By Soviet Byelorussian Authorities
[called Cherven in the book]
The Goldstein-Goren Diaspora Research Center,
Tel Aviv University
To: V.I. Kozlov, Secretary,
Minsk Region Committee of the
Communist Party (b) of Belorussia
|While on an official mission in the Cherven District in April-May 1946, I heard from Idelchik, a functionary of the propaganda department of the Regional Committee of CP(b)B, and from Comrade Sytyi, Secretary of the district CP(b)B Committee, that a group of citizens of Jewish nationality were conducting a fund-raising campaign to erect a monument to the Jews shot by the German invaders. They want it to be put up in the spot where the shooting took place. According to the more specific information I have managed to obtain, the raising of money in Cherven began in November-December 1945, after Vladimir Isaakovich Fundator, allegedly a Stalin Prize Laureate from Moscow, came there. He himself donated 50,000 roubles and opened an account in a Gosbank (State Bank) branch in Moscow. Allegedly, this has been legitimatized by the government and is being supported by the Permanent Representation of the BSSR in Moscow. Fundator is sending out letters and even dispatching his representatives to district capitals of the Minsk Region to raise money. In these letters he is informing of his donation and urges people to follow suit - to donate 300 roubles and more.
In Cherven, this is being done by Abram Idolchik (stoveman), Velitovsky, accountant of the Zagotlen [Flax Purchase] office, Shats, head of the trade department of the district consumers' association, Soloveichik (hairdresser), and the rabbi's son. The latter is the cash-keeper. They are trying to open a bank account as an artel, but permission for this has been denied on the pretext that they failed to submit a document from the District Executive Committee confirming that the artel has been established.
The organizers have already compiled the list of names to be inscribed on the monument. Recently, a man from Moscow brought the design. Khrapko saw it and even made some changes in it. It is rumored that a carload of cement has already been shipped from Moscow to Cherven. A Doctor of Technical Sciences (name unknown) is very active in Minsk. Instructor of the Minsk Region Committee of the CP(b)B Idelchik knows about all this in detail.
|Ivan Poliakov, Secretary, Minsk Region Committee
of the Lenin Young Communist League of Belorussia
* * *
The above document (published for the first time and translated from Russian) must for a number of reasons be of interest to historians and the public at large. It was found in the summer of 1995 in the National Archives of the Republic of Belarus which inherited the depositories of the former Party Archives of the CC CPB Institute of the Party History. Brief as it is, the document has many connotations throwing light on the policy of the Communist Party and the Soviet state on the nationalities question and affording an insight of the true attitude of the leadership to the 'Jewish problem' in the first postwar years. Hushing up the Holocaust, refusal to admit the contribution of Jews to victory over Nazism, political harassment of 'cosmopolitans without Motherland' and 'bourgeois nationalists' who were mostly Jewish - all this is part of that attitude.
The document is expressive of the party functionaries way of thinking. It is made out as a political denunciation typical of the USSR in the latter part of the 1940s. The author of the Memorandum is Ivan Evteevich Poliakov, Secretary of the Minsk Region Committee of the LYCL of Belorussia. Not content with displaying initiative in informing his superior, Secretary of the Minsk Region Committee of the CP(b)B Vassily Ivanovich Kozlov, he ventures at generalizations, evaluations and recommendations concerning the activities of the Jewish population of the district, which the authorities consider unlawful.
Ivan Poliakov's memorandum to the Minsk Region CP(b)B Committee was prompted by the fact that he had 'discovered' the striving of the Cherven Jewish population to perpetuate the memory of their relations who had fallen victim to German genocide in the Second World War. Vladimir Isaakovich Fundator is mentioned several times as the initiator and an active participant in the project. The document, compiled on the basis of hearsay and rumors, shows that neither Poliakov himself nor the functionaries of the Cherven District Party Committee (Sytyi) and the District Executive Committee (Khrapko), nor instructor of the Minsk Region CP(b)B Committee Idelchik had any idea of who V.I. Fundator really was. The only things reported are that he came from Moscow and was 'allegedly' a Stalin Prize Laureate. The document does not elucidate why Fundator was so insistently pursuing his initiative of raising money to put up a Jewish monument. It is clear that the author of the memorandum thought these details immaterial. What was important, in his opinion, is the very intention of the Jews to put up a monument which would 'follow the canons of the national architecture' and, moreover, with the inscription in Yiddish (Sic). The raising of funds, compiling the list of the victims and the beginning of practical work on the project ('it is rumored that a carload of cement has been shipped from Moscow to Cherven') was enough for Ivan Poliakov to infer that there existed a 'nationalist-type' organization with its branches (in Uzda, Rudinsk, Smolevichi) and organizers. It is well known what consequences accusations of this kind might have for the participants in such a 'plot' in the years of postwar Stalin repressions.
Actually, the name of the Merited Inventor of the Russian Federation Vladimir Isaakovich Fundator (1903-1986), who was born in Cherven, Minsk Region, Belarus, is known not only to people familiar with the foundry practice. (He is the author of many scholarly works, winner of a USSR Council of Ministers Prize, founder of the modern technology of casting.) His methods are taught to students and used at foundries. His inventions made him one of the creators of the T-34 tank.
It is in place to note in this connection that Winston Churchill named three best kinds of World War II weapons: the British Browning gun, the German Messerschmitt-190 plane and the Soviet T-34 tank. The German generals Erich Schneider and Heinz Guderian said it was a masterpiece of weaponry. Specifically, General Guderian stressed that attempts made by German designers to replicate the T-34 tank had failed because the aluminum case of its diesel engine was unreplicable. This view was shared by Academician Nikolai Voznesensky, Chairman of the USSR State Planning Committee, who attributed the high level of the Soviet tank industry to the achievements of metallurgy and foundry work.
Much of the credit for this must go to Vladimir Fundator. Three years before the war, when he was 34, his inventions made it possible to develop a new technology to modify silumin casting by using electric crucibles. Before that, the imported technology with graphite crucibles was used in the USSR. The case of the T-34 engine was made of silumin, an aluminum alloy. A lighter engine made the tank lighter, with all the advantages following there from. Graphite crucibles for making silumin were produced only in Luga, near Leningrad, and the rejection percentage was very high. The German bombers destroyed the Luga plant in the first days of the war and, had it not been for Fundator's inventions, the Soviet defense industry could not have launched the output of the tank in so short a time. In the first months of the war, Fundator was dispatched to work in Sverdlovsk, at the Urals Heavy Machinery Plant.
Over 1941-1942, the USSR economy was being regarded to meet the war needs. In a very short time the industries had to switch over to war production and master new technologies. Of particular importance for launching mass production of armaments was a rapid development of new metal grades, rolled stock, special types of pig iron, alloyed steel. The task was complicated by the fact that before the war major metallurgical works in the east of the country (Magnitogorsk, Kuznetsk, Sverdlovsk, etc.) produced ordinary metal for various needs, and the share of high-quality metal was insignificant. When the war began, the task before the metallurgical, tractor and machine-building works was to meet the requirements of the front in armoured vehicles. Together with his colleagues, Vladimir Fundator often worked round the clock to speed up the introduction of his inventions so that the output of the T-34 engines could be started.
The tank prototype was created in 1939, with mass production launched in June 1940. The T-34 was designed both for the mobile and for position warfare. It was highly maneuverable and comparatively easy to produce. Its mass production could be quickly expanded and it took little time to repair it in field conditions. The designer team continued its work to improve the tank's qualities. In 1942, automatic welding of the special steels for the tank's hull was developed: its quality was superior to that of the manual welding and increased labour productivity eight times over. In 1943, novel assembly and welding technologies for butt joints were introduced, seams were strengthened, armor plates were unified and a new manufacturing technology for the turret and hull armor was mastered; mass production of cast parts was set going. After the Battle of the Kursk Bulge the 76-mm gun was replaced by an 85-mm one which proved effective against the German T-5 Panther and T-6 Tiger tanks from a distance of 500 to 1,000 m.
The T-34 formed the core of the tank armaments in the Red Army. By 1945, more than 40,000 tanks had been made. Besides, the famous self-propelled guns (SAU) were manufactured on the basis of the T-34 chassis. They were better than the similar German self-propelled Ferdinand guns. The SAU, like the T-34, had the same 'silumin' Fundator engines. Inventor and designer Vladimir Isaakovich Fundator, like many other Soviet Jews, made a great contribution to building up the defence capability of the Soviet Union and securing the victory over fascist Germany.
After the war, Vladimir Fundator visited his native Cherven hoping to learn about the fate of his parents and relatives. He remembered Cherven as a typical Jewish shtetl (settlement) in Belarus, where the inhabitants followed the traditions their forefathers had been creating over centuries. Before the revolution the Cherven Jews were mainly traders and artisans, and had good relations with their Belorussian neighbors. According to the 1897 census, there were 2,817 Jews in Cherven, or 62 per cent of the town's population. The October 1917 coup d'etat and the social upheavals that followed changed the demographic and ethnic pattern of the town. Jews were leaving for bigger cities in search of a better life; young people were getting an education elsewhere. Jews could then be found working in the Soviet and Party apparatus, they were called up for active military service. Alongside Belorussians, they were teachers and doctors in Cherven, worked at the sawmill, woodworking and shoemaking factories, the local power plant and the clothes-making artel. Some of them believed Soviet power and took an active part in its policy, while for others the liquidation of the NEP, collectivisation and industrialisation were bad blows. In the late 1930s, all Jewish schools were closed in Cherven, Jewish kolkhozes were dissolved and only one synagogue left in the town. The Cherven Jewish population shrank from 2,027 in 1926 to 1,491 in 1939, or to 23 per cent of the town's total.
After the signing of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact on 23 August 1939, the Soviet press carried no information about the persecution of the Jews in Poland and other countries. That is why on the eve of the war the Jewish population of Belorussia and the country as a whole did not know anything about the Nazi plans and the mortal danger they were facing. The German troops entered Cherven at the end of June, a few days after they had crossed the Soviet frontier and the hostilities had begun. The Belorussian police, an SD unit, and a Zonderkommando were formed in the town and the district. In the autumn of 1941, the occupation authorities ordered people, mostly Belorussians, living in Gryadka and Sovetskaya streets to move out. Jews were brought there and the ghetto was established. Jews were isolated; Belorussians and Russians were forbidden to communicate with them. The Jews were hardly given any food in the hope they would starve to death. All in all, there were some 2,000 inmates in the ghetto. Even before the mass action in February 1942, the Nazis were shooting the 'misbehaving' Jews - party members and those whom they suspected of conducting active Soviet work in the past - at Cherven's Jewish cemetery almost daily. On February 1, 1942, at 6 AM, the ghetto was surrounded by increased police details. The punitivesquads were looking around Cherven for the Jews that had hidden. In the town hospital they found one Gitlin who had had his leg amputated, in another ward they found a young Jewish woman who had just given birth. They were forced out of their beds and brought to the ghetto. A few hours later people were driven to the Village of Zametovka, Kolodizhsky Village Soviet, and ordered to stop at the place that bore the name of Glinishche. The policemen Razmyslovich, Shirshov and Yakovlev brought spades and a crate of cartridges on a sleigh. Some local Belorussians were ordered to dig a pit. The massacre began at noon. The doomed were told to undress down to their underwear and then were pushed to the brink of the pit in groups of 30 to 40 and shot. On that day, 1,400 people were killed there, among them the parents of Vladimir Isaakovich Fundator - Maria Iosifovna and Isaak Izrailevich.
Cherven was liberated by the Red Army in July 1944, and in the autumn of the same year, representatives of the Extraordinary Commission for establishing and investigating the crimes and atrocities of German fascist invaders on the temporarily occupied territory of the USSR came to the town. Five common graves were opened, witnesses and eye-witnesses were interrogated, and lists of victims and war criminals compiled. On November 3, 1994, the Cherven District Committee of Support to the USSR Extraordinary State Commission headed by District Party Committee Secretary Kuzma Kravchenko drew up a report describing the details of these crimes.
It was established that in Cherven, people were shot not only in the vicinity of the Jewish cemetery (Minskaya Street, 1,750 people), but also in a number of other places, specifically in Kurganie and Kirpichnoe urotshistshes [stows] (400 people), Bobruiskaia Street (315 people). All in all, 6,321 civilians were killed in the Cherven District during the occupation, 1,240 of these were burned. Also killed were 766 Soviet POWs. The executors were men from the Cherven Zondercommando. Grigory Rusetsky (commander of the detachment), Philip Razmyslovich, Maxim Kitov, Dmitrii Zenkovich and Karl Zhdanovich were especially cruel. Vladimir Fundator set himself the goal of perpetuating the memory of the dead ghetto inmates. He began corresponding with their relatives and compiling lists of victims. The monument was to have an inscription in Yiddish: 'To the Jews, Victims of Fascism' to be followed by the names of the dead. V. Fundator arranged for pig iron plates with the names of about 1,000 people engraved on them to be cast at the Moscow Stankolit Plant. According to his daughter, Ninel Vladimirovna Volokh, the plates were even brought to Cherven in 1946. However, Fundator was not destined to implement his idea.
In the latter part of the 1940s, state anti-Semitism in the USSR was gaining momentum. Against the background of the Cold War which had just begun and the ideological campaigns spearheaded against cosmopolitism 'without Motherland', 'Jewish nationalism, praising the 'bourgeois West' and against religion, the Jews were considered by the regime to be the most vulnerable target. The above-mentioned document specifies that the cash raised for erecting the monument was handed for safe-keeping to a rabbi's son. This alone was sufficient to put paid to the idea. In 1946-1947, Kondratii Ulasevich wrote in secret reports to Panteleimon Ponomarenko and Nikolai Gusarov that 'before the war, Jews did not display any interest in religion, while now they seem to have shifted to religious fanaticism more that any other nationality'. Ulasevich drew the attention of the Party and Soviet leadership of Belorussia to the fact that 'in the guise of religiosity, nationalists are trying to bring it home to the Jews' that they should stick closer together, restore and maintain ties with world Zionist organizations, talk about the Jewish people's sacrifices in the war years, make monuments to the war dead, etc.
It goes without saying that this stance of the CP(b)B organs, which acted on relevant instructions from Moscow, was well known to Ivan Poliakov when he was preparing his memorandum to the Minsk Region CP(B)B Committee. Hence the confident tone of the document and the inference that it was highly probable that a nationalist Jewish organization might exist in the Cherven and adjacent regions. Soviet bodies of power put an end to the activities of the initiative group headed by V. Fundator under the pretext that monuments would be erected to all victims of Nazism according to plans and therefore there was no need to emphasise their nationality. Meanwhile, local inhabitants were using the plates prepared for the monument for their own needs and the state security bodies took an interest in Vladimir Isaakovich. The MGB of the BSSR began to investigate the 'true reasons' for his correspondence with the relatives of the Jews that had perished in Cherven. The threat of being accused of having become 'an agent of international Zionism' was looming large for Vladimir Fundator. He was fired and in 1949-1951 was jobless. Ilya Ehrenburg intervened and after a telephone call from the CC VKP(b) he was given a job. However, in 1953 Vladimir Fundator was fired again, this time in connection with the 'doctors' case'. It cannot be excluded that only the death of Joseph Stalin saved him from even more tragic circumstances. In the same year of 1953, the All-Union Research Institute of Casting Machine-Building (VNIIlitmash) took him on and he worked there till he passed away in 1986.
In the 1970s a standard monument was at long last installed with the authorities' permission on the spot in Cherven where the shooting had taken place. A simple granite tombstone bore the inscription that 2,000 Soviet citizens killed by German fascist invaders were lying there. The nationality of the victims was not mentioned, as was the accepted practice in those years. The common grave, deliberately depersonalised to suit the ideological dogmata of the Communist era, remains anonymous. At the end of the 1980s there was already no Jewish community in Cherven to speak of. According to the 1989 census, there remained only 88 Jews out of the district's population of 41,603. Nine of them lived in the countryside. The protagonists of the analysed documents, Vassily Ivanovich Kozlov and Ivan Evteevich Poliakov, made a brilliant career. Having climbed all the rungs of the Komsomol-Party-Soviet hierarchy, they reached its top and for a long time headed the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Belorussian SSR. Many enterprises, streets, and other public places in the republic are still named after them. All this gives grounds to assert that a revaluation and a new interpretation of the republic's history are still very painful and will take the researchers much effort and time.
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