Before the Six-Day War
On the next day after Stalin’s death, on March 6, the MGB (Ministry of State Security) “ceased to exist”, albeit only formally, as Beria had incorporated it into his own Ministry of Interior Affairs (MVD). This move allowed him “to disclose the abuses” by the MGB, including those of the still publicly unanounced MGB Minister, Ignatiev (who secretly replaced Abakumov). It seems that after 1952 Beria was losing Stalin’s trust and had been gradually pushed out by Ignatiev-Ryumin during the `Doctors’ Plot´. Thus, by force of circumstances, Beria became a magnet for the new anti-Stalin opposition. And now, on April 4, just a month after Stalin’s death, he enjoyed enough power to dismiss the “Doctors’ Plot” and accuse Ryumin of its fabrication. Then three months later the diplomatic relations with Israel were restored.
All this reinvigorated hope among the Soviet Jews, as the rise of Beria could be very promising for them. However, Beria was soon ousted.
Yet because of the usual Soviet inertia, “with the death of Stalin … many previously fired Jews were reinstalled in their former positions”; “during the period called the “thaw”, many old Zionists … were released from the camps”; “during the post-Stalin period, the first Zionist groups started to emerge – initially at local levels.”1
Yet once again the things began to turn unfavorably for the Jews. In March 1954, the Soviet Union vetoed the UN Security Council attempt to open the Suez Canal to Israeli ships. At the end of 1955, Khrushchev declared a pro-Arab, anti-Israel turn of Soviet foreign policy. In February 1956, in his famous report at the 20th Party Congress, Khrushchev, while speaking profusely about the massacres of 1937-1938, did not point any attention to the fact that there were so many Jews among the victims; he did not name Jewish leaders executed in 1952; and when speaking of the “Doctors’ Plot,” he did not stress that it was specifically directed against the Jews. “It is easy to imagine the bitter feelings this aroused among the Jews,” they “swept the Jewish communist circles abroad and even the leadership of those Communist parties, where Jews constituted a significant percentage of members (such as in the Canadian and US Communist parties).”2 In April 1956 in Warsaw, under the communist regime (though with heavy Jewish influence), the Jewish newspaper Volksstimme published a sensational article, listing the names of Jewish cultural and social celebrities who perished from 1937-1938 and from 1948-1952. Yet at the same time the article also condemned the “capitalist enemies”, “Beria’s period” and welcomed the return of “Leninist national policy.” “The article in Volksstimme had unleashed a storm.”3
International communist organizations and Jewish social circles loudly began to demand an explanation from the Soviet leaders. “Throughout 1956, foreign visitors to the Soviet Union openly asked about Jewish situation there, and particularly why the Soviet government has not yet abandoned the dark legacy of Stalinism on the Jewish question?”4 It became a recurrent theme for the foreign correspondents and visiting delegations of “fraternal communist parties”. (Actually, that could be the reason for the loud denouncement in the Soviet press of the “betrayal” of Communism by Howard Fast, an American writer and former enthusiastic champion of Communism. Meanwhile, “hundreds of Soviet Jews from different cities in one form or another participated in meetings of resurgent Zionist groups and coteries”; “old Zionists with connections to relatives or friends in Israel were active in those groups.”5
In May 1956, a delegation from the French Socialist Party arrived in Moscow. “Particular attention was paid to the situation of Jews in the Soviet Union.”6 Khrushchev found himself in a hot corner – now he could not afford to ignore the questions, yet he knew, especially after experiencing postwar Ukraine, that the Jews are not likely to be returned to their [high] social standing like in 1920s and 1930s. He replied: “In the beginning of the revolution, we had many Jews in executive bodies of party and government …. After that, we have developed new cadres …. If Jews wanted to occupy positions of leadership in our republics today, it would obviously cause discontent among the local people …. If a Jew, appointed to a high office, surrounds himself with Jewish colleagues, it naturally provokes envy and hostility toward all Jews.” (The French publication Socialist Herald calls “strange” and “false” the Khrushchev’s point about “surrounding himself with Jewish colleagues”.) In the same discussion, when Jewish culture and schools were addressed, Khrushchev explained that “if Jewish schools were established, there probably would not be many prospective students. The Jews are scattered all over the country …. If the Jews were required to attend a Jewish school, it certainly would cause outrage. It would be understood as a kind of a ghetto.”7
Three months later, in August 1956, a delegation of the Canadian Communist Party visited the USSR – and it stated outright that it had “a special mission to achieve clarity on the Jewish question”. Thus, in the postwar years, the Jewish question was becoming a central concern of the western communists. “Khrushchev rejected all accusations of anti-Semitism as a slander against him and the party.” He named a number of Soviet Jews to important posts, “he even mentioned his Jewish daughter-in-law,” but then he “quite suddenly … switched to the issue of “good and bad features of each nation” and pointed out “several negative features of Jews”, among which he mentioned “their political unreliability.” Yet he neither mentioned any of their positive traits, nor did he talk about other nations.8
In the same conversation, Khrushchev expressed his agreement with Stalin’s decision against establishing a Crimean Jewish Republic, stating that such [Jewish] colonization of the Crimea would be a strategic military risk for the Soviet Union. This statement was particularly hurtful to the Jewish community. The Canadian delegation insisted on publication of a specific statement by the Central Committee of Communist Party of the Soviet Union about the sufferings of Jews, “but it was met with firm refusal” as “other nations and republics, which also suffered from Beria’s crimes against their culture and intelligentsia, would ask with astonishment why this statement covers only Jews?” (S. Schwartz dismissively comments: “The pettiness of this argumentation is striking.”9)
Yet it did not end at that. “Secretly, influential foreign Jewish communists tried” to obtain “explanations about the fate of the Jewish cultural elite”, and in October of the same year, twenty-six Western “progressive Jewish leaders and writers” appealed publicly to Prime-Minister Bulganin and “President” Voroshilov, asking them to issue “a public statement about injustices committed [against Jews] and the measures the goverment had designed to restore the Jewish cultural institutions.”10
Yet during both the “interregnum” of 1953-1957 and then in Khrushchev’s period, the Soviet policies toward Jews were inconsistent, wary, circumspect and ambivalent, thus sending signals in all directions.
In particular, the summer of 1956, which was filled with all kinds of social expectations in general, had also became the apogee of Jewish hopes. One Surkov, the head of the Union of Writers, in a conversation with a communist publisher from New York City mentioned plans to establish a new Jewish publishing house, theater, newspaper and quarterly literary magazine; there were also plans to organize a countrywide conference of Jewish writers and cultural celebrities. It also noted that a commission for reviving the Jewish literature in Yiddish had been already established. In 1956, “many Jewish writers and journalists gathered in Moscow again.”11 The Jewish activists later recalled that “the optimism inspired in all of us by the events of 1956 did not quickly fade away.”12
Yet the Soviet government continued with its meaningless and aimless policies, discouraging any development of an independent Jewish culture. It is likely that Khrushchev himself was strongly opposed to it.
And then came new developments – the Suez Crisis, where Israel, Britain and France allied in attacking Egypt (“Israel is heading to suicide,” formidably warned the Soviet press), and the Hungarian Uprising, with its anti-Jewish streak, nearly completely concealed by history,13 (resulting, perhaps, from the overrepresentation of Jews in the Hungarian KGB). (Could this be also one of the reasons, even if a minor one, for the complete absence of Western support for the rebellion? Of course, at this time the West was preoccupied with the Suez Crisis. And yet wasn’t it a signal to the Soviets suggesting that it would be better if the Jewish theme be kept hushed?)
Then, a year later, Khrushchev finally overpowered his highly placed enemies within the party and, among others, Kaganovitch was cast down.
Could it really be such a big deal? The latter was not the only one ousted and even then, he was not the principal figure among the dethroned; and he was definitely not thrown out because of his Jewishness. Yet “from the Jewish point of view, his departure symbolized the end of an era”. Some looked around and counted – “the Jews disappeared not only from the ruling sections of the party, but also from the leading governmental circles.”14
It was time to pause and ponder thoroughly – what did the Jews really think about such new authorities?
David Burg, who emigrated from the USSR in 1956, came upon a formula on how the Jews should treat the Soviet rule. (It proved quite useful for the authorities): “To some, the danger of anti-Semitism `from below´ seems greater than the danger of anti-Semitism `from above´”; “though the government oppresses us, it nevertherless allows us to exist. If, however, a revolutionary change comes, then during the inevitable anarchy of the transition period we will simply be exterminated. Therefore, let’s hold on to the government no matter how bad it is.”15
We repeatedly encountered similar concerns in the 1930s – that the Jews should support the Bolshevik power in the USSR because without it their fate would be even worse. And now, even though the Soviet power had further deteriorated, the Jews had no other choice but hold on to it as before.
The Western world and particularly the United States always heeded such recommendations, even during the most strained years of the Cold War. In addition, socialist Israel was still full of communist sympathizers and could forgive the Soviet Union a lot for its role in the defeat of Hitler. Yet how then could Soviet anti-Semitism be interpreted? In this aspect, the recommendation of D. Burg stood up to the acute “social demand” – to move emphasis from the anti-Semitism of the Soviet government to the “anti-Semitism of the Russian people” – that ever-present curse.
So now some Jews have even fondly recalled the long-disbanded YevSek [the “Jewish Section” of the Central Committee, dismantled in 1930 when Dimanshtein and its other leaders were shot]. Even though back in the 1920s it seemed overly pro-Communist, the YevSek was “to certain extent a guardian of Jewish national interests … an organ that produced some positive work as well.”16
In the meantime, Khrushchev’s policy remained equivocal; it is reasonable to assume that though Khrushchev himself did not like Jews, he did not want to fight against them, realizing the international political counter-productivity of such an effort. In 1957-1958, Jewish musical performances and public literary clubs were authorized and appeared in many cities countrywide. (For example, “in 1961, Jewish literary soirees and Jewish song performances were attended by about 300,000 people.”17) Yet at the same time, the circulation of Warsaw’s Volksstimme was discontinued in the Soviet Union, thus cutting the Soviet Jews off from an outside source of Jewish information.18 In 1954, after a long break, Sholom Aleichem’s The Adventures of Mottel was again published in Russian, followed by several editions of his other books and their translations into other languages; in 1959 a large edition of his collected works was produced as well. In 1961 in Moscow, the Yiddish magazine Sovetish Heymland was established (though it strictly followed the official policy line). Publications of books by Jewish authors, who were executed in Stalin’s times, were resumed in Yiddish and Russian, and one even could hear Jewish tunes on the broadcasts of the All-Soviet Union radio.19 By 1966, “about one hundred Jewish authors were writing in Yiddish in the Soviet Union,” and “almost all of the named authors simultaneously worked as Russian language journalists and translators,” and “many of them worked as teachers in the Russian schools.”20 However, the Jewish theater did not re-open until 1966. In 1966, S. Schwartz defined the Jewish situation [in the USSR] as “cultural orphanhood.”21 Yet another author bitterly remarks: “The general lack of enthusiasm and interest … from the wider Jewish population … toward those cultural undertakings … cannot be explained solely by official policies ….” “With rare exceptions, during those years the Jewish actors performed in half-empty halls. Books of Jewish writers were not selling well.”22
Similarly ambivalent, but more hostile policies of the Soviet authorities in Khrushchev’s period were implemented against the Jewish religion. It was a part of Khrushchev’s general anti-religious assault; it is well known how devastating it was for the Russian Orthodox Church. Since the 1930s, not a single theological school functioned in the USSR. In 1957 a yeshiva – a school for training rabbis – opened in Moscow. It accommodated only 35 students, and even those were being consistently pushed out under various pretexts such as withdrawal of residence registration in Moscow. Printing of prayer books and manufacturing of religious accessories was hindered. Up to 1956, before the Jewish Passover matzah was baked by state-owned bakeries and then sold in stores. Beginning in 1957, however, baking of matzah was obstructed and since 1961 it was banned outright almost everywhere. One day, the authorities would not interfere with receiving parcels with matzah from abroad, another day, they stopped the parcels at the customs, and even demanded recipients to express in the press their outrage against the senders.23 In many places, synagogues were closed down. “In 1966, only 62 synagogues were functioning in the entire Soviet Union.”24 Yet the authorities did not dare to shut down the synagogues in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and in the capitals of the republics. In the 1960s, there used to be extensive worship services on holidays with large crowds of 10,000 to 15,000 on the streets around synagogues.25 C. Schwartz notes that in the 1960s Jewish religious life was in severe decline, yet he large-mindedly reminds us that it was the result of the long process of secularization that began in Russian Jewry in the late 19th Century. (The process, which, he adds, has also succeeded in extremely non-communist Poland between the First and Second World Wars.26) Judaism in the Soviet Union lacked a united control center; yet when the Soviet authorities wanted to squeeze out a political show from the leading rabbis for foreign policy purposes, be it about the well-being of Judaism in the USSR or outrage against the nuclear war, the government was perfectly able to stage it.27 “The Soviet authorities had repeatedly used Jewish religious leaders for foreign policy goals.” For example, “in November 1956 a group of rabbis issued a protest against” the actions of Israel during the Suez War.28
Another factor, which aggravated the status of Judaism in the USSR after the Suez War, was the growing fashionability of what was termed the “struggle against Zionism.” Zionism, being, strictly speaking, a form of socialism, should naturally had been seen as a true brother to the party of Marx and Lenin. Yet after the mid-1950s, the decision to secure the friendship of the Arabs drove the Soviet leaders toward persecution of Zionism. However, for the Soviet masses Zionism was a distant, unfamiliar and abstract phenomenon. Therefore, to flesh out this struggle, to give it a distinct embodiment, the Soviet government presented Zionism as a caricature composed of the characteristic and eternal Jewish images. The books and pamphlets allegedly aimed against Zionism also contained explicit anti-Judaic and anti-Jewish messages. If in the Soviet Union of 1920-1930s Judaism was not as brutally persecuted as the Russian Orthodox Christianity, then in 1957 a foreign socialist commentator noted how that year signified “a decisive intensification of the struggle against Judaism,” the “turning point in the struggle against the Jewish religion,” and that “the character of struggle betrays that it is directed not only against Judaism, but against the Jews in general.”29 There was one stirring episode: in 1963 in Kiev, the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences published 12,000 copies of a brochure Unadorned Judaism in Ukrainian, yet it was filled with such blatant anti-Jewish caricatures that it provoked a large-scale international outcry, joined even by the communist “friends” (who were financially supported by Moscow), such as the leaders of the American and British communist parties, newspapers L’Humanite, L’Unita, as well as a pro-Chinese communist newspaper from Brussels, and many others. The UN Human Rights Commission demanded an explanation from its Ukrainian representative. The World Jewish Cultural Association called for the prosecution of the author and the cartoonist. The Soviet side held on for awhile, insisting that except for the drawings, “the book deserves a generally positive assessment.”30 Finally, even Pravda had to admit that it was indeed “an ill-prepared … brochure” with “erroneous statements … and illustrations that may offend feelings of religious people or be interpreted as anti-Semitic,” a phenomenon that, “as is universally known, does not and cannot exist in our country.”31 Yet at the same time Izvestia stated that although there were certain drawbacks to the brochure, “its main idea … is no doubt right.”32
There were even several arrests of religious Jews from Moscow and Leningrad – accused of “espionage [conversations during personal meetings in synagogues] for a capitalistic state [Israel]” with synagogues allegedly used as “fronts for various criminal activities”33 – to scare others more effectively.
Although there were already no longer any Jews in the most prominent positions, many still occupied influential and important second-tier posts (though there were exceptions: for example, Veniamin Dymshits smoothly ran Gosplan (the State Planning Committee) from 1962, while being at the same time the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of USSR and a member of Central Committee from 1961 to 198634). Why, at one time the Jews were joining “NKVD and the MVD … in such numbers that even now, after all purges of the very Jewish spirit, a few individuals miraculously remained, such as the famous Captain Joffe in a camp in Mordovia.”35
According to the USSR Census of 1959, 2,268,000 Jews lived in the Soviet Union. (Yet there were caveats regarding this figure: “Everybody knows … that there are more Jews in the Soviet Union than the Census showed,” as on the Census day, a Jew states his nationality not according to his passport, but any nationality he wishes.36) Of those, 2,162,000 Jews lived in the cities, i.e., 95,3% of total population – much more than 82% in 1926 or 87% in 1939.37 And if we glance forward into the 1970 Census, the observed “increase in the number of Jews in Moscow and Leningrad is apparently caused not by natural growth but by migration from other cities (in spite of all the residential restrictions).” Over these 11 years, “at least several thousand Jews relocated to Kiev. The concentration of Jews in the large cities had been increasing for many decades.”38
These figures are very telling for those who know about the differences in living standards between the urban and the rural populations in the Soviet Union. G. Rosenblum, the editor of the prominent Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, recalls an almost anecdotal story by Israeli Ambassador to Moscow Dr. Harel about his tour of the USSR in the mid-1960s. In a large kolkhoz near Kishinev he was told that “the Jews who work here want to meet [him]. [The Israeli] was very happy that there were Jews in the kolkhoz” (love of agriculture – a good sign for Israel). He recounts: “Three Jews came to meet me … one was a cashier, another – editor of the kolkhoz’s wall newspaper and the third one was a kind of economic manager. I couldn’t find any other. So, what the Jews used to do [i.e. before], they are still doing.” G. Rosenblum confirms this: “Indeed, the Soviet Jews in their masses did not take to the physical work.”39 L. Shapiro concludes, “Conversion of Jews to agriculture ended in failure despite all the efforts … of public Jewish organizations and … the assistance of the state.”40
In Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev – the cities enjoying the highest living and cultural standards in the country, the Jews, according to the 1959 Census, constituted 3.9%, 5.8%, and 13.9 % of the population, respectively, which is quite a lot, considering that they accounted only for 1.1% of the entire population of the USSR.41
So it was that this extremely high concentration of Jews in urban areas – 95% of all Soviet Jews lived in the cities – that made “the system of prohibitions and restrictions” particularly painful for them. (As we mentioned in the previous chapter, this system was outlined back in the early 1940s.) And “although the restrictive rules have never been officially acknowledged and officials stoutly denied their existence, these rules and restrictions very effectively barred the Jews from many spheres of action, professions and positions.”42
Some recall a disturbing rumor circulating then among the Jews: allegedly, Khrushchev said in one of his unpublished speeches that “as many Jews will be accepted into the institutions of higher education as work in the coal mines.”43 Perhaps, he really just blurted it out in his usual manner, because such “balancing” was never carried out. Yet by the beginning of 1960s, while the absolute number of Jewish students increased, their relative share decreased substantially when compared to the pre-war period: if in 1936 the share of Jews among students was 7.5 times higher than that in the total population44, then by 1960s it was only 2.7 times higher. These new data on the distribution of students in higher and secondary education by nationality were published for the first time (in the post-war period) in 1963 in the statistical annual report, The National Economy of the USSR,45 and a similar table was annually produced up to 1972. In terms of the absolute number of students in institutions of higher education and technical schools in the 1962-1963 academic year, Jews were fourth after the three Slavic nations (Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians), with 79,300 Jewish students in institutions of higher education out of a total 2,943,700 students (2.69%). In the next academic year 1963-1964, the number of Jewish students increased to 82,600, while the total number of students in the USSR reached 3,260,700 (2.53%). This share remained almost constant until the 1969-1970 academic year; 101,000 Jewish students out of total 4,549,900. Then the Jewish share began to decline and in 1972-1973 it was 1.91%: 88,500 Jewish students out of total 4,630,246. (This decline coincided with the beginning of the Jewish immigration to Israel.)
The relative number of Jewish scientists also declined in 1960s, from 9.5% in 1960 to 6.1% in 1973.47 During those same years, “there were tens of thousands Jewish names in the Soviet art and literature,”48 including 8.5% of writers and journalists, 7.7% of actors and artists, more than 10% of judges and attorneys, and about 15% doctors.49 Traditionally, there were always many Jews in medicine, yet consider the accursed “Soviet psychiatry,” which in those years began locking up healthy people in mental institutions. And who were those psychiatrists? Listing the “Jewish occupations,” M.I. Heifets writes: “`Psychiatry is a Jewish monopoly,´ a friend, a Jewish psychiatrist, told me, just before [my] arrest; `we began to get Russians only recently and even then as the result of an order´” [translator’s note: admission into medical residency training was regulated at local and central levels; here author indicates that admission of ethnically Russian doctors into advanced psychiatry training was mandated from the higher levels]. He provides examples: the Head Psychiatrist of Leningrad, Professor Averbukh, provides his expertise for the KGB in the “Big House”; in Moscow there was famous Luntz; in the Kaluga Hospital there was Lifshitz and “his Jewish gang.” When Heifetz was arrested, and his wife began looking for a lawyer with a “clearance,” that is, with a permission from the KGB to work on political cases, she “did not find a single Russian” among them as all such lawyers were Jews50).
In 1956, Furtseva, then the First Secretary of Moscow Gorkom (the City’s Party Committee), complained that in some offices Jews constitute more than half of the staff.51 (I have to note for balance that in those years the presence of Jews in the Soviet apparatus was not detrimental. The Soviet legal machinery was in its essence stubbornly and hardheartedly anti-human, skewed against any man in need, be it a petitioner or just a visitor. So it often happened that the Russian officials in Soviet offices, petrified by their power, looked for any excuse to triumphantly turn away a visitor; in contrast, one could find much more understanding in a Jewish official and resolve an issue in a more humane way). L. Shapiro provides examples of complaints that in the national republics, the Jews were pushed out and displaced from the bureaucratic apparatus by native intelligentsia52 – yet it was a common and officially-mandated system of preferences in the ethnic republics [to affirm the local cadres], and Russians were displaced just as well.
This reminds me of an example from contemporary American life. In 1965, the New York Division of the American Jewish Committee had conducted a four-months-long unofficial interview of more than a thousand top officials in New York City banks. Based on its results, the American Jewish Committee mounted a protest because less than 3% of those surveyed were Jews, though they constituted one quarter of the population of – that is, the Committee demanded proportional representation. Then the chairman of the Association of Banks of New York responded that banks, according to law, do not hire on the basis of “race, creed, color or national origin” and do not keep records of such categories (that would be our accursed “fifth article” [the requirement in the Soviet internal passport – “nationality”]!). (Interestingly, the same American Jewish Committee had conducted a similar study about the ethnic composition of management of the fifty largest U.S. public utility services two years before, and in 1964 it in similar vein it studied industrial enterprises in the Philadelphia region.)53
Yet let us return to the Soviet Jews. Many Jewish emigrants loudly advertised their former activity in the periodical-publishing and film-making industries back in the USSR. In particular, we learn from a Jewish author that “it was due to his [Syrokomskiy’s] support that all top positions in Literaturnaya Gazeta became occupied by Jews.”54
Yet twenty years later we read a different assessment of the time: “The new anti-Semitism grew stronger … and by the second half of the 1960s it already amounted to a developed system of discreditation, humiliation and isolation of the entire people.”55
So how can we reconcile such conflicting views? How can we reach a calm and balanced assessment?
Then from the high spheres inhabited by economic barons there came alarming signals, signals that made the Jews nervous. “To a certain extent, Jewish activity in the Soviet Union concentrated in the specific fields of economy along a characteristic pattern, well-known to Jewish sociologists.”56 By then, at the end of 1950s, Nikita [Khrushchev] suddenly realized that the key spheres of the Soviet economy are plagued by rampant theft and fraud.
“In 1961, an explicitly anti-Semitic campaign was initiated against the `theft of socialist property.´”57 Beginning in 1961, a number of punitive decrees of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR were passed. The first one dealt with “foreign currency speculations,” another – with bribes, and still another later introduced capital punishment for the aforementioned crimes, at the same time lawlessly applying the death penalty retroactively, for the crimes committed before those decrees were issued (as, for example, the case of J. Rokotov and B. Faybishenko). Executions started in the very first year. During the first nine trials, eleven individuals were sentenced to death – among them were “perhaps, six Jews.”58 The Jewish Encyclopedia states it more specifically, “In 1961-1964, thirty-nine Jews were executed for economic crimes in the RSFSR and seventy-nine – in Ukraine,” and forty-three Jews in other republics.59 In these trials, “the vast majority of defendants were Jews.” (The publicity was such that the court reports indicated the names and patronymics of the defendants, which was the normal order of pleadings, yet it was getting “absolutely clear from that that they were Jews.”60)
Next, in a large court trial in Frunze in 1962, nineteen out of forty-six defendants were apparently Jewish. “There is no reason to think that this new policy was conceived as a system of anti-Jewish measures. Yet immediately upon enforcement, the new laws acquired distinct anti-Jewish flavor,” – the author of the quote obviously points out to the publication of the full names of defendants, including Jewish ones; other than that, neither the courts, nor the government, nor the media made any generalizations or direct accusations against the Jews. And even when Sovetskaya Kyrgizia wrote that “they occupied different posts, but they were closely linked to each other,” it never clarified the begged question “how were they linked?” The newspaper treated this issue with silence, thus pushing the reader to the thought that the nucleus of the criminal organization was composed of the “closely linked” individuals. Yet “closely linked by” what? By their Jewishness. So the newspaper “emphasized the Jews in this case.”61 … Yet people can be “closely linked” by any illegal transaction, greed, swindling or fraud. And, amazingly, nobody argued that those individuals could be innocent (though they could have been innocent). Yet to name them was equal to Jew-baiting.
Next, in January 1962, came the Vilnius case of speculators in foreign currency. All eight defendants were Jews (during the trial, non-Jewish members of the political establishment involved in the case escaped public naming – a usual Soviet trick). This time, there was an explicit anti-Jewish sentiment from the prosecution: “The deals were struck in a synagogue, and the arguments were settled with the help of wine.”62
S. Schwartz is absolutely convinced that this legal and economic harassment was nothing else but rampant anti-Semitism, yet he completely disregards “the tendency of Jews to concentrate their activity in the specific spheres of economy.” Similarly, the entire Western media interpreted this as a brutal campaign against Jews, the humiliation and isolation of the entire people; Bertrand Russell sent a letter of protest to Khrushchev and got a personal response from the Soviet leader.63 However, after that, the Soviet authorities apparently had second thoughts when they handled the Jews.
In the West, the official Soviet anti-Semitism began to be referred to as “the most pressing issue” in the USSR (ignoring any more acute issues) and “the most proscribed subject.” (Though there were numerous other proscribed issues such as forced collectivization or the surrender of three million Red Army soldiers in the year of 1941 alone, or the murderous nuclear “experimentation” on our own Soviet troops on the Totskoye range in 1954.) Of course, after Stalin’s death, the Communist Party avoided explicit anti-Jewish statements. Perhaps, they practiced incendiary “invitation-only meetings” and “briefings” – that would have been very much in the Soviet style. Solomon Schwartz rightly concludes: “Soviet anti-Jewish policy does not have any sound or rational foundation,” the strangulation of the Jewish cultural life “appears puzzling. How can such bizarre policy be explained?”64
Still, when all living things in the country were being choked, could one really expect that such vigorous and agile people would escape a similar lot? To that, the Soviet foreign policy agendas of 1960s added their weight: the USSR was designing an anti-Israel campaign. Thus, they came up with a convenient, ambiguous and indefinite term of “anti-Zionism,” which became “a sword of Damocles hanging above the entire Jewish population of the country.”65 Campaigning against “Zionism” in the press became a sort of impenetrable shield as its obvious anti-Semitic nature became unprovable. Moreover, it sounded menacing and dangerous – “Zionism is the instrument of the American imperialism.” So the “Jews had to prove their loyalty in one way or other, to somehow convince the people around them that they had no connection to their own Jewishness, especially to Zionism.”66
The feelings of ordinary Jews in the Soviet Union became the feelings of the oppressed as vividly expressed by one of them: “Over the years of persecutions and vilifications, the Jews developed a certain psychological complex of suspicion to any contact coming from non-Jews. In everything they are ready to see implicit or explicit hints on their nationality …. The Jews can never publicly declare their Jewishness, and it is formally accepted that this should be kept silent, as if it was a vice, or a past crime.”67
An incident in Malakhovka in October 1959 added substantially to that atmosphere. On the night of October 4, in Malakhovka, a settlement “half an hour from Moscow … with 30,000 inhabitants, about 10% of whom are Jews …, the roof of the synagogue caught fire along with … the house of the Jewish cemetery keeper … [and] the wife of the keeper died in the fire. On the same night, leaflets were scattered and posted across Malakhovka: `Away with the Jews in commerce! … We saved them from the Germans … yet they became arrogant so fast that the Russian people do not understand any longer… who’s living on whose land.´”68
Growing depression drove some Jews to such an extreme state of mind as that described by D. Shturman: some “Jewish philistines developed a hatred toward Israel, believing it to be the generator of anti-Semitism in the Soviet politics. I remember the words of one succesful Jewish teacher: `One good bomb dropped on Israel would make our life much easier.´”69
Yet that was an ugly exception indeed. In general, the rampant anti-Zionist campaign triggered a “consolidation of the sense of Jewishness in people and the growth of sympathy towards Israel as the outpost of the Jewish nation.”70
There is yet another explanation of the social situation in those years: yes, under Khrushchev, “fears for their lives had become the things of the past for the Soviet Jews,” but “the foundations of new anti-Semitism had been laid,” as the young generation of political establishment fought for caste privileges, “seeking to occupy the leading positions in arts, science, commerce, finance, etc. There the new Soviet aristocracy encountered Jews, whose share in those fields was traditionally high.” The “social structure of the Jewish population, which was mainly concentrated in the major centers of the country, reminded the ruling elite of their own class structure.”71
Doubtless, such encounter did take place; it was an epic “crew change” in the Soviet ruling establishment, switching from the Jewish elite to the Russian one. It had clearly resulted in antagonism and I remember those conversations among the Jews during Khrushchev’s era – they were full of not only ridicule, but also of bad insults with the ex-villagers, “muzhiks,” who have infiltrated the establishment.
Yet altogether all the various social influences combined with the great prudence of the Soviet authorities led to dramatic alleviation of “prevalence and acuteness of modern Soviet anti-Semitism” by 1965, which became far inferior to what had been observed “during the war and the first post-war years,” and it appears that “a marked attenuation, maybe even a complete dying out of `the percentage quote´ is happening.”72 Overall, in the 1960s the Jewish worldview was rather positive. This is what we consistently hear from different authors. (Contrast this to what we just read, that “the new anti-Semitism grew in strength in the 1960s.”) The same opinion was expressed again twenty years later – “Khrushchev’s era was one of the most peaceful periods of the Soviet history for the Jews.”73
“In 1956-1957, many new Zionist societies sprang up in the USSR, bringing together young Jews who previously did not show much interest in Jewish national problems or Zionism. An important impetus for the awakening of national consciousness among Soviet Jews and for the development of a sense of solidarity with the State of Israel was the Suez Crisis .” Later, “The International Youth Festival [Moscow, 1957] became a catalyst for the revival of the Zionist movement in the USSR among a certain portion of Soviet Jews … Between the festival and the Six-Day War , Zionist activity in the Soviet Union was gradually expanding. Contacts of Soviet Jews with the Israeli Embassy became more frequent and less dangerous.” Also, “the importance of Jewish Samizdat increased dramatically.”74
During the so-called Khrushchev’s “thaw” period (the end of 1950s to the beginning of the 1960s), Soviet Jews were spiritually re-energized; they shook off the fears and distress of the previous age of the “Doctors’ Plot” and the persecution of “cosmopolitan.” It “even became fashionable” in the metropolitan society “to be a Jew”; the Jewish motif entered Samizdat and poetic soirees then so popular among the young. Rimma Kazakova even ventured to declare her Jewish identity from the stage. Yevtushenko quickly caught the air and expressed it in 1961 in his Babi Yar75, proclaiming himself a Jew in spirit. His poem (and the courage of Literaturnaya Gazeta) was a literary trumpet call for all of Soviet and world Jewry. Yevtushenko recited his poem during a huge number of poetic soirees, always accompanied by a roar of applause. After a while, Shostakovich, who often ventured into Jewish themes, set Yevtushenko’s poem into his 13th Symphony. Yet its public performance was limited by the authorities. Babi Yar spread among Soviet and foreign Jewries as a reinvigorating and healing blast of air, a truly “revolutionary act … in the development of the social consciousness in the Soviet Union”; “it became the most significant event since the dismissal of the `Doctors’ Plot.´”76
In 1964-65 Jewish themes returned into popular literature; take, for example, Summer in Sosnyaki by Anatoliy Rybakov or the diary of Masha Rolnik77 (“written apparently under heavy influence of Diary of Anne Frank“78).
“After the ousting of Khrushchev from all his posts, the official policy towards Jews was softened somewhat. The struggle against Judaism abated and nearly all restrictions on baking matzah were abolished …. Gradually, the campaign against economic crimes faded away too ….” Yet “the Soviet press unleashed a propaganda campaign against Zionist activities among the Soviet Jews and their connections to the Israeli Embassy.”79
All these political fluctuations and changes in the Jewish policies in the Soviet Union did not pass unnoticed but served to awaken the Jews.
In the 1959 Census, only 21% Jews named Yiddish as their first language (in 1926 -72%).80 Even in 1970s they used to say that “Russian Jewry, which was [in the past] the most Jewish Jewry in the world, became the least Jewish.”81 “The current state of Soviet society is fraught with destruction of Jewish spiritual and intellectual potential.”82 Or as another author put it: the Jews in the Soviet Union were neither “allowed to assimilate,” nor were they “allowed to be Jews.”83
Yet Jewish identity was never subdued during the entire Soviet period.
In 1966 the official mouthpiece Sovetish Heymland claimed that “even assimilated Russian-speaking Jews still retain their unique character, distinct from that of any other segment of population.”84 Not to mention the Jews of Odessa, Kiev, and Kharkov, who “sometimes were even snooty about their Jewishness – to the extent that they did not want to befriend a goy.”85
Scientist Leo Tumerman ( already in Israel in 1977) recalls the early Soviet period, when he used to “reject any nationalism.” Yet now, looking back at those years: “I am surprised to notice what I had overlooked then: despite what appeared to be my full assimilation into the Russian life, the entire circle of my close and intimate friends at that time was Jewish.”86
The sincerity of his statement is certain – the picture is clear. Such things were widespread and I witnessed similar situations quite a few times, and Russians people did not mind such behavior at all.
Another Jewish author notes: in the USSR “non-religious Jews of all walks of life hand in hand defended the principle of `racial purity.´” He adds: “Nothing could be more natural. People for whom the Jewishness is just an empty word are very rare, especially among the unassimilated [Jews].”87
Natan Sharansky’s testimonial, given shortly after his immigration to Israel, is also typical: “Much of my Jewishness was instilled into me by my family. Although our family was an assimilated one, it nevertheless was Jewish.” “My father, an ordinary Soviet journalist, was so fascinated with the revolutionary ideas of `happiness for all´ and not just for the Jews, that he became an absolutely loyal Soviet citizen.” Yet in 1967 after the Six-Day War and later in 1968 after Czechoslovakia, “I suddenly realized an obvious difference between myself and non-Jews around me … a kind of a sense of the fundamental difference between my Jewish consciousness and the national consciousness of the Russians.”88
And here is another very thoughtful testimonial (1975): “The efforts spent over the last hundred years by Jewish intellectuals to reincarnate themselves into the Russian national form were truly titanic. Yet it did not give them balance of mind; on the contrary, it rather made them to feel the bitterness of their bi-national existence more acutely.” And “they have an answer to the tragic question of Aleksandr Blok: `My Russia, my life, are we to drudge through life together?´ To that question, to which a Russian as a rule gives an unambiguous answer, a member of Russian-Jewish intelligentsia used to reply (sometimes after self-reflection): `No, not together. For the time being, yes, side by side, but not together´… A duty is no substitute for Motherland.” And so “the Jews felt free from obligations at all sharp turns of Russian history.”89
Fair enough. One can only hope for all Russian Jews to get such clarity and acknowledge this dilemma.
Yet usually the problem in its entirety is blamed on “anti-Semitism”: “Excluding us from everything genuinely Russian, their anti-Semitism simultaneously barred us from all things Jewish …. Anti-Semitism is terrible not because of what it does to the Jews (by imposing restrictions on them), but because of what it does with the Jews by turning them into neurotic, depressed, stressed, and defective human beings.”90
Still, those Jews, who had fully woken up to their identity, were very quickly, completely, and reliably cured from such a morbid condition.
Jewish identity in the Soviet Union grew stronger as they went through the historical ordeals predestined for Jewry by the 20th Century. First, it was the Jewish Catastrophe during the Second World War. (Through the efforts of official Soviet muffling and obscuring, Soviet Jewry only comprehended its full scope later.)
Another push was given by the campaign against “cosmopolitans” in 1949-1950.
Then there was a very serious threat of a massacre by Stalin, eliminated by his timely death.
And with Khrushchev’s “thaw” and after it, later in the 1960s, Soviet Jewry quickly awoke spiritually, already sensing its unique identity.
During the second half of the 1950s, “the growing sense of bitterness, spread over large segments of Soviet Jewry”, lead to “consolidation of the sense of national solidarity.”91
But “only in the late 1960s did a very small but committed group of scientists (note, they were not humanitarians; the most colorful figure among them was Alexander Voronel) begin rebuilding of Jewish national consciousness in Russia.”92
And then against the nascent national consciousness of Soviet Jews, the Six-Day War suddenly broke out and instantly ended in what might have seemed a miraculous victory. Israel has ascended in their minds and Soviet Jews awoke to their spiritual and consanguineous kinship [with Israel].
But the Soviet authorities, furious at Nasser’s disgraceful defeat, immediately attacked Soviet Jews with the thundering campaign against the “Judeo-Zionist-Fascism,” insinuating that all the Jews were “Zionists” and claiming that the “global conspiracy” of Zionism “is the expected and inevitable product of the entirety of Jewish history, Jewish religion, and the resultant Jewish national character” and “because of the consistent pursuit of the ideology of racial supremacy and apartheid, Judaism turned out to be a very convenient religion for securing world dominance.”93
The campaign on TV and in the press was accompanied by a dramatic break of diplomatic relations with Israel. The Soviet Jews had many reasons to fear: “It looked like it was going to come to calls for a pogrom.”94
But underneath this scare a new and already unstoppable explosion of Jewish national consciousness was growing and developing.
“Bitterness, resentment, anger, and the sense of social insecurity were accruing for a final break up which would lead to complete severing of all ties with [this] country and [this] society – to emigration.”95
“The victory of the Israeli Army contributed to the awakening of national consciousness among the many thousands of almost completely assimilated Soviet Jews …. The process of national revival has began …. The activity of Zionist groups in cities all across the country surged …. In 1969, there were attempts to create a united Zionist Organization [in the USSR] …. An increasing number of Jews applied to emigrate to Israel.”96
And the numerous refusals to grant exit visas led to the failed attempt to hijack an airplane on June 15, 1970. The following “Dymshits-Kuznetsov hijacking affair” can be considered a historic landmark in the fate of Soviet Jewry.
[Translator’s note: endnotes will be translated later. They can be found in the original form in the accompanying text document]