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Jan. 13: A dark day in Soviet Jewish history

Solomon Mikhoels
Jan. 13 was a dark day in Soviet Jewish history. 

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In 1948, prominent Yiddish theater actor and director Solomon Mikhoels died in what was later revealed to have been a political assassination ordered by Joseph Stalin’s security police chief Lavrenti Beria. (The death murder was believed by many, including his daughters, to have been carried out in the form of a staged car accident. A similar account was conveyed by a JTA writer in 1987:  

He was sent to Minsk by the Cultural Affairs Ministry as a member of the Stalin Prize Committee, purportedly to inspect theaters. Late at night, on Jan. 13, 1948, he was called from his hotel by an official. He was mowed down by a truck, and although his death was reported an accident, it is generally believed that the KGB killed him. The Soviet government made an extraordinary funeral for Mikhoels, attended by tens of thousands of Jews.

As noted by JTA 50 years later, Mikhoels’ death marked the beginning of anti-Jewish pogroms in the Soviet Union that eased only after Stalin’s death in 1953.

In 1953, exactly five years after Mikhoels’ death, the Soviet newspaper Pravda published "The Doctors’ Plot," an article that alleged a conspiracy by 9 doctors, 6 of them Jewish, to kill Soviet leaders with aid of American intelligence and the American Joint Distribution Committee. 

Mikhoels was among the names identified in the plot, which Nikita S. Khrushchev later claimed was promulgated by Stalin. In 1957, Miron S. Vovsi, Mikhoels’ cousin and one of the doctors named in the plot, was awarded the Order of Lenin

Read the CIA’s 1953 report detailing the Doctors’ Plot here.

PHOTO: Memorial tablet on the house in Daugavpils where Soviet Jewish actor and director Solomon Mikhoels was born on Mar. 16, 1890. (Alma Pater, CC BY 3.0)

(h/t David B. Green of Haaretz)

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