Stalin (Djugashvili), Joseph Vissarionovitch

   Dictator of the Soviet Union. Stalin was born and educated in Georgia when it was under czarist rule, and as a young man he joined LENIN’S Bolshevik group within the Russian Social Democratic Party. After Lenin’s death Stalin eliminated his opponents, chief among whom was Leon TROTSKY, and from the late 1920s until his death was absolute ruler of the USSR.
   All through his political life Stalin had to deal with Jews as a group and as individuals and his behaviour was curiously inconsistent. In a pamphlet written before the 1917 revolution he denied that the Jews were a nation, but when he was commissar for nationalities from 1917–23, he permitted the establishment of Jewish cultural and administrative organizations. In the 1930s he sharply condemned anti-Semitism, but set about liquidating many of the Jewish institutions that he had earlier encouraged. In 1948 he supported the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. But from the end of the same year until his death he embarked on a series of vicious purges of Jews and attacks on ‘Zionism’, including the SLáNSKý trial in Czechoslovakia. The campaign culminated in the notorious ‘doctors’ plot’ in 1953. Nine doctors, six of them Jews, were accused of conspiring to kill Soviet leaders. (The doctors’ plot allegation was probably in part an attempt to oust L.Beria, the minister of the interior and head of the Secret Police, from his position.) At the same time a press offensive against international Jewish organizations was set in process. Stalin’s attitude to the Jews was often opportunistic. It was sometimes convenient for him to pander to popular anti-Semitism; on the other hand, his support for a Jewish state in 1948 was an attempt to weaken the British in the Middle East. But personal anti-Semitism was also involved, as shown by his hostile attitude to the marriages of two of his children to Jews. This feeling no doubt increased after 1948 when the dictator became increasingly paranoiac and suspicious in all matters.
   It was under Stalin that the Birobidzhan region of the USSR, close to the border with China, was declared a Jewish autonomous region in 1934. Jewish immigration took place, Jewish collective farms were set up and schools established in which Yiddish was the language. But the scheme was killed by Stalin’s post-1948 terror campaign and the Jewish population declined to one- tenth of the total in the region by 1959.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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