MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Anatoly Korolyov). Stalin was the first person to publicly state that the war unleashed by Hitler had fundamentally altered the destiny of the Jewish people.
When speaking at a session of the Moscow City Soviet (Council) on November 6, 1941, Stalin said, "The reactionary Nazi Party with their brutal anti-Jewish pogroms are no better than the Russian tsarist regime that allowed the Black Hundred pogroms."
On the eve of the war there were about 3 million Jews living in the Soviet Union. The rapid German offensive physically divided the Jewish community: about 1,300,000 Jews found themselves on occupied territory before they had even had time to react. The remaining 1,700,000 Soviet Jews, who had either been evacuated or had remained on unoccupied territory, fought against the Nazis, with Russians, Ukrainians, Tatars and other ethnic groups of the USSR.
Jews did not just serve as rank and file soldiers and officers. There were a number of outstanding Jewish military commanders: M. Katukov, Marshal of Armored Troops; Y. Smushkevich, Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force; and General M. Shmelev, Chief of Staff of Long-Range Aviation. In addition there were 92 Jewish generals and 9 army and flotilla commanders. In total, there were 270 Jewish generals and marshals.
Furthermore, Stalin's inner circle included four Jewish ministers (people's commissars): Lazar Kaganovich, Boris Vannikov, Semyon Ginzburg and Isaak Zaltsman. These men were responsible for the railroads, ammunition, military construction and the tank industry.
Jews were also instrumental in shaping the ideology that would underpin the Soviet role in the war. Initially the Soviet people did not know what to make of the Nazi attack. Firstly, the Soviet Union once considered Germany an enemy but more recently had viewed it as a potential ally against Britain and the U.S. Secondly, the Soviet people, brought up to believe in internationalism, had thought that the German soldiers, i.e. German workers and peasants, would refuse to attack a socialist state and instead would join with the Russians to fight the oppressors, German capitalists.
This myth had to be urgently dispelled.
A Jewish intellectual, Ilya Erenburg, played a key role in this. He had traveled extensively and was perhaps the only Jew in the USSR who was aware of the racist motivations for the war. He was a military correspondent in Spain during the Spanish civil war, and his world outlook was informed by this experience. Six International Brigades had fought on the side of the Republicans in that war, and these units had included 6,000 Jewish volunteers.
By the time the Germans attacked, Erenburg was resolutely opposed to fascism. He had all the main national newspapers, Pravda, Izvestia and Krasnaya Zvezda at his disposal, as well as the national radio stations. He emphatically rejected the internationalist dogma and called on the nation to, "Kill the Germans!"
Erenburg confronted Nazi with racism head on. A whole volume of his Collection of Essays was to be devoted to his wartime pamphlets and articles. Erenburg became very popular in the embattled Soviet Union. People found his message much more instructive than the theory of internationalism. It was because of Erenburg that Stalin decided to discard the previous national anthem (the Internationale). In 1942, at the height of the war, Stalin announced a competition to compose a new anthem.
After the war, the question of what role the Jews had played in the defeat of Nazism sparked heated and sometimes acrimonious debate among historians. Some historians were determined to play down the role of the Jews at any cost, while others sought to do the opposite.
Nobel prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn tried to rise above the argument in his book about Jews in Russia, 200 Years Together. Although Russian liberals did not agree with everything that he wrote in the book, the part devoted to the war was met with general approval.
"I saw Jews fight courageously at the front. Two fearless anti-tank soldiers deserve special mention: Lieutenant Emmanuil Mazin, who was a friend of mine, and a young soldier called Borya Gammerov. The latter was called up when he was still at student. Both were wounded."
Solzhenitsyn wrote about fellow Jewish writers who volunteered for the front, such as the poet Boris Slutsky, and the literary critic Lazar Lazarev, who fought at the front for two years until he received injuries to both arms. Dozens of pages are devoted to the participation of the Jews in the common war against Nazism.
On May 4, 1945, three Red Army soldiers, Churakov, Oleinik and Seroukh, retrieved the charred bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun from a crater by the walls of the Reichschancellory in Berlin. The soldiers laid the corpses out on a soldier's blanket. Hitler's two dead dogs (an Alsatian and a puppy) were also laid out. Shortly after, the Fuhrer's corpse was sent to Buch in the northeastern suburbs of Berlin for identification. Colonel Krayevsky, the Red Army's chief pathologist, and doctors Anna Marants, Boguslavsky and Gulkevich carried out the autopsy in the local clinic. The examination was overseen by Faust Shkaravsky, chief forensic expert for the First Belarusian Front.
All these doctors were Jews.
Even in his worst nightmares Hitler could never have imagined such a turn of events.