The Facts in the Barshay Case By Our Moscow Corresponent
Scarcely had the ink dried on the Kauffman case, when the Barshay affair cropped up. Yesterday, a sixty-year old Jew from Moscow was the victim; today a young Jewish girl from Bobruisk. Yesterday rich, anti-Semitic philanderers were the offenders; today workers in a factory. All, however, have a common source–the poisoned well of anti-Semitism bequeathed by Czaristic Russia to the new regime.
The Barshay case differs in one consideration from the Kauffman case and from all other incidents of an anti-Semitic character which have recently been given publicity in the press. The Barshay affair exposed more clearly than any other occurrence how far the poison of anti-Semitism has spread in the ranks of the Communists in the provinces as well as among Government officials and workers in the Soviet industries.
The affair was dragged out for months. The torturing of Miss Barshay began in the Spring. This fact was brought out by the Assistant District Attorney of White Russia, Michailov, who made a special trip to the glass factory, Octiabr, in Bobruisk to investigate the facts. Miss Barshay was not silent. At first afraid lest her tormentors wreak further vengeance on her, she could not endure the inquisition, and entered a complaint. She asked for aid from the young Communists, members of the Comsomol, who working in the same room, witnessed the persecutions against her. Their answer was to turn their backs upon her. Some smiled cynically at her request, while others joined forces with the three hooligans. It is interesting to note that among her tormentors was a Gentile girl, Nazeyevskaya, a fellow worker, who helped to inflict torture, simply because the victim was Jewish. As for the other women workers–either they were unaware of what was going on, or were afraid to protest.
Miss Barshay then turned to a militia-guard who is charged with maintaining order in the factory. This guardian of order laughed at her story and refused to intervene. When sympathetic fellow workers, unable to endure the sight of her suffering, complained, the hooligans drove them from their guild. Miss Barshay was driven to despair. It was impossible to work to draw a peaceful breath in the factory. In despair she went to the manager of the factory, Mazur. To him she told the whole story–a tale, which as the Minsk paper “Robotchi” correctly states, is enough to stand your hair on end. She told how they shamelessly tortured her, hounding her at every step, that she lived in constant terror, unable to breathe freely in the factory. She related how the hooligans beat her; doused her with cold water; tore off her clothes and flogged her; how they pulled at her skirts whenever she carried a heavy piece of glass and called her insulting names. Included in that category of torture is the story of how she was almost thrust into a burning oven; and how she was stripped of her clothes, pelted with soot and ashes by her tormentors who shouted to the young Communists: “Communists, look what we are doing to the Jidovka.”
What was the result of this interview with the manager of the factory? He listened to the story with a smile–and did nothing.
The story of her vain pleading for justice does not end here. A second factory guard, Karanin, did have compassion on her; wrote up a report on her complaints and sent it to the Factory Council. It never reached its destination. Enroute, it mysteriously disappeared. It now develops that Ptchelkin and Koslovsky, two departmental representatives of the factory, were responsible for its disappearance. They saw to it that the report should vanish. Koslovsky is a former secretary of the Party Collective in the factory.
On November 2nd, Miss Barshay received so severe a beating that the doctor gave her a week to recuperate from her injuries. On November 5th, all the details in the Barshay affair were presented to the Communist Committee of the Bobruisk district. What action did they take? They assigned their most uninfluential member to go to Bobruisk and conduct an investigation. Instead of setting out at once, this representative waited a few days. When he finally arrived in Bobruisk, he did not even visit the factory. He contented himself with attending a session of the Communist party.
The editor of “Communist,” the Bobruisk Communist newspaper, hushed up the entire affair until the details were fully made public by the Minsk newspaper “Robotchi.” This despite the fact that the Secretary of the Bobruisk Communist Party had related the entire incident to the editor on November 6th. It is interesting to note that two communist newspapers in White Russia, the Minsk “Orka” and the Vitebsk “Zaria Zapada,” have not up to the present day published a single word concerning the Barshay affair.
Little better were the actions of the special commission appointed by the Executive of the White Russian Communist Party. At the outset this Commission took no firm measures, seeking, on the contrary, to minimize the entire issue. That this attempt was unsuccessful is due primarily to the firm, unequivocable position of the Minsk newspaper “Robotchi.” While the Commission was conducting its investigation in the factory (which took just two days) there was a session of the Communist Factory Workers Organization, “Yatchecko.” Speakers at this conference were wrathful at what they characterized as the attempt to magnify the Barshay affair. This was perfectly comprehensible, inasmuch as the factory workers, participated in the torture of Miss Barshay. When the correspondent of the Minsk “Robotchi” rose and delivered a fiery invective against anti-Semites, he was almost hurled from the platform. Frightened by the hooligans, this is what the Commission did. Immediately after the session, it secretly telegraphed to the editorial department of the “Robotchi” in Minsk, asking that paper not to print the story of its correspondent. Nor can the stand of the Bobruisk District Attorney be overlooked. Speaking of the Barshay affair, he said: “This incident reveals only symptoms of anti-Semitism, and concerning symptoms, our code of laws says nothing!” Not without cause does the “Pravada” comment on this suspicious statement that “The District Attorney evidently lives in the dark hope that the symptoms will develop into a pogrom.”
Through the entire chain of circumstances incident to the Barshay case runs a black thread–the black thread of anti-Semitism, sometimes open, again hidden, of times embittered, sometimes less embittered. But at all times its evil influence is apparent. All this under a regime that conducts a sharp, unceasing, unswerving battle against the anti-Semitic hydra; a time when to be an anti-Semite is automatically to invite the suspicion of being a counter-revolutionist and to invite the suspicion of being a counter-revolutionist and to persecute a Jew as a Jew is fraught with danger. The venom of anti-Semitism has, however, poisoned certain circles of the Russian people to such an extent that they are not frightened even by the apparent danger. Perhaps, they say to themselves, we will not be punished, and proceed with their anti Semitic persecutions. Those dark forces who remember the days of the Czar, when beating Jews was considered a patriotic deed, cannot understand at all how anti-Semitism has become a crime. And when they are punished, they are astounded. Some are shrewd enough to seek protection under the Red Flag. That is what Trofimchik of the Octiabr factory did. At a meeting of all workers, he sharply condemned as counterrevolutionary the persecutions against Miss Barshay. What happened? From all sides they hurled at him: “Are you any better? Didn’t you pull at her skirts?”
Trofimchik is a Communist. The most sorrowful aspect of the entire affair is the fact that these sinister forces have a free reign; there is no one to call a halt. A large number of Communists have not grown in enlightenment. They still are what they were and lend their aid to the sinister forces in the country. The Barshay affair is ample testimony to that. Beginning with Trofimchik and continuing down the line, including the district attorney, the Bobruisk newspaper, and the Commission of the White Russian Executive-all are infected with the virus of anti-Semitism.
The Barshay affair has stirred up all Russia. The entire Communist press is full of it. The hooligans, it appears, ## ment. This, however, is not enough to alter the situation.
Anti-Semitism will continue in Russia so long as the terrible hooliganism persists, as long as the Russian masses remain ignorant, so long as the poison injected into the veins of the masses by Czaristic Russia will not disappear.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.