Soviet Jewry as a Diaspora Nationality: the 'Black Years' Reconsidered



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Soviet Jewry as a Diaspora Nationality: the 'Black Years' Reconsidered
Jeffrey Veidlinger
East European Jewish Affairs, Vol. 33. No. 1, 2003/1350 1674/4-29
Published By Frank Cass, London
On the night of 12 13 January 1948 Solomon Mikhoels, the Directorof the Moscow State Yiddish theatre and Chair of the Jewish Anti Fascist Committee, was run over by a truck while visiting Minsk. Few suspected initially that Mikhoels had been murdered by the Soviet secret police and had become the first victim of Stalin's final purge   this time directed against the Jewish population of the Soviet Union. In late 1948 and early 1949 the last remaining Jewish institutions in the Soviet Union were closed down, beginning with the Jewish Anti Fascist Committee and its Yiddish newspaper, Eynikayt. on 20 November, followed by the Der Emes Prinling Press and, finally, the Moscow State Yiddish theatre in February 1949. On 28 January 1949 an article in Pravda used anti Semitic motifs to accuse a group of theatre critics, most of them Jews, of 'anti patriotic' activity, signifying the transformation of the anti cosmopolitan' campaign into an anti Jewish campaign. During this same period dozens of leading Jewish political, cultural and intellectual personalities were arrested, followed by a long term campaign of persecution directed against Jewish jouma!ists, academicians, artists, politicians, students, military personnel and ordinary citizens on charges ranging from 'cosmopolitanism' to 'bourgeois nationalism'.1 Meanwhile, tortuous interrogations were being conducted ot many of the arrested Jewish personalities in prepararion for the secret trial of members of the Jewish Anti Fascist Committee, conducted in the spring of 1952. On 12 August 13 defendants were executed, including some of the most prominent Jewish cultural figures in the Soviet Union. In November that year Rudolf Slansky, the Secretary General of the Czech Communist Party, and ten other Jewish politicians were tried in Prague on charges of promoting Zionism, espionage, and plotting to murder Czech President Klement Gottwald. Slansky and seven others were executed the following month (along with three non Jewish defendants). Finally. on 13 January 1953 an article entitled 'Arrest of Group of Saboteur Doctors' appeared on the front page of Pravda, accusing a number of mostly Jewish doctors of collaborating with Jewish organisations abroad to poison leading Kremlin officials. The doctors were saved only by Stalin's death two months later.
These persecutions have traditionally been explained by some version of Yehoshua Gilboa's theory of 'premeditated anti Semitism'. which finds their roots in a combination of popular anti Semitism (either as an atavistic throwback to pre Revolutionary pogroms or as a more modern product of Nazi propaganda), Lenin's polemics against the Bund and Stalin's nationality policies, and Stalin's psychological profile.2 While all these factors certainly played an important role in post Second World War campaigns against the Jews, they fail to explain why, despite having been responsible for the deaths of millions of people in the decade 1928 38, Stalin seemed to have had little desire to direct his wrath against the Jews in particular prior to the Second World War.
In this article, I posit that the anti Jewish atrocities committed by the Soviet governmeat in the period 1948 53 were not only motivated by pre existing ethnic, racial and religious anti Semitism, but were also part of a more general Soviet persecution of 'diaspora nationalides', those national minorities whose territorial homeland lay outside the borders of the Soviet Union. The Soviet governmeut had long feared that capitalist states would use their co ethnics in the Soviet Union against the Soviet state, and so had been careful to cut off contact between Soviet diaspora nationalities and their co ethnics abroad, even deporting populations away from border regions to prevent contact.3 the first ethnically targeted deportation occurred in 1930, when tens of thousands of Poles were deported from Western Ukraine and Belorussia due to fears of 'a mass demonstrative departure of Poles from the USSR to Poland'.4 Similarly, many Finns in Leningrad Oblast were deported to Central Asia and the Urals in 1935 in order to sever contact between them and their territorial homeland across the border.5 Other diaspora nationalities who became victims of ethnic cleansing in the USSR include Soviet Koreans, who were deported to Central Asia in 1937,6 the Volga Germans, who were deported in 1941,7 and Greeks in the Crimean Peninsula, who were deported to Central Asia beginning in 1942,8 all as preventative measures against possible collaboration with their coethnics across enemy lines. Deportations of Kalmyks, Crimean Tatars, and the peoples of the North Caucasus, all of whom were accused of political unreliability after falling under enemy rule during the war, did not begin until these regions were liberated by the Red Army in the last days of 1943 and 1944.9 the earliest victims of Soviet ethnic cleansing, then, were exclusively members of these diaspora nationalities, a category which until 1948 excluded Soviet Jews. But when the state of Israel came into being, the Jewish population of the Soviet Union was transformed into a diaspora nationality and as such became subject to Soviet purification drives. Jewish expressions of nationalist sentiment which before 1948 had only garnered disapproval were reinterpreted as declarations of loyalty to a foreign government, or even espionage. Similarly, Jewish literary and artistic pursuits which had earlier been promoted as the cultural development of a Soviet national minority were reinterpreted as criminal acts of 'bourgeois nationalism'.
The activities conducted by many leading Jews in the Soviet Union   both Soviet citizens and representatives of the Israeli government in Moscow   played into these fears. After the Second World War many Soviet Jews began openly to assert nationalist sentimeuts by speaking up for Jewish refugees from Nazism in the former occupied territories, petitioning for the creation of a new Jewish autonomous region in the Crimea, highlighting Jewish losses in the war and raising awareness of the Holocaust, attending synagogue, forming clandestine circles for the study of Hebrew, supporting the Zionist movement and petitioning for emigration to Israel, and establishing contact with Jewish communities abroad. Further, the state of Israel actively laid claim to the loyalties of Soviet Jews and repeatedly asserted what it regarded as its right to represent their interests. In turn, many Soviet Jews responded favourably to Israeli intimations and overtures, threatening the Soviet Union with internal demands for a mass exodus. These activities all served to eahance both pre-existing anti Semitism among individual Soviet bureaucrats and official suspicions of Soviet Jewry as a suspect diaspora nationality, not to mention popular Jew hatred.
In this sense, Soviet attacks on the Jews between 1948 and 1953 can be read as pragmatic moves, intended to dispel what the Soviet government regarded as hosile activity. Thus there was an inner logic to Soviet nationality policies, which were aimed at preserving the ethnic integrity of the Soviet Union against putative (and often genuine) centrifugal forces. Such policies can be seen as a continuation of tsarist nationality strategies, which, according to the most recent scholarship, were motivated more by realpolitik than xenophobia and were concerned first and foremost with the preservation of the empire's unity.10. Without absolving the Soviet government of any culpability, the fact that rebellious nations were targeted for persecution and 'punished' was noted over 40 years ago in relation to the wartime deportations of Crimean Tatars, Chechens and other peoples of the North Caucasus." Soviet persecutions of the Jews, in contrast, have rarely been regarded as direct punishment or even as preventative measures: rather than portraying Soviet Jews as active resistors   a rebellious nation   or at least a potential threat, many scholars have viewed them as mere pawns in international diplomacy.12
For instance, many scholars who have studied Soviet involvement in the MiddIe East have noted a correlation between Soviet relations with the state of Israel and Soviet treatment of the Jews, arguing that the Jews were used as strategic weapons in the Cold War. These scholars usually reject the 'premeditated anti Semitism' thesis, pointing to the 'forgotten friendship' between the Soviet Union and the newborn state of Israel as evidence that there was no a prior anti Semitism in Soviet attitudes towards Israel.13 the deterioruion in relations, this argument continues, came about as a result of Cold War alignments. Initially, the Soviet Union supported the state of Israel as a means of driving the British out of the region, but, as Israel gradually retreated from its policy of neutrality towards a strategic partnership with the United States, the USSR decided to reorient its foreign policy towards the Arab states. The Slansky trial in November 1952 and the so called Doctors' Plot in January 1953 have traditionally been tied to the breakdown of Soviet Israeli relations in late 1952 and the severance of relations in February 1953. In this sense, to varying degrees, Soviet policies towards the Jews are said to have been dictated by Soviet relations towards Israel, which were in turn determined by Cold War politics.14 As Abba Eban, who served as Israeli representative to the United blations from 1949 to 1959, declared in 1970: 'One of the lessons that the free world may learn from the story of Soviet lsraeli relations is that Soviet political thought in this context has had no basis in principle. The line has veered with each new evaluation of the usefulness of Israel on the one hand, and the Arab States on the other, to Soviet global interests.'15 Although this scheme correctly emphasises the pragmatic motivations of the Soviet govemment, it treats Soviet attacks on the Jews as merely a bi product of global and regional objectives, thereby missing important domestic developments.
It is not surprising that these studies sought to explain Soviet treatment of the Jews by refererce to international politics given the sourees that were available. Without access to Soviet arehives, these scholars were forced to seareh for clues regarding Soviet motivations in United Nations documents, Soviet newspapers, and Soviet diplomatic activity. The recent publication of two important sets of documents from Soviet arehives, though, reveals the importance of domestic ideology for the first time. The volume Documents on Israeli~Soviet Relations, published jointly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, provides new insights into Soviet policies towards, the state of Israel,16 while Nevpravdenyi sud, poslednii stalinskii rasstrel, the transcript of the trial of the Jewish Anti Fascist Committee, reveals the true intentions of the Soviet authorities towards the Soviet Jewish minority.17 A greater understanding of Soviet nationality policies, and particularly the extent to which the regime consciously regulated national movements and implemented policies of ethnic eleansing and deportation, also helps the modern scholar to appreciate the degree to which spontaneous and foreign induced Jewish nationalism challenged core Soviet ideologies.18 the documents show that Soviet Jews were not just pawns in diplomatic manocovring, but that many acted in such a way as to play into Soviet suspicions of diaspora nationalities by revitalising Jewish nationalism and explicitly connecting the Jewish nation to the new state of Israel. As Mordecai Namir, the Israeli Minister to the USSR from 1949 to 1950 and one of the few to recognise Soviet motivations wrote in 1950: 'The entire episode of persecution and oppression dunug 1949 lacked any element of anti Semitism ... The only intent was to rapidly suppress turbulent Jewish national sentiment.'19
The Jewish Anti Fascist Committee
The resurgence of Jewish national sentiment began around the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. Two months after the Wehrmacht invaded Russia in June 1941, Solomon Mikhoels, with the approval of the Soviet Information Bureau and the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, organised a Jewish resistance movement within the Soviet Union. His first action was to schedule a mass Jewish rally in Moscow, to be broadcast on Soviet radio. The rally, which took place in August 1941, brought together Jewish Iuminaries from around the country, all of whom spoke out against Nazi atrocities and appealed to world Jewry for help.20 In December the snme year Mikhoels was appointed chairman of the newly formed Jewish Anti Fascist Committee (JAFC), an organisation established to gather the support of American and British Jewry for the Soviet war effort. As part of this project, the Soviet Information Bureau decided in 1943 to send a delegation, consisting of Mikhoels and the Yiddish poet Itzik Fefer   who could also be counted on to act as an MGB informant   on a friendship mission to America, Britain, Canada and Mexico. The two were instructed 'on no account [to] interfere in the internal affairs of the US, or in the struggle between different Jewish organisations; or ... [to] express any views on international politics, such as the question of the Jewish State of Free. Palestine, since Palestine is, of course, a British mandated territory.'21
Mikhoels and Fefer did, however, manage to meet with numerous representatives of American Zionist and Jewish organisations, including James Rosenberg. the head of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, who discussed with Mikhoels the possibility of creating a Jewish autonomous region in the Crimea, and donated 500,000 dollars to the Soviet Union Relief Fund for this purpose. This meeting was significant as the so-called Crimean Project was one of the primary pieces of evidence used against the members of the JAFC in their 1952 trial.22 the Joint was also alleged to have been one of the leaders of the 'Zionist conspiracy' involving Jewish doctors in January 1953. Mikhoels may have also met clandestinely with Chaim Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Organisation.23
Throughout the trip Mikhoels gradually became more outspoken in his support for the Zionist project. For instance, in Britain, when asked specifically about Soviet attitudes towards the possible establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, he was forthright. 'Rest assured', he declared, 'that if England decides to create a Jewish republic in the Land of Israel, without doubt there will be no obstacles on the Soviet side.'24 This statement was a blatant public infraction of the instructions given to the delegation prior to its departure.
Even after the war, Mikhoels continued to use the JAFC to undertake a wide range of projects in support of his people. One of the first projects in which he participated under the auspices of the Committee was the compilation of the Black Book, a compendium of accounts of Nazi atrocities against the Jews. As the chairman of the JAFC, Mikhoels had unparalleled access to information about the state of Jewry in Eastem Europe. Not only was he briefed by both Soviet and American officials during the war, but letters from refugees constancy flooded the JAFC headquarters, and he met with numerous refugees who survived the journey to Moscow.25 In blatant defiance of the official Soviet interpretation of the war, which downplayed Nazi anti Semitism, the second chapter of the Black Book openly emphasised the distinct fate of Jews under Nazism: 'The German fascists plotted the destruction of the Jews as an integral pan of their programne to enslave the world.'36 Even more daringly, the book lionised the role of the Palestinian Yishuv (Jewish Settlement) in saving Jews. The chapter on resistance, for instance, began with a description of the 'underground railway' organised by the Yishuv to smuggle Jews out of Europe to Palestine.27 This was anathema to the sensibilities of the Soviet authorities, who preferred to assert the Soviet Union's unique status as the Jews' saviour. Finally, the book discussed collaboration between the Nazis and Soviet citizens, particularly Ukrainians. The acknowledgment that ethnic and racial hatreds lurked within the Soviet 'family of nations' and that these sentiments had only recently flared up threatened the delicate balance that kept the national republics united within the Soviet federation. It is for this reason that Solomon Bregman was compelled to disclaim the book's statements that 'local populations of Ukrainians and Belorussians took part together with the Germans in the annihilation of the Jews.'28 As a result, the state censors refused to allow the book to be published in Russia, although a version was published in the United States in 1946. The issue of the Black Book was a major theme of the 1952 trial, in which the defendants were accused of 'spread[ing] the notion that the Jews as a nation are separate and different and the false thesis of the exceptional nature of the Jewish people as a people who displayed supposedly exceptional heroism in the struggle against fascism.'29
The second project with which Mikhoels involved himself after the war was the distribution of foreign aid within Russia. After receiving a plethora of appeals for help from Jewish communities and individuals throughout the country who felt they could not turn to anybody else,30 Mikhoels and the JAFC took up their causes. In particular, Mikhoels revived the Joint Distribution Committee's proposal for the creation of a Jewish Soviet Socialist Republic on the territory of the Crimea after receiving numerous letters from Jewish refugees who were unable to retum to their homes in the formerly German occupied territories. By acting as an advocate for Soviet Jews, the JAFC undermined the Communist Party's claim to be the sole reprcsentative of the Soviet population and threatened to become a forum in which a public sphere between the state and society could be formed.
Further, despite Soviet warnings against maintaining foreign contacts, Mikhoels also retained his foreign ties after the war, and continued to represent himself as a Soviet delegate to world Jewry. Between 1944 and 1948 he requested permission to attend intemational Jewish conferences in New York, Helsinki, Poland, Paris and Romania.31 Lev Sheinin, who had served as an assistant to the Soviet prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, also requested that Mithoels accomparty him to Nuremberg. Not surprisingly, each of these requests was summarily rejected, and the requests were later used as evidence in the 1952 trials of the Jewish Anti Fascist Committee. Indeed, at a time when ethnic minorities in the borderlands were being systematically 'resettled', Soviet prisoners of war repatriated in accordance with agreements reached at Yalta were being shot or sent en masse to labour camps, and marriage between Soviet citizens and foreigners was made illegal. Mikhoels's insistence on maintaining his foreign contacts was a dangerous mis step.
The final straw, though, was probably a speech in which Milchoels openly supported the Zionist project and alluded to the possibility of Soviet Jewish emigration to the future state of Israel. On 29 November 1947, when the future of Palestine was put to a vote in the United Nations, the Soviet Union joined witb the majority in supporting the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. One month later, on 27 December 1947. at a jubilee ceremony for the Yiddish writer Mendele Moykber Sforim, Mikboels and Benjamin Zuskin performed a segment of their 1927 play 'The Travels of Benjamin III', about a Russian Jew who leaves his hometown in seareh of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Mikhoels declared: 'Benjamin departed in seareh of the Promised Land and asked a villager be met along the way how to get to Eretz [the Land of] Israel ... and right bere, not very long ago, during the United Nations debate, [USSR Representative to the United Nations Andrei] Gromyko answered this question.'32 the tumultuous applause that greeted Mikhoels's statement doubless indicated to the Soviet authorities tbat Zionism was striking an emotional chord within the Jewish population. In order to prevent this Zionist euphoria from getting out of hand, it was imperative that Mikhoels be silenced as soon as possible. Indeed, the decision to send Mikhoels to Minsk, where he was to be murdered, was taken sometime between 31 December and 10 January   a week or two after Mikhoels's statement.33 By raising the idea of emigration from the Soviet Union to Israel, Mikhoels had foreshadowed what would become a fundamental point of controversy between the state of Israel and the Soviet Union over the next 40 years. Further, he had reinforced the bourgeoning image of Soviet Jewry as a diaspora nationality. Mikhoels paid for these mis steps with his life
The campaign against 'bourgeois nationalism' had begun in earnest in 1946, and Mikhoels was by no means the first prominent Jew to be accused of nationalist deviations   indeed, no such accusations were levelled against him in public until exactly five years after his death, when he appeared as the 'well known Jewish bourgeois nationalist, Mikhoels' in the notorious Pravda article 'Arrest of Group of Saboteur Doctors'.34 the poets Abraham Sutzkever, Moshe Pinchevskii, Shmuel Halkin and others had been accused of nationalism throughout 1946-7, but these attacks were of a more insipid character, in which the writers were criticised for favouring Jewish characters or utilising Biblical themes. These accusations resembled similar attacks on writers of other Soviet national minorities, who were accused of ethnic favountism and the promotion of their own national histories. Mikhoels, though, was singled out for severe punishment because his sratement was not merely one of 'excessive national pride', but could also be perceived as a statement of solidarity with a foreign nation.
It is for this reason, as well that the Yiddish writer Itsik Kipois, who had stated in his story 'Without Giving It a Thought' that he hoped one day to see the Star of David worn next to the Soviet Star, became the victim of harsh criticism in the summer and autumn of 1947.35 Both Kipois and Mikhoels had inadvertently played into the stereotype of a diaspora nationality by emphasising the bond between Soviet Jews and the soon to be state of Israel, and for this crime both were singled out for severe penalties.
The establishment of the state of Israel: Soviet Jewry becomes a diaspora naffonality
Just three days after the 14 May 1948 declaration of the state of Israel, reports came into the Central Committee of the Communist Party which reinforced suspicions that Soviet Jewry had become a diaspora nationality, whose loyalty could not be trusted. In a secret memo marked 'most urgent' to L. S. Baranov, the deputy head of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Grigorii Kheifets, deputy secretary of the JAFC and an informant to the MGB, reported that 'In connection wtth the events in Palestine, the Jewish Anti Fascist Committee has been receiving appeals by telephone and in person to send volunteers to Palestine to "take part in the struggle against the aggressors and fascists".'
Purther, Kheifets indicated that these were not isolated individuals, but that 'the majority of those who appeal are speaking not only on their own behalf but also on behalf of their comrades at work or study.' The movement, he continued, was widespread, encompassing mostly students, but also white­ collar workers and even officers of the Soviet army.36 The impression was that no Jew regardless of prior political loyalties could be trusted any longer. For instance, one letter calling for the creation of a voluntary legion of Soviet Jews to fight for Israel began with the affirmation 'I am appealing to you with the confidence that I express the opinion of millions of Soviet Jews' and concluded with the avowal 'Do not think that you are dealing with a Zionist. I am not a Zionist but a former member of the Communist Party of Western Ukraine and a political detainee of former Poland.'37 In another letter, a reserve captain of the Soviet Army and member of the Communist Party wrote: 'We cannot stand on the sidelines while our blood brothers are perishing in an unequal fight.'38 Clearly, even individuals from the most reliable social classes could succumb to the nationalist pull of their external homeland. Another Ietter urging the shipment of arms and volunteers to Palestine assured its readers that 'there is not the sljghtest doubt that these measures will be met with the most enthusiastic response among the Jews of the USSR.'39 Other petitions contained numerous signatures, while one Ietter sent to Pravda claimed to represent 500 Jews from Zhmerinka.40 Baranov prepared a report to M. A. Suslov, Secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee, in which he categorised the Ietters, noting that the authors of some of these Ietters do not distinguish between Jewish citizens of the USSR and Jews living in capitalist countries and, appareatly, consider Israel to be their true homeland, tending to put it above the USSR.'41 Thus, only days after the establishment of the state of Israel, members of the Central Committee were already receiving reports that questioned the loyalty of the newest Soviet diaspora nationality.
In the autumn of 1948 a series of events again connected with the establishment of Israel unleashed the next wave of attacks. Golda Meyerson (Meir) and the first Israeli mission to the Soviet Union arrived in Moscow on 2 September, one month before the Jewish High Holidays. On 11 September, the day after presenting her credentials, Meyerson and her entourage attended Sabbath services at the Moscow Choral Synagogue, where the male members of the Iegation were given the honour of being called up to read the Torah. According to a report by the Soviet Chairman of the Council for the Affairs of Religious Cults. I. V. Polianskii, 'when Meyerson and the people accompanying her passed through the crowd of congregants as they left the synagogue, many greeted her with applause.'42 The reaction to the establishment of the state of Israel was not confined to Moscow, but also revitalised the bourgeoning Jewish nationalist movement in Ukraine. In an apparent effort to intimidate Ukrainian Jewry, the prominent Yiddish writer David Hofshteyn was arrested in Kiev on 16 September, not long after he had sent a telegram to Meyerson urging her to help promote Hebrew in the Soviet Union.43 In a further act of intimidation, Stalin ordered the preparation of a newspaper article on Israel warning Soviet Jews to restrain themselves from celebration.44 The notorious article was written by the prominent Jewish writer and former member of the Jewish Anti Fascist Committee llya Enrenburg and appeared in Pravda on 21 September.45
However, despite Ehrenburg's warning, on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) on 4 October a crowd of at least 10,000 people turned out to greet Meyerson when she arrived for the service at Moscow's Choral Synagogue. They came, in her words, 'to demonstrate their sense of kinship and to celebrate the establishment of the State of Israel.'" According to Polianskii,
{quote} When she entered the synagogue, the large crowd, both inside the building and on the street as well, greeted her with applause, which Rabbi Shlifer tried to halt under the pretext that such forms of greeting had no place in a synagogue, which is a house of prayer. Some people expressed dissatisfaction at this, declaring we have waited 2,000 years for this event, how can you forbid us to display our feelings.' I' is estimated that there were up to 10,000 people in and around the synagogue on the morning of 4 October.47

{end quote}


With most of the crowd unable to fit inside the synagogue, a spontaneous street celebration erupted as jubilant Jews celebrated the first new year of the Jewish state. Ten days later the scene was repeated for Yom Kippur services. As the services concluded with the traditional blowing of the shofar and the chant of 'Next Year in Jerusalem!', the crowd erupted into a frenzy: 'a tremor went through the entire synagogue,' recalled Meyerson.48
The Council for the Affairs of Religious Cults was clearly concerned by the popular response, recommending that Rabbi Shlifer be instructed to 'limit his contact with them [the Israeli delegation]' to religious duties, and that he 'should not pursue any personal contacts .... He should decline the invitation to pay a personal visit to Mrs Meyerson, at first using the excuse of the rabbi's recent serious illness, and later, he should delicately make it clear that from a religious point of view, a personal visit by the rabbi to his congregants was possible only in exceptional circumstances.' Formally, Polianskii advised against allowing a ceremonial presentation of a Torah scroll the legation had donated to the synagogue on the grounds that 'such a ceremony would inevitably turn into a demonstration with elements of political Zionism.'49 Clearly, the Council for the Affairs of Rdigious Cults had decided that the Jewish religion could not longer be divorced from political Zionism.
Indeed, the exuberant reception of the Israeli mission was unprecedented in Soviet Russia. Spontaneous assemblies were unacceptable in Stalin's well-rehearsed and ritualised society. In the words of Namir, reflecting on the incident several years later, 'What happened there was unprecedented in the Soviet Union for decades: a mass Zionist demonstration   spontaneous, huge and turbulent   took place in the very heart of the capital without the government having organized it, agreed to it, or foreseen it.'50 The fact that this gathering was focused on both a foreign state and a religious holiday only added to the anathema and further heightened awarenoss of Soviet Jewry as a diaspora nationality. The Jewish reaction to Meyerson's visit probably contributed to a growing perception shared by Stalin and many ordinary citizens and bureaucrats alike that the Jewish population was a fifth column, capable of betraying the Soviet Motherland for the Zionist homeland. These were the same fears that had led to the persecutions and deportations of other diaspora nationalities.
On 20 November 1948, just over a month after Yom Kippur, the Central Committee of the Communist Party ordered the Ministry of State Security to disband the Jewish Anti Fascist Committee. Within days, the committee's offices were closed down, its paper ceased publication, the Yiddish printing press was destroyed, Yiddish radio broadcasts were discontinued, and the decision was made to liquidate the Yiddish theatres. Over the next two months, many leading members of the Jewish Anti Fascist Committee were arrested, including Itzik Fefer, Benjamin Zuskin, Boris Shimelovich, David Bergelson, Peretz Markish and Leyb Kvitko.


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