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A Soviet Holocaust?

Israel ambassador to Soviet Union, Gold Meir, Moscow synagogue, anti-cosmopolitanism, 1948
Gold Meir (circled) near the Moscow synagogue

As the Cold War and official xenophobia intensified, Soviet society was gripped by fear of foreigners. People did not need long memories to recall the Great Terror. The Soviet jails were filled with people who had been on trips abroad or had met with foreigners.

Much of this xenophobia was directed against the 2 million Soviet Jews, whose fortunes were connected to the foundation of Israel and its pro-American position during the Cold War. Stalin was afraid of pro-Israeli feeling among the Soviet Jews, many of whom had relatives in the new Jewish state, and suspected them as a potential fifth column. His fears were reinforced by Golda Meir's arrival in Moscow as the first Israeli ambassador to the USSR in the autumn of 1948. Everywhere she went she was cheered by crowds of Soviet Jews.

In early 1949 the regime launched an ugly campaign against 'cosmopolitans' (i.e. Jews) and other 'anti-patriotic groups' in the cultural sphere, with sackings and explusions from the Party, the Writers' Union, universities, and research institutes.

The campaign reached fever pitch with the Doctors' Plot in 1952. Stalin seized on flimsy evidence to accuse the Kremlin doctors of belonging to a 'Zionist conspiracy' to murder Zhdanov and the rest of the Soviet leadership. Hundreds of doctors and MGB officials were arrested and tortured into making confessions, as Stalin concocted a huge international conspiracy that linked Soviet Jews in the medical profession, the Leningrad Party organization, the MGB, and the Red Army to Israel and the USA.

The country seemed to be returning to the atmosphere of 1937 with the Jews in the role of the 'enemies of the people.'

Death of Stalin, Hall of Columns, Funeral, March 1953
Stalin's body in the Hall of Columns

Thousands of Jews were arrested, expelled from jobs and homes, and deported as 'rootless parasites' from the major cities to remote regions of the Soviet Union. Stalin ordered the construction of a vast network of new labour camps in the Far East where all the Jews would be sent. Rumours spread of doctors killing babies in their wards. People wrote to the press calling on the Soviet authorities to 'clear out' the 'parasites,' to 'exile them from the big cities, where there are so many of these swine.'

A Jewish Holocaust in the USSR was narrowly avoided only thanks to Stalin's death, on 5 March 1953.

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