(No. 21/2004 - July 2004)
Editor: Fran Bock

We are pleased to reprint the following article from East European Jewish Affairs, Vol. 33 No. 2, Winter 2003, p. 97-112. We thank Dr. Leonid Smilovitsky and the publishers, Taylor & Francis Ltd. ( for their permission to reprint the article.

Dr. Smilovitsky gives us a scholarly and comprehensively-researched picture of one of the effects of Soviet authorities to use the so-called "Jewish card" in such important fields of state power as the public prosecutor's offices following World War II.

This article is copyrighted by Dr. Leonid Smilovitsky and Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

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


Jews in Belorussian Public Prosecutor's Offices, 1944 - 1956

by Dr. Leonid Smilovitsky,

Diaspora Research Center, Lester & Sally Entin Faculty of Humanities.

Tel Aviv University

The public prosecutor's offices were among the first organs of state power to be formed after the liberation of the republic in the summer of 1944. Their set-up and methods of work reflected the model of socialism Soviet- style. The prosecution bodies were called upon not only to maintain law and order but also to ensure the punitive character of the regime. Its representatives prosecuted in courts on behalf of the state, instituted proceedings and conducted criminal investigations, and exercised supervision over judiciary bodies, the execution of sentences and the observance of law during the term in a penitentiary establishment. The Prosecutor of the Republic was elected for a term of five years and reported to the Supreme Soviet of Belorussia. He appointed regional, city and district prosecutors, also for a term of five years. Regional public prosecutor's offices had colleges consisting of the regional prosecutor (chairman) and his two deputies, the head of the department of general supervision and the head of the investigation department. Formally, the prosecutors were c onsidered independent when discharging their duties. Their terms of reference, organisation and methods of work were presented as governed by law alone. Still, criticising the actions of the prosecution bodies in the mass media was taboo. It was only the Communist Party committees subordinate to the republican Central Committee of the Communist Party, which in turn reported to the VKP(b ) Central Committee, that were in a position to control the activities of the prosecutor's bodies (1).

Reconstruction of the Public Prosecutor's Offices

There were not many Jews in the public prosecutor's offices in the first post-war years. As a rule, they were former heads of special departments of partisan detachments, employees and higher-placed officers of military tribunals of the front-line forces and lawyers who had returned from evacuation (2). In the summer of 1944 Rachel Levina was summoned by a telegram of the BSSR Council of People's Commissars and appointed an investigator, and in 1945 she was promoted to the position of prosecutor of Rogachev District of Gomel Region (3). After graduating from the Saratov Law Institute, Samuil Grozovsky (4)was appointed prosecutor of Gressk District, Bobruisk Region. Boris Drabkin (5) was summoned from Transcaucasia to Gomel to work at the regional department of justice. Aleksandr Krupenia (6), former deputy chief of the special department of the partisan brigade named after Grizodubova, was appointed deputy prosecutor of Baranovichi in 1946. The ethnic composition of the most numerous link of public prosecution, the district public prosecutor's offices, is presented in Table 1 (7).

Table 1: Ethnic Composition of District Prosecutor's Offices in BSSR's Regions, July-Dec. 1944

Region Total Belorussians Russians Other Jews % of Jews
Belorussian SSR 177 91 71 15 4 2.3
Bobruisk 15 11 3 1 1 6.6
Baranovichi 15 5 9 2 1 6.6
Brest 15 8 5 1 -- --
Vitebsk 16 12 4 1 -- --
Gomel 15 7 6 1 1 6.6
Grodno 16 5 10 1 -- --
Minsk 20 17 1 2 1 6.6
Moghilev 14 8 6 1 -- --
Molodechno 13 6 5 1 -- --
Pinsk 11 -- 11 2 -- --
Polotsk 14 7 5 1 -- --
Polessye 13 6 6 1 -- --

As can be seen from the data cited, in 1944 the overwhelming majority of the 177 district prosecutors in Belorussia were Belorussians and Russians, 51.4 per cent and 40.1 percent respectively, while the prosecutors of other nationalities accounted for 8.5 per cent, and Jews for just 2.3 per cent. There were, as can be seen, no Jewish prosecutors in eight regions out of twelve: Brest, Vitebsk, Grodno, Moghilev, Molodechno, Pinsk, Polotsk and Polessye. This, however, was not a sign of discrimination. Many people who had been working in the public prosecutor's offices before the war had no time to escape. The majority of those left in the enemy's rear to organise the underground resistance network or sent to the occupied territories on various missions in sabotage groups or in special outfits of the People's Commissariat of the Interior (NKVD) had been killed. Soon, however, the ratio changed in favour of Jews, as is shown in Table 2 (8).

Table 2: Ethnic Composition of the Public Prosecutor's Offices in the BSSR 1944-48 (in %)

Nationality 1944 1945 1947 1948
Belorussians 51.4 55.9 49.9 48.6
Russians 40.1 34.5 33.5 32.7
Ukrainians 4.1 2.9 3.1 3.6
Jews 2.2 4.5 12.4 13.1
Other 2.2 2.2 1.1 2.0

The table shows that the ethnic composition of the public prosecutor's offices was changing. The number of Belorussians, Russians and Ukrainians was falling and that of Jews increasing. In 1944-48 the share of Belorussians dropped from 51.4 per cent to 48.4 per cent, that of Russians respectively, from 40.1 per cent to 32.7 per cent, and of Ukrainians from 4.1 per cent to 3.6 per cent. The process was to some extent sporadic. Graduates of higher and secondary law schools were coming to the public prosecutor's offices to replace people who had learned on the job and had no formal education. According to instructions effective after the war, Second World War veterans and invalids, as well as outstanding pupils, had priority rights in entering higher and secondary educational establishments. Holders of gold medals, who had obtained only excellent marks in all subjects of the secondary school curriculum. were enrolled in the institutes without the entrance examinations(9).

The Preparation of Cadres

Most Jewish students in the Minsk Law Institute were war veterans with enormous life experience, decorated with orders and medals. Among them were Arkady Tarler, Leonid Sonkin, Zakhar Budnitsky, Yakov Naimar, Grigory Folb, Iosif Barkan, David Shulkin, Isaak Burshtein, Semion Madorsky, Aizik Karon, Motik Gershikov, Abram Ostrovsky, Lev Smilovitsky, Aleksandr Lis, Peisah Meter, Boris Goldin, Mikhail Goldfarb, Grigory Fleisher, Gozenpud, Detinko, Shekhtman and Ledvich. Quite a few students w ere war invalids, including Aron Olshansky, Aleksandr Berezniak, Vladimir Kodkin, Abram Maron, Veniamin (Benyamin) Chernov, Lazar Shparberg, Boris Dyment, Emmanuil (Monia) Modelevich, Arkady Rutman, Vladimir Lensky, Tsalik Rabinovich, Abram Ivinsky, Samui l Shapiro, Grigory Skir, Lev Kotlyar, Slavin and Likhten Dan. They were all young and energetic, had many plans, and could not wait to start working in their chosen profession. Some concealed their disability so as not to be considered second-rate citizens. Known as good students, Jews also conducted volunteer work, were on friendly terms with their non-Jewish fellow students, and helped them in their studies.

In the late 1940s Jews accounted for almost half of all the graduates of the Minsk Law Institute, which had an impact on the general ethnic pattern of the public prosecutor's offices, the Bar, the investigating bodies and the judiciary. The difference could have been greater had some graduates not been assigned to jobs elsewhere in the Soviet Union. The trend was to leave Belorussians in the republic and send the graduates of other nationalities away. Those who would not comply were not assigned to any positions and were left to look for a job on their own. And the chances of finding a job off the official route were slim. On her graduation from the Minsk Law Institute, Daria Evnina was assigned to a job in the public prosecutor's office in Bryansk Region of the Russian Federation and agreed to go there. Vladimir Lensky was assigned to Smolensk Reg ion, Peisah Meter to Murmansk Region, Polina Ryabenkaia and Abram Volfson to Orenburg Region, and Isaak (Aizik) Karan, Semion Madorsky and Lev Shpilkin to Kemerovo Region, etc.

Jews were appointed to entry-level jobs in remote areas of the Belorussian SSR more often than Russians and Belorussians. Zinovy Feigin began working as an investigator in the public prosecutor's office of Pruzhansky District of Brest Region. The prosecutor, his deputy, investigator, secretary, cleaning woman and groom - this was the entire staff. The team was multi-national - prosecutor Pyotr Mikhailov was a Chuvash, his assistant, Valentin Taskin, a Russian, the secretary, Esfir Hazan, a Jewess (10). Feigin's position had been vacant for six months before he arrived. The prosecutor' s assistant was half-deaf, but he also performed the job of investigator. So Feigin was given 12 criminal cases for investigation from the very start. He conducted interrogations and searches, brought charges, and gave orders for offenders to be taken into custody. The bulk of the cases were connected with property, mostly fraud and misappropriation of co-operative property. Transportation was a problem: the office had only one horse. Long distances had to be covered on foot, and so the regional public prosecutor's office allocated money for a bicycle for Feigin (11). In 1950 Lev Levin was appointed assistant prosecutor of Zheludok District and Isaak Zak investigator of the public prosecutor's office of Zelva District of Grodno Region, while their Belorussian fellow student, whose marks were much lower, was appointed assistant prosecutor of Grodno Region for civil judiciary supervision (12).

The following graduates began their careers as investigators of the public prosecutor's offices: Donkhin was sent to work in Berezino District, Shindler in Kobrin District, Gozenaud in Ivatsevichi District of Brest Region; Zelik Feigin worked in Pruzhany District, Tumarkin in Zhabinka District of Pinsk Region; in Minsk Region were Abram Pivinsky, Mikhail Gitlin and Slavin (Rudensk); E. Epstein was assigned to Khotimsk District of Moghilev Region; Y. Shapiro and Iosif Lichterman were given jobs in Gomel Region. In Grodno Region, Afanasy Khalipsky and Samuil Shapiro were deputy district prosecutors of Grodno District, Abram Reisin, Lev Tsirkin and Kovalenko were assistant prosecutors respectively in Grodno, Slutsk and Oshmyany District; in Vitebsk Region, Max Zamalin was investigator at the public prosecutor's office, etc. As a rule, Jews were only given jobs of secondary importance, as investigators, assistant and deputy prosecutors and employees of regional public prosecutor's offices. They were seldom promoted to responsible positions, even at district level. From 1944 to 1948 the number of Jewish district prosecutors in the republic rose from 4 to just 8, out of the total of 177 district prosecutors. From the autumn of 1948 onwards the enrolment of Jews in law educational establishments was cut drastically (13).

Working Conditions in the Public Prosecutor's Offices

Work in the public prosecutor's office was far from easy. The demands of the party committees were often unpredictable. Party functionaries interfered in the judicial process, pressed for convictions when court rulings were passed, would not take into account important attenuating circumstances, and resorted to command-administration methods. These unlawful actions hindered the normal process of investigation and supervision. Many cases were framed, tendentious and running counter to law. The failures were, however, always blamed on the public prosecutor's offices. In August 1947 a session of the bureau of the Central Committee of the Belorussian Communist Party discussed the performance of the public prosecutor's offices. 'Politically dubious' and 'amoral' employees, not capable of upholding the interests of the party and the state were exposed both in the public prosecutor's offices of the central apparatus and in the outlying areas. As many as 85 employees were dismissed from the system, and court proceedings were instituted against four of them. Republic prosecutor Ivan Vetrov was reprimanded for inadequate selection of cadres, blunders when exercising prosecutor's supervision and wrong reaction to criticism (14).

As of 1 January 1948 only 93.9 per cent of positions in the public prosecutor's offices were filled. The insufficient educational and professional level of personnel had a negative impact on their efficiency. While party members accounted for 80 per cent of the staff, only 29.7 per cent of the employees of the public prosecutor's offices had higher or incomplete higher education. In the process of the examinations after passing a professional advancement course, some of the students were dismissed on account of their low educational level (15). In 1948 deputy republican prosecutor V. Goncharov reported to the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Belorussian Communist Party M. Zimyanin on the results of checking the general cultural level of the public prosecutor's offices employees. The screening (interviews and answers to questionnaires) in the check in Gomel, Grodno, Minsk, Moghilev, Molodechno and Polotsk regions showed that many prosecutors and investigators had but a vague notion of international affairs and did not read Political and legal literature or fiction (16). Urgent steps were taken to remedy the situation. As many as 25 employees with experience of practical work in party and Soviet bodies were sent on a professional advancement course for prosecutors in Leningrad, 69 employees began studying at the Minsk Law Institute, another 85 were enrolled in evening universities of Marxism-Leninism, and 426 employees of the courts and public prosecutor's offices were sent to study at the republic extra-mural law school (17).

Professional Activities

Jews showed themselves to be good practical workers. In Pinsk, Ilya Kuperman reached the level of senior assistant to the regional prosecutor for investigation, Elizaveta Lekhchina was senior investigator of the Pinsk public prosecutor's office, Zinovy (Zelik) Feigin was Deputy Prosecutor of Pinsk. In Pinsk Region, Yefim (Khaim) Kacherovsky headed the investigation department of the regional prosecutor's office, and Sima Lvovich was assistant prosecutor for civil cases. In Brest Region, Ledvich was appointed head of the department for penal and judicial supervision. Emmanuil Modelevich, Lev Markhasin, Grigory Skir, Lev Galperin, Abram Ivinsky, Boris Kuznetsov. (both legs had been amputated) and Anatoly Zhivov (Berezino District) were assistant prosecutors in Minsk Region. In Grodno Region, Samuil Shapiro was appointed senior assistant to the regional prosecutor for minors' affairs. In Moghilev Region, Sara Gipkina was deputy prosecutor of Dribinsk District, Afanasy Khalipsky was prosecutor of Moghilev District, Aron Hazanov worked in Kopylsky District. Iosif Volfson, Boris Plotkin, Isaak Fradin, Anna (Hanna) Bregman, Bronia Shkolnikova and Polina Tsyrlina were deputy district prosecutors in Gomel Region. In Bobruisk Region, Samuil Grozovsky was assistant regional prosecutor, and Geller head of the penal-judicial department in the regional public prosecutor's office. In Vitebsk Region, Maks Zamalin was senior investigator, Grigory Minkov was deputy prosecutor of Beshenkovichy District, and Abram Gusakov was prosecutor of Polotsk District. Aizik Rokhlenko became prosecutor of the Belorussian Railways (in 1949 he was transferred to Saratov, RSFSR), etc. None of them shunned responsibility; they coped with their duties, fulfilled the assignments given them meticulously and on time, and displayed initiative.

In the early 1950s a new position of prosecutor criminalist was introduced. The job included introduction of special means and scientific methods of investigation into practice. Criminalists were equipped with a set of instruments and materials for, inter alia, photographing and copying and for work with traces. Jews successfully mastered the new techniques. Among other things, they went out to inspect the scenes of accidents, found and studied evidence, performed investigating actions working in close contact with expert bodies, and assisted in conducting expert evaluations. Lev Levin worked as a prosecutor criminalist in. Grodno Region, Leonid Gozenpud in Brest Region, Yakov Shapiro in Gomel Region, etc. Republican Prosecutor A. I. Mogilnitsky highly evaluated the work of Yakov Shapiro and promoted him head of the investigating department of the public prosecutor's office of Gomel Region.

The Jews' professionalism, conscientiousness and creative approach to their work evoked respect. Despite the pressure brought to bear on them, their immediate superiors sought ways to provide incentives for their Jewish subordinates. Those who excelled at their job were given departmental housing out of turn, bonuses and vouchers for recreation and sanatorium facilities at a discount, and were allowed to buy at exclusive distribution outlets consumer goods and foodstuffs that were in short supply elsewhere. Take, for example, the case of Lev Levin. Born in Rechitsa, Gomel Region, he fought in the war. In 1950, on graduating from the Minsk Law Institute, he was appointed assistant prosecutor of Zheludok District of Grodno Region. This was a small farming area and there was no work there for his wife, also a lawyer. Republican deputy prosecutor Goncharov intimated that unless Levin took the job, his career would be ruined. So Lev's wife and daughter remained in Minsk, and he left for the place of his work. In his capacity of assistant prosecutor he represented public prosecution at court trials, wrote statements on various civil cases, and investigated complaints. Shortly afterwards he was appointed investigator of the Grodno District public prosecutor's office. Under law, an investigator of the public prosecutor's office was in a position to give assignments on specific cases to the militia and OBHSS (the department dealing with the misappropriation of socialist property). Levin was energetic, worked long hours, and prepared cases thoroughly so that they would not be returned for additional investigation or entail unlawful arrests and acquittals. The number of cases he had investigated was included in the monthly statistical report sent to the regional public prosecutor's offices (18).

As an incentive, Grodno District Prosecutor Kazakov succeeded in having a flat allocated to Levin in an eight-flat house for District Executive Committee employees that was under construction, and the family reunited again. It was no easy matter: the district prosecutor had to talk with all three party district committee secretaries personally. In 1954 Lev was appointed prosecutor supervising the militia (police) on behalf of the public prosecutor's office of Grodno Region. He looked into administrative practice, the lawfulness of the arrests, whether a refusal to institute criminal proceedings was justified, and whether the investigation was unbiased, and exposed the cases of failure to register crimes and other malpractices. Levin became a recognised authority in his field; he tutored investigator trainees , shared his experience, and published articles on premeditated murders with aggravating circumstances in the journal Sledstvennaia praktika SSSR. In 1955 he was appointed prosecutor of the investigating department of Grodno Region, then promoted to the position of chief of general supervision of the regional public prosecutor's office. That was the peak of his career. He worked in this capacity for 25 years until his retirement (19).

Removal of Jews from Public Prosecutor's Offices

The ideological drives in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s-early 1950s (20) made for a more homogenous ethnic pattern in the public prosecutor's offices. Sensing a hostile attitude on the part of their colleagues, many Jews chose to leave the public prosecutor's offices. Some took up jobs in legal advice offices and in courts of arbitration and notary bureaus, and became legal advisers in industrial enterprises and government institutions. Others were fired or demoted. In 1949 the district party committee dispatched prosecutor of Cherven' District Iosif Shapiro, who had earned high esteem, to work as chairman of a poorly-performing kolkhoz. When in two years' time the kolkhoz became a front-ranker, the authorities decided to transfer Shapiro to a new job, but the kolkhoz members would not let him go. Shapiro left for Minsk and began working at a legal advice office (21).}In November 1949 an anonymous report against prosecutor of Rogachev District Rachel Levina reached the authorities. She was accused of surrounding herself with relatives and friends, who allegedly prevented her from doing her job properly. Levina was known as a good and competent worker and was a member of the Communist party district committee and a deputy of the district Soviet. Firing her would not have been an easy matter, so the administrative department of the Central Committee of the Belorussian Communist Party appointed her prosecutor of Buda-Koshelevo District (22). In 1952 Gomel Region deputy prosecutor Abram Glantman was offered a job in Rechitsa, which was an obvious demotion. But he refused to go to a district seat some 60 km away from Gomel, as his wife, a neurologist, could not expect to find a job there. He chose to leave the public prosecutor's office and became a legal adviser in a shoe factory (23).

A widespread ploy in removing Jewish lawyers was refusing to take them back on after a lengthy leave for family reasons. Such things as the birth of a child, change of the place of residence, studies, state of health could lead to loss of job in this profession. The personnel departments had secret instructions not to exceed the' Jewish' quotas and so people were denied employment on all sorts of pretexts. Appeals sent to the press and to Soviet and party bodies were of no avail. In rare cases, personal connections could help, when people managed to 'turn a blind eye' to the fact that a Jew had been taken on, even though the new job was on a much lower level than the previous one. In 1948 Asia Kacherovskaia graduated from the law institute and for the first two years worked in Minsk as assistant city prosecutor for minors' affairs and then as investigator of the public prosecutor's office of the Stalin District of Minsk. After the birth of her daughter in 1950 she quit her job and never again worked in the public prosecutor's office in the capital. She moved to Grodno and got a job of legal adviser at a garment factory where she worked for 35 years (24). The following table gives a vivid picture of how Jews were being removed from the public prosecutor's offices at district and city level (25):

Table 3: Ethnic Composition of District and City Prosecutors in the BSSR, 1948-1953

Year Total Belorussian % Russian % Jews % Other %








































(* - The increase in the number of prosecutors from 173 in 1950 to 226 in 1953 is accounted for by the fact that a new position of prosecutor criminalist was introduced in the regions, major cities and a number of districts of the republic.)

Gentiles who supported or encouraged their Jewish subordinates were removed from office, every so often without any reason being given, though the motives for such actions were obvious. Mikhail Alekseyev, prosecutor of Grodno Region, was an experienced, exacting and fair person. Successfully working in his team were assistant prosecutor of Grodno District Samuil Shapiro, assistant city prosecutor of Grodno Abram Reisin, investigator of the public prosecutor's office of Zelva District Isaak Zak, assistant prosecutor of Oshmyansky District Kovalenko, prosecutor of the regional investigating department Lev Levin, head of the investigating department of the regional public prosecutor's office Efim Kacherovsky, and others. The pretext for removing Alekseyev was a conflict with the First Secretary of the Grodno Region party committee. The public prosecutor's office exposed numerous facts of kolkhozes buying butter in the consumer co-operation chain and delivering it to the milk- processing plants in the region instead of milk. Milk was in short supply, especially in late autumn, winter and early spring. Alekseyev was accused of raising obstacles to the fulfilment of the state plan and pensioned off, although he was in good health and only 56 years old.

At the same time, the regime needed reliable servants who could be entrusted with labour-intensive jobs. Jews, who did not expect to make a swift career, suited this role perfectly. In 1948 Samuil Grozovsky, at that time prosecutor of Gressk District, was appointed assistant prosecutor of Bobruisk for civil cases. The regional prosecutor highly appraised him, noting his conscientiousness and modesty (26). In 1953 Republican Prosecutor A. Bondar protected Geller, head of the criminal investigating department of the Bobruisk regional public prosecutor's office, against groundless attacks. The regional party committee demanded his demotion and transfer to the position of assistant prosecutor of Osipovichy District. A. Rudakov, head of the administrative division of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belorussia, supported Bondar and agreed that the claims of the Bobruisk regional party committee were unfounded (27). A letter of reference submitted by A. Bondar, who highly estimated the qualification of his subordinate, helped to tip the scale. Incidentally, job references of the time are a unique source of information. On the one hand, they are just a set of cliches used to characterise one's subordinates. On the other hand, facts had to be presented in such away that in case events took an adverse turn (disciplining, reprimand, demotion, dismissal, arrest), the writer could vindicate himself and avoid reprisals. Extreme caution and prudence were required from people who would give positive references to Jews holding even low-level administrative and managerial positions, let alone positions in the party and Soviet hierarchy.

Status of Jews in Public Prosecutor's Offices at the Beginning of 1950s

By the summer of 1953 as many as 1,406 persons were employed in the public prosecutor's offices in the republic, 211 of them Jewish (15.9 per cent). With the share of Jews in the total population of less than 1 per cent, their share in the public prosecutor's offices was impressive. By the summer of 1953 the ratio of Jews and non-Jews holding various posts in the public prosecutor's office in some of the regions of the republic was as shown in Table 4 (28):


Total Jews %




























City of Minsk
























Belorussian SSR




The share of Jews was highest in the regional public prosecutor's offices of Minsk (21 per cent), Gomel (20 per cent), Polessye (18.6 per cent), Vitebsk (16 .2 percent) and Moghilev (15.9 percent). This was for a number of reasons. Minsk was the capital of the republic and naturally many lawyers were needed there to work in various administrative structures, ministries, divisions, party committees and economic bodies. Before the war, major cities, regional and district seats in Belorussia had had a considerable share of the Jewish population. Thus, on 1 January 1939, there were as many as 104,704 Jews, or 27.11 per cent of the total population, living in Minsk Region, 62,146 Jews (24.53 per cent) in Gomel Region, 24,141 (32.08 per cent) in Polessye Region, 68,950 (20.05 per cent) in Vitebsk Region, and 69,454 (21.95 per cent) in Moghilev Region (29).Part of the Jewish population of the eastern regions of Belorussia, with the exception of Minsk, had time to escape. After the liberation of the republic they came back, and their children were enrolled in various educational establishments. In Belorussia 's western regions, only a few Jews had survived and vacancies in the public prosecutor's offices there were filled with people sent from Minsk, eastern Belorussia or the Russian Federation. This is why there were fewer Jewish lawyers, including employees of the public prosecutor's offices, in Brest Region (7.5 per cent), Baranovichi Region (11.2 per cent), Grodno Region (11.9 per cent) and Molodechno Region (11 per cent). The situation was somewhat different in Polessye Region with the regional seat in Mozyr. The region was located on the border between the eastern and the western regions of the republic. In the first post-war years Polessye was the target of raids by the Ukrainian nationalist underground operating from neighbouring Volyn and Rovno regions of the Ukrainian SSR, and additional personnel were recruited to the Polessye law enforcement bodies to thwart terrorist activities (30).

In the early 1950s Jews were widely represented in all divisions of the public prosecutor's offices. They occupied positions ranging from the operations staff and investigators of the public prosecutor's offices, assistant district, city and regional prosecutors to employees of the regional public prosecutor's offices, deputy prosecutors and district prosecutors. This can be seen in Table 5 (31):

Table 5: Ethnic and Professional Patterns of the Public Prosecutor's Offices of the BSSR, as of June 1, 1953


Total Belorussian Russian Jews Jews, %
Operations Staff






Employees of regional offices






Prosecutors (regions, cities, districts)






Assistant district prosecutors












Total for BSSR






The Jews were for the most part investigators (25.2 per cent), assistant district prosecutors (19.2 per cent), and employees of regional public prosecutor's offices (18.7 per cent). There were just 2.2 per cent of Jews among the district prosecutors. This was a nomenklatura position requiring approval by regional and city party committees which the latter were reluctant to give in view of the strict instructions of the republican and all-Union Communist Party Central Committees. A large share of Jews among the investigators (25.2 per cent) was the result of several factors. The investigator's job required industriousness and a sense of responsibility. The law schools assigned to these positions graduates with an extensive life experience and the highest grades. As a rule, they were people who had fought at the front or in partisan detachments and were capable of making independent decisions. The best investigators could be promoted to the positions of assistant or deputy district prosecutor. But that was the ceiling above which Jews were as a rule not promoted.

For Jews, the chances of promotion were very slim. Some of them reached the level of department heads in city or regional public prosecutor's offices. The lucky few managed to become heads of general supervision or operations record departments of city or regional public prosecutor's offices. Jews who were heads of departments supervising penitentiary institutions or investigation at the Ministry of Internal Affairs or State Security Ministry were an exception. A number of Jews were working in the regional prosecutor's offices as accountants, statisticians or ancillary personnel. The position of deputy district prosecutor was considered a career peak for Jews. In 1949-56 there was not a single Jew among city or regional prosecutors in the republic. That is why most of the graduates who had to leave for the place of the job they were assigned to would keep the job for the three years they were obliged to work there and then change their profession, and move to Minsk or return to their native parts.

Partial liberalization of the public prosecutor's offices

Stalin's death in March 1953 and the political developments it entailed brought about considerable changes in the work of the public prosecutor's offices. The general liberalisation of the Soviet regime and the liberalisation of society called for a restructuring of the work of the judicial system. Measures to consolidate law and order were taken. In September 1953 the Special Conference at the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs was abolished. This was the organ which had arbitrarily and practically without court proceedings, passed such sentences as exile, arrest or capital punishment, euphemistically termed the 'supreme form of social protection' . Also abolished were military prosecutor's offices and tribunals functioning in the framework of the State Security Ministiy forces. Citizens could no longer be taken into custody without a court ruling (32).

In the second half of 1953 and in 1954 the Public Prosecutor's Office of the BSSR concentrated on strengthening legality and combating crime. As many as 14,743 check-ups were carried out by way of general supervision and over 10,000 protests lodged against cases of miscarriage of justice revealed. The number of people against whom criminal proceedings were instituted dropped by 16 per cent (22,733 persons in 1953 as against 19,077 in 1954). The number of charges of embezzlement of 'socialist' property went down drastically, from 6,434 persons accused of this offence in 1953 to 4,600 persons in 1954, or 28.6 per cent less. This cut the number of complaints filed by citizens against the actions of the public prosecutor's office by 11 per cent (33). An important result was that the convicting slant was abandoned. More attention was paid to the rights of the accused and to the presumption of innocence. In 1953 13.6 per cent of court sentences were reversed. Likewise, People's Courts of the Brest, Gomel, Moghilev and Molodechno regions examined cases more thoroughly. In 1953 32.3 per cent of all court rulings were reversed. By 1 June 1955 regional rehabilitation boards considered 13,631 cases under which 23,367 persons had been convicted (34). Table 6 illustrates the progress of the rehabilitation process in Belorussia after the change of the country's political leadership (35):

Table 6: Rehabilitation of People Convicted in Belorussia of "Counterrevolutionary" Crimes, 1953-1955

Decision Adopted

No. Cases No. People
Fully Acquitted 176 312
Change of charges 223 367
Term of punishment reduced 4719 7901
Decree on amnesty of 3/27/53 Applied 1580 2250
Exile replaced with settlement 87 137
Reopening of case denied 6808 13,130
Returned for additional investigation 38 80

For all that, the process of mass early release of unlawfully convicted citizens, and the rehabilitation of victims of mass political reprisals did not become possible until 1956, that is, until the decisions of the 20th Congress of the CPSU. Former employees of the judicial system and law enforcement bodies, party and Soviet functionaries who themselves had been acquitted and released shortly before that, were often included into the rehabilitation boards. As a result, 29,012 persons were rehabilitated in Belorussia up to 1962. Later, however, after L.I. Brezhnev took over, and the phenomenon of Stalinism was reassessed, the process slowed down (36).


To sum up, in the first post-war decade, from the liberation of Belorussia in July 1944 to the 20th Congress of the CPSU in February 1956, the situation of the Jews in the public prosecutor's office passed through several stages. When the public prosecutor's offices were being restored after the liberation, they were in demand as highly qualified workers, capable of heading practical work, tackling vital issues and passing on their experience. Jewish young men and women, many of whom had fought in the army and in partisan detachments, entered law institutes, making up 30 to 40 per cent of the student body. They had been brought up on the stereotypes of the Stalinist model of socialism and differed but little from their non-Jewish peers. Jewish lawyers had no choice but to accept the realities of the time and to try to adjust themselves to them. The position of Jews working in the public prosecutor's office was dubious. On the one hand, they were part of the punitive system and were obliged to uphold its interests, while on the other, they were themselves victims of the policy of state anti-Semitism. Although they were loyal civil servants, the regime mistrusted them. Jews were given the most labour-intensive jobs of secondary importance and denied promotion.

The outbreak of the Cold War brought about the isolation of the USSR on the world arena, which in turn aggravated state anti-Semitism. The admittance of Jews to law institutes was curtailed drastically, their professional advancement was hindered, and they were demoted or fired for reasons not connected with their performance. After Stalin's death in March 1953 the overall liberalisation in the country did not affect ethnic issues. The image of a Jewish prosecutor speaking on behalf of the state ran at variance with the stereotype created by the official policy and the mass media. No wonder subsequent years saw the further ousting of Jews from the public prosecutor's offices, which compelled them to change their occupation or quit practising law altogether.

(The English translation of this article was made possible by a generous contribution from the American Jewish Distribution Committee. )


1. Ocherki po istorii gosudarstva i prava BSSR (Sketches of the History of the State and Law of the BSSR) (Minsk, 1958); Istoriia gosudarstva i prava Belorusskoi SSR (History of the State and Law of the Belorussian SSR), Vol. 2 (Minsk, 1973); A. F. Vishnevsky, Ocherki istorii gosudarstva i prava Respubliki Belarus, 1917-1995 (Sketches of the History of the State and Law of the Republic of Belarus, 1917-1995) (Minsk, 1995); Gistoriya dzyarzhavy i prava Belarusi u dakumentakh i materyalakh (History of the State and Law of Belarus in Documents and Materials) (Minsk, 1998); A. Bodak, Natsionalnaia politika v BSSR. 1943-1955 gg. (Ethnic Policy in the BSSR, 1943-1955), author's abstract of Ph.D. thesis, Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of Belarus (Minsk, 1997).

2. L. Smilovitsky, Katastrofa evreev v Belorussii, 1941-1944 (The Holocaust in Belorussia, 1941-1944) (Tel Aviv, 2000), p. 30.

3. Rachel Levina (b. 1907), initially a dressmaker from Ptich Station, Polessye region, graduated from the Minsk State Law Institute in 1935 and worked as a prosecutor in Bykhov and Klimovichy districts. In 1941-44 she was district prosecutor in Stalingrad region and received awards and certificates of merit. See National Archive of the Republic of Belarus (NARB), f. 4, op. 53, d. 11, l. 22.

4. Samuil Grozovsky (1908-?), initially an unskilled worker from Uzda shtetl, then a fitter at the Kirov Plant in Minsk. He graduated from the military-political school of the Western Front in Spassk. At the front he was political instructor of a motor-rifle battalion. Having been wounded in 1943, he studied at the Saratov Law Institute. See NARB, f. 4, op. 53, d. 11, l.169.

5. Boris Drabkin (1907-1990), initially a typesetter at the Polespechat Printing House in Gomel, he was a graduate of the Minsk Law Institute. Before the war he was chairman of the Penal Chamber of the Gomel Regional Court. In June 1941 he was appointed a member of the military tribunal of the Dnieper-Dvina River Shipping Administration. He then served as head of the military tribunal of the City of Grozny garrison and as a member of the tribunal of the Transcaucasian Front (author's archive, employment book of Boris Lvovich Drabkin).

6. Author's archive, manuscript by David Kolpenitsky, Chetvertyi pogrom (The Fourth Pogrom) (Nes-Tsiona (Israel), 2001).

7. The table was compiled by the author on the basis of NARB materials, f. 4, op. 109, d. I, ll. 111-22.

8. The table was compiled on the basis of NARB, f. 4, op. 29, d. 539, ll. 78-80; op. 109, d. I, ll. 1-4; d. 5, l. 21.

9. Narysy gistoryi Belarusi. Chastka 2 (Sketches of Belarusian History, Part 2) (Minsk, 1995), 360.

10. Esfir Hazan was taken into the public prosecutor's office because her husband was the secretary of the district newspaper, Leninskii put '. During the occupation the Hazans were with the partisans. Hazan was affiliated with the Communist Party of Western Belorussia, was a member of the Executive Committee of the International Organization of Aid to Workers (MOPR), and worked in Belgium and a number of Latin American countries.

11. Author's archive, interview with Zelik Feigin on November 12, 1997 in Jerusalem.

12. Author's archive, letter from Lev Levin of Brooklyn dated 2 March 2001.

13. A memorandum addressed to First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belorussia Nikolai Gusarov, '0 nenormalnom ukomplektovanii minskikh juridicheskogo, politekhnicheskogo, meditsinskogo institutov i instituta narodnogo khozyajstva BSSR v 1947/48 uchebnom godu' (Abnormal Enrolment in the Minsk Law, Polytechnic, Med ical and BSSR National Economy Institutes in the 1947/48 School Year). See NARB, f. 4, op. 29, d. 571, I. 34; 'O sostoyanii uchebno-vospitatelnoi i nauchnoi raboty v minskom juridicheskom institute' (On the Situation Concerning Educational and Scientific Work in the Minsk Law Institute), decree of the Minsk Region Committee of the Belorussian Communist Party of 3 November 1949. See: NARB, f. 4, op. 62, d .72, ll. 377-86.

14. NARB, f. 4, op. 29, d. 539, ll. 79, 81.

15. Ibid, op. 29, l. 86.

16. Ibid, f. 53, op. 29, d. 11, 1. 263.

17. Ibid, op. 29, d. 539, ll. 82-83; A. V. Lyutsko, 'Deyatelnost' KPB po podboru, rasstanovke i vospitaniyu kadrov. 1946-1950' (The Work of the CPB in the Field of Selecting, Appointing and Educating Cadres, 1946-1950) (Minsk, 1975).

18. In July 1952 an attempt on Levin's life was made in a village in which he was investigating a case. The chairman of the local kolkhoz had invited the investigator to stay at his home and on the second night of his stay a bullet hit the bed where Levin was supposed to sleep. Fortunately, earlier that evening he had left without intoning anybody.

19. Lev Levin retired of his own accord. He had been commended 41 times by regional and republican prosecutors and by the Prosecutor-General of the USSR. He was awarded an honorary diploma of the Supreme Soviet of the BSSR (1982), the badge of Honorary Prosecutor (1985), and was given the rank of Senior Counsellor of Justice. See author's archive, personal file of Lev Levin.

20. Y. Gilboa, The Black Years of Soviet Jewry, 1939-1953 (Boston, 1971); G. Kostyrchenko, Out of the Red Shadows: Anti-Semitism in Stalin's Russia (New York, 1995); Reabilitatsiia. Politicheskie protsessy 1930-1950h gg. (Rehabilitation: Political Trials in the 1930s-1950s) (Moscow, 1991); 'Ideo l ogicheskaia chistka vtoroi poloviny 40-h godov; psevdopatrioty protiv psevdokosmopolitov' (The Ideological Purge of the Second Half of the 1940s: Pseudo-patriots versus Pseudo-cosmopolitans), in Y. Afanasyev (ed.), Sovetskoe obshchestvo: vozniknovenie, ra zvitie, istoricheskii final (Soviet Society: Emergence, Development and Historical Finale) (Moscow, 1997), 90-149.

21. Author's archive, letter from Tsodik Rytov of Netanya, 4 March 2001.

22. NARB, f. 4, op. 53, d. 11, 1.26.

23. Author's archive, letter from Izya Barbarov of Netanya, 22 March 2001.

24. Author's archive, letter from Asya Isaevna Kacherovskaya of New York, 8 Apri1 2001.

25. The table was compiled by the author on the basis of NARB materials, f. 4, op. 53, d. 38, ll. 141-53.

26. NARB, f.4, op. 53, d. 11, l. 169.

27. Ibid, d. 37, l. 32.

28. The table was compiled by the author on the basis of NARB , f. 4, op. 53, d. 38, ll. 141-53.

29. M. Altshuler (ed.), Distribution of the Jewish Population of the USSR, 1939 (Jerusalem, 1993), pp. 38-40; M.Altshuler, Soviet Jewry on the Eve of the Holocaust: A Social and Demographic Profile (Jerusalem, 1998).

30. Y. Stasevich, 'Belaruskaya partyzanka, 1944-1952' (The Belarusian Partisan Movement, 1944-1952), Belaruski Golas (Toronto), April 1975, No. 232; Yurka Vitsbich, Anty balshavitskiya paustany i partyzanskaya baratsba na Belarusi' (Anti-Bolshevik Uprisings and Partisan Struggle in Belorussia) (New York, 1996); Antysavetskiya rukhi u Belarusi. 1944-1956 (Anti-Soviet Movements in Belarus, 1944-1956) (Minsk, 1999).

31. The table was compiled by the author on the basis of NARB materials, f. 4, op. 53, d. 38, ll. 141-53.

32. Narysy gistoryi Belarusi. Chastka 2 (Sketches of Belarusian History, Part 2) (Minsk, 1995), p. 346.

33. NARB, f. 4, op. 53, d. 50, l. 5.

34. From a report by BSSR Minister of Justice Ivan Vetrov on the work of the judiciary and the legal system in the republic in 1953. See NARB, f. 4, op. 53, d. 50, 1. 27.

35. The table was compiled by the author on the basis of NARB materials, f. 4, op. 53, d. 50, l. 95.

36. N.S. Khrushchev, '0 kulte lichnosti' (The Personality Cult), Report to 20th Congress of the CPSU on 25 February 1956, Izvestiia, No.3, 1989, 152; Ocherki istorii militsii Belorusskoi SSR, 1917-1987 gg. (Sketches of the History of the Militia of the .Belorussian SSR, 1917-1987) (Minsk, 1987), pp. 258, 260; V.N. Zemskov, 'GULAG. Istoriko-sotsiologicheskiie aspekty' (Historical and Sociological Aspects of the GULAG), Sotsiologicheskiie issledovaniia. Nos. 6 and 7.1991. Published in: Jews in Belorussian Public Prosecutors's Offices, 1944-1956 // East European Jewish Affairs, Vol. 33, No 2, Winter 2003, pp. 97-112.

Copyright 2004 Belarus SIG, Dr. Leonid Smilovitsky and Taylor & Francis Ltd.

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