Yevsektsiya: the "Good Jews" of the Soviet Union

GOOD JEW/BAD JEW TROPE

For as long as antisemitism has existed, antisemites have imposed a good vs bad Jew dichotomy on us. The Greeks did it over 2000 years ago. So did Stalin in the 1950s. Unfortunately this continues to this day.

Who is a “good Jew”? A “good Jew” is a Jew whose viewpoints validate those of non-Jewish folks. For example, Stalin, while on the brink of enacting a genocidal campaign of the Jewish people, planned on having “Jews loyal to the Soviet regime” sign a letter denouncing the “traitorous Zionists” (worth noting that ultimately it did not matter whether Jews identified as Zionists or not; Stalin persecuted them anyway on trumped up or false charges). In Nazi Germany, the Association of German National Jews tried to earn Hitler’s favor by disavowing non-assimilated, Zionist Jews. Most, unsurprisingly, were murdered in the Holocaust.

A “bad Jew,” on the other hand, is a Jew whose views challenge those of non-Jews. Antisemites treat “bad Jews” as disposable, because they do not validate their views. In other words, if we cannot serve you, you consider us bad.

 

FOUNDING

In 1918, the midst of the Russian Civil War, the Soviet Communist Party established a “Jewish branch,” with the consent of Vladimir Lenin. It was named “Yevsetskiya,” meaning “Jewish Sections of the Communist Party.”

The mission of the Yevsetskiya was, quite literally, the “destruction of traditional Jewish life, the Zionist movement, and Hebrew culture.” In other words, this Jewish branch of the Soviet government was dedicated solely to the destruction of fellow Soviet Jewry.

The Yevsetskiya sought to recruit Jewish workers into communist organisations. The group’s chairman, Semyon Dimanstein, who was, of course, Jewish, accused his fellow Jews of remaining “totally passive” during the 1918 October Revolution.

Despite its attempts at recruiting Jews, the Yevsetskiya remained isolated from the Soviet Jewish community. Its membership consisted mostly of Jewish ex-members of the Bund (the Bund was a secular, non-Zionist Jewish socialist group that was active between 1897-1920).

 

ANTI-ZIONISM

The Yevsetskiya was staunchly anti-Zionist, as it deemed Zionism “counterrevolutionary.” At their second conference on July of 1919, it demanded that all Zionist organisations be dissolved; ironically, after Jewish Zionist groups appealed to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, the Soviet government actually agreed with the Zionists that Zionism was not counterrevolutionary (it wasn’t until after WWII that the Soviets would officially begin persecuting Jews under the guise of anti-Zionism. I recommend my posts THE DOCTORS’ PLOT, THE BLATANT ANTISEMITISM BEHIND UN RESOLUTION 3379, and REFUSENIKS).

At their third conference in July of 1921, the Yevsetskiya officially dedicated itself to the “total liquidation of Zionism.”

 

ACTIVITIES

From the outset, the Yevsetskiya began harassing Zionist Jews. In fact, at the 1919 Zionist Congress, Russian Jewish delegates complained of harassment, not at the hands of the Soviet government, but at the hands of the Jewish Yevsetskiya. At the first All-Russia Zionist Congress in 1920, the Yevsetskiya and the Soviet secret police (then known as the Cheka) caused a disruption.

Initially, the Yevsetskiya legally abolished the “kehillas,” the traditional Jewish community organisations. Sometimes, they even burned their offices down. After their 1919 conference, when they deemed Zionism “counterrevolutionary,” they resolved to destroy all “Zionist activity,” which meant that they shut down everything from political groups to theatres to sports clubs. They raided all Ukrainian “Zionist” offices and arrested every single one of their leaders; they also arrested thousands more in the rest of the Soviet Union.

Until their dissolution in 1929, they imprisoned, tortured, and murdered thousands of Jews.

According to historian of Soviet history Richard Pipes, “In time, every Jewish cultural and social organisation came under assault.”

 

CULTURAL DESTRUCTION

The Yevsetskiya, which published a Yiddish newspaper known as “Emes,” also dedicated itself to the destruction of the Hebrew language. At the lead of former Zionist and Hebrew writer Moyshe Litvakov, the Yevsetskiya shut down all schools that taught Hebrew, no matter their political views, and harassed Hebrew-speaking artists such as Chaim Nachman Bialik and the actors of the Habima Theatre. It even cut off state funds for Habima, which prompted the company to flee to Mandatory Palestine. Later, the Habima Theatre became the Israeli national theatre.

Many Hebrew-language writers fled to Mandatory Palestine as well.

The Yevsetskiya established new Jewish schools that taught “Soviet Yiddish.” “Soviet Yiddish” changed the spellings of all Yiddish words that came from Hebrew. Unsurprisingly, the schools taught all about the evils of Zionism.

Additionally, they closed all rabbinical schools and staged show trials on the High Holidays. They’d get fake witnesses to denounce Zionism — and even Judaism — on the stand.

The fact that the Yevsetskiya was “Jewish” was central to its purpose. After all, the Soviet regime couldn’t be accused of antisemitism when those shutting down all Jewish cultural and spiritual life were Jews themselves.

 

DER EMES

“Der Emes,” also known as “Emes,” meaning “the truth” in Yiddish (ironic, since the word “emes” in Yiddish comes from “emet” in Hebrew), was the official newspaper of the Yevsetskiya. Though the Yevsetskiya was dissolved in 1929, the newspaper continued publishing until 1939.

Emes was undoubtedly a propaganda piece for the Soviet regime. The newspaper emphasised the antisemitism in other countries; after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Emes frequently published stories on Hitler’s racism and antisemitism.

Emes Also frequently published baseless accusations of rabbis as sexual predators.

Moyshe Litvakov — the same man who headed the vendetta against the Hebrew language — was the newspaper’s editor in chief from 1921 to 1937, when he was arrested by the Soviet authorities. He was executed in 1939.

At one point, Litvakov complained that even Emes had become “too Jewish.”

 

DISSOLUTION

The Soviet government dissolved the Yevsetskiya in 1929, claiming that it was no longer needed. During Stalin’s Great Purge in the 1930s, virtually all its members were arrested and executed, including both chairman Dimanstein and editor in chief Litvakov.

For a long time, not much was known about what happened to each of the former Yevsetskiya members. However, 27 years ago, newly opened Soviet archives described each of their deaths. Some were shot by bullet, some were tortured, and others were sentenced to hard labor in Siberia. A former member even died when the prison he was in refused to supply him with the insulin that he so desperately needed.

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