Sarah Zaides

University of Washington, History Department

Stalin's Intellectual? Ilya Ehrenburg, the State of Israel, and the Jewish Question in the Soviet UnionIn this essay, I aim to complicate the "assimilationist" narrative of Soviet Jews proposed by Yuri Slezkine and other scholars. I examine the Soviet Jewish intellectual Ilya Ehrenburg and his "Concerning a Certain Letter," published in Pravda in 1948 after Zionist demonstrations in the Moscow Synagogue during Golda Meir's tenure as Ambassador to the Soviet Union. A close reading of the letter, in the context of domestic and international policies towards Soviet Jews and the State of Israel, indicates that Ehrenburg was not just acting as "Stalin's mouthpiece" or complicit to the Soviet State, but the letter was instead a veiled warning to Soviet Jews of the forthcoming tightening of Stalin's policies on Jewish cultural and political institution. Additionally, responses among Soviet Jewish citizens indicate that (some) Soviet Jews understood Ehrenburg's message, and saw him as a liason between the Jews and the Soviet government.


This paper is also an exploration of Ehrenburg's articulation of his multiple identities, Soviet and Jewish, and argues that he falls short of an "assimilated" Soviet Jew. It offers one case study in the hopes that more will follow to provide a more thorough and complex understanding of Soviet Jewry, particularly during the height of Stalin's Terror.

Access the full paper here.

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