STALIN’S LAST CRIME by Jonathan Brent


The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors, 1948-1953
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A worthy, attention-getting study revealing Stalin’s plans to revive state terror after WWII, this time with Soviet Jews as the target and perhaps a war with the US on the horizon.

The pretext for the new pogrom, write Yale University Press editor Brent and Russian historian Naumov, was the 1948 death of Communist Party apparatchik A.A. Zhdanov, to all appearances the victim of a bad heart and a bad lifestyle. The Stalin government alleged, however, that Zhdanov was the victim of a widespread conspiracy on the part of Jewish doctors to destroy the Kremlin leadership one party boss at a time. “Fantastic stories circulated,” write Brent and Naumov, “that Jewish doctors were poisoning Russian children, injecting them with diphtheria, and killing newborn infants in maternity hospitals.” Stalin himself charged that the “Jewish doctors” were part of a larger plot organized by the capitalist powers to invade the Soviet Union, and he apparently planned a retaliatory war that in at least one scenario would have brought Soviet troops to America’s West Coast. Over the next few years, hundreds of doctors were arrested and imprisoned, most of the members of Jewish organizations such as the wartime Jewish Antifascist Committee were executed, and plans were laid to create a special gulag for Jews. When Stalin died in 1953—among the most headline-making elements here is the suggestion that he was slowly poisoned by his lieutenant, Beria—the notion of a Jewish plot against the state was quietly dismissed and the doctors freed. That Stalin was using the affair as an excuse to reinstate terror as a political instrument is made clear, the authors suggest, by the fact that not only Jews were specific targets, but also elements of the Kremlin leadership, members of the state security apparatus, and indeed anyone who looked sideways at the Great Man in his last days.

More evidence for the essential evil of the Stalin regime, joining such recent studies as Stéphane Courtois’s Black Book of Communism (1999) and Anne Applebaum’s Gulag (p. 196).

Pub Date: April 15th, 2003
ISBN: 0-06-019524-X
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2003