Josef Stalin
Protesters walk with a placard depicting Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and reading 'Russians and Poles, remember who is the killer!' Photo by Reuters
Text size

On this day in 1952, 13 Jewish intellectuals were executed by a firing squad in Moscow’s Lubyanka prison. All had been convicted of anti-Soviet treason and espionage, in connection with their involvement in the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. The JAC had been formed during World War II to lobby world Jewry to support the USSR in fighting Nazi Germany, but after the war, its members worked to save what remained of Jewish culture in liberated Eastern Europe.

Toward the end of his life, Joseph Stalin unleashed an intense campaign of persecution against the country’s Jews. One of the most notorious examples of this crusade was the trial of the 13 – who included Yiddish writers Peretz Markish, David Bergelson and Itzik Fefer (who had been an informer for the secret police) -- for alleged Zionist activity and other “counterrevolutionary crimes."

The execution became known as the “Night of the Murdered Poets,” though the victims also included scientists and army officers. Two other Jews tried at the same time were Solomon Bregman, a former deputy commissar of foreign affairs, who avoided execution by dying in prison, and biochemist Lina Stern, who was spared death because of her important medical work. After Stalin’s death, she was permitted to return to Moscow from internal exile.