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Soviet Jews as Victimizers and Victims of Communism

jan peczkis|Sunday, August 17, 2014

This review is from: The Jews of the Soviet Union: The History of a National Minority (Cambridge Russian, Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies) (Paperback) Israeli Jewish author Benjamin Pinkus begins with a history of Jews in Russia. Instead of solely blaming Christianity for the negative aspects of Jewish-Christian relations, he also points to the role of Jewish-Christian disputations, Jewish proselytism, and Judaizing sects. (pp. 4-5). As for the 1881-1906 pogroms in tsarist Russia, Pinkus believes that many of them occurred on too geographic an organized scale to be without some degree of government influence behind them. (pp. 28-31).

This work elaborates on the role of Jews in the development of Soviet Communism (sometimes called the Zydokomuna), and then traces the fate of Soviet Jews in the decades after the Russian Revolution. Pinkus emphasizes the increasingly anti-Semitic trends in the USSR, and provides considerable detail on the growing anti-Israel policy of the Soviet Union.   I now focus on a few specific issues:   SECULARISM AMONG JEWS   In 1936, Polish Cardinal August Hlond spoke of Jews as freethinkers and vanguards of Bolshevism. For this, he has been endlessly criticized. However, the self-atheization and Bolshevization of Poland's Jews was not only factual, but had begun many decades earlier, when the Jews were subjects of tsarist Russia. Pinkus writes, (quote) The process of secularization was a characteristic of the modernization of the life of Jewish society in Russia. At the end of the nineteenth century the process was still a slow one, in spite of strong forces, both internal and external, which were weakening the traditional framework and threatening its breakdown. The process was accelerated, however, by historical factors operating before the First World War, and in particular the rapid development of Jewish socialist parties, practically all of them anti-religious. (unquote). (p. 33).   A few years after the Russian Revolution, in 1925, the "League of Unbelievers", later renamed the "League of Fighting Unbelievers", was founded in order to engage in intense anti-religious activity. In 1929, there were 200,000 Jewish members against 2,000 Germans and 500 Poles. (p. 102). Pinkus attributes the imbalance to Jewish secularism and the position of Jews in society, but does not go into any detail.   The Evsektsia [Yevsektsiya] played a leading role in the Communist war against Jewish religion. This included the closing of synagogues, and the forcing of Jews to work on the Sabbath and Holidays. (p. 101, 104). However, Pinkus does not examine the role of militantly atheistic Jews in the Communist war against Christianity in the Soviet Union.   In the USSR, Jewish religion underwent a precipitous decline. The number of synagogues in the Soviet Union fell from 1,103 in 1926, to 500 in 1945, and only about 100 in 1954. (p. 208, 288). By the 1970's, only some 5-7% of Soviet Jews considered themselves religious. (pp. 297-298).   JEWS IN REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENTS   Back in 1907, Stalin published a report in which he stated that the majority of the Menshevik faction consisted of Jews. As for the Bolsheviks, he said that this faction was mostly Russian, and Jews were second. (p. 144).   It is interesting to note that many members of Jewish socialist organizations that were professedly non-Communist or even anti-Communist, later joined the Communists, if only under the auspices of their retention of autonomy. Thus, in early 1919, the Jewish Communist Party of Byelorussia was founded, and two-thirds of its delegates were former Bund members. (p. 129). Part of the Marxist Poalei Zion also joined the Communists, as did other Jewish organizations. (pp. 130-on).   ARE JEWISH COMMUNISTS JEWS?   It has been argued that Jews in Communism were usually those who had rejected their Jewishness. This is, at best, a half-truth. A Jew who is assimilated, or removed from Jewish practices, is still a Jew. In addition, even those Soviet Communist Jews that were the most hostile to Jewish religion and traditional Jewish ways still identified with Judaism, if only in a tribal sense. Thus, Pinkus notes that, (quote) In the 1920s and 1930s the custom of burying Jews only in Jewish cemeteries was observed even by the most fanatically anti-religious Evsektsia [Yevsektsiya] members. (unquote). (p. 105).   Benjamin Pinkus focuses on Soviet Jews who, even in relatively recent times, unambiguously considered themselves Jews despite their lack of even nominal affiliation with anything Jewish. For instance, the writer Lev Kopelev stated that he identified with his Jewishness despite finding nothing in his conscious mind that linked him with either the religious traditions or the nationalistic ideals of Judaism. (pp. 302-303).   JEWS IN LEADING COMMUNIST POSITIONS   Pinkus estimates that, in 1936, Jews comprised 2% of the Soviet population. (p. 81). He then presents data that shows that, in most Communist and Communist-sponsored organizations, Jews were overrepresented by at least a few-fold. However, when it came to leadership positions in the Soviet Union, Jews were routinely over-represented by a factor of at least ten, as elaborated in the next paragraphs:   (Quote) From 1903 to 1907 there were Jews among the leaders of the Bolshevik Party, which was run by Lenin as a clandestine organization, in each of the Troikas ("threes) that headed the party, at least until 1917, there was always one Jew, if not two, except for the years 1903 to 1905... (unquote). (p. 77).   (Quote) In the period between the February and October Revolutions in 1917, the percentage of Jews in the Bolshevik Party leadership rose...In April 1917, three of the nine members of the Central Committee were Jews: Kamenev, Zinovyev and Sverdlov. In August of that year, six of the twenty-one members of the Central Committee were Jews: Kamenev, Sokolnikov, Sverdlov, Zinovyev, Trotsky and Uritsky. It follows that despite the relatively small number of Jews in the Bolshevik Party, they held important posts in the leadership and were close associates of Lenin...What drew them to the Bolshevik Party was its centralizing and dictatorial character...(unquote). (p. 78).   (Quote) Jews held important posts in the Communist Party leadership in the 1920s and still had considerable power in the 1930's. In 1918, four of the fourteen members of the Central Committee were Jews (Sverdlov, Trotsky, Zinovyev and Sokolnikov); in 1919, again four of the nineteen Central Committee members were Jews (Kamenev, Radek, Trotsky and Zinovyev), while in 1921 five of the twenty give-members (20%) were Jews. (unquote)...In the Politburo in the first half of the 1920's the Jews comprised from 23% to 37% (Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinovyev)... (unquote). (p. 80).   Soon thereafter, Jews were largely removed from positions of power. Many died later in the purges of the 1930's but, according to Pinkus, not necessarily because they were Jews. (p. 80, 174).   However, Jewish dominance continued well into the 1930's, and part of it survived the purges. Pinkus comments, (quote) In 1936 (before the purges), there were six Jews among the twenty members of the Soviet government: Yagoda (Minister of the Interior and Security Services), L. Kaganovich (Communications), M. Litvinov (Foreign Affairs), Rozengolts (Foreign Trade), Y. Dreitser (Internal Trade), A. Kalmanovich (Agricultural Units). By 1939, the following Jewish Ministers and Deputy-Ministers were still in the government: L. Kaganovich, M. Kaganovich, B. Antselovich, M. Berman, L. Ginzburg, L. Vannikov and P. Zhemchuzhina-Molotov. (unquote). (p. 83). The latter was the wife of Vyacheslav Molotov. (p. 217).   JEWS VERSUS OTHER SOVIET MINORITIES IN LEADERSHIP POSITIONS   Pinkus continues and concludes, (quote) Thus, throughout the whole period, Jewish representation in the central administration was well above any proportional relation to the national ratio of the Jews in the Soviet Union, and very high in comparison with all other national minorities. We can say that the Jews in the Soviet Union took over the privileged position, previously held by the Germans in tsarist Russia. (unquote). (p. 83). [Those, such as neo-Stalinist Jan T. Gross, who emphasize the (relatively temporary and usually modest) overabundance of Poles and Latvians in leadership positions of the USSR, as some kind of exculpation for the long-term massive over-representation of Jews, thereby stand corrected.]   Finally, Pinkus' analysis is incomplete. For instance, he does not examine the Jews in leadership positions in the NKVD, and the large percentage of commissars who were Jewish.     This review is from: Warsaw Before the First World War: Poles and Jews in the Third City of the Russian Empire 1880-1914 (Hardcover) This work provides much data on the development of Russian-ruled Warsaw in the late 19th and early 20th century. This includes many tables of information.

Increasing urbanization went hand in hand with increasing crime. On the west side of Warsaw, two major criminal gangs, one Polish and one Jewish, functioned. They controlled the prostitution in the area. (p. 16).

Jewish support for the Polish patriotic movement, which led to the January 1863 Insurrection, came from various quarters. This included assimilationists, such as the wealthy Mathias Rosen, as well as liberal rabbis Marcus Jastrow and Isaac Kramsztyk. It also featured the orthodox chief rabbi of Warsaw, Dov Berush Meisels. (p. 10).

The tsarist Russian rule, over even Congress Poland, was stifling. Underground Polish education included the so-called flying universities. (p. 18). (Such flying universities later became famous under the German Nazi occupation of Poland).


Corrsin uses the term acculturation to refer to Jews adopting Polish ways, and restricts the term assimilation to refer to Jews coming to adopt the national identity of the majority. (pp. 121-122). Elsewhere, Corrsin calls this "identificational assimilation". (p. 108). According to the 1897 Russian tsarist census, 13.7% of Warsaw's Jews gave Polish as their mother tongue, but this admittedly does not inform us how many of them actually identified with Poland. (p. 31). In fact, use of the Polish language increasingly had little to do with a Jew's ethnic or political allegiances. (p. 33).

Even avowedly assimilationist Jewish institutions, such as the newspaper IZRAELITA, professing to speak for Poles of the Mosaic faith, and to oppose both Polish and Jewish nationalism, did not follow a consistent pro-Polish path. For a time, at about the beginning of the 20th century, it veered into Zionism. (p. 74).

A number of factors led to the increasing polarization of Jews and Poles, besides the growing nationalism in both peoples. In 1882-1914, the Jewish population of Warsaw rose by 163.5% and the Polish population of Warsaw increased by only 118.7%. (p. 24). In addition, the rapid increase in the number of newspapers, both Polish and Jewish, intensified the sense of ethnic identification within these groups. (p. 67). Endek newspapers were notable in their numbers and the variety or targeted Polish audiences. (pp. 71-72).

Endek hostility to Jews was not unilateral. In fact, as recently as 1906-1907, the Endeks still considered at least some assimilationist Jews as part of the Polish nation. (p. 86). In 1912, National Democrats still praised the "handful of Jewish Poles" that had joined the National Concentration. (p. 88).

It all boiled down to who was master of Warsaw. (pp. 86-88). Was it the Poles, or were Poles and Jews co-masters of Warsaw? [Imagine a group of Poles living in Jerusalem, organizing into a political bloc, and demanding that they be co-masters of Jerusalem along with the Jews. Would the Israeli Jews just step aside, and welcome such an arrangement?]


Jews had, in recent centuries, always been an urban people. This meant, of course, that if political representation was apportioned according to the population of particular cities, Jews would have an inordinately large representation. [Such concerns, of course, occur in various political contexts, and it does not follow that representation in government necessarily should follow population. For instance, in the U. S. Senate, each U. S. state gets two representatives (senators), regardless of whether the state is populous (e. g., California) or not (e. g., Alaska).]

Because of this population imbalance, the Poles supported a Duma policy in which Jews would be no more than one-fifth of a city council, even if Jews were the majority in a city. (p. 89). However, a technicality in the policy, under unclear circumstances, allowed Jews to assume 55% of the voters in Warsaw even though the 1912 proportion of Warsaw's population was about 36% Jewish. (p. 90). Kucharzewski, a member of the National Concentration that had earlier broken with Dmowski, expressed himself as follows, (quote) "I am a supporter of the principle of Jewish equal rights." On the specific issue of urban self-government, however, he felt that limitations would have to be put on Jewish participation. Without this, since Jews made up a majority in many Polish cities, they would be able to control the institutions of self-government. He said that this would be an unacceptable "privilege" for the Jews, and not "equal rights" at all: "the seizure of urban administration by the Jews would be tantamount to the removal of the Poles from the organization of their own economic and cultural life." On a broader issue, he supported the abolition of the Pale of Settlement. (unquote). (p. 95).

Most interestingly, an article in the Jewish assimilationist newspaper, IZRAELITA, fully concurred with the National Concentration and Endek position on this matter, (quote) "Warsaw is a Polish city! The Jews must not benefit from their accidental voting majority! They must vote for a man of tested civic virtues, for a fervent Polish patriot! A manifestation of Jewish separatism must not be allowed to take place." (unquote) (pp. 92-93).


Jewish support for the socialist Jagiello, and his election, had obvious consequences. The Poles of Warsaw were deprived of Polish representation in the Duma. (pp. 103-104). Earlier, Roman Dmowski had stated that it made no difference if an elected politician was Jewish or Polish, if he represented Jewish instead of Polish interests. (p. 91).

The ensuing militant Polish opposition to the political conduct of the Jews, including the boycotts, came to encompass not only the National Democrats (Endeks) and members of the National Concentration, but also many Polish liberal elements. The latter fact is stressed by author Stephen D. Corrsin. (e. g., p. 102, 104, 107).


The aggressive, politicized separatism of the Jews of Russian-ruled Congress Poland (framed in terms of "civil rights" or "equal rights") was not just a local matter. Although author Corrsin does not put it this way, there is evidence of a broad-based collusion of Empire-wide Jewish and Russian influences behind the Jewish bloc voting in the 1912 Warsaw elections to the Duma. With reference to the Yiddish newspaper, HAYNT, Corrsin comments, (quote) One development in late October [1912] that caused a furor came when HAYNT interviewed Russian Kadet Party leaders in St. Petersburg. Pavel Miliukov, Ivan Petrunkevich, Fedor Rodichev, and Maksim Vinaver (the last by birth a Warsaw Jew) stated that the Jewish and Polish electors must compromise on a liberal Pole who would support Jewish equal rights. By November 4, Vinaver had gone further and added that, since no Polish nationalist elector had been found who would make this commitment, the Jewish electors should support the socialist Jagiello. (unquote). (p. 98; See also p. 101).

The foregoing matter raises questions. To what extent were the tsarist authorities meddling with Polish elections in order to weaken the Polish patriotic element?  
By Jan Peczkis "Scholar and Thinker" This review is from: The Polish question in the Russian State Duma (Hardcover) This work begins with a history of the Russian rule over Poland. For instance, the author Edward Chmielewski points out that the Russian policy of emancipating the peasants, in 1864, backfired. Unlike the peasants of Russia, the Polish peasants were not required to pay for the acquisition of land. (p. 13). However, instead of winning over the Polish peasants to the Empire and turning them against the Polish landlords, the tsarist policy helped create a Polish middle class. The peasantry became more patriotic to Poland, and more anti-Russian, than ever. (p. 14).   This work emphasizes the efforts of Poles, in the first four Duma, in the early 1900's. One striking feature is the lack of sympathy, to any form of Polish national aspirations, from even so-called liberal Russians. Attempts at even Polish autonomy were dismissed by the Russians as a "nursing of dreams" (p. 48), and even nominal recognition of Poland was avoided. Instead, the territory was called "the provinces of the Vistula". (p. 62). [This anticipated the later Nazi German delegitimization of even the concept of Poland, through such Orwellian terms as Wartheland and General Government.]   JEWS BENEFIT FROM EXPROPRIATIONS OF POLISH PROPERTY   By way of introduction to this sub-topic, neo-Stalinist authors such as Jan T. Gross have, in recent years, emphasized the fact that Poles acquired the properties of Jews murdered by Nazi Germany during the Shoah. Those who follow Gross would have us believe that this (somehow) made Poles complicit in the Holocaust, even if Poles were not involved in its implementation. At very least, it ostensibly made Poles beneficiaries of the Holocaust, and even meant that Poles now owe a moral, if not financial [read Holocaust Industry], debt to the Jews.   The following statements by author Chmielewski are instructive, (quote) Another proposal concerning Polish matters was introduced during the fifth session of the Duma. This was one to allow the sale of land in Poland from the large entailed estates of the Russian nobility. These estates had been created from imperial grants as a result of the confiscations of land from Polish landowners that had followed the suppression of the uprising of 1863. The Russian landowners were mostly absentee and had long been in the practice of leasing their land, very often to Jews. (unquote). (p. 78).   Clearly, property acquisition went both ways. Jews had, at least temporarily, acquired Polish properties that had forcibly been confiscated from its Polish owners by the tsarist Russian occupants of Poland, even if Jews were not involved in the expropriation itself. Were the same standards applied to both Poles and Jews, it would mean that Jews were indirectly complicit in the tsarist Russian crimes against Poles, and were at very least beneficiaries of the same. Therefore, Jews should now owe a moral, if not financial, debt to the Poles.   CHELM   The Chelm region became a focus of conflict between Catholics and Orthodox, and Poles and non-Poles (Russians and especially Ukrainians). This situation persisted well into the 20th century.   Tsarist Russian policies were so onerous that even some Russians verbalized opposition to them, (quote) The Poles stated that in the district of Chelm the Orthodox clergy, with the cooperation of the administration, were persecuting the Catholics and forcibly expropriating the latter's churches. In the debate, the position of the Poles received unusually active support from the entire left wing of the Duma--Progressives, Kadets, the Labor Group, and the Social Democrats. All agreed in condemning the seizure of the church as an act of militant nationalism that would inflame Russo-Polish relations and as a useless and harmful political interference in religious affairs. (unquote). (p. 67).   One Russian, V. A. Bobrinskii, paid a grudging compliment to the attractiveness of Polish culture. Chmielewski writes, (quote) Bobrinskii attacked the policy of Alexander I and the bureaucrats in the second half of the nineteenth century as one that had preserved the dependence of the Russian peasant upon his Polish lord with the result that more Russians had been Polonized in the past hundred years than during three hundred years of Polish rule. (unquote). (p. 127). [Obviously, the Polonization was not done by force. Had force been necessary for success, one would expect more non-Poles to be Polonized while Poland was in existence than when she was under foreign rule. Instead, the opposite was the case.]   Given a choice, people voiced their preferences, (Quote) After the proclamation of the edict on religious tolerance in April 1905, anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 inhabitants of the two Polish provinces gave up Orthodoxy and became Roman Catholics of the Latin rite. The problem of nationality was complicated by the fact that not all the Poles were Catholics and not all the Ukrainians were Orthodox or Uniate. (unquote). (p. 112).
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