Commentary Magazine

Stalin and the Jews

To the Editor:

In his very interesting and scholarly essay, “Notes on American Innocence” [August 1974], Lev Navrozov relates as a fact my having handed over to Stalin, upon his request, a list of Jews who presumably were prepared to participate in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948-49. Mr. Navrozov goes on to describe the fate that overtook these men in Russian concentration camps. I find it almost superfluous to state that there is not even one grain of truth in this story. Never during my tenure in Russia was I put in a position where my “innocence,” as Mr. Navrozov has it, was put to a test. No such request was ever presented to me, either by Stalin or by anyone else; therefore, naturally, I did not hand over such a list. This allegation is of so serious and shocking a character that I must demand an apology. . . .

Golda Meir
Ramat-Aviv, Israel



Lev Navrozov writes:

The purpose of my article was not to trace the origin and exact routes of the list referred to by Mrs. Meir but to show that Western foreign-policy making since 1921 (as well as the expertise on which it relies) has, by and large, been naive, a century behind the times, parochial, and pathetically inadequate. I mentioned Mrs. Meir (and Sir Winston Churchill) as examples of outstanding Western statesmen who, for all their personal acumen, could not break out of the “innocence” of the West in foreign-policy making.

What did actually happen during Mrs. Meir’s tenure in Russia? In a 1970 article (New York Times, December 30) Mrs. Meir described the situation in November 1948 as “the days of the honeymoon, when we Israelis and the Russians were great friends.” To me, this remark, like her entire article, is naiveté itself. The “Russians” could not be “great friends” with Israel or anyone else in 1948 because they were not free agents: if Stalin had ordered the “Russians” to express their love for the Israelis, the “Russians” would have smothered them in kisses; if the order had been to kill, the “Russians” would have rushed to kill them. The tragedy of 1948-49 was that initially Stalin encouraged some “Russians” to express some love for the Israelis, because he wanted the British out of the Middle East. But once they were out of Palestine, and Israel was strong, he sent all those who had expressed any sympathy for Israel to concentration camps. Actually the lists of volunteers in 1948 were only a tiny fragment of the overall tragedy.

Mrs. Meir’s 1970 article describes how she was invited in November 1948 to a party and struck up a warm friendship with Molotov’s wife, who did not, much to Mrs. Meir’s surprise, continue their friendship after the party. Only years later did Mrs. Meir learn why: Mrs. Molotov had thereupon been seized by the secret police. Mrs. Meir now says in her letter that never during her tenure in Russia was her innocence put to a test. Is this not such a case? And if the wife of the second man in the country could “disappear” in this way, what can be said of hundreds of thousands of obscure “Russians,” including those ill-fated volunteers? Upon leaving the Soviet Union five months later Mrs. Meir stated (according to her biographer, Marie Syrkin): “I shall always remember the profound understanding shown by the Russian authorities to the many problems of our young state. It was my endeavor to further friendly relations between the Soviets and Israel, and I hope I have succeeded.” Yet a recent History of the Jewish People, prepared by a Hebrew University team and published in 1969-70, has this to say about the month Mrs. Meir calls the “days of honeymoon when we Israelis and the Russians were great friends”: “In November 1948, the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee was wiped out, and its press organ Einigkeit closed down. All Jewish publications were banned and all Jewish cultural institutions liquidated. Arrests began of Jewish writers, artists, and other representatives of art and culture, most of whom were sent to concentration camps.”

It should be emphasized that when I refer to the “innocence” of Mrs. Meir, I do not in the least mean to imply that her presence in Moscow in any way precipitated or worsened Stalin’s reprisals. On the contrary, it may be argued that if not for Mrs. Meir’s presence as Israel’s ambassador, and Stalin’s wish to impress her with Soviet “friendship,” Stalin might have unleashed the countrywide pogrom against Jews even earlier. Mrs. Meir did neither more nor less than Western foreign-policy makers do every day in “establishing good relations” with powers of whom they later find themselves to have been the blind victims. As Mrs. Meir wrote in 1970, “we all were in the euphoria of those days of Soviet-Israeli friendship.” “Euphoria” is exactly right.

As for the specific issue of the Soviet Jewish volunteers: Many lists were drawn up in 1948 of Soviet Jews who wished to fight in Israel’s War of Independence; these lists were drawn up quite officially at many official places (such as the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee) and were sometimes even displayed publicly in provincial Russian towns as a matter of official pride. Stalin knew or could have known all the names on such lists and would have destroyed those listed irrespective of who handed over what to whom, how, and when.

Mrs. Meir states that she was not requested to prepare a list of volunteers. I can only say in rebuttal that I was an eyewitness to the events of 1948 and that I have interviewed other, even closer, eyewitnesses than myself, among them survivors of Soviet concentration camps and direct participants like an Israeli official who was on the staff of the Israeli embassy in Moscow in 1948, as well as an Israeli editor who had discussed the events in question with Mrs. Meir. Although the subject seems to be carefully avoided in the press of Israel today (not to mention that of Russia), I stand by the veracity of the story as stated in my article. In fact, dealing with inevitably differing eyewitness reports, I presented the most cautious summary of them, showing Mrs. Meir to be, as I believe her to have been, an unwitting victim of forces utterly beyond her capacity to control.


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