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April 8: A Jew-Free Crimea

The Crimean Peninsula was declared judenfrei (cleansed of Jews) on this date in 1942 (some sources say April 16th), only five months after the Nazis took over the Russian territory and began murdering Jews, who numbered close to 60,000. The killing was mostly done by Einsatzgruppe D, headed by Dr. Otto Ohlendorf, with the collaboration […]

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February 18: Israel’s Spymaster

Isser Harel (Halperin), founder and first director of Israel’s Shin Bet and director of the Mossad from 1951 to 1963, died at 91 on this date in 2003. Harel was born in Vitebsk, Russia and emigrated to Palestine in 1930. He oversaw the capture of Adolf Eichmann by Israeli agents in Argentina in 1960, after […]

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February 15: Bonner and Sakharov

Soviet human rights activist Elena Bonner, who was married to physicist Andrei Sakharov and served as his international advocate, ally, and companion during his many years of exile as a human rights dissident, was born in Turkmenistan on this date in 1923. Her father, an Armenian, was the founder of the Soviet Armenian Communist Party; […]

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November 12: The Soviet Military Aircraft Designer

Aviation engineer Mikhail Gurevich, who co-designed the USSR’s MiG (Mikoyan-Gurevich) line of warplanes, died on this date in 1976, age 82. The first generation of MiGs destroyed 50 percent of German aircraft attacking Moscow in 1941. Gurevich and Artem Mikoyan (an Armenian), engineering partners for 25 years, also designed the post-war MiG jet fighter series, […]

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August 30: Hebrew Banned in Revolutionary Russia

The Evsektsiia, or Jewish Section of the Soviet Communist Party, proclaimed Hebrew a “reactionary language” on this date in 1919 as part of an anti-religion campaign that led to the banning of Hebrew language instruction, the arrest or suppression of many rabbis, and government confiscation of synagogues and other Jewish communal properties (properties of the […]

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August 4: The Muse of the Russian Avant-Garde

Lilya Brik (Kagan), who became lovers with the great Russian futurist poet Vladimir Mayakofsky while living in an open marriage with her husband, writer Osip Brik, ended her life at age 87 on this date in 1978. Brik was a sculptor, writer, architect, and filmmaker who was named by Pablo Neruda as the “muse of […]

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June 11: The Social Roots of Thinking

Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who embedded human psychology in social reality only to have his thought repressed in the USSR, died of tuberculosis in Moscow at age 37 on this date in 1934. Vygotsky proposed that reasoning and higher cognitive functions emerge in children not only because of brain development and other universal processes, but […]

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February 16: Israel’s Monument to the Red Army

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on this date in 2010 that Israel would build a monument to commemorate the vital and sacrificial role of the Soviet Red Army in the defeat of Nazism. The announcement was made during a visit to Israel by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who said that he was discussing […]

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November 20: The Slansky Trial

The Slansky Trial, in which 14 Czechoslovak communist leaders, eleven of them Jews, were accused of being Trotskyists, “Titoists,” and Zionists, began on this date in 1952. The show trial, preceded by torture, was part of Stalin’s purge of Jews and less-than-slavishly loyal communist leaders from leadership posts in the Soviet bloc. Eleven of the […]

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