August 2, 2002

Martyrs and heroe

Fifty years ago, in August 1952, Josef Stalin gave the order to shoot several dozen Jewish intellectuals for reasons still unknown and that will probably never be known. The excuse given was full of false arguments. They were accused of trying to separate Crimea from the Soviet Union and -with the complicity of the American secret service- to establish a bourgeois and Zionist Jewish republic.

These paranoid fantasies were crass excuses to sow panic and they had their correlation on the other side of the political and geographic map. In Argentina notorious nationalists denounced a Jewish conspiracy called the ”Andinia Plan” with the alleged aim of founding a Jewish-Marxist state in Patagonia.

So, while in Russia the Jews were accused of conspiring with international capitalism to destroy Marxism, in South America they were accused of being Marxist agents hell-bent on destroying capitalism. The truth, needless to say, is that the Republics of Crimea and Andinia only existed as part of the most visceral anti-Semitism that united soviets and fascists.

Stalin, as well as Lenin, hoped that the Soviet Jews would gradually disappear as the regime offered the carrot of modernisation together with the stick of forced assimilation. But by the end of his life he could not dominate his virulent anti-Semitism and started a systematic assault on the leaders of Yiddish culture. This campaign ended up with the multiple executions that took place in the basement of the Lubyanka prison, sadly famous because the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who was kidnapped by the Soviet Army in 1945, was also held captive there. Wallenberg – for causes that we do not know either and that we hope to reveal someday – became the first disappeared person of modern times.

Both stories, the one of the Jewish poets and that of Wallenberg, are sadly linked to each other in the absolute disregard for life and the subjugation of individual freedoms suffered under totalitarian regimes. When democratic institutions start disappearing, the doors of arbitrariness are left open.

The case of the Jewish writers is highly significant: they were Jews but they were also pro Soviet -proselytes of the Stalinist Marxism, ferocious anti-Zionists and bitter opponents to the Hebrew Language -to the point of opposing to the Renaissance Hebrew movement- when, ironically, some of them had initiated their literary activities by writing in the sacred language.

In the years that followed the revolution, the Communist Party kept up a hostile attitude towards the Hebrew language and culture, but it officially supported Yiddish, the ”language of the proletariat”. The movement wanted to conquer the ”Jewish masses” for the cause of the revolution once it justified the destruction of the true values of the Jewish people.

Many people, including numerous important people, fell into this divisive trap. With the excuse of working for a ”productive and anti-oligarchic” culture against religion and ”the opium of people”, they became collaborationists of the regime, against the Jews who fought for a pluralist society based mainly on freedom.

David Bergelson, Itzik Fefer (apparently an infiltrated agent, according to the documents revealed later), Der Nister, Isaac Nusinov, Biniamin Zuskin and Shlomo Mijoels, among many other spokesmen of Yiddish literature in the Soviet Union, spread propaganda in favour of the regime, they lived thanks to the facilities provided by the system and they even wrote lullabies praising communism and worshipped Stalin’s personality. Fefer’s verses in his poem ”Lullaby for a Jewish child in Birovillan” speak for themselves:

Shlof main kind, farmaj di oign
Sleep my child, close your eyes.

Bizn Kreml geien grisn
To the Kremlin reached the news

Vegn dir main kind
About you, my child.

Zol der javer Stalin visn
So that comrade Stalin knows

Az du schlofst atzind.
That you are already sleeping.

The verses of his poem dedicated to Stalin are also eloquent:

Zog ij Stalin, mein ij shein
When I say Stalin I say beautiful.

Mein ij eibik gliklej zain
I want to say eternal happiness.

Mein ij kein mol schoin nit visn.
I want to say that I will never know

Schoin nit visn fun kein pein.
I will not know of any pain.

Stalin’s only interest was to keep and increase his power by using everything in his reach, which was of absolute control over the State.

Any other consideration, not having to do with Stalin’s accumulation of political power, was circumstantial and thus disposable. Disposable were, among many others, the Jewish intellectuals who, at some point, believed that their presence, their prose and intelligence was worth something in itself.

As important as paying tribute to the victims of Stalinist barbarism, is to not forget the tragic metamorphosis of the intellectuals, who helped fuel the fire which later consumed them when they abandoned -not only their identity- but also their dignity. This is very different to Wallenberg, who was a victim of terror, but as a result of having fought in favour of life and freedom, values that were totally disregarded by the Soviet Communism and its followers.

In August we celebrate the 90th anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg’s birthday. Also during this month we cry over the tragedy of the Jewish writers and Stalin’s crimes.

* Baruch Tenembaum is Founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation