Breaks Last Taboo Of The Revolution
Nobel laureate under fire for new book on the role of
Jews in Soviet-era repression
who first exposed the horrors of the Stalinist gulag, is now
attempting to tackle one of the most sensitive topics of his
writing career - the role of the Jews in the Bolshevik revolution
and Soviet purges.
In his latest book Solzhenitsyn, 84, deals
with one of the last taboos of the communist revolution: that
Jews were as much perpetrators of the repression as its victims.
Two Hundred Years Together - a reference to the 1772 partial
annexation of Poland and Russia which greatly increased the
Russian Jewish population - contains three chapters discussing
the Jewish role in the revolutionary genocide and secret police
purges of Soviet Russia.
But Jewish leaders and some historians
have reacted furiously to the book, and questioned Solzhenitsyn's
motives in writing it, accusing him of factual inaccuracies
and of fanning the flames of anti-semitism in Russia.
Solzhenitsyn argues that some Jewish satire
of the revolutionary period "consciously or unconsciously
descends on the Russians" as being behind the genocide. But
he states that all the nation's ethnic groups must share the
blame, and that people shy away from speaking the truth about
the Jewish experience.
In one remark which infuriated Russian
Jews, he wrote: "If I would care to generalise, and to say
that the life of the Jews in the camps was especially hard,
I could, and would not face reproach for an unjust national
generalisation. But in the camps where I was kept, it was
different. The Jews whose experience I saw - their life was
softer than that of others."
Yet he added: "But it is impossible to
find the answer to the eternal question: who is to be blamed,
who led us to our death? To explain the actions of the Kiev
cheka [secret police] only by the fact that two thirds were
Jews, is certainly incorrect."
Solzhenitsyn, awarded the Nobel Prize for
Literature in 1970, spent much of his life in Soviet prison
camps, enduring persecution when he wrote about his experiences.
He is currently in frail health, but in an interview given
last month he said that Russia must come to terms with the
Stalinist and revolutionary genocides - and that its Jewish
population should be as offended at their own role in the
purges as they are at the Soviet power that also persecuted
"My book was directed to empathise with
the thoughts, feelings and the psychology of the Jews - their
spiritual component," he said. "I have never made general
conclusions about a people. I will always differentiate between
layers of Jews. One layer rushed headfirst to the revolution.
Another, to the contrary, was trying to stand back. The Jewish
subject for a long time was considered prohibited. Zhabotinsky
[a Jewish writer] once said that the best service our Russian
friends give to us is never to speak aloud about us."
But Solzhenitsyn's book has caused controversy
in Russia, where one Jewish leader said it was "not of any
"This is a mistake, but even geniuses make
mistakes," said Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Russian
Jewish Congress. "Richard Wagner did not like the Jews, but
was a great composer. Dostoyevsky was a great Russian writer,
but had a very sceptical attitude towards the Jews.
"This is not a book about how the Jews
and Russians lived together for 200 years, but one about how
they lived apart after finding themselves on the same territory.
This book is a weak one professionally. Factually, it is so
bad as to be beyond criticism. As literature, it is not of
But DM Thomas, one of Solzhenitsyn's biographers,
said that he did not think the book was fuelled by anti-semitism.
"I would not doubt his sincerity. He says that he firmly supports
the state of Israel. In his fiction and factual writing there
are Jewish characters that he writes about who are bright,
decent, anti-Stalinist people."
Professor Robert Service of Oxford University,
an expert on 20th century Russian history, said that from
what he had read about the book, Solzhenitsyn was "absolutely
Researching a book on Lenin, Prof Service
came across details of how Trotsky, who was of Jewish origin,
asked the politburo in 1919 to ensure that Jews were enrolled
in the Red army. Trotsky said that Jews were disproportionately
represented in the Soviet civil bureaucracy, including the
"Trotsky's idea was that the spread of
anti-semitism was [partly down to] objections about their
entrance into the civil service. There is something in this;
that they were not just passive spectators of the revolution.
They were part-victims and part-perpetrators.
"It is not a question that anyone can write
about without a huge amount of bravery, and [it] needs doing
in Russia because the Jews are quite often written about by
fanatics. Mr Solzhenitsyn's book seems much more measured
Yet others failed to see the need for Solzhenitsyn's
pursuit of this particular subject at present. Vassili Berezhkov,
a retired KGB colonel and historian of the secret services
and the NKVD (the precursor of the KGB), said: "The question
of ethnicity did not have any importance either in the revolution
or the story of the NKVD. This was a social revolution and
those who served in the NKVD and cheka were serving ideas
of social change.
"If Solzhenitsyn writes that there were
many Jews in the NKVD, it will increase the passions of anti-semitism,
which has deep roots in Russian history. I think it is better
not to discuss such a question now."
St Petersburg Times