HOSTAGES: The Personal Testimony of a Soviet Jew by Grigory Svirsky

HOSTAGES: The Personal Testimony of a Soviet Jew

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A memoir full of unintended ironies, by a 55-year-old Moscow writer of Jewish origin who emigrated to Israel in 1972. Svirsky begins with his Ukrainian-Jewish wife Pauline, whose family had always been helped by neighbors to survive anti-Semitic attacks, but were betrayed and shot during the Nazi occupation. Pauline, a brilliant chemist who did not become anti-Soviet during agonies of discrimination in her studies and job searches, ended up in an unhealthful government defense project. Svirsky himself was unsuccessfully charged with slander for accusing a prominent editor of anti-Semitism, with the backing of many fellow-writers. Unable to publish for seven years, he came to believe that Stalin was as bad as Hitler and that Lenin, despite his strenuous attacks on anti-Semitism and Russian chauvinism, was to blame for Stalin. The significance of the book, however, is not its melodramatic outline. What Svirsky also abundantly describes is the resistance of the intelligentsia and the majority of the population to ethnic discrimination. Svirsky's account of his experiences on the Murmansk run during WW II is less notable for the familiar charge that the Soviet press blacked out Jewish war heroism than for the immediacy with which it describes the Soviet part of the war and the soldiers' scorn for anti-Semites. Svirsky is a passionate and subtle writer who has actually portrayed some of the strengths of society in the USSR as well as some of its painful weaknesses.

Pub Date: June 18th, 1976
Publisher: Knopf