Filming Stalin’s Last Purge

Fader a jurnalist and the Chief Editor of Israel’s leading news site, wrote this article about the film, “Stalin’s Last Purge.” The film was directed by Alan Rosenthal.

Documenting madness

VIDEO: Alan Rosenthal’s documentary ’Stalin’s Last Purge,’ screened at 22nd Jerusalem Film Festival, recounts forgotten events
By Yon Feder

TEL AVIV – (Video) In January 1948, the body of an unidentified man was discovered on a side road in Minsk. Seemingly, this was just another hit and run case; but it was soon revealed the dead man was Moscow Jewish National Theatre director Solomon Mikhoels, the most famous Jew in the Soviet Union.

Two days prior to his death, Mikhoels was kidnapped by agents of the Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD – the Soviet secret police), who later executed him and disguised the act as an accident.

See clip from ’Stalin’s Last Purge’

The murder was carried out under the direct order of Soviet leader Joseph (Shining Sun) Stalin; it marked the beginning of a paranoid and anti-Semitic assault on the part of Stalin, who viewed the post-World War Russian Jews as potential traitors and agents of global imperialism.

A rhythmic and fascinating blend

“Stalin’s Last Purge” depicts the story of the annihilation of the Jewish cultural elite in the Soviet Union from a standpoint that is both personal (including testimonies of the victims’ sons and daughters) and historic.

This is a small, clever film produced with great skill.

Alan Rosenthal creates a rhythmic and fascinating blend of rare archive footage that was only discovered during the past decade, first-hand accounts and focused analysis by Stalin-period experts.

The interweaving of the visual with the testimonies makes for a fascinating story of the madness of the tyrants’ regime and the arbitrariness of the dictatorship.

Today we know Stalin was the greatest mass murderer in history; he murdered most of his rivals, in addition to imaginary “traitors” and innocent civilians – some were murdered in a mysterious fashion, others were falsely accused and executed following a public trial.

During all of these “purges” Stalin utilized the loyal secret police, which a continuous reign of terror.

’Cosmopolitans without a homeland’

Russian historian and playwright Edward Radzinski, in a biography he wrote about Stalin, calls the quest to wipe out the Jewish leadership in Russia “The new pogrom.”

This pogrom occurred in the wake of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West, and was fueled by Stalin’s sick paranoia that showed his blatant anti-Semitism and his unrestrained murderous personality through every move.

Stalin saw Russian Judaism as a potential for one big treason. He saw the Jews as “Cosmopolitans without a homeland” and as those with the “tendency for strange things.”

He saw the enthusiastic welcome the thousands of Moscow Jews gave Golda Meir, the young Israel’s first ambassador, as proof that “thousands of Jews are spies for a hostile nation.”

Stalin decided to halt and eliminate all this. He used his favorite tactic: Murder and terror.

The first of his victims was also the most senior – Solomon Mikhoels, who was among the great Jewish artists in Russia in the second half of the 20th century. After him, fifteen of the great Jewish intellectual writers in Russia were arrested, among them Benjamin Zuzkin, poet Peretz Markish, writer Heidi David Hoffstein and others.

Executed for espionage and treason

All were Soviet patriots and loyal Communists. That didn’t help them – on the contrary: It increased the suspicion against them.

For years they were tortured and put in prison, until they were put on trial, accused of espionage and treason. In August 1952, they were executed.

Their families, wives, children and grandchildren were put in work camps in Kazakhstan for 10 years – as “suitable” for families of “traitors.” A short while afterwards, groups of Jewish doctors were arrested, with the excuse that they had allegedly plotted to poison senior Soviet leaders, including Stalin himself.

Luckily, their detainment was short-lived, as Stalin died in 1953.

This isn’t the first time Alan Rosenthal is bringing a Jewish documentary to the festival. Two years ago, he presented, along with Nisim Mosak, “The Secret Memories of Eichmann.”

Rosenthal’s area of expertise, as a professor of Communications at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is in writing scripts for documentaries and docu-dramas.

His academic area of expertise also comes across in this film. The script for “Stalin’s Last Purge” is effective in its directness and simplicity, is streaming and presents a complex story with clear essence.

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