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Judaism and Communism

LAURENCE REES: To what extent was it possible at the time for people in any sense to seek to ‘justify’ the link between Judaism and Communism?

OMER BARTOV: Well, this is again one of those big questions and different scholars and quasi-scholars are involved in making arguments about that, not only scholarly arguments but also for political ends. You find such arguments being made today in Poland or in Ukraine and so forth. Yes of course there is evidence, because you have to think that in an area that was under Polish control during the 1920s and 30s it was extremely difficult for a Jewish teenager to get into a gymnasem, to get into a high school, because the Poles just didn’t let them do it. There were numerous clauses and very strict ones. So it was very, very difficult to get secondary education even if they were very good students. It was almost impossible for a Jew to become a policeman. Now, when the Soviets march in, they change the school system. They have their own criteria and though they’re hardly humanist they let Jews into high schools. The high schools are not as good, maybe, and they teach a different kind of history, but now young Jews can go to high school, which they always wanted to do. They make Jews into policemen. Now, you take a small community and suddenly have one or two young Jewish males walking around in a police uniform. In the eyes of a population that had never seen such a thing they say, well, the Jews have taken over the police, and so they are running things. The Soviets also initially did make use of some Jews within the Secret Service. Even before 1939 there were relatively large numbers of Jews serving in the Soviet Secret Police which was brutal by any description. When they come to these areas in 1939-40, they realise that it is getting the local population against them and they actually lower the numbers of Jews serving within the Secret Police because the local population, say the Ukrainians, who were not unhappy about the Soviets coming in instead of the Poles, complained that the Secret Police was populated by Jews. So they say that they’ll take Ukrainians instead. And so the ratio actually changes during this period. But for the population, what people remember and what they will tell later on, quite apart from what they used for propaganda purposes, but what they will write in their memoirs and so forth, is that of ten NKVD officers that they saw, one was a Jew. And somehow this explains to them why the police were so brutal towards them. So it is a fact that the Jews were more highly represented in, say, the Communist Party during the 1920s and 30s than, say, Ukrainians. But it is also true that the vast majority of the Jewish population in all of Eastern Europe was not, and had no love for the Communist Party which saw them as people who had to be at best re-educated because they had the wrong social class. So much of this argument is really an argument that tries to justify violence by pointing at specific aspects of the Soviet rule in the area of 1939-41.