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  • Post-war East Germany was no safe place for Jews

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on August 18th, 2008 (All posts by )

    As an exhibition in Berlin earlier this year demonstrated, Jewish Communists returning from exile to the Soviet occupied part of Germany were confronted with prejudice and suspicion and sometimes even had to fear for their lives. The exhibition was located in the rebuilt Neue Synagogue (New Synagogue) and curated by the Centrum Judaicum Foundation, in cooperation with the historian Andreas Weigelt, who is attending to the documentation center for the former concentration camp Lieberose.

    Called “Zwischen Bleiben und Gehen” (“Between Staying and Going”), the exhibition documented the lives of 10 Jewish men and women in the post-war Soviet occupied zone, later East Germany:

    Nelhans’ fate was especially tragic. Having survived the war underground in Berlin, he helped found a Jewish community in East Berlin in late 1945, only to be arrested in 1948 by the NKVD, the Soviet secret service – allegedly for helping Jewish Red Army soldiers escape to Palestine.

    Jailed for 25 years by a military court, he died in a Soviet labor camp in 1950, aged 51. Some 47 years later the Russian military authorities conceded Nelhans had been falsely convicted and ordered his posthumous rehabilitation.

    The East-West propaganda battle began immediately after the war. The Communist Party loudly trumpeted its view that East Germany was innocent of the evil Nazi past.

    Stalinist party purges in Eastern Europe, accompanied by anti-Semitic show trials in Prague and Budapest sparked fear among Jews in East Berlin.

    Jews who were communist party members often found themselves accused of being “Zionist agents” or “Jewish nationalists” at a time when the communist Eastern bloc was supporting Arab states in their conflict with Israel.

    The website of the Centrum Judaicum itself currently has no information on this exhibition, but here is some English language information on two other past exhibitions: Pioneers in Celluloid: Jews in Early Cinema and Relatively Jewish. Albert Einstein – Jew, Zionist, Nonconformist.

    Some more pictures of the Neue Synagoge can be found here.

     

    20 Responses to “Post-war East Germany was no safe place for Jews”

    1. zenpundit Says:

      While always an antisemite, Stalin took a hard turn against the Jews in 1948, ordering the famous actor Solomon Mikhoels assassinated, making Jewish figures prominent ( though hardly solitary)in postwar East bloc purges, initiating a campaign against “rootless cosmopolitanism” that culminated in 1953 with the “Doctor’s Plot”, and possibly, plans for the decimation of Soviet Jewry and a massive party purge on the scale of the 1930′s that never came to pass due to Stalin’s death a few days later.

      The reasons for this hardening of Stalin’s attitude are probably mixed. Israel did not turn out to be a pro-Soviet client but rather a Zionist, “bourgeois nationalist” and “social fascist”; Stalin’s paranoia regarding his politburo collegaues and the nomenklatura were rising generally; Israeli ambassador Golda Meir provoked a spontaneous demonstration of affection by Soviet jews; Stalin’s daughter Svetlana married Grigori Morozov, who was Jewish, of which Stalin heartily disapproved. Nor can the factor of Stalin’s admiration of Hitler as a ruler, expressed openly on previous occasions in regard to other subjects ( notably the Night of the Long Knives) be discounted. Stalin may have come to regard Soviet Jews as a fifth column in case of WWIII breaking out and added them to his burgeoning list of enemies.

    2. Ralf Goergens Says:

      I think that the alleged ‘Doctor’s plot’ might have had something to do with his failing health. He didn’t want to acknowledge that he was close to death, so he needed a scapegoat.

      Otherwise, agreed.

    3. Helen Says:

      A bit of both, Ralf. The Doctors’ Plot fitted in well with the anti-semitic nature of the second purge. The purges in most East European countries tended to pit those who had spent the war years in the Soviet Union (the so-called Muscovites) and those who had been either in their own countries or somewhere in Western Europe, possibly Spain. The Slansky and Rajk trials, for instance, were definitely aimed at winding up the international brigade, if I may use that expression. Zionism or rootless cosmopolitanism in the Soviet Union, were used as accusations but all too often those who levelled them against Jews were themselves just that.

      Nevertheless, I do think it is important that various aspects of Communist history be analyzed so all credit to the organizers of the exhibition. Let us hope there will be many more.

    4. memomachine Says:

      Hmmmmm.

      Sorry but communists suffering from being communists and associating with communists and …?

      I’m supposed to feel what?

      Because the only thing I see is that communists get their just desserts and a significant case of irony.

    5. fred lapides Says:

      In much the same way, African Americans were discriminated against in the communist party in America, but, as I recall, it was but a few scant years before the Russians took control over East Berlin, that all of Germany, under the Nazis, were not very friendly toward its Jewish citizens. Now, ironically, many Russian Jews are immigrating to Germany rather than to the US or to Israel.

    6. paul a'barge Says:

      Lay down with dogs, get up with fleas.

    7. Kim du Toit Says:

      One would have thought that the returning Jews would have been mindful of history… that, regardless of political cause, they were always treated as scapegoats.

      That their disillusionment came at the hands of the Communists makes it all the more ironic.

      And by the way, Ralf, nice to see you’re writing here.

    8. Ralf Goergens Says:

      A bit of both, Ralf. The Doctors’ Plot fitted in well with the anti-semitic nature of the second purge. The purges in most East European countries tended to pit those who had spent the war years in the Soviet Union (the so-called Muscovites) and those who had been either in their own countries or somewhere in Western Europe, possibly Spain. The Slansky and Rajk trials, for instance, were definitely aimed at winding up the international brigade, if I may use that expression. Zionism or rootless cosmopolitanism in the Soviet Union, were used as accusations but all too often those who levelled them against Jews were themselves just that.

      Thanks Helen, I have another post on this matter lined up, already.

    9. Ralf Goergens Says:

      Fred:

      … as I recall, it was but a few scant years before the Russians took control over East Berlin, that all of Germany, under the Nazis, were not very friendly toward its Jewish citizens.

      The difference in this case is that the Germans (and Russians) discriminating against Jews hadn’t even spent the years from 1933 to 1945 in Germany.

      Now, ironically, many Russian Jews are immigrating to Germany rather than to the US or to Israel.

      As well as Russians who aren’t recognized as being Jewish by the Jewish community, because they had, say, a Jewish grandfather, but no Jewish grandmother or mother and aren’t at all interested in Judaism. A lot of those people also emigrated to Germany because they were discriminated against as being Jewish, or because they preferred Germany to Israel and the US, for whatever reason.

    10. fred lapides Says:

      Russia has of course always been nasty (much worse than that) to its Jews–I know this from my grandparents–but now France and seemingly England also showing a good deal of anti-semitism…

    11. Ralf Goergens Says:

      Memomachine and Paul A’barge,

      look at it this way, a lot of Jews only survived the Holocaust because they were Communists in the first place, for the various Communist parties and movements offered them exile in reasonably safe places. So even if they had been disappointed from what they saw first-hand in the Soviet Union, they can be excused for not being in a hurry to give up their convictions.

    12. Shannon Love Says:

      A lot of historians of communism believe that the appeal of Communism for Jews lay in its supposed claim that it would erase all distinctions of ethnicity, class and nationality. As the permanent outsiders, Jews gravitated to an ideology that purported to grant them equal citizenship in the greater community. I imagine that many of the jewish communist were so enchanted by this vision that they strode into Stalin’s maw without any trepidation.

      All forms of socialism evolve towards fascism complete with fascism identification with one particular ethnic group. Perhaps in its first decade Communism did provide a fairly welcoming home for jews but its inevitable evolution toward fascism ultimately excluded and endangered them.

      I think the “Doctor’s Plot” originated because following the holocaust and the founding of the state of Israel, Stalin could no longer trust the loyalties of communist jews. Before Communism seemed their only refuge. Afterwards, they had Israel.

    13. Ralf Goergens Says:

      Kim,

      One would have thought that the returning Jews would have been mindful of history… that, regardless of political cause, they were always treated as scapegoats.

      That their disillusionment came at the hands of the Communists makes it all the more ironic.

      Well, they thought Communism would be different, not least because it had enabled them to survive where others had not.

      And by the way, Ralf, nice to see you’re writing here.

      Thanks!

    14. Ralf Goergens Says:

      Shannon

      A lot of historians of communism believe that the appeal of Communism for Jews lay in its supposed claim that it would erase all distinctions of ethnicity, class and nationality.

      I suppose. A truly classless society would have been one where they wouldn’t be subject to persecution anymore.

      All forms of socialism evolve towards fascism complete with fascism identification with one particular ethnic group.

      Provided that there actually are different ethnic groups in the first place, yes. Ethnic groups won’t tolerate it if they have to subsidize other groups, at least not for long. For the same reason, you can’t have open borders, multiculturalism and a welfare state.

      I think the “Doctor’s Plot” originated because following the holocaust and the founding of the state of Israel, Stalin could no longer trust the loyalties of communist jews. Before Communism seemed their only refuge. Afterwards, they had Israel.

      On further consideration I think that Stalin didn’t need a concrete reason to have people killed. He trusted nobody, so he had everyone killed he could, just in case. After turning on his fellow revolutionaries, the Ukrainian farmers, the party rank-and-file, the army leadership, his own family, Red Army soldiers who had survived being POWs, it simply had to be everybody elses’ turn sooner or later, including the Jews.

    15. Ralf Goergens Says:

      Fred

      Russia has of course always been nasty (much worse than that) to its Jews–I know this from my grandparents–but now France and seemingly England also showing a good deal of anti-semitism…

      Violent anti-Semitism in those countries has been imported from you know where.

    16. Tatyana Says:

      Shannon – it’s not a “supposed” claim; it comes directly from Marx published opinion on “Jewish question”.

    17. Helen Says:

      One more aspect to the whole Nazi-Communist-German-Jewish imbroglio. A lot of German Communists escaped to the Soviet Union (not the highly intelligent ones like Bertold Brecht, of course) and were rounded up in the great purge. The Comintern was attacked in the summer and autumn of 1937. The more important ones were shot, others went to the camps. When the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed, as a good will gesture Stalin handed all those who were still alive over to his buddy Adolf.

      Margarete Buber-Neumann (whose own husband Heinz Neumann had been shot) describes in her book what happened. The Jews were taken away separately as Stalin, presumably, knew they would be. The others were allowed to go home on condition that they checked in with the local police every day or every week (can’t remember the detail). One or two non-Jews were also taken away and Maragerete B-N was one of them. The reason was quite interesting. Her husband had been not just an important Communist but an out and out Stalinist, who had helped to undermine the KPD before Hitler had come to power. A messy story. The Gestapo, therefore, could not believe, that the NKVD would have shot a loyal Stalinist and were convinced that he had been sent back to Germany on a mission. They thought his wife was simply lying and a sojourn in Ravensbrueck would bring her to her senses.

    18. Lexington Green Says:

      Margarete Buber-Neumann’s memoirs, Under Two Dictators. I haven’t read it, but Whittaker Chambers said it was worth reading.

    19. Helen Says:

      Chambers, as ever, was right. The book is very well worth reading. It has just been republished with some additional chapters in English. I mentioned that on EUReferendum

    20. john thames Says:

      The comments above are generally well-informed but a little bit of historical background is involved to make the subject more comprehensible. The Soviet “anti-semitism” of the post-WW2 period was really a response to Zionism and the creation of the Jewish state. In pre-revolutionary Russia, from 1880-1917, the Jews of Russia had been split between the Communist and Zionist movements, with large numbers trying to combine or synthesize, the two movements. Notable examples of the day were Dov Bor Borochov with his “The National Question and The Class Struggle” and Chaim Zhitlovsky, with his 1899 essay “Socialism and Nationalism”. When the communists came to power, the zionists were ruthlessly suppressed. The (largely Jewish) communist state wanted no competing loyalyies tugging at th heartstrings of its leading ethnic element. However, the dual loyalist Poale-Zion Party was allowed by the Bolsheviks to continue functioning until being formally outlawed in 1928. (Poale-Zion wanted communism in Palestine with the Soviet Union assuming the mandate from Britain.)During the revolution the Jewish Socialist Workers Party of Zhitlovsky combined with the Zionist-Socialist Jewish Workers Party to form the United Jewish Socialist Workers Party.

      When the state of Israel was created in 1948, the old Communist-Zionist conflict came to a head. Stalin, who had hoped to draw the Jews of America even more strongly into the communist orbit by recognizing Israel, now found that zionism was diverting the loyalties of Soviet Jews to zionism. Hence, the reversal of Soviet policy.