The Black Years

Russian labor camp. Sketch by Michael Kagan, 1988.


The beginning of the so-called "Black Years" in Soviet Jewish history (1948-53), a terrifying period when an aggressive dismantling of remaining Jewish institutions takes place, including the Yiddish theater, newspapers, and journals.

January 12. Solomon Mikhoels, as chairman of the JAF, is killed by KGB agents in a staged accident in Minsk. Within a year, the Yiddish theater is liquidated.

Alleged "Zionists" are persecuted in the Soviet Union, even as Moscow supports the creation of Israel for its own international, political reasons.

October 16. Golda Meir, head of Israel's mission to Moscow, visits the Great Chorale Synagogue, attracting a mass crowd of some 50,000 Jews who greet her warmly. The event causes great concern among Soviet officials, who view it as a reflection of existing strong feelings of Jewish identity.

November. The Yiddish newspaper, Di Eynikayt, is closed.


The Jewish Ant-Fascist Committee, the last vestige of organized Jewish cultural life, is dissolved and many of its leaders imprisoned.

Jews are targeted as anti-Soviet nationalists and "rootless cosmopolitans" sympathetic to the West. Key Jewish personalities in Birobidzhan are swept up in the campaign, and many are sent to prison or labor camps.


August 12. The "Night of the Murdered Poets". The murder of 13 Jewish writers, poets, scientists, and political figures, members of the Jewish anti-Fascist Committee, takes place in Moscow's Lubyanka prison.


January 13. The so-called "Doctor's Plot" is announced, targeting Jewish medical professionals as planning to kill Stalin and other officials, as well as being "agents" of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), an international social welfare agency.

February 11. In a shift of political objectives, the Soviet Union seeks to gain a Middle East foothold by supporting Arab ambitions. Moscow recognizes its failure to bring a "socialist" Israel into the Communist fold and severs diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. 

March 5. Stalin dies on Purim. The trial of the Jewish medical professionals is cancelled.

July 21. The new leadership in the Soviet Union restores diplomatic relations with Israel, with the hope that the Jewish state will forge strong ties to Moscow.

September. Nikita Khrushchev becomes First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

"Once Alive and Vibrant. Soviet Jewish Culture is Being Destroyed." Poster by Greater NY Conference on Soviet Jews, n.d.
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