famine, when Kaganovich ruled everything in the Ukraine, and the millions who perished in the concentration camps will never disappear from the memories of the nation!

Considering the conditions and the national feelings, it is possible to state with conviction that the return of the Jewish ethnic group to the position of the ruling class in Russia or in the USSR, as long as this name chooses to remain, is impossible.

These feelings by the end of the war were such that they could easily have ended in an outburst, during which even the government probably would not have survived. Only by taking measures at the proper time and by the gradual removal, without any commotion or newspaper publicity, of the Jews from the ruling posts was this explosion averted.

Outbreaks of the people's indignation pouring out in pogroms were characteristic of the mood of the first post-war years and were far from unique, although the Soviet press did not print anything about this. One such outbreak took place in Kiev, and is described in the "socialist Herald": One Jew killed a Ukrainian. "The crowd rushed to the house, in which this Jew lived. They dragged his wife and child into the street and killed them on the spot; then they rushed to raid further, and the agitation very quickly TOOK A SHARP ANTI-SOVIET CHARACTER" (this incident is given in detail in Part II of this work). Characteristically, the author of the article, the editor of the "Socialist Herald" Mr. Abramovich, had labeled this not "anti-Semitic" but "anti-Soviet" character, thereby confirming that in the mind of the masses Soviet power was identified with Jewish power.

All these separate outbreaks could easily have fused together into one vast riot, during which the Soviet power itself would have had difficulty surviving. The government took this situation into account and took corresponding measures, unwilling to risk irritating the population.

"The descent on the breaks" and quiet liquidation of the most important status of the Jews in the USSR during the first post-war years continued in this manner. These "purges" were not widely announced to the population, but were carried out quietly, without unnecessary publicity and public discussion.

So it was until 1947, the year of the creation of the State of Israel. This was the state to which the Soviet Jews, subjects of the USSR, had shown special interest and had revealed their feelings. This event placed their loyalty as citizens of the Soviet Union under question.