Stalin Against the Jews

Joseph Stalin’s anti-Semitism is common knowledge in the 1990’s, but this, like nearly everything else in his personal life, was a closely guarded secret to the citizens he ruled. The Soviet leader went to elaborate pains to portray himself as exactly the opposite of the Jew-hater he actually was. Jews were conspicuously well placed in his government. They were praised as revolutionary heroes, and their efforts in the fields of literature, art, and music were sponsored and celebrated by Stalin himself.

Yet Stalin was also the Jews’ greatest adversary. As he romanced them publicly, well-educated Soviet Jews were denied employment, secretly dispossessed, or shuttled off to Siberia on flimsy or trumped-up charges. Many were murdered in cold blood, and, in the greatest of all possible ironies, the people carrying out these makeshift executions were almost always Jews themselves.

Why were some Soviet Jews persecuted while others were awarded the Order of Lenin? Vaksberg finds in this strange duplicity a cold, implacable logic. The Soviet “Workers’ Paradise,” egalitarian in attitude and international in scope, could not countenance officially sanctioned anti-Semitism and still remain true to itself. Stalin’s alleged friendship and support of Russian Jewry distracted the idealistic Soviet citizenry from the blasphemous acts transpiring behind the scenes. Simply put, duplicity was good for business.

Vaksberg backs up his claims with painstaking research, and the writing, though translated from Russian to English, is vivid and very readable. This is a fine book—a darkly fascinating chapter in the hidden history of a great nation.