Towards the end of the First World War in 1917, revolutionary waves began sweeping across Eastern European countries. Moderate socialism gave rise to the Bolshevik party in pre-Soviet Russia. At the time of the February Revolution in 1917, of the 23,000 members of the Bolshevik (Communist) party, 364 of the leaders were Jews. Some of them came from religious Jewish homes who saw Communism as a salvation from Russian anti-Semitism and pogroms, a new birth of equality of Jews in the new Soviet Union.
Among the most prominent Soviet Communist Jewish leaders were Grigory Zinoviev, Moishe Uritsky, Lev Kamenev, Yakov Sverdlov, Gregory Sokolnikov and Leon Trotsky. The head of the dreaded NKVD secret police was a Jew. Records from the Soviet Union revealed that in the1920’s, 75% of the leading Communists were Jews.
Going to Poland, Jews had been active members in revolutionary circles since the beginning of the First World War. Historians have written that 65% of communist party members in pre-war Poland were Jews. 60% of the Warsaw communist party were Jews, led by Jacob Berman, Hilary Minc, Juliusz Katz-Suchy and Wladyslaw Krajewski. In the 1920’s the Catholic Cardinal of Poland, a virulent anti-Semite, Augustus Hlond, blamed the poor economic situation in Poland on the Bolshevik Jews and urged Poles to boycott Jewish owned shops and businesses. Pogroms and anti-Jewish demonstrations continued under the fascist regime in Poland until the outbreak of the German occupation in September 1939.
To the south, the democratic Republic of Czecholslovakia had an active communist party led by two Jews, Rudolf Slansky and Karel Hoffman.
Hungary’s communist party was led by two Jews, Bela Kun and Matyas Roth (Rakosi).
And saddest of all was the leader of the Communist Party in Rumania. Ana Pauker served as Rumania’s Foreign Minister and with her husband Marcel Pauker, she ruled with an iron fist. Ana Pauker was born Hannah Rabinsohn, daughter of an Orthodox rabbi, Tzvi Hersh Rabinsohn and his wife, Sarah Hoffman.
Although educated in traditional Jewish religion, Ana Pauker disassociated herself from Jews and Judaism and turned Rumania into a strong Communist dominated country.
During the war, most of the Jewish communist leaders of eastern Europe sought sanctuary in the Soviet Union and returned to their respective countries at war’s end to strengthen the rule of local communist parties.
Non-communists, particulary Catholics, blamed the destruction of their society and economic system on the communist rule and in particular on the Jewish leaders of the communist parties. Bitter hatreds ensued against innocent local Jewish communities and individuals. Life was made extremely difficult for Jews.
In 1969 while on an official visit to Czechoslovakia, I met a young Jewish couple from Bucarest, Rumania. They had come to Prague to find ways of escaping across the border into Austria. Their efforts were futile and they were in despair and in lack of funds. I brought them to the officer of the Jewish Council in Prague but he was unable to help them in their efforts to flee the Iron Curtain. He did however, provide them with three days of housing and kosher meals served once daily in the Judenrat. After that, they were expected to return to Rumania. I never learned what had happened to them.
The truth is that it was not difficult to understand the bitter hatred of the common people of the eastern European countries, with the exception of the Soviet Union whose people happily accepted communist rule, against the Jewish communist leaders and ergo, with their Jewish populations.
As fate would have it, most of the Jews in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland chose to remain living in their countries after the war. At a later time, Rumania allowed Jews who wished to emigrate to Israel to leave.
Only the Soviet Union closed its doors to emigration. Years later, Jews in the free world rose up in protest and held demonstrations world-wide to force the Soviet government to allow its Jews to leave for Israel. Many of us stood on the tarmac at Lod Airport to welcome the Soviet immigrants upon their arrival in Israel.
Prisoners of Conscience bent down to kiss the ground of Israel and a few years later many found themselves in leadership positions in various ministries of our government and as members of our Knesset
.The bitter pre-war years of anti-Semitism, the war years of death and deportation, the post-war years of communist oppression were now things of the past.
Our Jews had built new lives and new homes in their new homeland… Medinat Yisrael… our State of Israel.