Purim in Stalin's Presidium


Purim in Stalin's Presidium


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How Stalin's Rage Saved the Jews

By Larry Domnitch

The following story was leaked to the press at a time when the Soviets, frequently accused of anti-Semitism, sought to improve their image. In 1956, two accounts appeared. One in the London Times, the other in France Soir, one year later, a similar account appeared in the New York Times. These accounts depicted the events surrounding the last living moments of Soviet premier Joseph Stalin. There is no certainty regarding the accuracy of these accounts, but there is no evidence to the contrary.

At the end of February 1953, a meeting took place between leaders of the Soviet regime. There, Stalin revealed his plans for Soviet Jewry. No Mordechai or Esther was present, but Haman was there. At the meeting, Stalin's pent up fury reached a crescendo and exploded into an uncontrolled rage, which resulted in his death and perhaps the salvation of millions.

Not even ten years after the Nazi destruction of European Jewry, Josef Stalin was bent upon the same course. Decades of purges, executions, imprisonment's and exiles of tens of thousands of Soviet Jews had escalated during the early years of the Cold War into a full-scale attack upon Soviet Jewry. By early 1953, the media launched daily attacks against the Jews under the pretext of the infamous "Doctors plot" in which Jewish doctors were accused of planning to poison government officials. As a result of the accusations, numerous doctors and other Soviet Jews were incarcerated, and executed. As in Nazi Germany, and so many other nations throughout history, they were used as scapegoats for all of their nation's woes. Hounded by both the media and the police, the Jews of the Soviet Union, lived in terror. The driving force behind the terror was Stalin.

Stalin's onslaught against the Jews was not something random; there was a calculated purpose to his madness. At the time, rumors had already become widespread that he was planning to deport thousands of Jews to Biro Bidzhan (an alleged Jewish autonomous region) and Siberia. A broadcast on Voice of America stated, "Biro Bidzhan the 'Jewish autonomous republic' has been transformed into a concentration camp. A surreptitious tendency is observed to deport to Biro Bidzhan all Jews arrested. It is difficult to establish the number of camps in Biro Bidzhan. Suffice it to say that one of the camps along the Biro River there are five to six departments; each department is reckoned to have 200-300 slaves."  Voice of America, Quoted from, Russian Jewry 1917-1967, Edited by Gregory Aronson, Jacob Frumkin, Alexis Goldenweiser, Joseph Levitan, Thomas Yoseloff, New York/South Brunswick/London, 1969,  pg. 199 Those rumors were soon the subject of a meeting between Stalin and his presidium.

Stalin pre-empted the meeting with the two-dozen leaders present by rehashing the usual accusations of "Zionist imperialist plots" and the "doctor's plot" and spoke of the need for collective deportation of the Jews to Central Asia and Biro Bidzhan. The implications were clear. A hushed silence followed the speech. Lazar Kaganovich, one of Stalin's loyal enforcers was the first to speak. He asked hesitantly, whether all Jews were to be deported. Stalin replied, "a certain section." Again there was silence.

Another presidium member, Vyacheslav Molotov, whose Jewish wife Paulina was exiled to the Kazakhastan wilderness a few years earlier, broke the silence and dared to object stating that the expulsion of Jews would have a negative impact on world opinion, while another longtime Politburo member, Anastas Ivanovich Mikoyan, shook his head in agreement. The unusual display of opposition continued. Kliment Yefremovich Voroshilov dared to defy the dictator. Just days earlier, four government agents arrived at his home to arrest his Jewish wife. More loyal to his wife than to the regime, Voroshilov, with gun in hand chased them away. In a dramatic gesture of defiance, he threw his party card on the table and resolutely stated that he no longer wanted to be a part of the Communist party. Enraged, Stalin bellowed in response that only he determined who remained within the party.

As Stalin's rage reached a crescendo, he collapsed on the floor suffering a massive stroke. As he lay stricken, no specialist arrived to help him. They were all executed and imprisoned during the "Doctor's plot." Fifteen to 20 minutes' later, doctors arrived. Stalin was brought to his private apartment where he lay gravely ill. Soviet party leaders surrounded him, many eagerly anticipating his imminent death and the end of his reign. In his final gesture, he pointed his finger towards those present at his bedside including his daughter suggesting their guilt or complicity in a conspiracy to kill him. Then he died.

Following Stalin's death, there was concern that his successors would be as evil or even worse. No one knew what to expect from the Soviets. Perhaps the next leader would blame the Jews for the Premier's death. An editorial from a contemporary Jewish periodical concluded its summation on Stalin's death; "The fate of Jews in the Red Empire hangs in the balance."

Stalin's death, which was announced on March 5, was actually cause for great relief. The purges almost immediately ended as did most of the media attacks against Jews and Israel. Soon, the surviving doctor's arrested were released. Soviet Jewry's struggles were far from over, but they were relieved of their greatest antagonist.

Stalin died as he was planning Jewry's destruction in the Soviet Union. The exact day of his death remains a mystery. Perhaps he died on Purim day (March 1) itself. But one thing could be said, in the safety of their private confines, Soviet Jews celebrated Purim marking the salvation of Jewry in ancient times and in their own as well. The American Hebrew Volume 162, No. 45, 3/13/53 p. 4, Editorial


from the March 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine



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