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June 11: Jews and the Great Terror Trials

Lawrence Bush
June 11, 2010

pic01Yeronim Uborevich, Yona Yakir, Yakov Garmanik, and Boris Feldman were Bolsheviks of Jewish backgrounds who were among the eight top military generals executed in the USSR on this date in 1938 following a secret trial. Their persecution marked the third wave of Stalin’s “Great Terror” trials, mostly held in public and featuring elaborate confessions extracted through torture and threats to victims’ families. The “purge” eliminated most veterans of the Bolshevik revolution (including Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, and numerous other Jews) and liquidated 35,000 officers of the Red Army in less than three years, which left the USSR particularly vulnerable to the Nazi invasion in 1941. In the larger Soviet society, the purges would take 681,692 lives, according to Soviet archives (many historians think the number to be considerably higher), while hundreds of thousands of other victims were shipped to prison. Among the murdered were numerous Jewish writers and artists, including Osip Mandelstam and Isaac Babel; others would be killed in subsequent mini-purges such as on August 12, 1952, when the cream of Jewish artists and cultural activists were shot.
“The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” —Joseph Stalin

​​​​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.