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Behind the Headlines Poisoned View of Jewish History

January 4, 1979
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Generations of Soviet school children have been given a negative view of Jews and Jewish history as a result of the steadily increasing anti-Semitism of textbooks used in Soviet history classes. “They corrupt young people and implant in them a sense of incompatability and hostility between them and the Jews,” according to an article in “Soviet Jewish Affairs,” published by the London Institute of Jewish Affairs.

The author, Daniel Fish, draws parallels with Czarist Russia after the 1880s when the rise of anti-Semitism coincided with the virtual monopoly of high school history textbooks by the anti-Semite D.I. Illovaysky. Noting that the purpose of Soviet education is to “arm” pupils with “Communist morality,” Fish asks “What kind of morality and world view are formed by knowledge such as this? And to what end?”

Fish’s article found various stages in the increasingly anti-Jewish tone of Soviet history teaching over the past four decades.


In ancient history textbooks in use from the 1930s to the early 1950s, there was still a desire, if not to inspire respect for Jews as bearers of an ancient culture, at least to neutralize the anti-Semitism of the pre-war and especially post-war years. But the mid 1950s were a turning point, and the words “Judea,” “Israel” and “Jerusalem” began to disappear. By 1954, the Jews disappeared almost entirely from ancient history as taught in Soviet school rooms.

In the same year, Jews were also dropped from an influential textbook about the Middle Ages, thus distorting the story of the Spanish. Inquisition of which Jews were the chief victims.

In modern history books, too, Jewish references were dropped. The Jewish origins of progressive or socialist writers such as Heinrich Heine or Ferdinand La Salle were ignored and the anti-Semitic Dreyfus affair was presented purely in terms of class warfare. In 1954-56, textbooks on Soviet history for classes eight to ten underwent considerable changes with the removal of a great deal of information on Russian Jewish history.

From the late 1960s, the tendency towards omission was accompanied by the provision of negative information alone. Fish mentions two textbooks in which “the reader is met with a torrent of negative information on Russian Jews…. Described as members of the Jewish Workers Union, the Bund, the Jews are abused more than the Black Hundreds,” regardless of the fact that the Bund was the first Social Democratic organization in Russia.


Textbooks on contemporary history carefully avoid mentioning that Jews were the chief sufferers of the hands of the Nazis. A book edited by V.K. Furaev makes no reference to anti-Semitism either in the definition of German fascism or in the description of the Nazis programs and activities.

It merely mentions that the Nazis advanced the slogan: “Down With Jewish Finance Capital I” This leaves the inference that the “terrible Jewish pogroms” carried out by the Hitlerites (to which there is a later reference), were legitimate retribution against capitalistic Jews.

The same book mentions Auschwitz, but not the mass murders of Jews there. It makes no reference at all to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

On the other hand, there appeared in 1972, in an edition of 100,000 and about 400 pages long, M.S. Gus’ “The Madness of the Swastika,” from which (Fish writes) “it appears that many of the Nazi leaders were half or completely Jewish, that Jewish bankers were among the Nazi benefactors and that Hitler did not hesitate to take Jewish money.

“There is not one word on the Jews in Hitler’s speeches as reported by Gus; indeed, to judge by this author, the target of the Nazis racial theories was the Slavs, the Negroes or anyone else–only not the Jews.” In a final insult, the book recalls seeing in a displaced persons camp at the end of the war” well fed young people, of Jewish nationality… who survived by a miracle in various parts of Europe.”

The history of modern Israel suffers a similar fate. Initially it is relegated to mere subsections of the history of other Middle Eastern countries, and subsequently treated with greater venom with each new edition. Both the omission of Jewish references and the denigration of Jews, Fish concludes, have “a destructive effect on the psychology of young people and inculcate in them hatred and enmity.”

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