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"To the Jews of the World"

Mikhoels, Solomon and Shakno Epshtein JAFC appeal 1942
Courtesy of the State Archive of the Russian Federation, Moscow
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tags: community resistance

type: Newspaper Article

The 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union and the Wehrmacht's rapid eastward advance was a profound shock to Stalin. Following the army’s advance, the Nazis deployed Einsatzgruppen tasked with killing Jews, as well as many others (primarily communists) perceived as a threat to the German occupation. Not only did large swaths of Soviet territory now come under German occupation, but many Soviet citizens were ready to collaborate with the Germans to help them defeat the Soviet Union. This meant that the legitimacy of the Soviet government itself was at stake, and this issue was profoundly disturbing for the communist regime. As a result, the Soviet leadership initiated several radical departures from its well-established policies to appeal both to its own population and to the international community to support its war against Hitler. On the domestic front, it abandoned its habitual suppression of Russian nationalism, and instead sought to control it and harness it as a legitimizing factor in the anti-German struggle. On the international stage, the Soviet Union developed closer relations with the United States and Great Britain.1

One of the more striking initiatives in this vein was Stalin’s idea to found a Soviet Jewish organization that would rally international Jewish support for the Soviet war effort. In December 1941 Stalin settled on the famous Yiddish actor Solomon Mikhoels to head what would become the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAFC). Yiddish culture had flourished in the Soviet Union until Stalin's rise to power. Many of the Yiddish cultural figures who remained in the Soviet Union after Stalin’s purges of the late 1930s joined the JAFC and, for a brief moment, it appeared that the Soviet Union would again support Jewish culture in the face of the common fascist enemy.2

JAFC became the central and the only sanctioned Jewish organization in the Soviet Union. The organization's domestic mandate was to rally Soviet Jews—both prewar Soviet citizens and many thousands of refugees and evacuees that had ended up deep in the Soviet hinterland since 1939—to support the Soviet war effort. The principal aim of JAFC’s work abroad was to win the support of international Jewish organizations, primarily those in the United States and Britain. The first event JAFC organized was a rally in May 1942, which proposed an international fundraising campaign to finance the Soviet army. In June, the first issue of JAFC’s Yiddish-language journal, Eynikayt, was published. In December 1942, four days after the Allies announced publicly that Nazi Germany was engaged in a policy of exterminating the Jews of Europe, JAFC issued its own appeal in Eynikeyt, entitled "To the Jews of the world." The appeal implicitly acknowledged the special nature of the Nazi assault on the Jews. In this key hour of the battle of Stalingrad, it emphasized Jewish contributions to the struggle against Nazi Germany and evoked a specifically Jewish historical experience by appealing to Jews across the world.

For the overview of World War II in the Soviet Union, consult Anthony Beevor, Stalingrad (New York: Viking, 1998), and Gerhard Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994). For the history of the Holocaust in the Soviet Union, see Yitzhak Arad, The Holocaust in the Soviet Union (Lincoln and Jerusalem: University of Nebraska Press and Yad Vashem, 2009).

On the history of JAFC, see Arno Lustiger, Stalin and the Jews: The Red Book: The Tragedy of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and the Soviet Jews (New York: Enigma, 2003) and Shimon Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism: A Documented Study of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in der USSR (Luxembourg: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1995).

On December 17, 1942, the anti-Nazi coalition of Allied governments and the French National Committee issued a public proclamation, broadcast on the BBC, that Germany was systematically exterminating the Jews in Europe and that "those responsible for these crimes would not escape retribution." Quoted in Saul Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945, vol. 2: The Years of Extermination (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 462.

A kolkhoz was a type of a Soviet collective farm. 

Solomon Mikhoels was a famous and well-regarded Soviet Yiddish cultural worker. He was murdered in 1948, during Stalin's purge of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. See Lustiger, Stalin and the Jews.

Epshtein was a well-known Russian Jewish journalist who wrote in Yiddish. He was the editor of Eynikayt. He died in 1945.

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TO THE JEWS OF THE WORLD

A joint declaration of the governments of the USSR, Great Britain, the United States, and other allied countries,1 as well as a communication from the Information Office of the People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs (Narkomindel) of the USSR, in defense of the Jewish people from Hitler’s butchers, make it even more incumbent upon every Jew to perform his national duty to the heroic Red Army, to whose lot has fallen the main burden in the struggle against Hitler's murderous hordes.

These most distinguished historical documents have profoundly moved the broad Jewish masses of the Soviet Union. In all sectors of the struggle against the fascist monsters, the Soviet Jews, like all other peoples of our country, have doubled, tripled, their heroism. At Stalingrad and on the Central Front, the Red Army delivers blow after blow to the accursed enemy. In these fierce fights, the sons and daughters of the Jewish people also give new examples of bravery and fearlessness. On the labor front, in factories and plants, in kolkhoz fields,2 and in social development, there are no sacrifices that the peoples of the Soviet country would not make.

The Jewish Antifascist Committee in the USSR appeals to the Jews of the United States, Great Britain, Palestine, Australia, Argentina, Uruguay, South Africa, Mexico, Cuba, and other countries to launch an even more intense campaign of all types of assistance to the heroic Red Army.

Brothers and sisters! In the name of saving the life, honor, and liberty of our people, in the name of preserving its age-old culture, in the name of our great past and bright future, all of you, every last one, must not spare your efforts, your means, when your brothers and sisters in the Soviet Union are not sparing their own lives for the happiness of all mankind, and for the happiness of the Jewish people.

Jews of the world! Let us not dishonor ourselves before all the freedom-loving nations, before our new Maccabees, before history.

THE JEWISH ANTIFASCIST COMMITTEE IN THE USSR

PRESIDENT OF THE COMMITTEE
People's Artist of the USSR S. Mikhoels3

SECRETARY
Shakno Epshtein4

December 21, 1942

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of the State Archive of the Russian Federation, Moscow
RG Number 22.028M
Date Created
December 21, 1942
Author / Creator
Mikhoels, Solomon
Epshtein, Shakno
Publisher
Eynikayt
Language(s)
Russian
Location
Moscow, Soviet Union (historical)
Moscow, Russia
Document Type Newspaper Article
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