The Communist Ethic, Molotov's Jewish Wife, and Stalin

    October 2010            
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Polina Zhemchuzhina, Molotov's Jewish Wife


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Stalin and Molotov’s Jewish Wife

By Ludwik Kowalski

The following excerpt sheds light on personal relations between Stalin and his Kremlin subordinates. More specifically, it is about V.M. Molotov, Stalin’s Foreign Minister, and his Jewish wife, Polina Semyonovna Zhemchuzhina.

After marrying Molotov, Polina became very close to Stalin's wife. Stalin's marriage was going from bad to worse at that time. One night Stalin was rude to his wife during a formal Kremlin dinner. Accompanied by Polina, Stalin’s wife left the dinner party and killed herself, later that night (11/15/1932). ... To Stalin, vengeful and suspicious, Polina was instantly persona non grata, but he knew how to wait and to hide his feelings. The purges of the 1930’s did not affect her.

Until 1939 Polina corresponded with a sister in Palestine. During WWII she became a leading member of the Anti-Fascist Committee of Soviet Jews. In that capacity she was in contact with Golda Meir, the first Israeli ambassador to the USSR. But friendly relations between the two countries deteriorated after 1949. According to one Russian historian, "This was a good moment for Stalin to settle the score with the woman who had once been his wife's close friend and who, in his view, knew too much. Naturally, this was not the charge that was brought against her openly. Polina was accused of `treason against the Motherland' through her links with international Zionism and so on. . . . All the members of the Politburo voted for her arrest except Molotov, who abstained, although he did not speak in her defense.…'' She was arrested at once. According to a New York Times article (by Douglas Frantz, October 5, 2000)

"the former General Secretary of the Israeli Communist Party, S. Mikunis, met Molotov in the Kremlin Hospital at Kuntsevo, where he was sent one day. He wrote: 'Quite unexpectedly, one day I ran into Molotov in one of the corridors. I went up to him and asked, why did you let them arrest Polina? Without moving a muscle in his steely face, he replied, Because I am a member of the Politburo and I must obey Party discipline....' It happened that the day of Stalin's funeral, 9 March, was also Molotov's birthday. As they were leaving the mausoleum, Khrushchev and Malenkov wished him a happy birthday, despite the occasion, and asked what he would like as a present. 'Give me back Polina,' he replied coldly and moved on. "

Before Stalin's death, Polina, who had been sentenced to several years in exile, was delivered to Moscow in preparation for a trial against Jewish doctors. She had been interrogated and tortured. A week later Beria told her "Polina! You are an honored Communist." She fainted, and was then reunited with Molotov. This story shows how "the will of the party" was accepted by one of the leaders. Did he believe that the imprisonment of his wife was necessary or was he simply afraid of Stalin?

The issue of the so-called “communist morality,” demanding party interests to be above all other consideration, is addressed in several sections of the book. Here are some excerpts:

According to Lenin and Stalin morality should be subordinated to the ideology of proletarian revolution. Denying the validity of religion-based morality they wrote: "what is useful to us is moral, what is harmful to us is immoral. Morality is a weapon in class struggle." Party and Komsomol members were drilled to accept that position, and to act accordingly.

The justification was simple. The world is full of injustice and immorality. We want to replace it by a much better, "scientifically designed," social structure - communism. That is why what we do is right, by definition. Here is a good illustration. An act of torture committed by our enemy should be exposed as unspeakable barbarism. We do this to gain sympathy and support of naive people believing in "bourgeois morality." But an act of torture committed by us to punish an enemy of revolution is not immoral. It is a historical necessity.

Likewise, elimination of millions in Auschwitz was considered immoral while elimination of millions in Kolyma’s Gulag camps was considered moral. What distinguishes these two cases? It is not the methodology of killing, gas versus cold; it is the ideology which is being served. Comrade Dzerzhinsky (mentioned in my "Lie! Kill! Glorify!" reflection above), the first director of punitive Soviet organs, was referred to as a highly moral communist. This honor was a reward for extremely brutal handling of the declared class enemies, as ordered by the party of Lenin and Stalin.

Immorality is probably older than civilizations but Hitler and Stalin elevated it to new heights. How long will it take to repair social structures affected by twelve years of open brutality and cynicism in Germany, and by at least fifty years in the Soviet Union? Who should be in charge of organized efforts "of caging and taming monsters inside us"? ... Closely related to morality is the issue of convictions. To a true Bolshevik convictions are determined by the will of the party. Here is how this was explained to a friend in 1932 by an old Bolshevik, Juri Pyatakov:

"Since you do not believe that people's convictions cannot change in a short period of time, you conclude that our statements ... are insincere, that they are lies. ... I agree that people who are not Bolsheviks, the category of ordinary people in general, cannot make an instant change, a turn, amputating their own convictions. ... We are not like other people. We are a party who make the impossible possible. ... And if the party demands it, if it is necessary or important for the party, we will be able by an act of will to expel from our brains in twenty-four hours ideas we have held for years. .... Yes, I will see black where I thought I saw white, or may still see it, because for me there is no life outside the party or apart from agreement with it."

It is ironic that in 1937 Pyatakov was accused of antiparty activities and executed at once. The same happened to Bukharin in 1938. In big show trials both men confessed. Were they tortured or were they persuaded to willingly serve the party for the last time?

Additional notes:

My autobiography is based on a diary that I kept between 1946 and 2004 (in the USSR, Poland, France and the USA) is freely available on-line

The above short article is drawn from my book “Hell on Earth: Brutality and Violence Under the Stalinist Regime,” which is available at .

Email me:


from the October 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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