861.00/1–2748: Airgram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Smith) to the Secretary of State


A–100. The recent and sudden death of Solomon Mikhailovich Mikhoels,1 although probably not an important political event in itself, has roused a remarkably large crop of rumors in Moscow. Mikhoels, [Page 798] one of the most prominent Jews in the USSR, was an actor and Artistic Director of Moscow’s Jewish Theatre. His other positions of importance include the Presidency of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee2 and membership on the Board of the All-Russian Theatrical Society. His prominence was emphasized by the large and eulogistic press coverage which was given to the news of his decease.

The welter of contradictory rumors and the complete lack of any mention of the matter in the press make it difficult to report exactly how Mikhoels met his death. The only factors common to all the various stories are that he died violently in or near the city of Minsk, Byelorussia. However, the most authoritative account seems to run as follows: Mikhoels was visiting in Minsk with a friend named Vladimir Ilich Golubov (Potapov), reasonably well known journalist and dramatic critic of Moscow. On the evening of January 11 or 12 they visited the home of another friend of Mikhoels, I. G. Pfeffer, a poet of some renown and Vice President of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. On their way home Mikhoels and Golubov were attacked by persons unknown and both killed, although Mikhoels lived long enough to tell the story.

A murder of this nature, even of prominent persons, does not necessarily, of course, have any political significance. The crime may have been perpetrated by common thieves in search of gain. However, a number of various rumors attribute anti-Semitic feeling to the attackers, and such a motive cannot, indeed, be completely discounted. On the contrary, however, the murderers may have been Jews themselves, for Mikhoels has been known as anti-Zionist and Byelorussia has been mentioned as a center of Zionist feeling in the USSR (cf Despatch No. 60 of January 13, 19483). In any case, even if the rumors possess absolutely no foundation, their ubiquitous circulation offers evidence that a goodly number of Soviet citizens accept as not unbelievable a possible manifestation of murderous anti-Semitism in the USSR.

  1. See airgram A–1285 from Moscow on December 2, 1947, Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. iv, p. 628, and footnote 2.
  2. About the dissolution of this Committee, see telegram 3061 from Moscow on December 30, 1948, p. 948.
  3. Not printed.