In January 1953 the MGB was officially accused of “lack of vigilance” in hunting down the conspirators.  The Soviet news agency Tass made the sensational announcement that for the past few years world Zionism and Western intelligence agencies had been conspiring with “a terrorist group” of Jewish doctors “to wipe out the leadership of the Soviet Union.”  During the final two months of Stalin’s rule, the MGB struggled to demonstrate its heightened vigilance by pursuing the perpetrators of this non-existent plot.  Its anti-Zionist campaign was, in reality, little more than a thinly disguised anti-Semitic pogrom.  Shortly before Stalin’s sudden death in March 1953 Mitrokhin was ordered to investigate the alleged Zionist connections of the Pravda correspondent in Paris, Yuri Zhukov, who had come under suspicion because of his wife’s Jewish origins.  Mitrokhin had the impression that Stalin’s brutal security supremo, Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria, was planning to implicate Zhukov in the supposed Jewish doctor’s plot.  A few weeks after Stalin’s funeral, however, Beria suddenly announced that the plot had never existed, and exonerated the alleged conspirators.

Andrew, Christopher and Vasili Mitrokhin.  The Sword and The Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB.  Page 2.  New York: Basic Books, 1999.

In the “Russian Section” (of the in-house library), the above title is appended “UR” for unread.  BackChannels hopes to update that status soon.  Even so, with the theme of anti-Semitism emerging on the second page of a mighty classic, so it appears, among the scholars, the same may inform the character of today’s “Solidarity” organizations and their updates on Soviet disinformation and propaganda programs that produced the privileged and the privileges of the Party.

These historic incidents and the portent of books like The Sword and The Shield may be easily accessed by the lay public as well as scholars, but time having become the new space, information has become the vegetation on the landscape, and large packages so easily spied on Amazon may not be so easily opened.  With each passing year — the volume was published in 1999 — fewer and fewer readers, lay or scholar, are likely to have the experience of seminal works.  For the most part, the public won’t know, won’t have personal or transmitted historic memory, giving cognizant autocrats freedom to deliver the past to their constituents.

Related on BackChannels: “Rhetorical Objects — Anti- Anti-Semitism & Anti-Semitism” (April 20, 2014).


This crossed my desktop late this afternoon:

The ultimate goal of state censorship is self-censorship among the citizenry. If you can get the people to police themselves, and each other, it takes part of the burden off the state and also makes people complicit in their own oppression. And so it’s disturbing to see things take this turn in Putin’s Russia. As the New York Times reports, Moscow bookstores removed from their shelves–voluntarily (sort of)–their copies of Maus, the pathbreaking graphic novel of Nazi crimes against the Jews. It’s the “voluntarily” part of this that stands out, and makes it clear that Putinism has not been, and will not be, good for the Jews of Russia.

Mandel, Seth.  “Dark Days Ahead for the Jews of Russia?”  Commentary, April 28, 2015.

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