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Article

Antisemitism in the “Jewish NKVD” in Soviet Ukraine on the Eve of World War II

Holocaust and Genocide Studies. 2020. Vol. 34. No. 3. P. 393-408.

Following the German invasion of the USSR on June 22, 1941, murderous violence against local Jews broke out in many localities of the territories it had occupied in the wake of the 1939 Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact. In particular, organizers demanded revenge for the recent Stalinist repressions and deportations. Participants claimed that the “Jewish Soviet state,” the “Jewish NKVD,” or local Jews had been responsible for those crimes. Even now, the legend of prewar Jewish responsibility figures in the dubious “double genocide” thesis animating nationalistic historiographies in Eastern Europe and its international diasporas. The following study counters that mythology, addressing the story of actual Jews in the NKVD at the end of the 1930s. It draws on the archives of the Ukrainian security services, especially records that document Stalin’s effort to divert blame for the recent Great Terror onto senior and mid-level officials. Stalin’s green light to criticize the bosses gave other NKVD officers the opportunity to address many issues, including that of antisemitism among NKVD cadres. These sources suggest that antisemitism was in fact a potent force within the NKVD in Ukraine and elsewhere.