Name: Joseph Stalin orders the murder of famed Yiddish actor and director, Solomon Mikhoels

Date:  1926 - 1950

Location:  Europe

SubjectPolitical/Economic/Social Opinion , Religious

MediumDance , Personal Opinion , Public Speech

Artist: Solomon Mikhoels (1890 - 1948): Russian and Yiddish actor and theater director

Confronting Bodies: The Soviet Union government, Joseph Stalin

Date of Action: 1930s - 1940s

Specific Location: The Soviet Union

Description of Artwork: Solomon Mikhoels, a Russian actor and theater director, was the director of Moscow's State Jewish Theater and chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAFC). His artistic work often focused on the plight of the Jews directly before, during, and after World War II. Under Mikhoels the JAFC played a prominent role in Soviet propaganda efforts against Hitler during World War II.

Description of Incident: After the war, Mikhoels's theater performed a number of plays depicting Jewish heroism during the war. However, he was not permitted to single out Jews as Nazi victims, and was forced to downplay the anti-Semitism that the war had ignited within the Soviet Union. During this time, Mikhoels also worked with the JAFC to help rebuild Jewish life in the Soviet Union. But, the Soviet state no longer needed to attract the support of western Jews. And, with the onset of the Cold War and the impending creation of Israel, Mikhoels's outspoken defense of Jewish national interests disturbed the Soviet authorities. Mikhoels spoke in favor of the establishment of a Jewish state at a public ceremony; however, the next day, when the ceremony was to broadcast on the radio,Mikhoels's speech was removed.

Results of Incident: On January 13, 1948, Mikhoels was killed after being run over by a truck. While Mikhoels's death was portrayed as a tragic accident, it was in fact arranged by the Ministry of State Security, acting on direct orders from Stalin. Furthermore, in 1949, the state began attacking Mikhoels's legacy by burning his archives, removing his scenes from popular films, and disbanding his theater. Publication of a collection of his writings became possible during the "Thaw" of the late 1950s, and in 1989 the Mikhoels Jewish Cultural Centre was established in Moscow. An official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his murder was held in 1998.

Source: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia. Ed. Derek Jones. Chicago; London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001.

Submitted By: NCAC

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