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January 12: Mikhoels and the Doctors Plot

Lawrence Bush
January 12, 2010

Solomon Mikhoels as Lear 042208_85_bSolomon Mikhoels, the Soviet Union’s foremost Jewish actor and theater director, was arrested and murdered on Stalin’s orders on January 12-13 in 1948. Mikhoels was the artistic director of the Moscow State Jewish Theater and chaired the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, which travelled widely to rally international Jewish support for the Soviet Union during World War II. Stalin ultimately arrested and “liquidated” nearly every member of the Committee. Rather than risking a public trial for the Jewish community’s best-known artist and intellectual, however, Stalin arranged for Mikhoels to be beaten to death; the body was run over by a truck to make the crime appear to be a tragic accident, and a state funeral was held. Four years later, also on January 12-13, nine prominent Kremlin physicians — six of them with obviously Jewish names — were arrested on Stalin’s orders and accused of participating in a vast plot by “imperialists” and “Zionists” to kill Soviet political and military leaders. The dictator’s death in March preempted a show trial, as the “Doctors’ Plot” was declared a fabrication by Stalin’s successors. Four large camps were built in southern and western Russia shortly before Stalin’s death, and rumors swirled that they were meant for the mass incarceration of Soviet Jews.
“The majority of the participants of the terrorist group . . . were bought by American intelligence. They were recruited by a branch-office of American intelligence — the international Jewish bourgeois-nationalist organization called ‘Joint’ [i.e., the Joint Distribution Committee]. The filthy face of this Zionist spy organization, covering up their vicious actions under the mask of charity, is now completely revealed . . .” —Pravda, January 13, 1953

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.