The Distress of Jews in the Soviet Union in the Wake of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
This article addresses infrequently asked yet important questions regarding the first part of the war: what did Soviet Jews know about the Nazis’ attitudes toward the Jews in the areas they controlled during this period; and how did this information affect these Jews in light of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that their country had concluded with Nazi Germany on August 23, 1939? With the Soviet press having ceased to report the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews following the signing of the treaty, word of mouth became a major conduit of information. In the Soviet system this was often considered more reliable than official reports. There were a variety of sources of information – via refugees, letters, Polish Government-in-exile radio broadcasts, and others. Contact between Jews in the former eastern areas of Poland and Soviet Jewish soldiers and officials, as well as with Jews within the pre-war Soviet borders, helped transfer this information onward. The article argues that many Soviet Jews took this information seriously and recognized that the Germans posed a serious threat to them. They were uneasy with the pact that their country had signed with the Jewish people’s greatest enemy. Yet they remained conflicted, since they could not give public expression to their concerns. Ironically, the event that proved to be their greatest calamity, the German invasion, also provided much-needed relief from this emotional conflict.