(No. 7/2005 - May 2005)
Editor: Fran Bock

This article was originally published as: Die Partizipation der Juden am Leben der Belorussischen Sozialistischen Sowjetrepublik (BSSR) im ersten Nachkriegsjahrzehnt, 1944-1954, in "Existiert das Ghetto noch?" WeiBrussland: Judisches Uberleben gegen NS Herrschaft; Projektgruppe Belarus (Hg.), Assoziation A, Berlin 2003; pp. 277-295. Translated from the German by Irene Newhouse.

We are pleased to present to the Jewish genealogy community this scholarly article by frequent contributor Dr. Leonid Smilovitsky, in the spirit of providing information on the social, economic, political and religious context of the lives of our relatives.

It is reprinted here with permission of the publishers.

This article is copyrighted by Dr. Leonid Smilovitsky and Projektgruppe Belarus (Hg.), Assoziation A, Berlin.

Reprinting or copying of this article is not allowed
without prior permission from the copyrightholders


The Participation of Jews in Life in the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR) in the Early Post-War Period, 1944-1954

by Leonid Smilovitsky, Ph.D.,

Diaspora Research Center, Lester and Sally Entin Faculty of the Humanities,

Tel Aviv University

Demographic Alteration

The Second World War altered the demographic structure of Belarus irreversibly. Until July 1944, as the territory of the Republic was substantially liberated, the overall population of 10,528,000 as of May 1941 had declined to 6,293,600, that is, more than one-third (1). German genocide was primarily directed against the Jews (2). The total extent of the Shoah is as yet unclear, and is still subject to debate. The numbers fluctuate between 245,000 and 1 million victims (3). To this should be added the Jewish casualties in the Red Army. Of the 110, 000 Jews from Belarus who fought in the war, only 52,000 survived, according to data of Professor E. Joffe (4). My starting point is, therefore, that more than 700,000 Jews from Belarus died during the war years.

After the war and the Shoah, there were other factors responsible for reduction of the Jewish population. A few Jews declined to return to the BSSR and settled in the localities to which they had been evacuated. Others remained in the army or emigrated, more or less voluntarily, to other regions or Soviet Republics, which had been less destroyed or in which labor forces were needed to build up new industries.

In the years 1945 and 1946, thousands of Jews left the territory of Belarus as allegedly Polish citizens. In 1947 another 85,000 Jews, 120,000 Poles and 469,000 Belarussians left Belarus for the West (5). Most of the Jews who emigrated left for Palestine soon thereafter. Also among the nearly 5,000 people from the BSSR who relocated to the Kaliningrad region between 1947 and 1950, there were many Jewish families seeking work and homes (6). Although some were attracted by privileges, others went because of Party assignment (7).

In the 1950s, the relocation policies continued in effect. Between 1954 and 1956, thousands of people from Belarus were sent to cultivate vacant lands in North Kazakhstan and other Asian Soviet Republics. These were overwhelmingly young people and families without children, students and skilled workers, whom the officials tried to recruit with promises of "conquest of virgin territory". Among the applicants many young Jews found themselves, in part demobilized members of the Army, in part former partisans - a very active group, who were much missed in rebuilding the Jewish communities in Belarus. The majority of these people settled in the new regions and did not return (8).

By 1953, the population of the BSSR had again risen to 7,693,400. Contributing factors were an increase in the birth rate, the return of evacuees from Central Asia, Kazakhstan, the North Caucasus and Russia, demobilization of the army, immigration of workers from other Soviet Republics, as well as repatriation from Germany and other European countries (9). In this period, no statistics were kept on the Jewish population. The nationwide Soviet census of 1959, the first after WW2, counted 150,000 Jews in Belorussia out of a total population of 8,460,700 (10).

The Shoah not only decimated the Jewish population of the Republic by almost 80%, its social and cultural face was fundamentally altered. The next largest ethnic group after the Belarussians was no longer the Jews, but the Russians. Jewish-influenced towns lost their character, interest in the Yiddish language sank, and the number of mixed marriages increased. At the same time, many Jews discovered their Jewish identity for the first time because of the Shoah. The repressive ethnic policies of the Soviet state in Belarussia resulted in a loss of rights not just for Jews, but for all minorities. Only the Belarussian population retained any rights to ethnic identity on paper. The track for Russifying the Republic was laid; Belarus became a model project for national unification.

Formation of the Power Infrastructure

Right after the end of the war, state antisemitism was not yet so pronounced. As the administrative infrastructure of the Republic had to be reconstructed, the ethnic identity (11) of the cadres at first played no role. In 1945, 2.9% of the Party and Administrative Leadership was of Jewish heritage; of the former members of the Regional Committees, 8.1% had been Jewish; of the members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belorussia (CPB) , 8% and of the leaders of economic organizations at the Republic level, 10.2% (12). How large the fraction of Jews was in the political leadership of the BSSR in the second half of the 1940s is shown in the Table below.

Year Total Belarussians Russians Ukrainians Jews Others % Jews
1946 4569







1948 4605







1949 4420







Table 1: Composition of the Leadership of the BSSR in the Years 1944-1949 (13)

These data show that Jews played a significant role in many areas of the economy, education, science and research, as well as art, in the BSSR. However, a tendency to exclude them stepwise from important offices now became discernible, and promotion to positions of authority became difficult for them. Among the leadership cadres at the regional and local level, the number of Jews was small. In the years 1944 and 1945, of the 161 l eading members of the Executive Committee of the State Soviets of ten regions, only two were of Jewish heritage (Minsk and Mogilev). From 1946 to 1949, among the chairmen of the Executive Committees of the City, County or Regional Soviets, there was no longer a single Jew (14).

Whoever wanted a successful career had to be a member of the Communist Party. Before the war, the CPB had members of 52 ethnicities. Jews, at 21.6%, were the second largest group, although they were only 8% of the general population. The alteration of the ethnic composition of the CPB during the war years is shown in the following table:

Year Total Belarussians Russians Ukrainians Poles Jews Others % Jews
1941 72,177








1945 29,515








Table 2: Ethnic Composition of the Communist Party of Belorussia, 1941-1945 (15)

The fraction of Jews among the Communists did not decrease in the same amount as the fraction of Jews in the overall population - from 21.6% to 9.2%. In the war years, the CPB lost 59% of its members. Jews, who were among the troops at the front, who participated in the partisan movement or were deployed behind the lines in the Soviet zone, in part made up for these losses (16).

In the years 1944 to 1949, the number of Jews on the Central Committee of the CPB remained constant with five members (17).. However, Jews were no longer appointed to offices like Secretary of City Party Committees or First Secretary of Komsomol (Young Communist League) of Belarus (18). Even in the list of candidates recommended for study at the Party College by the Central Committee of the CPB, not one single Jew is to be found (19).

Reconstruction and Modernization of the BSSR

The major material damages which Belarus suffered during the occupation were estimated at 75 billion Rubles - 35 times the budget of the Republic in 1940. Reconstruction of the economy occurred under difficult conditions. Many entrepreneurs could not meet the state regulations and suffered from poor organization of work. Although industrial production in the BSSR in 1945 could be increased to 270% of that of 1944, this was still only 20.4% of the yield of 1940 (20). Thanks to their knowledge, their education, their experience as well as their organizational ability, Jews were desired and participated actively in the reconstruction process and in modernization. In the field of engineering, they were represented as follows:


Belarussians Russians Ukrainians Jews Others












Table 3: Ethnic Affiliation of Engineers and Technical Workers in the BSSR, 1946-1949 in % (21)

The excess fraction of Belarussians among engineers and technicians is due to the goal-oriented state policy of favoring cadres who belong to the titular ethnic group.

Jews were above all active in the fields of health, education, culture, science and art. The cadres of scientific and cultural institutions in the BSSR in 1947 were composed as follows: Belarussians 59%, Russians 21 %, Ukrainians 3 %, Jews 16%. Among the coworkers in the press and publishing houses, it looked like this: Belarussians 53%, Russians 27%, Jews 23%, and others 1.4% (22).

The participation of Jews in key fields like finance and banking, agriculture, media, education, health and organizations for adhering to the law in the years 1944 to 1950 becomes apparent in the following table:


1944 1946 1949 1950
Director, County Division of a Consumer Union 8.9 15.6 16.9 17.2
Director, County Division of State Bank of BSSR 7.9 7.5 8.8 10.8
Director, Finance Division 4.7 7.0 4.0 6.9
Director, Business Division 10.0 8.2 3.6 5.5
Director, Dept. of Public Health 11.6 10.4 7.2 9.6
Director, Public Education Institution 4.9 4.6 2.4 2.4
Director, Agricultural Division 3.7 2.4 1.8 1.8
Director of a Sovkhoz 3.1 3.7 3.1 4.0
Newspaper Editor 8.4 10.4 14.4 17.6
Public Attorney 2.2 4.5 3.5 3.4

Table 4: Presence of Jews in Economy and Culture of BSSR, 1944-1950 in % (23)

After the war, in the system of the Academy of Sciences (AS) of the BSSR, there were serious shortages at all levels: there were neither rooms nor adequate furnishings, nor qualified personnel. The last was a consequence of the Stalinist repression before the war (24). Some institutes of the Academy of Science had already resumed work in 1944. The total number of scientific institutes in the Republic climbed from eight in 1945 to 28 in 1950; among them were 15 research institutes (25).

After the first members of the Academy returned from the army, scientific personnel were reinstated stepwise (26). Among the 186 Aspirants (27) accepted in 1947, there were 124 Belarussians, 29 Russians, and 33 Jews. In 1949, of four young scientists who successfully completed their promotion (entered 1946), two were Jews - I.S. Fischer (Physical-Technical Institute) and S.A. Levina (Chemical Institute). In 1948, the membership of the Academy was composed as follows:

Scientific Title & Function Total Belarussians Russians Ukrainians Jews Others
Member of the Academy







Corresponding Member







Doctor of Science







Candidate of Science







Scientific Associate 2nd rank







Scientific Associate 1st rank














Scientific Assistant







Administrative & Technical personnel














Table 5: Ethnic Composition of the Members of the Academy of Sciences of BSSR, 1948 (28)

In 1949 an additional 66 scientific collaborators were inducted into the AS, among them eight Jews: at the Institute for History, Zalman Abesgaus; at the Institute for Theoretical Medicine, Gelya Vilenchik; at the Institute for Economics Abram Rusinov (scientific secretary of the institute); at the Institute for Kalman Lundin as well as at the Institute for Melioration (agriculture: land improvement, either by drainage or by irrigation) Mira Bekker, Genus Ginsburg, and Jossif Lifshitz (29). Director of the Morphological Laboratory at the Institute for Theoretical Medicine was Dr. Med. Professor David Golub, corresponding member of the AS. However, research results were exceedingly modest. The lack of material items and the style of leadership had unfavorable effects. The worst consequences, however, came from the official denigration of representatives of various fields, as for example, genetics, biology or cybernetics. In the intellectual and social sciences, ideological dictates and dogmatism accompanied all discussions of philosophy, linguistics and political economy (30).

Public Education and Colleges

The resumption of work in the educational institutions was first class. During the years of occupation 6808 schools were destroyed in the BSSR; the material damages to institutions of public education totaled 4.6 billion Rubles (31). As there was no intention whatsoever of rebuilding the Yiddish schools, which had been closed in 1937/38, Jewish teachers found themselves forced to teach at schools in which the language of instruction was Belarussian, Russian, Ukrainian or Polish (32). Teachers had to deliver propaganda speeches like "On Soviet Patriotism", "On Overcoming a Transmitted Conscience in People", "What has Soviet Power given the Workers?" or "The Friendship among Peoples in the Soviet Multicultural State". Not everyone obeyed these dictates, a few openly expressed their disinclination toward the regime. In Dzerzhinsk (Koidanov), teachers (female) Ginsburg and Joblshevskaya refused to sign an exhortation for rebuilding the people's economy of the USSR (33); teacher Vassilevich from the village Zazki (Lida District) openly tore up a portrait of Stalin. In Gomel and a series of other districts in the Minsk and Grodno regions, cases became known in which fliers and appeals to boycott Soviet elections were distributed (34).

The task of the schools was accompanied by many difficulties. The rooms converted to classrooms were hard to heat, there were shortages of textbooks and writing material. In the first semester 1946/47, 254,000 students received the grade "incomplete"; 40,000 students dropped out of school. 62% of the teachers in the whole Republic (35,000) had spent the war years under German occupation, which made them susceptible to antisemitic propaganda (35). During the 1944/45 school year, of the 25 colleges of the pre-war period, 22 were reopened, about 600 instructors and research associates were employed in them. The number of Jews among them was significant.

Designation of the Institution Instructors Belarussians Russians Jews Others % Jews
High School of Law














Medicine (Minsk)







National Economics














Table 6: Ethnic Composition of the Teaching Staff of High Educational Institutions in the BSSR, Academic Year 1946-47 (36)

The first classes to graduate from liberal arts schools were numerically weak. Many graduates were needed to work in rebuilding industry, transportation and communication, or entered agriculture. Others did not want to continue their education because of the difficult economic situation of the times. Therefore, special efforts were made to encourage higher education. Graduates were classified into three groups: war veterans, those who returned from evacuation, and those who lived under the German occupation. In July 1945, all participants in the Great Patriotic War [World War II veterans] who wanted to attend university or a high technical school were granted certain privileges (37). If they had successfully passed the entrance examination, further competition was waived for them, as was tuition In fall 1945, Newspaper Pravda stated that the participants in the Great Patriotic War who now attend institutions of higher learning were the cream of Soviet students. Whoever had been in the army or with the partisans had been hardened by the experience and had gained such valuable characteristics as responsibility, decisiveness and independence, as well as the capacity to overcome difficulties (38). In 1947, 22.3% of the first semester students of the total amount 13,633 students were war veterans (39).

Name of Institution Total Belarussians Russians Jews Others % Jews
Belarussian State University 1278 793 202 258 25 20.2
Polytechnical University 1454 733 268 408 45 28.0
Forest 524 315 104 72 33 13.7
Economics/Administration 448 222 64 117 45 26.2
Agriculture 813 325 452 13 23 1.6
Veterinary Medicine 382 161 204 9 8 2.4
Law High School 657 244 159 237 17 36.1
Sports High School 310 183 102 9 16 3.0
High School of Theater 69 25 32 8 4 11.6
Conservatory 157 53 47 53 4 33.7
Medical High School (Minsk) 2150 1211 340 597 92 23.5
Medical High School (Vitebsk) 629 351 137 111 30 17.6
5 Pedagogical Institutes 2661 1601 521 464 75 17.4
9 Teachers' High 2102 1563 361 101 76 4.8


13,633 7780 2993 2366 494 17.4

Table 7: Ethnic Composition of Students at High Educational Institutions in the BSSR, 1947-48 (40)

Comparatively few Jews studied agricultural subjects - a consequence of the state restrictions on Jews of the 1930s.

The high fraction of Jewish students was no accident. In spite of huge losses in the years of genocide, Jews were still interested in learning. Many had fought against the Nazis and therefore had preferential admission to universities and colleges. The desire for training for a career was just as strong among Jews as their pragmatism and striving toward self-affirmation through intellectual work. That the Jews, who made up no more than 1.5% of the population of Belarus, were so strongly represented in universities, specialist and vocational schools was interpreted by the leadership of the BSSR - in antisemitic fashion - as a hidden threat against the Belarussian state.

Alteration of National Priorities

With the beginning of the Cold War, the relationship between former allies in the Anti-Hitler coalition escalated. These developments did not pass by the Jews unnoticed, due to the special position they had in the political, ideological, economic and military structure of the country. A warning was the programmatic speech by the chief ideologue of the Party, Andrei Zhdanov, in August 1946, as well as the decisions reached right after it by the Central Committee of the CPSU. Honored Jewish authors, poets and dramatists were criticized for their apolitical stance, and their works reproached for lacking ideological fundamentals and "nationalism". In the years 1947/48, a broad campaign against Jews was carried out. It was claimed that they would idealize Jewish history, misuse Biblical motifs, denigrate the national heritage, overemphasize the nationalistic aspirations of Jews and continually focus on the Shoah. In various institutions and places of higher education in Minsk, Gomel, Mogilev, Brest, and Grodno, "worship" of the West was denounced; among the accused were often people of Jewish heritage.

The period between 1948 and 1953 is designated the "black years" for Soviet Jewry. Campaigns against so-called Jewish-bourgeois nationalism and "rootless cosmopolitanism" were felt particularly in the cultural realm. In January 1948, on Stalin's order, Salomon }{\f16\fs24\cf2 Michoels, First Director of the Moscow Jewish Theater, and Chairman of the Jewish Antifascist Committee of the USSR, was secretly murdered during his visit in Minsk. Michoels was buried in Moscow with great honors, but already in fall 1948, he was denounced as a Jewish nationalist. At the same time, the Jewish Antifascist Committee was dissolved, its members arrested and tried. Yiddish, the last legal form of Jewish life, was prohibited.

Anti-Jewish agitation was supported through the decisions of the 19th congress of the Communist Party of the Republic in February 1949. In consequence, all Jewish institutions and periodicals, Yiddish publishers and artists' unions were dissolved. The State Academy Theater for Opera and Ballet of the BSSR was accused of propagating bourgeois morality. Victims of this campaign were, among others, Konstantin Muler (First Ballet Master), Lev Litvinov (First Director of the Belarussian Janka Kupala Academy Theater), folklorist Lev Barag, literary critic Jakov Gerzovich, as well as theater critic Michail Model. The Belarussian State Jewish Theater, BelGOSET (Belorusskii Gossudarstvennii Ievreiskii Teatr), was declared the center for Jewish nationalism and cosmopolitanism. Its First Director, Michail Rafalskii, founder and soul of the theater, was arrested and convicted. He died in prison. The theater itself was closed March 1949 on order of the Counsel of Ministers of the BSSR (41).

The art of film was not spared anti-Jewish measures. It had been intended for the role of strengthening Soviet patriotism, unveiling the meaninglessness of bourgeois life styles, and unmasking the aggressive tendencies of Imperialism. Jews were accused of wanting to exercise an "alien" Western influence on views, inimical to these ends. In late 1947 the Minister for Cinematography of the BSSR, Nikolai Sadkovich, lodged complaints with the Central Committee of the CPB, according to which, a series of former Jewish employees at BELARUSFILM was hindering the employment of Belarussian national cadres. He asked that Belarussian cinematography be cleansed of so-called malingerers and charlatans, the firing of directors like Natan Lyuboshits, Iosif Shulman, Nikolai Gastelowitz and Iosef Vainerowitz, and their replacement with politically immaculate personnel. Traditionally, there had been many Jews working at BELARUSFILM as well as at other film studios in the country, like MOSFILM, LENFILM, DOVZHENKO or GORKII-Studio. To push out the Jews, Belarussians were hired without regard to their qualifications. Belarussian artists were preferred over Jewish artists, background music was written only by Belarussian composers like Yevgenii Tikozkii or Anatolii Bogatirev. Scripts and texts for documentaries were from then on almost all exclusively by Belarussian writers like Vyasheslav Polesskii, Pimen Panchenko, Konstantin Gubarevich, Pavel Kovalev or Makar Poseldovich. Since primarily Belarussian synchronized editions were produced, the level of Belarussian film sank rapidly (42).

Accusations of Protectionism and Corruption

Jews were accused of incompetence, greed, venality, nepotism and pursuit of narrow national aims to the detriment of overall production interests. In fall 1947, the Central Committee of the CPB reported that in a series of Industrial Ministries in the Republic, irregularities in the selection of leadership cadres, their performance evaluations, the educational work and the maintenance of state discipline had been uncovered (43)

Even more major failures were attributed to the Jews in the Organization of Soviet Trade and Consumer Unions. They were accused of having bypassed government officials and by exploiting control and organizational loopholes, to have chosen their coworkers solely on personal connections without regard to their professional skills. In the reports of the Trade Ministry of the BSSR, it was claimed that in the Trade Division for Industrial and Nutritional Goods in Baranovichi, Molodechno, Pinsk, Vitebsk, Polotsk and Gomel, dozens of Jews were "collected", all of them related to each other. They were branded "thieves and scoundrels" and the embezzlement of 20 million rubles attributed to them (44). According to reports of the Control Division, it was overwhelmingly Jews who broke the law; they were often put on trial and condemned to prison for even insignificant infractions of the law. Thus the shoemaker Abraham Shik from Minsk was accused of resale of leather goods (15 pairs of soles) and sentenced to five years in prison. The director of the shop in Dzerzhinks, Girsh Okun, who had raised the price of triangular files to 1 ruble was sentenced to three years (45). The fact that the accusations were all similar - the one regarding miscalculation in administration, business, and different areas in culture and science was particularly widespread - leads one to deduce that this was a planned and directed politics of discrediting Jews.

There were criminals also in the Jewish milieu, but Jews were only a minimal proportion of the condemned. As general opinion was already against them, they sought to avoid conflicts and suits. It was extremely rare for a Jew to be involved in a murder, act of domestic violence or crimes under the influence of alcohol.

Ethnicity Number Per Cent
Belarussian 53,205 57.5
Russian 15,904 17.2
Polish 14,822 16.3
Ukrainian 4663 5.0
Other 3841 4.0

Table 8: Ethnic Composition of the Prison Population in the BSSR, 1946-1949 (46)

There were so few Jews, that they were not recorded as a separate group, but were subsumed under "other" - representatives of about 100 ethnicities lived in Belarus. The most common crimes among Jews were delinquencies like embezzlement, robbery, infraction against financial discipline, rules of trade or misuse of one's office, and far more rarely, lack of work ethic.

Contacts Abroad

The Jews became hostages of the Cold War. The support Moscow had lent the State of Israel from its founding, did not lead to an alteration in the relationship of the Soviet leadership toward Zionism. Even in the phase of greatest accord between the USSR and Israel from April 1947 to July 1948, Zionism was not recognized as a national liberation movement of the Jewish people . From fall 1948, however, it was placed on the same plane as American imperialism. The Jews had to prove their loyalty to the regime in order to deflect the suspicion they might be a "fifth column" of international imperialism in the USSR.

At the 15th full assembly of the Central Committee of the CPB at the end of 1948, it was claimed that the press organizations of the US and Great Britain, as well as the organizations in exile of Belarussian, Polish, Ukrainian and Jewish nationalists in their employ had increased their activity. Zionists had tried to imbue Belarussian Jews with a knavish and devout attitude toward foreign countries, to cut their bonds to Belarus and Russia, and to sow discord. It was alleged that Jews had forgotten the honor of Soviet citizenship, that they had contact with Jewish organizations abroad, particularly in America, had falsely reported the economic status of the BSSR and "begged" for handouts from abroad. Every contact with foreigners was prohibited, collaboration with western allies was kept as deathly quiet as were the economic support received and the numerous scientific and cultural contacts.

In order to declare the new ideological campaign a success, scapegoats, who could be openly accused, were needed. The subsequent cleansing in party organizations and state institutions hit all social levels. Between 1949 and 1953 there was a regular witch hunt for anyone who had relatives abroad, particularly in the US, England, France and Palestine (47). Relationships along those lines in many cases meant the end of careers, great difficulty in finding employment, or rejection of an application for advanced study with little reason. There was an increasing atmosphere of mistrust and hostility toward Jews, so that they stood outside society. Added to this, in many cities and regions there was a popular antisemitism, which corresponded to no official program, but generally led to no legal consequences.

Restriction of Religious Life for Practicing Jews

The resources of Jews after the war were in no way comparable to those of other religious groups. Of the more than 700 Synagogues which existed in Belarus in 1917, after the 2nd World War, only a few dozen remained intact, and even these the government did not want to return (48). Alongside the Catholic Church (49), Jews were seen as the most problematic partners in the dialogue between State and Religion. International awareness of and interest in the situation of Soviet Jews caused great perplexity and suspicion. Therefore attempts by Jews to obtain official recognition for their Communities were received by the authorities with scarcely disguised irritation. Between 1946 and 1948, in spite of numerous applications, only three Synagogues were officially approved in the Republic: the Synagogues of Minsk, Kalinkovichi and Bobruisk (50).

Believers in other cities and communities could not therefore visit Synagogues easily, study Tora or keep kashrut (51), keep the kosher life style, bake matzoh or conduct brit, not perform traditional marriages under a chuppa (52) or funerals according to Jewish rites. They could have neither yeshiva, Talmud school, nor a cheder (Jewish elementary school), take no collections, publish religious literature, or distribute religious items. The officials could not accept that Jews traditionally worked to unite the unbelievers and the devout. Therefore, after they turned their attention against the Jewish intelligentsia, they turned against the Synagogue membership as well. The regime wanted to dissolve the Communities from the inside . They encouraged denunciations and tried to drive a wedge between devout parents and their children. Jewish Communities were categorically prohibited to cultivate exchanges with other centers of Judaism abroad. Because of the state prohibitions, the devout concentrated their activities on the minyan (53) which did not require any official registration. These informal associations encompassed at most 10 to 100 people and existed in all the cities of the BSSR in which Jews lived.

Practicing Jews had no trust toward the State whatsoever. In spite of antisemitic persecution and even banishment, in the Soviet era documents there is not one single case of appeal on religious matters at the Council of Ministers of the BSSR, in which Jews turned to court, or retained an attorney in order to defend their rights. To cultivate the beliefs and customs under these circumstances became more and more difficult. But in certain ways, these restrictions and prohibitions strengthened the self-awareness of the Jews. Their battle became a certain type of game of opposition, not recognized by foreign eyes, but which existed in secret all those years (54).

The "Doctors' Trial"

In winter 1952/53 a renewed anti-Jewish campaign took place. In contrast to the war against cosmopolitanism in 1946 to 1949, when the word "Jew" was scarcely mentioned, and in contrast to the secret executions of leading representatives of the Jewish Antifascist Committee and Jewish culture in the USSR in August 1952, from January 1953, the persecution of Jews became open. The time between January and March 1953 was a horrendous time for the Jews of the Soviet Union. They lived in an atmosphere of hostility and hate, in constant fear for their lives and those of their children. The illusion of having re-esta blished a "normal" life after the suffering of the Shoah was painfully shattered. It struck not only those Jews with an explicitly Jewish identification, but also those who had assimilated.

From the example of Belarus, it becomes apparent how a powerful propaganda apparatus is used to direct public opinion. On 13 January 1953 the State news agency of the USSR, TASS, reported an alleged plot of Stalin's Jewish doctors to murder him.

The majority of the speakers who appeared in state-organized mass press conferences, assemblies and speeches in Minsk, Gomel, Brest, Grodno, Mogilev, or Vitebsk, didn't only demand the punishment of the "conspirators", but also the mass arrest and deportation of all Jews. With this, the track was laid for a forceful reckoning: there was an excuse, the guilty had been identified. But the expected start signal failed (55)to materialize. The campaign ended with Stalin's death in March 1953 - although for a long time thereafter, mistrust and hostility were apparent. Nikita S. Khrushchev, the new chairman of the Central Committee of the CPSU, permitted an unprecedented critique of Stalin's cult of personality, but his hatred of Jews never became thematic (56) out of regard for public opinion and out of certain sensitivity in the populace regarding "the Jewish question".


In the years 1944 to 1953, the Jews, who had survived the Shoah and the war, participated actively in the reconstruction and modernization of economy, culture, science and education in Soviet Belorussia. The first decade after the war - the last years of the Stalin regime - can be divided into two phases. From 1944 to 1948 the assistance of experts independent of their ethnicity was accepted, due to a shortage of skilled workers. Jews were in as much demand as Belarussians, Russians and members of other ethnic groups. Exception was made of Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians and Germans, as well as of representatives of a few Caucasus peoples, who were suspected of collaboration.

The years 1948 to 1953, the last years of the Soviet dictator's life, were significantly different. The campaign against cosmopolitanism, the closing of Jewish institutions, the arrests of members of the Jewish Antifascist Committee, and the silence regarding the Shoah as well as regarding the Jewish contribution to victory over Germany led to an atmosphere of general mistrust toward Jews. Jewish national life was suppressed with the excuse that only all ethnic groups together could overcome the consequences of the war. Jews were discriminated against, if they had relatives abroad or were not Party members. Not even when they fulfilled the postulates of Socialism could they overcome the suspicion of the regime toward them. The non-Jewish neighborhood reacted with great sensitivity toward every misstep and eagerly persecuted the slightest mistake. Jews were forced more than others to act fully responsibly, to calculate the consequences of every step, and to avoid every conflict with the law.

Many Jews succeeded in adapting to the highly ideological Soviet society. They sought and found niches, proved themselves flexible in choice of job, and were in demand as directors of business and offices. Because of their knowledge and competence Jews were protegesof the mighty in Soviet industry, as well as advanced in cultural and scientific institutions. In the post-war period in Belorussia, Jews were hit by a policy of national leveling, which aimed at total assimilation in the framework of the course ordered by the CPSU , along with a simultaneous construction of a new community of people, the so-called Soviet People.


1. Statisticeskij spravocnik sostojanija narodnogo chozjajstva i kul' tury BSSR k nacalu Welikoj Otecestvennoj vojny. Izdanie SNK BSSR (Sovet Narodnykh Komissarov - Council of Ministers of the BSSR). Moskva 1943, S. 25; M. Altshuler: Escape and Evacuation of Soviet Jews at the Time of the Nazi Invasion: Policies and Realities. In: Lucjan Dobroszyski, Jeffrey S. Gurock (Eds.): The Holocaust in the Soviet Union and the Sources on the Destruction of the Jews in the Nazi-Occupied Territories of the USSR, 1941-1945. New York 1993, S. 77-104. According to official reports, the population losses among the civilian population due to military activities and annihilator expeditions, as well as cases of death from injuries, hunger and illness totalled 2.2 million. See: Sudebny process po delu o zlodejanijach, sowerschennych nemecko-fasistskimi zachvatcikami v Belorusskoj SSR, 15-29 janvarja 1946 g. Minsk 1947, S. 461; Belarus' u hady Vjalikaj Ajcynnaj vajne. Prablemy histaryjagrafii i krynicaznaustva. Minsk 1999; A. M. Litvin: Akupacyja Belarusi (1941-1944). Pytanni supracivy i kalabaracyi. Zbornik artykulau. Minsk 2000. Other sources give the number of total victims in the BSSR as up to 3 million people. See: S.Pol'ski, S. Macjunin: Cana peramogi. In: Litaratura i mastactva, 6. Juli 1990; E. Iofe: Kol' ki z jaurejau zahinula na belaruskaj zjamli u 1941-1944gg.? In: Belaruski histarcyny casonis, 4/1997, p. 51.

2. Sh. Cholawski: The Jews of Belorussia During World War II. Amsterdam 1998; D. Romanovskij: Skol' ko evreev pogiblo v promyslennych rajonach Vostocnoj Belorussii v nacale nemeckoj okkupacii (ijul' -dekabr' 1941g. In: Vestnik evrejskogo universiteta, 4 (22) /2000, pp. 151-173.

3. According to studies by M. Gilbert, the number of Jewish victims is 245,000; according to R .Chemoglasova, there were 376,851; according to W. Adamushko 455,100; according to A. Bagrovich, 500,000. D. Melzer and his colleague W. Levin speak of 700,390, A. Leizerov of 800,000; E. Joffe of 811,000 and R. Hilberg of 1 million victims. See: M. Gilbert: Atlas of the Holocaust. London 1982, S.244; Tragedija evreev Belorussii v gody Velikoj Otecestvennoj vojny, 1941-1944 gg. Sbornik materialov i dokumentov. Minsk. Izdanie 2, 1997, pp. 127-137; W.I. Adamusko u.a.: Handbuch der Haftstatten fur Zivilbevolkerung auf dem besetzten Territorium von Belarus 1941-1944. Minsk 2001; A. Bagrovic: Zycharstva Belaruskaja SSR u svjatle perapisy 1959 g. New York/Munchen 1962, p. 65; V. Levin, D. Mel'cer: Cernaja kniga s krasnymi stranicami. Tragedija i geroizm evreev Belorussii. Baltimore 1996, pp. 90-94; Mishpocha, 3/1997, p. 79; E. Iofe. In: Belaruski histarycny casonis, No. 4/1997, p. 52; R. Hilberg: The Destruction of European Jews. New York 1961, p. 767.

4. Of the total number of a half million Jewish soldiers and officers, who fought against the Nazis at the time, 216,000 died. See: Ocerki evrejskogo geroizma. Kiev 1997, vol .3, p. 462, 466.

5. Mikola Volacic: The Population of Western Belorussia and its Resettlement in Poland and the USSR. In: Belorussian Review. Institute for the Study of the USSR, No.3, Munchen 1956, p. 26.

6. Rossijskij gosudarstvennyj archiv ekonomiki (RGAE) [Russian State Archive for Economics], F. 5675, O.1, D. 678, Part 1, P. 170.

7. Thousands of people from Belarus were also sent to the Karelo-Finnish SSR, to regions of the Russian Federation like Archangelsk, Tomsk, Tiumen, Irkutsk, Cheliabinsk, Molotov (now Perm), Sakhalin, or also into the Krasnoyarsk, Altai or Primorsk Krai. Between 1947 and 1953, a total of 89,936 people left Belarus for these places, see ibid.

8. Genocide in the USSR. Institute for the Study of the USSR. Munchen 1958, p. 87; The Crimes of Khrushchev. Part 6. Committee on Un-American Activities. House of Representatives. Washington 1960, pp.19-24.

9. A. Rakov: Belorussija v demograficeskom izmerenii. Minsk 1974, p.126.

10. Itogi Vsesojuznoj perepisi naselenija 1959 goda. Belorusskaja SSR. Moskva 1963, p. 124-132.

11. In the passports of USSR citizens, there's an entry next to Citizenship: Russian for ethnicity. In addition to "Ukrainian" or "Belarussian", an entry of "Jewish" is also possible.

12. NARB (Nacionalnyj Archiv Respubliki Belarusi [National Archive of the Republic of Belarus]), Fond (collection). 4, Opis (list) 109, Delo (file). 5, pages 35-37.

13. Table compiled by the Author on the basis of materials in NARB (Nazional' nyj Archiw Respubliki Belarus [National Archive of the Republic of Belarus] Fond 4, O. 109, D. 5, P. 35; D. 13, P. 2; O. 29, Delo. 539, P. 24.

14. ibid. D. 1, P. 87-96; D. 5, P.51.

15. Stranitsy istorii Kommunisticheskoy Partii Belorussii. Suzhdenia, Argumenty i Fakty. (Pages from the History of the Communist Party of Belarus. Meaning, Arguments, Facts. Minsk 1990, p. 285.

16. L. Mininberg: Sowetskie evrei v nauke i promyslennosti SSSR v period vtoroj mirovoj vojny , 1941-1945 gg. Moskva 1995. (Soviet Jews in the science and industry of USSR in WW2).

17. Two of 8 vice Central Committee Division leaders, one of 22 Central Committee Sector Leaders and two of 81 Central Committee Instructors 1944-1945; five of 62 members in 1946 and five of 54 members in 1949.

18. A. T. Lejzerov: Nacional' nyj sostav partijnogo, gosudarstvennogo, chozjajstvennogo apparata v Belorussii v 1920-1950gg. In: Aktual' nye problemy gosudarstva i prava. Naucnye trudy Belorusskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta, 4/1994 (Minsk), S. 104-105; NARB, F. 4, O. 109, D. 1, P. 1-4, 87-96; D. 5, P. 7-10, 35; D. 13, P. 3, 18.

19. NARB, F. 4, O. 22, D. 15, P. 200.

20. Vos'maja sessija Verchovnogo Soveta BSSR, 9-11 sentjabrja 1946 g. Stenograficeskij otchet. Minsk 1947, p. 166-167; Ekonomika Sovetskoj Belorussii 1917-1967. Minsk 1967, pp.300-303, 306, 310.

21. Table compiled by the Author, based on materials in NARB, F. 4, O. 29, D. 539, P. 50-51.

22. NARB, F. 4, O. 29, D. 539, P. 62, 72.

23. Table compiled by Author, from material at NARB, F. 4, O. 109, D. 1, 5, 13, 16.

24. Victims of this repression were, among others, Professor of Mathematics Tselestin Burstin, a member of the Academy, as well as several corresponding members like historian Samuil Agurskii, the literary scholar Jacob Bronshtein, poet Isaak Kharik or chemist Boris Spentser. Vozrozhdennye imena. Sotrudniki AN Belarusi, postradavsie v period stalinskich repressij. Minsk 1992, pp. 11-12.

25. Nacional'naja Akademija nauk Respubliki Belarus': 1929-1999 gg. Ed. by N.A. Borisevich und A.P.Vojtovic. Minsk 1998.

26. Among this group was Jacob Rakov, who had been Director of the Economics Institute of the AS of the BSSR 1935-1941, Efim Schlossberg, Candidate in historical sciences, and Isaak Ginsburg, Aspirant of the Historical Institute. Voennye sud'by. Sotrudniki AN Belarusi -ucastniki Velikoj Otecestvennoj vojny. Minsk 1995, pp.18, 46, 57.

27. Aspirant corresponds roughly to the German Doctorant: after completion of a thesis (A-promotion), the aspirant becomes "Candidate of Sciences". With the second promotion, the Candidate obtains the title "Doctor of Sciences", which corresponds roughly to the German Habilitation. In the US, it' s easier to obtain a doctorate. One first passes an oral examination on knowledge considered vital to one's area. At many institutions, a Master's degree is awarded at this point. After defending a thesis, the degree "Doctor of Philosophy"awarded.

28. Composed from material at the Archive of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus; personal communication by O. A. Gaponenko, Minsk 1998, who collated the material.

29. NARB, F. 4, O. 62, D. 34, P. 104, 111.

30. Ibid. O. 29, D. 539, P. 62.

31. Computed according to 1941 prices, Naviny Belaruskaj Akademii. (Minsk) 15. March 1991.

32. L. Smilovitsky: Iz istorii nacional' noj skoly Belorussii. In: Narodnaja asveta (Minsk) 11/1990, p.79.

33. NARB, F. 4, O. 9, D. 53, P. 67.

34. Narysy historyi Belarusi. Part 2. Minsk 1995, p. 344.

35. NARB, F. 1, O. 9, D. 53, P. 131-132.

36. Table compiled by Author, on the basis of material at NARB, F. 4, O. 29, D. 571, P. 35-37.

37. Ibid. F. 42, O. 4, D. 2, P. 208.

38. Pravda, 21. September 1945.

39. Calculated from Materials at NARB, F. 4, O. 29, D. 571, P. 168.

40. Table compiled by Author, on the basis of material at NARB, F. 4, O. 29, D. 571, P. 168.

41. Gosudarstvennyi archiv Rossiiskoi Federatsii (GARF) [State Archive of the Russian Federation], F. 17, O. 132, D. 239, P. 4-6; M. Altshuler: The Agony and Liquidation of the Jewish Theatre of Belorussia 1948-1949. In: Jews in Eastern Europe, 25 (3)/1994, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, pp.64-72; A.G. Gerstejn: Sud' ba odnogo teatra. Minsk 2000.

42. NARB, F. 4, O. 29, D. 651, P. 93-98.

43. Ibid. D. 539, P. 51.

44. Ibid. P. 61.

45. Ibid. O. 22, D. 13, P. 227; D. 14, P. 22, 24-25, 32, 186; D. 15, P. 29; D. 18, Nl. 166; D. 19, P. 43, 171.

46. Table compiled by Author from materials at NARB, F. 4, O. 62, D. 38, P. 12.

47. Ibid. D. 14, P. 186; D. 17, P. 112-113; D. 18, P. 165; D. 21, P. 163, 169-170, 172.

48. To 1 January 1930, there still remained in the BSSR 366 Synagogues and 547 Jewish Communities (See: Belarus' na mjazy tysjacagodzjau. Minsk 2000, p. 215).

49. The Roman Catholic Church as well as those Eastern churches allied with Rome are considered here.

50. The Synagogue in Bobruisk was closed in 1949 on personal order of Stalin, that in Kalinkovichi in 1962; the Synagogue in Minsk still existed at the beginning of the 1990s.

51. Rules for preparation of food derived from the Tora.

52. Wedding canopy.

53. Minyan, Hebrew for Number, designates the assembly of at least ten Jewish men as a precondition for a religious service.

54. L. Smilovitsky: Jewish Religious Life in Bobruisk, 1944-1954. In: Jews in Eastern Europe (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), No.2 (27)/1995, pp.43-54. L. Smilovitsky: Jewish Religious Life in Minsk, 1944-1953. In: Jews in Eastern Europe, No. 2 (30)/1996, pp. 5-17; L. Smilovitsky: Jewish Religious Leadership in Belorussia, 1939-1953. In: Shvut (Tel Aviv University), No. 8 (24)/1999, pp. 87-122.

55. G.V. Kostyrcenko: Tajnaja politika Stalina, Vlast' i antisemitizm. Moskva, 2001, pp. 671-685.

56. L. Smilovitsky : Byelorussian Jewry and the Doctors' Plots, In: East European Jewish Affairs (London), No. 27 (2)/1997, pp. 39-53 ; L. Smilovitsky : The Non-Jewish Reaction to the "Doctors' Plot" in Belorussia: In the Light of New Documents (January-March 1953). In: Shvut, No. 9 (25)/2000, pp. 67-92.

Copyright 2005 Belarus SIG, Dr. Leonid Smilovitsky and Projektgruppe Belarus (Hg.), Assoziation A, Berlin

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