Chapter 25 – Accusing Russia

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Posted on January 29, 2011 by 200yearstogether
The Jewish break from the Soviet communism was doubtless a movement of historical significance.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the fusion of the Soviet Jewry and Bolshevism seemed permanent. Then suddenly, they diverge? What a joy!

Of course, as is always true for both individuals and nations, it is unreasonable to expect words of remorse from Jews regarding their past involvement. But I absolutely could not expect that the Jews, while deserting Bolshevism, rather than expressing even a sign of repentance or at least some embarrassment, instead angrily turned on the Russian people: it is the Russians who had ruined democracy in Russia (i.e., in February 1917), it is the Russians who are guilty of support of this regime from 1918 on.

Sure, they claim, it is we (the Russian people) who are the guilty! Actually, it was earlier than 1918 – the dirty scenes of the radiant February Revolution were tale-telling. Yet the neophyte anti-communists were uncompromising – from now on everyone must accept that they have always fought against this regime, and no one should recall that it used to be their favorite and should not mention how well they had once served this tyranny. Because it was the “natives” who created, nurtured and cared for it:

“The leaders of the October Coup … were the followers rather than the leaders. [Really? The New Iron Party was made up of the “followers”?] They simply voiced the dormant wishes of the masses and worked to implement them. They did not break with the grassroots.” “The October coup was a disaster for Russia. The country could evolve differently…. Then [in the stormy anarchy of the February Revolution] Russia saw the signs of law, freedom and respect for human dignity by the state, but they all were swept away by the people’s wrath.”[1]

Here is a more recent dazzling treatment of Jewish participation in Bolshevism: “The Bolshevism of Lenin and Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Bolsheviks was just an intellectual and civilized form of ‘plebian’ Bolshevism. Should the former fail, the latter, much more dreadful, would prevail.” Therefore, “by widely participating in the Bolshevik Revolution, providing it with cadres of intellectuals and organizers, the Jews saved Russia from total mob rule. They came out with the most humane of possible forms of Bolshevism.”[2] Alas, “just as the rebellious people had used the Party of Lenin to overthrow the democracy of intellectuals [when did that exist?], the pacified people used Stalin’s bureaucracy to get rid of … everything still harboring free intellectual spirit.”[3] Sure, sure: “the guilt of the intelligentsia for the subsequent dismal events of Russian history is greatly exaggerated.” And in the first place, “the intelligentsia is liable to itself,”[4] and by no means to the people. On the contrary, “it would be nice if the people realized their guilt before the intelligentsia.”[5]

Indeed, “the totalitarian rule … in its essence and origin is that of the people.”[6] “This is a totalitarian country … because such was the choice of Russian people.”[7]

It is all because the “Tatar’s wild spirit captured the soul of Orthodox Russia,”[8] that is, the “Asian social and spiritual structure, inherited by the Russians from the Mongols … is stagnant and incapable of development and progress.”[9] (Well, Lev Gumilev also developed a theory that instead of the Tatar yoke, there was a friendly alliance of Russians and Tatars. However, Russian folklore, in its many proverbs referring to Tatars as to enemies and oppressors, provided an unambiguous answer to that question. Folklore does not lie; it is not pliant like a scientific theory.) Therefore, “the October coup was an unprecedented breakthrough of the Asian essence [of Russians].”[10]

For those who want to tear and trample Russian history, Chaadayev is the favorite theoretician (although he is undoubtedly an outstanding thinker). First Samizdat and later émigré publications carefully selected and passionately quoted his published and unpublished texts which suited their purposes. As to the unsuitable quotations and to the fact that the main opponents of Chaadayev among his contemporaries were not Nicholas I and Benckendorff, but his friends – Pushkin, Vyazemsky, Karamzin, and Yazikov – these facts were ignored.

In the early 1970s, the hate against all things Russian was gathering steam. Derogatory expressions about Russian culture entered Samizdat and contemporary slang. “Human pigsty” – so much contempt for Russia as being spoiled material was expressed in the anonymous Samizdat article signed by “S. Telegin” (G. Kopylov)! Regarding the forest fires of 1972, the same “Telegin” cursed Russia in a Samizdat leaflet: “So, the Russian forests burn? It serves Russia right for all her evil-doing!! “The entire people consolidate into the reactionary mass” (G. Pomerants). Take another sincere confession: “The sound of an accordion [the popular Russian national instrument] drives me berserk; the very contact with these masses irritates me.”[11] Indeed, love cannot be forced. “‘Jews,’‘Jewish destiny’ is just the rehash of the destiny of intelligentsia in this country, the destiny of her culture; the Jewish orphanage symbolizes loneliness because of the collapse of the traditional faith in ‘the people.’”[12](What a transformation happened between the 19th and mid-20th century with the eternal Russian problem of “the people”! By now they view “the people” as an indigenous mass, apathetically satisfied with its existence and its leaders. And by the inscrutable providence of Fate, the Jews were forced to live and suffer in the cities of their country. To love these masses is impossible; to care about them – unnatural.) The same Khazanov (by then still in the USSR) reasoned: The Russia which I love is a Platonic idea that does not exist in reality. The Russia which I see around is abhorrent”; “she is a unique kind of Augean stables”; “her mangy inhabitants”; “there’ll be a day of shattering reckoning for all she is today.”[13]

Indeed, there will be a day of reckoning, though not for the state of adversity that had fallen on Russia much earlier.


In the 1960s, many among intelligentsia began to think and talk about the situation in the USSR, about its future and about Russia itself. Due to strict government censorship these arguments and ideas were mentioned only in private or in mostly pseudonymous Samizdat articles. But when Jewish emigration began, the criticisms of Russia openly and venomously spilled across the free Western world, as it formed one of the favorite topics among the émigrés and was voiced so loudly that often nothing else could be heard.

In 1968, Arkady Belinkov fled abroad. He was supposedly a fierce enemy of the Soviet regime and not at all of the Russian people. Wasn’t he? Well, consider his article The Land of Slaves, the Land of Masters in The New Bell, a collection he edited himself. And at what did he direct his wrath? (It is worth considering that the article was written back in the USSR and the author did not have enough courage to accuse the regime itself.) Belinkov does not use the word “Soviet” even once, instead preferring a familiar theme: eternally enslaved Russia, freedom “for our homeland is worse than gobbling broken glass” and in Russia “they sometimes hang the wrong people, sometimes the wrong way, and never enough.” Even in the 1820s “it was much evident that in the process of evolution, the population of [Russia] …would turn into a herd of traitors, informers, and torturers”; “it was the “Russian fear” – to prepare warm clothes and to wait for a knock at the door” – note that even here it was not the “Soviet fear.” (Yet who before the Bolshevik revolution had ever waited for a knock on the door in the middle of the night?) “The court in Russia does not judge, it already knows everything. Therefore, in Russia, it only condemns.”[14] (Was it like that even during the Alexandrine reforms?…. And what about juries and magistrates? Hardly a responsible, balanced judgment!)

Indeed, so overwhelming is the author’s hate and so bitter his bile that he vilifies such great Russian writers as Karamzin, Zhukovsky, Tyutchev and even Pushkin, not to mention Russian society in general for its insufficient revolutionary spirit: “a pathetic society of slaves, descendants of slaves and ancestors of slaves,” “the cattle trembling from fear and anger,” “rectum-pipers, shuddering at the thought of possible consequences,” “the Russian intelligentsia always been willing to help stifle freedom.”[15]

Well, if, for Belinkov, it was all “masked anti-Soviet sentiments,” a sly wink, then why did he not rewrite it abroad? If Belinkov actually thought differently, then why print it in this form?
No, that is the way he thought and what he hated.
So was this how dissident Jews repudiated Bolshevism?

Around the same time, at the end of the 1960s, a Jewish collection about the USSR was published in London. It included a letter from the USSR: “In the depths of the inner labyrinths of the Russian soul, there is always a pogromist…. A slave and a thug dwell there too.”[16] Belotserkovsky happily repeats someone else’s joke: “the Russians are a strong nation, except for their heads.”[17] “Let all these Russians, Ukrainians … growl drunkenly with their wives, gobble vodka and get happily misled by communist lies … without us … They were crawling on all fours worshipping wood and stone when we gave them the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”[18]

“Oh, if only you would have held your peace! This would have been regarded as your wisdom.” (Job 13:5).

(Let us note that any insulting judgment about the “Russian soul” in general or about the “Russian character” generally does not give rise to the slightest protest or doubt among civilized people. The question “of daring to judge nations as one uniform and faceless whole” does not arise. If someone does not like all things Russian or feels contempt for them, or even expresses in progressive circles the belief that “Russia is a cesspool,” this is no sin in Russia and it does not appear reactionary or backward. And no one immediately appeals to presidents, prime ministers, senators, or members of Congress with a reverent cry, “What do you think of such incitement of ethnic hatred?” We’ve said worse of ourselves since the 19th century and right up to the revolution. We have a rich tradition of this.)

Then we learn of “semi-literate preachers of their religion,” and that “Russian Orthodoxy hasn’t earned the credence of intellectuals” (from “Telegin”). The Russians “so easily abandoned the faith of their forefathers, indifferently watched how their temples were destroyed in front of their eyes.” Oh, here is a guess: “Perhaps, the Russian people only temporarily submitted to the power of Christianity?” That is for 950 years! “And they only waited for the moment to get rid of it,”[19] that is, for the revolution? How much ill will must accumulate in someone’s heart to utter something like that! (Even Russian publicists often slipped into this trap of distorted consciousness. The eminent early emigrant journalist S. Rafalsky, perhaps even a priest’s son, wrote that “Orthodox Holy Russia allowed its holy sites to be easily crushed.”[20] Of course, the groans of those mowed down by Chekists’ machine guns during Church riots in 1918 were not heard in Paris. There have been no uprisings since. I would like to have seen this priest’s son try to save the sacred sites in the 1920s himself.)

Sometimes it is stated bluntly: “Russian Orthodoxy is a Hottentot religion” (Grobman). Or, “idiocy perfumed by Rublev, Dionysius and Berdyaev”; the idea of the “restoration” of traditional Russian historical orthodoxy “scares many…. This is the darkest future possible for the country and for Christianity.”[21] Or, as novelist F. Gorenshtein said: “Jesus Christ was the Honorary Chairman of the Union of the Russian People [pre-revolutionary Russian Nationalist organization], whom they perceived as a kind of universal ataman [Cossack chieftain].”[22]

Don’t make it too sharp – you might chip the blade!

However, one must distinguish from such open rudeness that velvet soft Samizdat philosopher-essayist Grigory Pomerants who worked in those years. Presumably, he rose above all controversies – he wrote about the fates of nations in general, about the fate of the intelligentsia generally; he suggested that nowadays no such thing as people exists, save, perhaps, Bushmen. I read him in 1960s Samizdat saying: “The people are becoming more and more vapid broth and only we, the intelligentsia, remain the salt of the earth.” “Solidarity of the intelligentsia across the borders is a more real thing than the solidarity of the intelligentsia and its people.”

It sounded very modern and wise. And yet, in Czechoslovakia in 1968 it was precisely the unity of the intelligentsia with the “vapid broth” of its non-existent people that created a spiritual stronghold long unheard of in Europe. The presence of two-thirds of a million Soviet troops couldn’t break their spirit; it was their communist leaders who eventually gave in. (And 12 years later, the same thing happened in Poland.)

In his typically ambiguous manner of constructing endless parallel arguments that never merge into a clear logical construct, Pomerants never explicitly addressed the national question. He extensively dwelt on the Diaspora question, in the most abstract and general manner, not specifying any nation, hovering aloft in relativism and agnosticism. He glorified the Diaspora: “Everywhere, we are not exactly strangers. Everywhere, we are not exactly natives.”… “An appeal to one faith, tradition and nation flies in the face of another.” He complained: “According to the rules established for the Warsaw students, one can love only one nation” but “what if I am related by blood to this country, but love others as well?”[23]

This is a sophisticated bait-and-switch. Of course, you can love not only one, but ten or more countries and nations. However, you can belong to and be a son of only one motherland, just as you can only have one mother.

To make the subject clearer, I want to describe the letter exchange I had with the Pomerants couple in 1967. By that year, my banned novel The First Circle circulated among the Samizdat – and among the first who had sent me their objections were G. S. Pomerants and his wife, Z. A. Mirkin. They said that I hurt them by my inept and faulty handling of the Jewish question, and that I had irreparably damaged the image of Jews in the novel – and thus my own image. How did I damage it? I thought I had managed to avoid showing those cruel Jews who reached the heights of power during the early Soviet years. But Pomerants’ letters abounded with undertones and nuances, and they accused me of insensitivity to Jewish pain.

I replied to them, and they replied to me. In these letters we also discussed the right to judge entire nations, even though I had done no such thing in my novel.

Pomerants suggested to me then – and to every writer in general as well as to anyone who offers any personal, psychological or social judgment – to behave and to reason as if no nation has ever existed in the world – not only to abstain from judging them as a whole but to ignore every man’s nationality. “What is natural and excusable for Ivan Denisovich (to see Cesar Markovich as a non-Russian) – is a disgrace for an intellectual, and for a Christian (not a baptized person but a Christian) is a great sin: ‘There is no Hellene and no Jew for me.’”

What an elevated point of view. May God help us all reach it one day. After all, without it, would not the meaning of united humanity, and so Christinaity, have been useless?

Yet we have already been aggressively convinced once that there are no nations, and were instructed to quickly destroy our own, and we madly did it back then.

In addition, regardless of the argument, how can we portray specific people without referring to their nationality? And if there are no nations, are there no languages? But no writer can write in any language other than his native one. If nations would wither away, languages would die also.

One cannot eat from an empty bowl.

I noticed that it was more often Jews than any others who insisted that we pay no attention to nationality! What does “nationality” have to do with anything? What “national characteristics,” what “national character” are you talking about?

And I was ready to shake hands on that: “I agree! Let’s ignore it from now on….”

But we live in our unfortunate century, when perhaps the first feature people notice in others for some reason is exactly their nationality. And, I swear, Jews are the ones who distinguish and closely monitor it most jealously and carefully. Their own nation….

Then, what should we do with the fact – you have read about it above – that Jews so often judge Russians precisely in generalized terms, and almost always to condemn? The same Pomerants writes about “the pathological features of the Russian character,” including their “internal instability.” (And he is not concerned that he judges the entire nation. Imagine if someone spoke of “pathological features of the Jewish character”… What would happen then?) The Russian “masses allowed all the horrors of Oprichnina to happen just as they later allowed Stalin’s death camps.”[24] (See, the Soviet internationalist bureaucratic elite would have stopped them – if not for this dull mass….) More sharply still, “Russian Nationalism will inevitably end in an aggressive pogrom,”[25] meaning that every Russian who loves his nation already has the potential for being pogromist.

We can but repeat the words of that Chekhov’s character: “Too early!”

Most remarkable was how Pomerants’s second letter to me ended. Despite his previously having so insistently demanded that it is not proper to distinguish between nations, in that large and emotionally charged letter, (written in a very angry, heavy hand), he delivered an ultimatum on how I could still save my disgusting The First Circle. The offered remedy was this: to turn Gerasimovich [the hero] into a Jew! So a Jew would commit the novel’s greatest act of spiritual heroism! “It is absolutely not important that Gerasimovich had been drawn from a Russian prototype,” says our indifferent-to-nations author (italics added). In truth, he did give me an alternative: if I still insisted on leaving Gerasimovich Russian, then I must add an equally powerful image of a noble, self-sacrificing Jew to my story. And if I would not follow any of his advice, Pomerants threatened to open a public campaign against me. (I ignored it at this point.)

Notably, he conducted this one-sided battle, calling it “our polemic,” first in foreign journals and, when it became possible, in the Soviet magazines, often repeating and reprinting the same articles, although taking care each time to exorcise the blemishes his critics had picked up the last time. In the course of this he uttered another pearl of wisdom: there was only one Absolute Evil in the world and it was Hitlerism – in this regard, our philosopher was not a relativist, not at all. But as to communism, this former prisoner of the camps and by no means a Communist himself, suddenly proclaims that communism – is not an unquestionable evil (and even “some spirit of democracy surrounded the early Cheka”), and he does so harder and harder over the years (reacting to my intransigence towards communism).[26] On the other hand, hard core anti-communism is undoubtedly evil, especially if it builds upon the Russian Nationalism (which, as he had reminded us earlier, cannot be separated from pogroms).

That is where Pomerants’s smooth high-minded and “non-national” principles led.

Given such a skewed bias, can mutual understanding between Russians and Jews be achieved?

“You mark the speck in your brother’s eye, but ignore the plank in your own.”

In those same months when I corresponded with Pomerants, some liberal hand in the Leningrad Regional Party Committee copied a secret memorandum signed by Shcherbakov, Smirnov, and Utekhin on the matter of alleged “destructive Zionist activity in the city” with “subtle forms of ideological subversion.” My Jewish friends asked me “How should we deal with this?” “It is clear, how,” – I replied before even reading the paper – “Openness! Publish it in Samizdat! Our strength is transparency and publicity!” But my friends hesitated: “We cannot do it just like that because it would be misunderstood.”

After reading the documents, I understood their anxiety. From the reports, it was clear that the youth’s literary evening at the Writers’ House on January 30, 1968 had been politically honest and brave – the government with its politics and ideology had been both openly and covertly ridiculed. On the other hand, the speeches had clear national emphases (perhaps, the youth there were mostly Jewish); they contained explicit resentment and hostility, and even, perhaps, contempt for Russians, and longing for Jewish spirituality. It was because of this that my friends were wary of publishing the document in Samizdat.

I was suddenly struck by how true these Jewish sentiments were. “Russia is reflected in the window glass of a beer stand,” – the poet Ufland had supposedly said there. How horrifyingly true! It seemed that the speakers accused the Russians, not directly, but by allusions, of crawling under counters of beer pubs and of being dragged from the mud by their wives; that they drink vodka until unconscious, they squabble and steal….

We must see ourselves objectively, see our fatal shortcomings. Suddenly, I grasped the Jewish point of view; I looked around and I was horrified as well: Dear God, where we, the Jews? Cards, dominoes, gaping at TV…. What cattle, what animals surround us! They have neither God nor spiritual interests. And so much feeling of hurt from past oppression rises in your soul.

Only it is forgotten, that the real Russians were killed, slaughtered and suppressed, and the rest were stupefied, embittered, and driven to the extremes by Bolshevik thugs and not without the zealous participation of the fathers of today’s young Jewish intellectuals. Modern day Jews are irritated by those mugs who have become the Soviet leadership since the 1940s – but they irritate us as well. However, the best among us were killed, not spared.

“Do not look back!” – Pomerants lectured us later in his Samizdat essays; do not look back like Orpheus who lost Eurydice this way.

Yet we have already lost more than Eurydice.

We were taught since the 1920s to throw away the past and jump on board modernity.

But the old Russian proverb advises – go ahead but always look back.

We must look back. Otherwise, we would never understand anything.


Even if we had tried not to look back, we would always be reminded that the “core [Russian issue] is in fact the inferiority complex of the spiritless leaders of the people that has persisted throughout its long history,” and this very complex “pushed the Russian Tsarist government towards military conquests…. An inferiority complex is disease of mediocrity.”[27] Do you want to know why the Revolution of 1917 happened in Russia? Can you guess? Yes, “the same inferiority complex caused a revolution in Russia.”[28] (Oh, immortal Freud, is there nothing he hasn’t explained?)

They even stated that “Russian socialism was a direct heir of Russian autocracy”[29] – precisely a direct one, it goes without saying. And, almost in unison, “there is direct continuity between the Tsarist government and communism … there is qualitative similarity.”[30] What else could you expect from “Russian history, founded on blood and provocations?”[31] In a review of Agursky’s interesting book, Ideology of National Bolshevism, we find that “in reality, traditional, fundamental ideas of the Russian national consciousness began to penetrate into the practice and ideology of the ruling party very early”; “the party ideology was transformed as early as the mid-1920s.” Really? Already in the mid-1920s? How come we missed it at the time? Wasn’t it the same mid-1920s when the very words “Russian,” “I am Russian” had been considered counter-revolutionary? I remember it well. But, you see, even back then, in the midst of persecution against all that was Russian and Orthodox, the party ideology “began in practice to be persistently guided by the national idea”; “outwardly preserving its internationalist disguise, Soviet authorities actually engaged in the consolidation of the Russian state.”[32] Of course! “Contrary to its internationalist declarations, the revolution in Russia has remained a national affair.”[33] This “Russia, upturned by revolution, continued to build the people’s state.”[34]

People’s state? How dare they say that, knowing of the Red Terror, of the millions of peasants killed during collectivization, and of the insatiable Gulag?

No, Russia is irrevocably condemned for all her history and in all her forms. Russia is always under suspicion, the “Russian idea” without anti-Semitism “seems to be no longer an idea and not even the Russian one.” Indeed, “hostility towards culture is a specific Russian phenomenon”; “how many times have we heard that they are supposedly the only ones in the whole world who have preserved purity and chastity, respecting God in the middle of their native wilderness”[35]; “the greatest soulful sincerity has supposedly found shelter in this crippled land. This soulful sincerity is being presented to us as a kind of national treasure, a unique product like caviar.”[36]

Yes, make fun of us Russians; it is for our own good. Unfortunately, there is some truth to these words. But, while expressing them, do not lapse into such hatred. Having long been aware of the terrifying decline of our nation under the communists, it was precisely during those 1970s that we gingerly wrote about a hope of revival of our morals and culture. But strangely enough, the contemporary Jewish authors attacked the idea of Russian revival with a relentless fury, as if (or because?) they feared that Soviet culture would be replaced by the Russian one. “I am afraid that the new ‘dawn’ of this doomed country would be even more repugnant than its current [1970-1980s] decline.”[37]

Looking back from the “democratic” 1990s, we can agree that it was a prophetic declaration. Still, was it said with compassion or with malice?

And here is even more: “Beware, when someone tells you to love your homeland: such love is charged with hatred…. Beware of stories that tell you that in Russia, Russians are the worst off, that Russians suffered the most, and that the Russian population is dwindling“ – sure, as we all know, this is a lie! “Be careful when someone tells you about that great statesman … who was assassinated” (i.e., Stolypin) – is that also a deception? No, it is not a deception: “Not because the facts are incorrect” – nevertheless, do not accept even these true facts: “Be careful, be aware!”[38]

There is something extraordinary in this stream of passionate accusations.

Who would have guessed during the fiery 1920s that after the enfeeblement and downfall of that “beautiful” (i.e., Communist) regime in Russia, those Jews, who themselves had suffered much from communism, who seemingly cursed it and ran away from it, would curse and kick not communism, but Russia itself – blast her from Israel and from Europe, and from across the ocean!? There are so many, such confident voices ready to judge Russia’s many crimes and failings, her inexhaustible guilt towards the Jews – and they so sincerely believe this guilt to be inexhaustible – almost all of them believe it! Meanwhile, their own people are coyly cleared of any responsibility for their participation in Cheka shootings, for sinking the barges and their doomed human cargo in the White and Caspian seas, for their role in collectivization, the Ukrainian famine and in all the abominations of the Soviet administration, for their talented zeal in brainwashing the “natives.” This is not contrition.

We, brothers or strangers, need to share that responsibility.

It would have been cleanest and healthiest to exchange contrition for everything committed.

I will not stop calling the Russians to do that.

And I am inviting the Jews to do the same. To repent not for Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev; they are known and anyway can be brushed aside, “they were not real Jews!” Instead, I invite Jews to look honestly into the oppressive depths of the early Soviet system, at all those “invisible” characters such as Isai Davidovich Berg, who created the infamous “gas wagon”[39] which later brought so much affliction on the Jews themselves, and I call on them to look honestly on those many much more obscure bureaucrats who had pushed papers in the Soviet apparatus, and who had never appeared in light.

However, the Jews would not be Jews if they all behaved the same.

So other voices were heard.

As soon as the great exodus of Jews from the USSR began there were Jews who – fortunately for all, and to their honor – while remaining faithful to Judaism, went above their own feelings and looked at history from that vantage point. It was a joy to hear them, and we hear them still. What hope for the future it gives! Their understanding and support are especially valuable in the face of the violently thinned and drastically depleted ranks of Russian intelligentsia.

A melancholy view, expressed at end of 19th century, comes to mind: “Every country deserves the Jews it has.”[40]

It depends where you look.

If it were not for voices from the third wave of emigration and from Israel, one would despair of dialogue and of possibility for mutual understanding between Russians and Jews.

Roman Rutman, a cybernetics worker, had his first article published in the émigré Samizdat in 1973. It was a bright, warm story of how he first decided to emigrate and how it turned out – and even then he showed distinct warmth towards Russia. The title was illustrative: “A bow to those who has gone and my brotherhood to those who remain.”[41] Among his very first thoughts during his awakening was “Are we Jews or Russians?”; and among his thoughts on departure there was “Russia, crucified for mankind.”

Next year, in 1974, in an article The Ring of Grievances, he proposed to revise “some established ideas on the ‘Jewish question’” and “to recognize the risk of overemphasizing these ideas.” There were three: (1) “The unusual fate of the Jewish people made them a symbol of human suffering”; (2) “A Jew in Russia has always been a victim of unilateral persecution”; and (3) “Russian society is indebted to the Jewish people.” He quoted a phrase from The Gulag Archipelago: “During this war we discovered that the worst thing on earth is to be a Russian” and recognized that the phrase is not artificial or empty, that it is based on war losses, on the revolutionary terror before that, on hunger, on “the wanton destruction of both the nation’s head – its cognitive elite, and its feet, the peasantry.” Although modern Russian literature and democratic movements preach about the guilt of Russian society before Jews, the author himself prefers to see the “circle of grievances” instead of “the saccharine sentimentality about the troubles and talents of the Jewish people.” “To break this “‘circle of grievances’ one must pull at it from both sides.”[42]

Here it is – a thoughtful, friendly and calm voice.

And over these years, we many times heard the firm voice of Michael Kheifetz, a recent GULag prisoner. “A champion of my people, I cannot but sympathize with the nationalists of other peoples.”[43] He had the courage to call for Jewish repentance: “The experience of the German people, who have not turned away from their horrifying and criminal past, and who never tried to lay the blame for Nazism on some other culprits, on strangers, etc. but, instead constantly cleansed itself in the fire of national repentance, and thus created a German state that for the first time was admired and respected by all mankind; this experience should, in my opinion, become a paragon for the peoples that participated in the crimes of Bolshevism, including the Jews.” “We, Jews, must honestly analyze the role we played in other nations’ affairs, the role so extraordinarily foretold by Z. Jabotinsky.”[44]
M. Kheifetz demonstrated a truly noble soul when he spoke of “the genuine guilt of assimilated Jews before the native peoples of those countries where they live, the guilt, which cannot and must not allow them to live comfortably in the Diaspora.” About Soviet Jewry of the 1920s and 1930s he said: “Who if not us, their bitterly remorseful descendants, has the right to condemn them for this historic mistake [zealous participation in building communism] and the settling of historical scores with Russia for the Pale of Settlement and the pogroms?”[45] (Kheifetz also mentioned that B. Penson and M. Korenblit, who had served labor camp terms along with him, shared his views.)

Almost simultaneously with the words of Kheifetz, by then already an emigrant, Feliks Svetov vividly called out for Jewish repentance from inside the Soviet Union in a Samizdat novel Open the doors to me.[46] (It was no accident that F. Svetov, due to his Jewish perceptivity and intelligence, was one of the first to recognize the beginning of Russian religious revival.)

Later, during a passionate discourse surrounding the dispute between Astafiev and Edelman, Yuri Shtein described “our Ashkenazi-specific personality traits, formed on the basis of our belief of belonging to the chosen people and an insular, small town mentality. Hence, there is a belief in the infallibility of our nation and our claim to a monopoly on suffering…. It is time for us to see ourselves as a normal nation, worthy but not faultless, like all the other peoples of the world. Especially now, that we have our own independent state and have already proved to the world that Jews can fight and plow better than some more populous ethnic groups.”[47]

During the left liberal campaign against V. Astafiev, V. Belov, and V. Rasputin, literary historian Maria Shneyerson, who, after emigrating, continued to love Russia dearly and appreciate Russian problems, offered these writers her enthusiastic support.[48]

In the 1970s, a serious, competent, and forewarning book on the destruction of the environment in the USSR under communism was published in the West. Written by a Soviet author, it was naturally published under a pseudonym, B. Komarov. After some time, the author emigrated and we learned his name – Zeev Wolfson. We discovered even more: that he was among the compilers of the album of destroyed and desecrated churches in Central Russia.[49]

Few active intellectuals remained in the defeated Russia, but friendly, sympathetic Jewish forces supported them. With this shortage of people and under the most severe persecution by the authorities, our Russian Public Foundation was established to help victims of persecution; I donated all my royalties for The Gulag Archipelago to this fund; and, starting with its first talented and dedicated manager, Alexander Ginzburg, there were many Jews and half-Jews among the Fund’s volunteers. (This gave certain intellectually blind extreme Russian nationalists sufficient reason to brand our Foundation as being “Jewish.”)

Similarly, M. Bernshtam, then Y. Felshtinsky and D.Shturman were involved in our study of modern Russian history.

In the fight against communist lies, M. Agursky, D.Shturman, A. Nekrich, M. Geller, and A. Serebrennikov distinguished themselves by their brilliant, fresh, and fair-minded journalism.

We can also recall the heroism of the American professor Julius Epstein and his service to Russia. In self-centered, always self-righteous, and never regretful of any wrongdoings America, he single-handedly revealed the mystery of Operation Keelhaul, how after the end of the war and from their own continent, Americans handed over to Stalinist agents and therefore certain death, hundreds and thousands of Russian Cossacks, who had naively believed that since they reached the ‘land of free’ they had been saved.[50]

All these examples should encourage sincere and mutual understanding between Russians and Jews, if only we would not shut it out by intolerance and anger.

Alas, even the mildest remembrance, repentance, and talk of justice elicits severe outcries from the self-appointed guardians of extreme nationalism, both Russian and Jewish. “As soon as Solzhenitsyn had called for national repentance” – meaning among Russians, and the author didn’t mind that – “here we are! Our own people are right there in the front line.” He did not mention any name specifically but he probably referred to M. Kheifetz. “See, it turns out that we are more to blame, we helped … to install … no, not helped, but simply established the Soviet regime ourselves … were disproportionately present in various organs.”[51]

Those who began to speak in a voice of remorse were furiously attacked in an instant. “They prefer to extract from their hurrah-patriotic gut a mouthful of saliva” – what a style and nobility of expression! – “and to thoroughly spit on all ‘ancestors,’ to curse Trotsky and Bagritsky, Kogan, and Dunaevsky”; “M. Kheifetz invites us to ‘purge ourselves in the fire of national repentance.’”[52]

And what a thrashing F. Svetov received for the autobiographical hero of his novel: “A book about conversion to Christianity … will contribute not to an abstract search for repentance, but to a very specific anti-Semitism…. This book is anti-Semitic.” Yes, and what is there to repent? –The indefatigable David Markish angrily exclaims. Svetov’s hero sees a “betrayal” in the fact that “we desert the country, leaving behind a deplorable condition which is entirely our handiwork: it is we, as it turns out, who staged a bloody revolution, shot the father-tsar, befouled and raped the Orthodox Church and in addition, founded the GULag Archipelago,” isn’t that right? First, these “comrades” Trotsky, Sverdlov, Berman, and Frenkel are not at all related to the Jews. Second, the very question about someone’s collective guilt is wrong.[53] (As to blaming Russians, you see, it is a different thing altogether: it was always acceptable to blame them en masse, from the times of the elder Philotheus.)

David’s brother, Sh. Markish reasons as follows, “as to the latest wave of immigrants from Russia … whether in Israel or in the U.S., they do not exhibit real Russophobia … but a self-hatred that grows into direct anti-Semitism is obvious in them only too often.”[54]

See, if Jews repent – it is anti-Semitism. (This is yet another new manifestation of that prejudice.)

The Russians should realize their national guilt, “the idea of national repentance cannot be implemented without a clear understanding of national guilt…. The guilt is enormous, and there is no way to shift it on to others. This guilt is not only about the things of past, it is also about the vile things Russia commits now, and will probably continue committing in the future,” as Shragin wrote in the early 1970s. [55]

Well, we too tirelessly call the Russians to repent; without penitence, we will not have a future. After all, only those who were directly affected by communism recognized its evils. Those who were not affected tried not to notice the atrocities and later on to forget and forgive them, to the extent that now they do not even understand what to repent of. (Even more so those who themselves committed the crimes.)

Every day we are burning with shame for our unsettled people.

And we love it too. And we do not envision our lives without it.

And yet, for some reason, we have not lost all faith in it.

Still, is it absolutely certain that you had no part in our great guilt, in our unsuccessful history?

Here, Shimon Markish referred to Jabotinsky’s1920s article. “Jabotinsky several times (on different occasions) observed that Russia is a foreign country to us, our interest in her should be detached, cool, though sympathetic; her anxiety, grief and joy are not ours, and our feelings are foreign to her too.” Markish added: “That’s also my attitude towards Russian worries.” And he invites us to “call a spade a spade. However, regarding this delicate point even free western Russians are not awesomely courageous…. I prefer to deal with enemies.”[56]

Yet this sentence should be divided into two: is it the case that to “call a spade a spade” and to speak frankly mean being an enemy? Well, there is a Russian proverb: do not love the agreeable; love the disputers.

I invite all, including Jews, to abandon this fear of bluntness, to stop perceiving honesty as hostility. We must abandon it historically! Abandon it forever!

In this book, I “call a spade a spade”. And at no time do I feel that in doing so it is being hostile to the Jews. I have written more sympathetically than many Jews write about Russians.

The purpose of this book, reflected even in its title, is this: we should understand each other, we should recognize each other’s standpoint and feelings. With this book, I want to extend a handshake of understanding – for all our future.

But we must do so mutually!

This interweaving of Jewish and Russian destinies since the 18th century which has so explosively manifested itself in the 20th century, has a profound historical meaning, and we should not lose it in the future. Here, perhaps, lies the Divine Intent which we must strive to unravel – to discern its mystery and to do what must be done.

And it seems obvious that to know the truth about our shared past is a moral imperative for Jews and Russians alike.

[1] B. Shragin. Protivostoyanie dukha [Standoff of the Spirit (hereinafter — B. Shragin)]. London: Overseas Publications, 1977, p. 160, 188-189.

[2] Nik. Shulgin. Novoe russkoe samosoznanie [The New Russian Mind]. // Vek 20 i mir [The 20th Century and the World]. Moscow, 1990, (3), p. 27.

[3] M. Meyerson-Aksenov. Rozhdeniye novoi intelligentsii [The Birth of New Intelligentsia]. // Samosoznanie: Sb. statei. [Self-consciousness: The Collection of Articles]. New York: Chronicles, 1976, p. 102.

[4] B. Shragin, p, 246, 249.

[5] O. Altaev. Dvoinoe soznanie intelligentsii i psevdo-kultura [Dual Mind of Intelligentsia and Pseudo-Culture]. // Vestnik Russkogo Studencheskogo Khristianskogo Dvizheniya [Herald of Russian Student Christian Movement]. Paris – New York, 1970, (97), p. 11.

[6] M. Meyerson-Aksenov. Rozhdeniye novoi intelligentsii [The Birth of New Intelligentsia]. // Samosoznanie: Sb. statei. [Self-consciousness: The Collection of Articles]. New York: Chronicles, 1976, p. 102.

[7] Beni Peled. My ne smozhem zhdat escho dve tysyachi let! [We cannot wait for another two thousand years!]. [Interview] // “22”: Obshchestvenno-politicheskiy i literaturniy zhurnal evreyskoy intelligentsii iz SSSR v Izraile [Social, Political and Literary Journal of the Jewish Intelligentsia from the USSR in Israel]. Tel-Aviv, 1981, (17), p. 114.

[8] N. Prat. Emigrantskie kompleksy v istoricheskom aspekte [Emigrant’s Fixations in the Historical Perspective]. // Vremya i my: Mezhdunarodny zhurnal literatury i obshchestvennykh problem [Epoch and We (hereinafter – EW): International Journal of Literature and Social Problems]. New York, 1980, (56), p. 191.

[9] B. Shragin, p, 304.

[10] Ibid., p. 305

[11]M. Deich. Zapiski postoronnego [Commentaries of an Outsider]. // “22″, 1982, (26), p. 156.

[12] B. Khazanov. Novaya Rossiya [new Russia]. // EW, Tel-Aviv, 1976, (8), p. 143.

[13] Ibid., p. 141, 142, 144.

[14] A. Belinkov. Strana rabov, strana gospod [The land of slaves, the land of masters]. // The New Bell: The Collection of Literary and Opinion Writings. London, 1972, p. 323, 339, 346, 350.

[15] Ibid., p. 325-328, 337, 347, 355.

[16] N. Shapiro. Slovo ryadovogo sovetskogo evreya [The Word of an Ordinary Soviet Jew]. // The Russian Anti-Semitism and Jews. Collection of essays. London, 1968, p. 50-51.

[17] The New American, New York, 1982, March 23-29, (110), p. 11.

[18] Jakob Yakir. Ya pishu Viktoru Krasinu [I Write to Viktor Krasin]. // Our Country, Tel Aviv, 1973, December 12. Cited from the New Journal, 1974, (117), p. 190.

[19] Amram. Reaktsiya ottorzheniya [The Reaction of Rejection]. // “22″, 1979, (5), p. 201.

[20] The New Russian Word, New York, 1975, November 30, p. 3.

[21] M. Ortov. Pravoslavnoe gosudarstvo I tserkov [The orthodox State and the Church]. The Way: The Orthodox Almanac. New York, 1984, May-June, (3), p. 12, 15.

[22] F. Gorenshtein. Shestoi konets krasnoi zvezdy [The Sixs Point of the Red Star]. // EW, New York, 1982, (65), p. 125.

[23] G. Pomerants. Chelovek niotkuda [The Man from Nowhere]. From G. Pomerants, Unpublished. Frankfurt, Posev, 1972, p. 143, 145, 161-162.

[24] G. Pomerants. Sny zemli [Nightdreams of Earth]. // “22″, 1980, (12), p. 129.

[25] G. Pomerants. Chelovek niotkuda [The Man from Nowhere]. From G. Pomerants, Unpublished. Frankfurt, Posev, 1972, p. 157.

[26] G. Pomerants. Son o spravedlivom vozmezdii [A Dream about Recompense]. // Syntaksis: Journalism, Critique, Polemic. Paris, 1980, (6), p. 21.

[27] L. Frank. Eshche raz o “russkom voprose” [The “Russian Question” Once Again]. // Russkaya mysl [The Russian Thinker], 1989, May 19, p. 13.

[28] Amrozh. Sovetskii antisemitism – prichiny i prognozy [Soviet Anti-Semitism: Causes and Prospects]. Seminar. // “22”, 1978, (3), p. 153.

[29] V. Gusman. Perestroika: mify i realnost [Perestroika: Myths and the Reality]. // “22”, 1990, (70), p. 139, 142.

[30] B. Shragin, p, 99.

[31] M. Amusin. Peterburgskie strasti [Passions of St. Petersburg]. // “22”, 1995, (96), p. 191.

[32] I. Serman. Review. // “22”, 1982, (26), p. 210-212.

[33] B. Shragin, p, 158.

[34] M. Meyerson-Aksenov. Rozhdeniye novoi intelligentsii [The Birth of New Intelligentsia]. // Samosoznanie: Sb. statei. [Self-consciousness: The Collection of Articles] New York: Chronicles, 1976, p. 102.

[35] B. Khazanov. Pisma bez stempelya [The Letters without Postmark]. // EW, New York, 1982, (69), p. 156, 158, 163.

[36] B. Khazanov. Novaya Rossiya [New Russia]. // EW, Tel Aviv, 1976, (8), p. 142.

[37] M. Vaiskopf. Sobstvenny Platon [Our Own Platon]. // “22”, 1981, (22), p. 168.

[38] B. Khazanov. Po kom zvonit zatonuvshy kolokol [For Whom the Sunken Bell Tolls]. // Strana i mir: Obshchestvenno-politichesky, economichesky i kulturno-filosofsky zhurnal [Country and World: Social, Political, Economic and Cultural-Philosophical Journal (henceforth – Country and World]. Munich, 1986, (12), p. 93-94.

[39] E. Zhirnov. “Protsedura kazni nosila omerzitelny kharakter” [The Execution was Abominable]. // Komsomolskaya Pravda, 1990, October 28, p. 2.

[40] M. Morgulis. Evreisky vopros v ego osnovaniyakh i chastnostyakh [The Basics and Details of the Jewish Question]. // Voskhod, St. Petersburg, January 1881, Book 1, p. 18.

[41] R. Rutman. Ukhodyashchemu – poklon, ostayushchemusya – bratstvo [A bow to those who has gone and my brotherhood to those who remain]. // New Journal, New York, 1973, (112), p. 284-297.

[42] R. Rutman. Koltso obid [Circle of Grievances]. // New Journal, New York, 1974, (117), p. 178-189; and in English: Soviet Jewish Affairs, London, 1974, Vol. 4, No. 2, p. 3-11.

[43] M. Kheifetz. Russkii patriot Vladimir Osipov [Russian Patriot Vladimir Osipov]. // Kontinent: Literaturny, obshchestvenno-politichesky i religiozny zhurnal [Continent: Literary, Social, Political and Religious Journal (henceforth – Continent]. Paris, 1981, (27), p. 209.

[44] M. Kheifetz. Nashi obshchie uroki [The Lessons We Shared]. // “22”, 1980, (14), p. 162-163.

[45] M. Kheifetz. Evreiskie zametki [The Jewish Notes]. Paris. Tretya volna [The Third Wave], 1978, p. 42, 45.

[46] Feliks Svetov. Open the doors to me. Paris: Editeurs Reunls, 1978.

[47] Yu. Shtein. Letter to Editor. // Country and World, 1987, (2), p. 112.

[48] M. Shneyerson. Razreshennaya pravda [Allowable Truth]. // Continent, 1981, (28); see also: M. Shneyerson. Khudozhestvenny mir pisatelya i pisatel v miru [The Artistic World of an Author and the Author in the World]. // Continent, 1990, (62).

[49] B. Komarov. Unichtozhenie prirody [Destruction of the Nature]. Frankfurt: Posev, 1978; Razrushennye i oskvernennye khramy: Moskva i Srednyaya Rossia [Destroyed and Desecrated Churches: Moscow and Central Russia]. Afterword: Predely vandalizma [The Limits of Vandalism]. Frankfurt: Posev, 1980.

[50] Julius Epstein. Operation Keelhaul: The Story of Forced Repatriation from 1944 to the Present. Old Greenwich, Connecticut: Devin-Adair, 1973.

[51] V. Zeev. Demonstratsiya objektivnosti [Pretending to be Evenhanded]. // New American, 1982, June 1-7, (120), p. 37.

[52] V. Boguslavsky. V zashchitu Kunyaeva [In Defence of Kunyaev]. // “22”, 1980, (16), p. 166-167, 170.

[53] D. Markish. Vykrest [Convert to Christianity]. // “22”, 1981, (18), p. 210.

[54] Sh. Markish. O evreiskoi nenavisti k Rossii [On the Jewish Hatred towards Russia]. // “22”, 1984, (38), p. 218.

[55] B. Shragin, p, 159.

[56] Sh. Markish. Eshche raz o nenavisti k samomu sebe [Once Again on Self-Hatred]. “22”, 1980, (16), p. 178-179, 180.

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