An aging dictator knew how to see the enemyThe “doctors’ plot” came and went so quickly around the time of the death of Josef Stalin that it impressed itself on the Western mind more as a curiosity than a monstrous crime on the order of Stalin’s purges of the 1930s or the induced famine of the 1920s.
Apparently, some doctors, mostly Jewish, were to be accused of murdering top Kremlin officials. The plot caused quite a stir when it was “unmasked” in the Soviet press, but Stalin died a few weeks later, in March 1953, and the “plot” died with him. Most of the doctors were cleared.
There was quite a bit more to it, according to Jonathan Brent and Vladimir P. Naumov in “Stalin’s Last Crime: the Plot Against the Jewish Doctors.” Drudging around in archives opened after the Soviet collapse in 1991, the authors examined the protocols of the interrogations of the Jewish doctors and others. They studied minutes of meetings and recollections written years after the events. They conclude that Stalin’s intentions far exceeded scapegoating some Jews. His real enemy, they say, “was human nature.” After the terror of the 1930s and the victory in World War II, Soviet discipline was slackening. Judges began to expect proof of guilt; bureaucrats were losing their revolutionary fervor. “Look at you,” Stalin taunted his colleagues. “Blind men, kittens, you don’t see the enemy; what will you do without me ― the country will perish because you are not able to recognize the enemy.”
“The enemy” was the loss of vigilance. Stalin needed a plot so spine-tingling that it would snap Soviet society into renewed attention to the enemy and unquestioning obedience to himself.
Painstakingly, over five years, Stalin assembled ― or manufactured ― evidence that linked the doctors to Jewish nationalism, which was the puppet of American warmongers who had secretly inaugurated World War III with this strike at the heart of the Kremlin. Brent and Naumov suggest that the plot envisioned the deportation of more than a million Soviet Jews to camps newly building in Siberia, as well as provocations that might well have touched off a war with the United States. But Stalin died ― providentially, or helped along? “We will never know,” the authors conclude.
Because the research is so meticulous, the book is no page-turner. Nevertheless, it is an invaluable witness to the 20th century’s most extraordinary misadventure, the attempt to create a socialist utopia. “Stalin,” the authors remind us, “is a perpetual possibility.”
Stalin’s Last Crime
By Jonathan Brent
and Vladimir P. Naumov
by Hal Piper