August 12th, 2009 Headsman
As night fell this evening in Moscow, 13 prominent Soviet Jews were shot in Lubyanka Prison on trumped-up charges of treason and espionage.
“The Night of the Murdered Poets”, as it’s come to be remembered, wasn’t so much about the poetry; “only” five of the victims fit that description.
But as Joshua Rubenstein put it, “only the martyred Yiddish writers are mentioned at August 12 commemorations; the other defendants who lost their lives, as well as the sole survivor Lina Shtern, are rarely if ever remembered, perhaps because their careers as loyal Soviet citizens do not fit comfortably into an easy category for Westerners to honor … Stalin repaid their loyalty by destroying them.”
Falling victim to Stalin was such a particularly tragic fate because they were, in the main, good Communists:* good enough to have been part of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, a World War II organ dedicated to rallying support for the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany.
Such national particularism — any port in a storm! — was all well and good when Moscow had the Wehrmacht at its gates and a short supply of friends, but it increasingly ran dangerously afoul Soviet officialdom as the 1940’s progressed. It was a bastion of sectarian identity rather than socialist universalism; its celebration of the Jewish soldier and of Jewish wartime travails cut against the narrative of Soviet sacrifice and heroism; its overseas links to the United States (where it toured in wartime) and the new state of Israel made it suspect, or at least vulnerable.
Thin excuse for mass execution, to be sure, but in a structure of generalized antisemitism run by a trigger-happy dictator …
In 1948-49, fifteen JAC members were arrested. One would die in prison; the aforementioned Lina Stern, a scientist, would receive a term of exile and return to Moscow when this purge’s victims were rehabilitated after Stalin’s death.
The thirteen others were tortured and condemned by a rigged (but secret, since many of the accused wouldn’t cop to public self-denunciations) trial
Peretz Markish, a poet
David Hofstein, a poet
Leib Kvitko, a poet
Itzik Feffer, a poet and NKVD informer
David Bergelson, a writer
Solomon Lozovsky, a septuagenarian Bolshevik revolutionary
Boris Shimeliovich, a hospital director
Benjamin Zuskin, a stage actor and director
Joseph Yuzefovich, a historian
Leon Talmy, a journalist and translator
Ilya Vatenberg, a lawyer
Chaika Ostrovskaya, a translator and Vatenberg’s wife
Emilia Teumin, an editor
Years before his arrest, Markish would write words to make a eulogy for many a disillusioned Soviet citizen … and literally so in his case, since the verse was cited at his trial as evidence of his “pessimism”:
Now, when my vision turns in on itself,
My shocked eyes open, all their members see
My heart has fallen like a mirror on
A stone and shatters, ringing, into splinters.
Piece by piece I’ll try to gather them
To make them whole with stabbed and bleeding fingers.
And yet, however skillfully they’re glued,
My crippled, broken image will be seen.
* Naturally, being a good Communist did not keep one safe from Uncle Joe.
Also on this date
- 1912: Sing Sing's seven successive sparks
- 1936: Manuel Goded Llopis
- 1469: Richard Woodville, father of the queen
- 2008: Leon David Dorsey, the Blockbuster Killer
- 1527: Jacques de Beaune, baron de Semblançay
- 1833: Captain Henry Nicholas Nicholls, sodomite
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Artists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Entertainers,Espionage,Execution,Famous,History,Intellectuals,Jews,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Revolutionaries,Russia,Shot,Torture,Treason,USSR,Women,Wrongful Executions