The remarks of Sergei Lavrov to Italian television last Sunday that Hitler was of ‘Jewish blood’ and that ‘the most ardent antisemites were Jews’ shocked Jews around the world.
Deliberate or not, they caused a rupture between Moscow and Jerusalem. Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid reacted personally — as Jews. The late father of the Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, had been saved from Nazi extermination — together with tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews in a Budapest Ghetto in 1944 — through the efforts of the Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg.
In a subsequent statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry enthusiastically promoted Lavrov’s view by pointing the finger at Kyiv and at past instances of Ukrainian antisemitism. The Russian Foreign Ministry labelled Lapid’s angry reaction as ‘anti-historical’. Yet this deflection strategy conveniently ignored Russia’s long history of antisemitism — stretching back to the 1920s when references were made to the Jewish origins of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev, Bolshevik revolutionaries who opposed Stalin.
By 1934, while Oswald Mosely and the British Union of Fascists were holding rallies at the Royal Albert Hall and at Olympia, Jews who wished to leave for Palestine were being arrested. With the onset of the Great Purge in 1937, many Jews who were in exile or incarcerated in the Gulag, disappeared without trace.
The show trials of the old Bolsheviks in the 1930s implied the defendants’ Jewishness. During the trial of Nikolai Bukharin in 1938, a Dr. L. G. Levin ‘admitted’ to poisoning the writer, Maxim Gorky.
During the period of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Soviet Russia happily collaborated with Nazi Germany between 1939 and 1941. This allowed Hitler to reposition 75 divisions to attack the West. Stalin provided a port for Hitler’s navy near Murmansk — and aided by Soviet icebreakers allowed the Nazis to attack Allied shipping. Soviet Russia provided grain, fuel and raw materials to Nazi Germany, thereby circumventing the British blockade. It recognised fascist states such as Slovakia.
During the period of the Pact, the Soviets handed over a thousand people including 300 Jews to the Nazis. German Communists such as Margarete Buber-Neumann found herself taken from her camp in the Soviet Gulag, handed over to the Gestapo at Brest-Litovsk and reincarcerated in Ravensbrűck. No one believed that their ultimate destination would be Nazi Germany.
During the time of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet press virtually eliminated from their pages any mention of the fate of the Jews in Nazi occupied Europe — and in particular in Poland which had been divided between German and the USSR as a result of the Pact. All negative references to the ‘fascist hyenas’ suddenly disappeared from the press.
In June 1940, Stalin ordered the mass shooting of thousands of members of the Polish military and intellectual elite at Katyn —and blamed it on the Nazis. The victims included Baruch Steinberg, the Chief Rabbi of the Polish army. Even then, they were incompetent in hiding evidence of this crime. The Kremlin only admitted to this mass murder just before the collapse of the USSR in 1991.
Jewish doctors as poisoners appeared once more in the public eye when Pravda announced ‘The Arrest of a Group of Saboteur-Doctors’ in January 1953. The Doctors’ Plot was the zenith of a blatant post-war campaign to intimidate the three million Jews of the USSR — regardless of their identification as Jews. Many were suddenly revealed as Jews when their original Jewish name appeared in parentheses after their long time Russian ones. They were depicted as little more than rootless cosmopolitans, not real Russians, untrustworthy and possible agents of the West since they had relatives abroad.
The Doctors’ Plot followed the trial of the Jewish intellectuals in July 1952 and the Slánský trial of mainly Jewish Communist party figures in Czechoslovakia the following November. They were coloured by an overtly antisemitic veneer, a farcical judicial process, a preordained verdict and a quick execution. Only Stalin’s sudden death in March 1953 saved countless Jews from the executioner’s bullet in the back of the head and a rumoured mass deportation of Jews from urban areas. A few weeks later, all the accusations were discovered by the Soviet authorities to be false.
Yet even during the post-Stalinist period known as ‘The Thaw’, there were instances of antisemitism. In 1963, Trofim Kichko’s Judaism without Embellishment was published. It included caricatures which depicted hook nosed Jews on the bima (pulpit) in synagogue, dipping their claw-like hands into pools of coins.
Jews who wished to leave for Israel in the 1950s such as Tina Brodetskaya, Gita Landman, Shmerl Goberman, the Podolsky family, and many others were arrested and spent long years in strict-regime labour camps.
When Israel defeated the Arab armies in six days in 1967, the Kremlin broke off diplomatic relations with Israel and stopped even the trickle of emigrants until August 1968. The Soviet press was given a free hand to utilise antisemitic imagery and went into overdrive. Cartoons inferred that the Israelis were the successors of the Nazis. Moshe Dayan in SS uniform was depicted as kicking Hitler off his pedestal. Nazis soldiers were seen as guiding the Israelis in conducting atrocities against Arabs. Dollar signs and stars of David saturated these caricatures.
The American academic, Henry Abramson, has demonstrated that there was an uncanny resemblance between the antisemitic cartoons of German-occupied Ukraine in the 1940s and these Soviet cartoons, depicting the Israelis in the late 1960s.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, it does not matter that Volodymir Zelensky’s great-grandfather and three great-uncles were murdered by the Nazis in the Shoah. Or that his grandfather fought in the Red Army. It is of no consequence in Lavrov’s eyes that Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish, he is a Nazi because Kyiv has been committing genocide against Russians in the Donbas — a charge strongly rejected by the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
For Jews, however, Volodymir Zelensky follows in the footsteps of countless Jewish dissidents and iconoclasts, stretching back through history, a David who does not fear Goliath. It is no coincidence that he deeply admires Charlie Chaplin and his anti-fascist epic, The Great Dictator. This is the real reason why Putin and Lavrov wish to turn him into a neo-Nazi.
Just when you thought that the Kremlin could not stoop any lower, the ugly spectre of antisemitism has suddenly become a weapon in the Russian toolbox to turn reality on its head. The language used by the Putinist School of Falsification is not Pushkin’s Russian, but Soviet doublespeak.
Lenin admitted disappointment that the revolution had broken out in backward Russia and not in advanced Germany. One hundred years later, Lavrov’s comments show that little has changed.
Jewish Chronicle 4 May 2022