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Red Zion: Stalin supported 'Jewish Crimea' and backed creation of Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee for propaganda use in Western Jewry, to help mobilize international support for USSR

"Crimean letter" on which the "fate of the whole people" depended

Alexander Lokshin
February 15, 2024

Eighty years ago, on February 15, 1944, the chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (EAC), People's Artist of the USSR, chief director of the State Jewish Theater Solomon Mikhoels, member of the EAC Presidium, poet Izik Fefer, and executive secretary of the committee, who previously performed secret tasks of the NKVD in the United States, Shahno Epstein addressed a letter to I. B. To Stalin. The content of the letter, and especially the proposal set out in the appeal addressed to the chief, was extraordinary and bold.

Letter of the EAC to the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR dated February 15, 1944 on the creation of a "Jewish republic" in Crimea. The are the man, with a correction.

The letter clearly went beyond the goals for which the EAC was created. The formation of the committee, personnel and the definition of its tasks began in August 1941, when a radio meeting of Jewish cultural figures in the USSR took place. Military themes immediately became the leading one in Soviet Jewish literature, reviving a sense of national pride. A striking example of this is Fefer's poem "I am a Jew" ("Their bin a yid," 1944). It presents a symbolic pedigree, which includes "heroes of Maccabees", Spinoza, Marx and "Kaganovich, a friend of Stalin."

The appeal to world Jewry adopted at the rally was enthusiastically welcomed by the democratic community in the West. Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) for propaganda Alexander Shcherbakov supported the proposal of Solomon Lozovsky, Deputy People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs and at the same time deputy head of the Soviinformburo, created immediately after the beginning of the Great Patriotic War.

The main task of this body was to compile reports for the press and radio on the situation at the front and the work of the rear. Lozovsky had the idea of creating a Jewish anti-fascist committee in the USSR headed by S. M. Mihoels. Stalin supported this project. The EAC, created by the authorities, was to conduct propaganda work among the Jews of the West and help mobilize international support for the Soviet Union in the fight against fascist Germany.

But the letter to Stalin directly concerned the domestic political issues of the post-war structure of the USSR, which was not the subject of the activities of the EAC.

"Dear Joseph Vissarionovich!"

"Dear Joseph Vissarionovich! <...> - the authors of the appeal wrote. - In order to normalize the economic situation of all segments of the Jewish population and further growth and development of Jewish Soviet culture <...> maximum mobilization of all forces of the Jewish population for the benefit of the Soviet homeland <...> complete equalization of the position of the Jewish masses among fraternal peoples, we consider it timely and expedient to raise the issue of the creation of the Jewish Soviet Socialist Republic in order to solve post-war problems. (highlocated in the text. - A. L.).

Among the main reasons that forced them to address the leader directly to the leader in the midst of hostilities, the authors of the letter called the tragedy experienced by the Jewish people: its total destruction by the German-fascist invaders in the occupied territories.

Of the 5 million Jewish population in the USSR, at least 1.5 million were exterminated before the war, the authors of the letter write. With the exception of hundreds of thousands of fighters who selflessly fought the enemy in the ranks of the Red Army, the Jewish population evacuated was scattered throughout the country. In connection with the liberation from the occupation of Soviet lands for many evacuees, there is a problem of returning to their native lands, and for others, their native places "turned by the fascists into a mass cemetery of their relatives and friends <...> there is no question of return.". But even in this case, the problem of employment is extremely acute. In very cautious terms, the letter notes discrimination in the employment of Jews. In places where scattered families were evacuated, "their national cadres have grown" and "a significant part of the intelligentsia of Jewish nationality, who previously worked in various areas of the national culture of fraternal peoples, is increasingly used by their forces, which leads to the disqualification of a large circle of this intelligentsia."

The letter also states that a small number of Jewish cultural institutions in the country are unable to meet cultural demands in the native language of more than three million Jewish people. In fact, educational and educational work among the Jewish masses in their native language has stopped. All this creates a "free field" for the penetration of "foreign and hostile influences." The letter notes that "during the war, some capitalist remnants in the psyche of individual strata of different nationalities have aggravated <...> One of the most striking expressions of these remnants is the new outbreaks of anti-Semitism," which cause "a sharp reaction in the soul of every Soviet Jew."

"Satan threw off his mask." Nazi anti-Semitic and anti-Stalin propaganda during the Great Patriotic War

These feelings and moods are further aggravated and strengthened "because the entire Jewish people are experiencing the greatest tragedy in their history, the loss of about 4 million people from fascist atrocities in Europe."

At that time, 6 million Jews - the true number of victims of the Holocaust - were not yet known. The authors of the letter pointed out that "the Soviet Union is the only country that has preserved the life of almost half of the Jewish population of Europe." At the same time, they noted that anti-Semitic manifestations, along with fascist atrocities, lead to "an increase in nationalist sentiments among some segments of the Jewish population."

The letter further noted the importance of creating the Jewish Autonomous Region in Birobidzhan. But the authors of the letter did not hide their criticism of the experience of Birobidzhan, which "first of all, due to the lack of mobilization of all opportunities, as well as due to its extreme remoteness from the location of the main Jewish labor masses, did not have the proper effect." Nevertheless, the letter notes that in the Far East, Jewish workers have demonstrated "the ability to build their Soviet statehood." Mikhoels and other authors of the letter drew attention to another region in the European part of the country - the Crimean Peninsula, where the ability to build statehood "is even more manifested in the development of Jewish national areas".

In their address to Stalin, Mikhoels, Fefer and Epstein wrote that the creation of the Jewish Soviet Republic would once and for all solve the problem of the state and legal status of the Jewish people and the further development of its centuries-old culture in a Bolshevik way, in the spirit of Lenin-Stalinist national policy. No one has been able to solve this problem for many centuries, and it can be solved in our great socialist country.

"The idea of creating a Jewish Soviet republic," the authors continued, "is extremely popular among the widest Jewish masses of the Soviet Union and among the best representatives of fraternal peoples."

The leaders of the EAC took the courage to declare that they were ready to rely on assistance from abroad to implement their project: "In the construction of the Jewish Soviet Republic, the Jewish people from all over the world would also provide us with significant assistance..."

The key phrase in the address to the chief was the following sentence: "1. To create a Jewish socialist republic on the territory of Crimea. 2. In advance, before the liberation of Crimea, to appoint a government commission to develop this issue.

The authors of the letter expressed the hope that Stalin would pay "due attention to our proposal, on the implementation of which the fate of the whole people depends."

Trip to the United States

In the second half of 1943, Mihoels and Fefer made a triumphant trip to the United States. The purpose of the visit was to strengthen pro-Soviet sentiments in the West and to encourage American Jews to provide material assistance to the USSR, as well as to bring the decision to open the second front as soon as possible.

Solomon Mikhoels (second from right) and Soviet Consul General in New York Yevgeny Kiselev (right). at the monument to George Washington Philadelphia. Summer 1943.

On the eve of their departure from Moscow, Mikhoels and Fefer received detailed travel instructions from Shcherbakov and Lozovsky. Immediately upon arrival in the United States, their public speeches began. "The war is not over! We believe in victory! It's useless to cry and cry now. It won't help. The iron should burn out the shame called fascism," Mikhoels said at literally every rally in the United States. The rallies were held in 14 major American cities, and 50,000 people gathered in New York.

During the trip to the United States alone, $16 million was raised for the Red Army, as well as additional funds for the purchase of sanitary machines, medical equipment and clothing. The visit strengthened the positions of circles that sympathized with the USSR and advocated the early opening of the second front.

The stay of Mihoels and Fefer in the United States is associated with another event that may have fatally affected their personal fates and the fate of other EAC members.

Itzik Fefer, Albert Einstein and Solomon Mikhoels on the campus of Princeton University in New Jersey. Summer 1943.

During this visit, the issue of creating a Jewish republic in the Soviet Union, in particular in Crimea, was discussed. Obviously, neither Mikhoels nor Fefer received such a task from the Soviet leadership. Nevertheless, in addition to the issue of charitable assistance based on the principles of national equality, the possibility of implementing the "Jewish Crimea" project was discussed. The topic was raised during several official and informal meetings with Joint leaders James Rosenberg and Joseph Hyman. At the last meeting, in September 1943, the Soviet Consul General in New York E. took part in the negotiations. D. Kiselev and the head of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society in the USSR V. B. Lebedev. Kiselev then said that such a discussion was premature, as Crimea had not yet been liberated from the occupation. A year later, the Joint itself recognized Rosenberg's proposal to call on the Soviet Union to restore Jewish settlements in Crimea as premature.

In search of land for "Red Zion"

Jewish agricultural colonies in Crimea were founded in Russia during the reign of Alexander I, in the first decades of the XIX century. The project of creating Jewish autonomy in Crimea, organizing Jewish national areas in the waterless mainly northern and north-eastern part of the peninsula in the 1920s was supported by the highest Soviet leadership, including Stalin. In 1924, the Committee on the Land Management of Jewish Workers (KomZET) was organized, and in 1925 - the Society for the Land Management of Jewish Workers (OZET). International Jewish charitable organizations, especially the Joint, provided great assistance in the organization of agricultural settlements.

Jewish national districts were created in Crimea with their own press, schools, courts and Yiddish theater. About 100,000 Jews were resettled on the land. However, by the end of the 1930s, and completely by 1941, the Jewish regions of Crimea, as "artificially created," had been eliminated. A few years earlier, KomZET and OZET were closed.

The fact is that around the mid-1920s, the Soviet authorities began to lean towards the fact that the project of Jewish territorial autonomy should be implemented on the empty lands of the Far East, on the border with China. In response to the Zionist project in Palestine, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) in 1930 reported the creation of a "Jewish national unit" in the Biro-Bidjan district of the Amur region, and in May 1934 the creation of the Jewish Autonomous Region (EAO) was announced.

Soviet propaganda has directed a lot of efforts, primarily to the West, in order to show that a genuine "Red Zion" is being built in the Soviet Far East. The unprecedented decision to establish the EAO was made despite the fact that there were only 8,000 Jewish immigrants there with a total population of 50,000. Against the background of the growing anti-Semitism in Europe and Hitler's rise to power in Germany, the foreign Jewish community and philanthropic organizations in the United States reoriented from the Crimea and supported the Birobidzhan project.

Later, on the eve of the tragic outcome of the fabricated MGB "EAC case", in April 1952, Fefer during interrogation showed that "since about 1942 in the EAC <...> the question of Crimea arose, we then said that it would be good to create a Jewish republic in the Crimea, and at the same time, on the initiative of Epstein, we distributed among themselves the "portfboses" of the leaders of the future Jewish republic.

After returning to Moscow, Mikhoels and Fefer met with their immediate boss Lozovsky, talked about the trip and the "Crimean project". Lozovsky promised to organize a meeting for the heads of the EAC with the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Prime Minister V. M. Molotov. Mikhoels also met with Molotov's wife P. S. The pearl, then which headed the textile and haberdashery industry in the People's Commissariat of Light Industry of the RSFSR. She also took an active part in the work of the EAC. The pearl considered the issue of Crimea relevant and quite real and recommended that it be put before the government.

Soon Molotov received Mikhoels, Fefer and Epstein in his office in the Kremlin. Since the last and the member of the EAC Presidium, the poet Peretz Markish, advocated the creation of a Jewish republic in place of the abolished autonomy of the Germans of the Volga region, Molotov was also proposed this project. However, he was critical of him, noting that the population of the former German republic was mainly engaged in agriculture, and "Jews are a city people and it is impossible to put Jews for a tractor." Molotov said, "as for Crimea, write a letter and we'll see it."

Memorial prayer for Jews who died in World War II. In the foreground from right to left: Itsik Fefer, Veniamin Zuskin, Leonid Utesov. Moscow Choral Synagogue. 1945

As then, in May 1952, Lozovsky showed at the trial of the heads of the EAC, Mikhoels and Fefer began to assure everyone in the committee that since Molotov "promised," means "the issue is almost resolved."

Very soon, on February 27, 1944, the third plenum of the EAC was to be held. It was supposed to report on the government's decision on Crimea already taken by that time. The heads of the committee hurried to prepare the text of the appeal to Stalin.

Two versions of the letter were written. One - Fefer and Epstein, the other - an active member of the EAC, the chief physician of the hospital named after Botkina Boris Shimeliovich. The first option was approved, and Shimeliovich's project was rejected due to unnecessary emotionality and sharpness of the tone. The adopted text was carefully edited and sent to the "instant". On the advice of Lozovsky, the letter was signed not on behalf of the EAC, but as a private appeal of a group of citizens. On February 21, 1944, the same letter was transmitted to Molotov through the Pearl.

Perhaps that was the highest point of hope for Mikhoels and other members of the EAC to decisively change the situation of their people. This was especially considered possible after the trip of Mikhoels and Fefer overseas: then there was an illusion that they would be able to influence government circles in the interests of Soviet Jews. Mihoels's widow A. Pototskaya wrote about how the "Crimean letter" was born: "I remember sleepless nights <...> Mikhoels' wisdom was full of Hasidic romanticism, and he believed that he could save his people."

However, time passed, and there was no answer from the Kremlin. Stalin reacted sharply negatively to this initiative. The letter was left without an official response. It can be assumed that the leader was increasingly convinced of what some had already said and written about on the Old Square and in the Kremlin. The EAC leadership considers its organization not only to be a mouthpiece of propaganda for processing the Western public, but also considers itself an eman epproficial of the interests of Soviet Jews. Work among the Jewish population of the USSR is not his responsibility. At the same time, indeed, many Jews complained to the EAC about the inability to return from evacuation to their previous place of residence, discrimination in employment, anti-Semitic sentiments of a number of local leaders, the lack of opportunity for the younger generation to get an education in their native language.

Believing that Crimea was of strategic importance, Stalin probably believed that in case of war, the Jewish population of Crimea could be sympathetic to the United States. Even after the rehabilitation of the defendants in the case of EAC N. S. Khrushchev stated that Crimea should not become the center of Jewish colonization, because in case of war it would be turned into a springboard against the Soviet Union. So the appeal for the creation of a "Jewish Republic" in Crimea served for Stalin and other Soviet leaders as a direct evidence of the plans for "treason" of the EAC.

It is likely that Stalin was also remembered by the fact that during the Civil War Crimea was considered by the white movement as an important stronghold and base for military onslaught on the Bolsheviks. Especially since there was a real possibility of creating a Jewish state in the Middle East on the political horizon: by supporting the Zionist project, the Soviet Union struck a tangible blow to the stronghold of colonialism - the British Empire. It was to that region that Stalin wanted to send the European Jewishness that had survived the Holocaust. He was afraid of even the slightest external interference. He didn't need the "Crimean Palestine" project.


Subsequently, this letter was used by the authorities as one of the main pretents for dispersing the EAC and the massacre of its leaders.

In January 1948, on the secret order of Stalin, Mikhoels was killed, and at the end of the same year the committee was dissolved. By the beginning of 1949, more than 110 people had been arrested in different cities of the country in the EJC case, 15 of them were brought before a secret court held in May-July 1952.

List of things to transfer to Perets Markish, a prisoner of the internal prison of the Moscow State Security State Security Institute. 1949.

On August 12, 1952, Lozovsky, the initiator of the organization, and 12 members of the EAC were shot on charges of treason and "bourgeois nationalism."

One of the points of the verdict of the military board and the Supreme Court of the USSR was the accusation of Lozovsky and other defendants of writing a letter addressed to the Soviet government, which raised the issue of the settlement of Crimea by Jews and the creation of a "Jewish republic" there. In that letter, they allegedly slandered the national policy of the party and the government, claimed that anti-Semitism was flourishing in the USSR, and the Jewish question was not resolved.

Jewish culture in the USSR was completely banned for a decade.