Saturday, March 07, 2015

The Night of the Murdered Poets

Yiddish is a lyrical language. During the first half of the 20th century, several countries, most notably the United States and Russia, had vibrant Yiddish language arts.

During the 1930's and '40, Yiddish radio was not uncommon especially in New York. While I only understand about a dozen words (Oy Vey!) I love listening to old swing recordings sung in Yiddish (The Barry Sisters singing "Chiribim Chiribom.").

What Is Yiddish?
Yiddish is a product of the Jewish Exile.  Isolated in the ghettos and shtetls of northern and eastern Europe, this Jewish language was formed much like Blacks isolated in American ghettos are creating a distinct communal language.

A century ago upwards of 12 million people spoke Yiddish, the largest concentrations found in Germany, Poland, Russia, and the United States. The Holocaust devastated half that population. In the United States, assimilation eliminated the tight knit communities necessary to preserve a distinct language. In Israel, Yiddish is kept alive by ultra orthodox sects.

And Russia
To tell the story of the Murdered Poets we have to start with the origins of the Soviet Union. Jews were predominate in the founding of the Soviet Union. A critical meeting of twelve Bolshevik leaders in October 1917 called for armed revolution that started two weeks later. Of the twelve, half were Russian Jews (including Leon Trotsky), four were Russians (including leader Lenin), and two were foreigners - Polish intellectual psychopath Felix Dzerzhinsky and an ignorant anti-Semitic rube from Georgia known as Stalin.
Stalin, Lenin, and Trotsky
Stalin, considered a loyal but energetic simpleton by Lenin, was named General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1922. Before being incapacitated by several strokes, Lenin wrote a paper describing Stalin as crude, rude, and inept. The paper was suppressed and after Lenin died, perhaps murdered, Stalin took total control of the Soviet Union.

Purges during the 1930's killed off most of Stalin's old Jewish comrades from the Revolution. Few new Jews were allowed into positions of power. Stalin did allow formation of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC) during World War II.

The Night of the Murdered Poets
Scene from the play "The Twenty-Seventh Man."
After the war, Stalin's paranoia got even worse. Shortly after the war he had concluded that Jewish writers and performers were all actually American spies. (Oddly, Sen. Joseph McCarthy had at the same time concluded that American Jewish artists were Russian spies.) The first to die was Solomon Mikhoels, a Yiddish theater star and chairman of the JAC. His murder was made to look like an accident and Mikhoels was given a state funeral.

Yiddish writers and Jewish intellectuals were arrested in 1948 and 1949 and accused of spying. They were tortured until they confessed. All save one. Yiddish poet Itzik Feffer was a loyal Stalinist. He was arrested along with the others but freely turned on his fellow writers and accused them of Jewish nationalism and anti-Soviet actions and so was never tortured.

Show trials were held. On August 12, 1952, thirteen Jewish prisoners, including Feffer, were executed at Lubyanka Prison.

Doctor's Plot and Holocaust Plans
Stalin wasn't done. As his health failed, Stalin became convinced Jewish doctors were poisoning him. Then he concluded that there was an international plot Zionist doctors trying to kill all Soviet leaders.  That devolved into the certainty that there was an American-Zionist-Israeli-Jewish conspiracy and that every Jew in the Soviet Union was trying to kill him. Stalin ordered four giant prisons built in Siberia to house every Jew in the Soviet Union. Foreign Minister Molotov's wife had already been arrested for being Jewish.

Before Stalin could implement his plan he fell in his bedroom. His personal doctors were all in prison so his bodyguards call top politicians. A few days of dithering was enough for Stalin to die. He died, ironically, on the Jewish holiday of Purim.

No comments: