In memory of Solomon Mikhoels - 11 January, 2003

Yesterday, January 5, was a bitter date – 55 yeas since death day of a prominent theatre director, Solomon Mikhoels. Mikhoels was killed, for it was too dangerous to try him, because he was innocent.

The real name of the artist was Solomon Vovsi. He was born March 1890 in the city of Dvinsk, Vitebsk Government. He got traditional Jewish education and in 1911 entered Kiev Commerce School, though was expelled from it for his participation in student strikes. Before becoming an actor, he also studied at Kiev Commerce Institute and at Law Faculty of St Petersburg University (1915-1918). After the October Revolution, he entered Jewish Theatre School of Granevsky in St Petersburg.

Mikhoels, who was a theatre director and actor, became People’s Actor of the USSR in 1939, while in 1946 – he was awarded with the Stalin Prize. Since 1919, Mikhoels worked as theatre actor. In 1925, Moscow State Jewish Theatre was founded. Mikhoels was one of the theatre founder and became its leader since 1929.

The most famous roles of Mikhoels are king Lear in the W.Shakespeare play and milkman Tevye by Sholom Aleichem. Since 1941, Mikhoels was a professor of Moscow Theatre School. In 1942, he became first chairman of Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee created to “involve Jews all over the world into fight with fascists.” He also was a member of Presidium of All-Russian Theatre Society and of the Arts Worker Trade Union Central Committee.  The State Jewish Theatre created by Mikhoels was closed by the personal order of Stalin.

Mikhoels died January, 1948 while touring in Minsk (according to some information, he came to Minsk  as a representative of Stalin Prize Committee). According to the official version, Mikhoels and a friend of him, Sergei Golubev, were run by a lorry. True circumstances became known only in 1951, when Viktor Abakumov, ex-state security minister of the USSR was arrested. It turned out the writer Golubev was KGB agent. He got a task to invite Mikhoels to his friends’ dacha. The dacha belonged to the Byelorussian state security chief, Tsanava. The lorry was already prepared, under whose wheels Mikhoels and Golubev (who was sacrificed for the story credibility) were thrown.

The Mikhoels funeral was very splendid. Though soon, when fight against cosmopolitanism was in its height, Mikhoels was called “bourgeois nationalist.”

Short before his death, Mikhoels fully experienced a persecution. He had to play king Lear not only at the stage, but in his life, too. However, at that time, he was not the only Jew, who felt the death breath behind his back. His name was forbidden, while his once highly evaluated work seemed to be forgotten. And nobody mentioned his public activity as anti-fascist and international politician in the Great Patriotic War.

According to his daughter, Natalia, Solomon Mikhoels was the soul of Russian Jew Community. He said he was “hanged around with human fates.” He was persuaded that a nation must keep its roots, its culture, in contrast to Soviet writer Ilya Erenburg who considered the only way for Jews to be the full assimilation. Natalia is sure, massive arrests of Jewish artists would have been impossible when Mikhoels was alive. So, his death was necessary.

At that time, Mikhoels’ two daughters Natalia and Nina expected arrest any time. The possible arrest seemed to be real to everybody of their friends. Finally, Natalia’s husband Moisei Weinberg, a talented composer, was arrested, while the name of Mikhoels was supplied in official publications with epithet “famous bourgeois nationalist.” He was reported to have been connected through his brother M.Vovsi, accused according to the great “case of doctors,” with a “band of killers in white smocks.”

The “killer doctors” could have been befallen the same fate as many actors of State Jewish Theatre, though March 5, 1953 Stalin died. “Killer doctors” as well as Mikhoels were rehabilitated. April 7, 1953, the newspaper Pravda wrote: “As a result of a careful examination, it was found out the public figure, People’s Artist of the USSR Solomon Mikhoels had been slandered.” While in 1998, the first Mikhoels Moscow International Festival of Arts was carried out. Then books about him and his work started to be published.

The Arts Festival is a real return of the Mikhoels heritage. Later, Konstantin Bromberg and Yulia Konstantinova shot a film about Mikhoels “Solomon Mikhoels. Return.”
Yelena Kiseleva

Translated by Vera Solovieva

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov