Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jews Look Back on 1952 Atrocity

APMembers of Moscow's Jewish community observing a silence at Monday's ceremony.
Marking the 50th anniversary of one of the last spasms of Stalinist terror, members of the Jewish community gathered in a Moscow synagogue Monday to reflect on the improvement of their condition in Russia over the past half-century and to warn that anti-Semitism still plagues the country.

The ceremony commemorated the Aug. 12, 1952, execution of 13 members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in the basement of Lubyanka, the infamous headquarters of the Soviet secret police.

Although the number of victims was small in comparison with the tens of millions of people estimated to have died under Stalin, the killings are seen as an especially shocking demonstration of how the system had become debased by paranoia and bloodlust.

The committee had once been an important propaganda tool for Stalin in the fight against the Nazis and the Soviet Union allowed some of its members to travel to the United States for fund-raising events.

But after Russian Jews were electrified by the creation of Israel in 1948, Stalin began to see the group as a potential threat to his grasp on power and members were arrested and tried in secret. Among those tried and executed were several prominent Yiddish writers, including poet Yitzhak Feffer and novelist David Bergelson.

"We have a task. Those of you living today -- do everything so that such a tragedy cannot be repeated," prominent rabbi Adolf Shayevich said at the opening of the memorial ceremony. "You all very well remember the system that broke and destroyed its children."

Israeli Ambassador Nathan Meron chose to reflect with melancholy satisfaction on how Russia now has close relations with the Israel that the Kremlin once feared.

"It is very sad that they [committee members] were not living to see ... the establishment of diplomatic relations between the state of Israel and the new Russia," Meron said, and went on to praise improvements for Jews in Russia. "The life of the Jewish community in today's Russia is free, without limits," he said.

However, some speakers bitterly noted recent indications of resurgent anti-Semitism in Russia, drawing attention to the appearance of anti-Semitic flyers at some bus shelters and to the case this year when a woman was injured when removing an explosives-rigged anti-Jewish sign placed along a highway.

Yevgeniya Albats, a prominent journalist, said Russia's Jews must fight against such eruptions of prejudice, saying that previous oppressions were encouraged by Jews' failure to fight back.

"It was because we were silent. It was our fault," she said.

The ceremony ended with a performance by singer Mark Aizkovich, who has written songs based on the poems of some of the writers killed 50 years ago. Smiling broadly, he urged the gathering of about 150 people to remember the joy the authors brought their readers, but got only some hesitant hand-clapping to lively passages before attendees began drifting out.