Nakhimovsky Discusses the Secret Trials of Jewish Intellectuals in Stalinist Russia

Sofia Melgoza, Maroon-News Staff

On Tuesday, November 3, Distinguished Chair in Jewish Studies and Professor of Jewish Studies and Russian and Eurasian Studies Alice Nakhimovsky spoke at a lecture in Lawrence Hall titled “Macro-Aggressions: Moscow 1952: Capitulation and Heroism in the Secret Trial of the Jewish Poets and Politicians.” At this lecture, Nakhimovsky shared her research on the secret trial of 15 Soviet Jewish poets in Moscow in 1952. While the trial itself was confidential, a preserved transcript of the events remains.

Nakhimovsky described how the 15 individuals in the trial were arrested and held in a prison under horrific conditions during the time of the trial. The arrest came after the defendants were falsely accused of treason and additional crimes, as a result of being appointed to the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee by Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union during World War II.

Nakhimovsky explained that Stalin had appointed them to the committee, as he was in need of the money from the West. Stalin felt that Jewish individuals could easily obtain this money. The chair of the Anti-Fascist Committee was killed before the start of the trial and was given a mock funeral, since his death was in fact purposeful. The remaining defendants were interrogated at night and not allowed to sleep during the day. Additionally, the trial was a military tribunal trial: There were no lawyers allowed, and the judge played the role of

prosecutor as well as judge.

Nakhimovsky emphasized the importance of understanding each person’s role in the trial, as well as knowing the trial’s most prominent players.

“The three heroes are: Dr. Lina Shtern (a biochemist and medical doctor; the first woman member of the Russian Academy of Sciences), Dr. Boris Shimiliovich, and Solomon Lozovsky, a politician,” Nakhimovsky said, referring to the individuals involved in the process. “That’s the other amazing thing: there were a lot of writers on trial here, and in the Russian tradition at least–maybe the American one too–we expect that writers will tell the truth to power, or something like that. But at this trial, the real truth-tellers were a doctor, a research scientist and a very high-placed politician.”

Nakhimovsky also made clear that the outcome of the trial was known in advance and that the defendants’ words could not have helped them. In the end, all defendants except one pleaded guilty to the crimes. Nakhimovsky shared her reasons for justifying why the defendants mainly plead guilty.

“The more you are interested in [a greater] worldview, the less you fear death,”

Nakhimovsky said.

First-year Grace Macdonald-Ganon attended the event for her Core 151: Legacies of the Ancient World class, of which Nakhimovsky is her professor. 

“It was interesting how the trials were so significant and involved important

individuals, while remaining secret during the time,” Macdonald-Ganon said.