For centuries Jews throughout the world have been celebrating Purim as the day when the Jewish population in ancient Persia miraculously escaped a general massacre prepared for them by Haman, the grand vizier of the Persian King Ahasuerus. Purim became a day of merriment in Jewish history. The day of March 5–when Stalin died in 1953 from a stroke–should similarly be marked by Jews as a miraculous day to remember. His sudden death came as a great miracle for the 3,000,000 Jews in the Soviet Union. It thwarted his plans, scheduled to be started the next day, to annihilate the Jews in Russia through mass-pogroms and deportation of all surviving Jews to slave labor camps in remote Arctic regions to die there a slow and tortuous death.
The signal to this brutal plan was to be given March 6 at the opening of the notorious “Doctors’ Trial” at which six prominent Jewish and three non-Jewish physicians were accused by Stalin falsely of having plotted to poison him and other Soviet leaders in the Kremlin. The trial was cancelled immediately upon Stalin’s death, the physicians were released and rehabilitated. Soviet Jews–who lived in mortal fear during weeks of intensified anti-Jewish propaganda in the Soviet press preparing the climate Stalin wanted for the trial–breathed freely.
Details of the pogrom planned by Stalin and of his sudden death which saved the Jews in the Soviet Union from a catastrophe similar to Hitler’s annihilation of the 6,000,000 Jews in Europe, were related by me in my book, “Soviet Jewry Today and Tomorrow,” published by Macmillan in 1971. The book was a product of my revisiting the Soviet Union in 1968, when I spoke to hundreds of Jews and to numerous Soviet officials and when it was indicated to me by one of the latter that the Soviet government would soon start permitting Jewish emigration on a limited scale. Emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union to Israel started surprisingly a few weeks later.
The details which I related of Stalin’s sudden death revealed that Stalin suffered a stroke during an angry discussion over his plan about the Jews at a meeting with top Soviet leaders in the Kremlin. He anticipated that none in the Kremlin would dare to oppose his plan and was shocked when Marshal Clement Voroshilov, the President of the USSR and a popular military figure in the country, said that he would tear up his Communist Party membership card if Stalin’s plan against the Jews was carried out. His sentiments were echoed by Vyacheslav Molotov, Soviet Foreign Minister whose Jewish wife had earlier been deported to distant Soviet territory on Stalin’s orders, allegedly because she had shown friendship to Golda Meir when she was Israel’s first Ambassador to the Soviet Union. Taken aback by this open and sharp opposition–probably the first daring opposition since he became the dictator of the Soviet Union–Stalin collapsed at the meeting from a stroke. Two days later he died. With him also died his brutal plan to destroy all the Jews in the Soviet Union.
Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, the eminent Soviet writer and Nobel Prize winner who has been courageously exposing and fighting the inhuman methods and system of the Soviet secret police, dwells now at greater length on the Stalin plan than I did. In his new book, “The Gulag Archipelago”–an explosive massive expose of the Soviet terror system–he presents hitherto unknown facts on Stalin’s devilish connivance to wipe out the Jews in Russia while posing as an opponent of anti-Semitism. The book, already published in Paris and soon to be published in this country, is “forbidden fruit” in the Soviet Union from where the manuscript had been smuggled out.
According to Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s version, Stalin proposed the holding of a public execution of the accused doctors by hanging them on the Red Square, in front of the Kremlin. The mobs attracted to this morbid scene would have to be incited by speakers to violence. They would then under leadership of party officials, have spread out over Moscow carrying out a pogrom against Jews wherever they were found in the style of the Czarist regime. After a night of looting and killing, Stalin would have stepped in as a “savior” of the Jews from the “anger of the masses” by transporting them to remote places in the Arctic. There they would meet a slow death in the forced labor camps which were prepared for them. Stalin was known as an anti-Semite in the inner circle of the Kremlin but, according to his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, was always careful not to make his anti-Jewish feelings known publicly, since this would contradict with the tenets of Leninism. Khrushchev pointed out in his memoirs that Stalin’s hostile attitude toward the Jewish people was a “major defect” in his character, but that he took care never to hint at his anti-Semitism in his written works or in his speeches.
In his anti-Semitic acts, Stalin liked others to do his dirty work, while himself posing as a fighter against anti-Semitism, Khrushchev asserted. He related an episode repealing that Stalin once suggested to him to organize the “beating up with clubs” of Jewish workers at an aviation factory in Moscow by the non-Jewish workers there. Khrushchev did not carry out this “suggestion” because he feared that Stalin would later blame him if the assault on the Jewish workers would lead to an investigation. Stalin would have “strangled” anyone whose actions would have discredited him as an anti-Semite, Khrushchev stated in his memoirs.
Similarly, Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, charged her father with the murder of Solomon Mikhoels, the noted and much decorated Soviet-Jewish actor and chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, which was organized during the war years in Russia to mobilize Jewish efforts throughout the world against the Nazi invasion into the Soviet Union. She relates in her memoirs how her father was informed over the telephone, at home, that the job on Mikhoels was completed. He then instructed to see to it that the killing of Mikhoels, a dedicated Communist carrying the Order of Lenin decoration, was reported as a mere street accident. Mikhoels was run over by a truck while on a visit to Minsk. The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee was later liquidated by order of Stalin together with all Jewish cultural institutions including the Jewish State Theatre in Moscow. Most of the Jewish writers and other intellectuals were either arrested and shot or banished to their death in camps in Siberia.
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.