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Post Was Tukhachevsky Anti-Semitic? Natalia Sats
Created by John Eipper on 06/27/14 4:15 AM

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Was Tukhachevsky Anti-Semitic? Natalia Sats (Cameron Sawyer, Russia, 06/27/14 4:15 am)

When commenting my post of 26 June, JE wrote: "The Wikipedia article mentions Tukhachevsky's virulent anti-Semitism. Is this remembered in Russia today?"

I could find no facts in the Russian sources which show that Tukhachevsky was an anti-Semite. His long-time mistress and apparently love of his life, Natalia Sats, was a Jew, although I guess that doesn't necessarily prove anything.

Tukhachevksy is a Polish family name, and I did read some speculation in Russian historical forums that because he was or might have been an ethnic Pole, he might have been an anti-Semite. I don't know why Russians assume that all Poles are anti-Semitic; this stereotype does not follow logically from the fact that anti-Semitism was more prevalent and more virulent in Poland and Ukraine, than in Russia.

One thing much discussed in the Russian sources is Tukhachevsky's cruelty during the Civil War. He apparently used poison gas against peasants resisting the Bol'shevik land collectivization, and was generally quite ruthless, even by Bol'shevik standards. I guess it's not unknown or even unusual for military geniuses to have been cruel, as much as we might like to believe otherwise; Robert E. Lee may not have been representative. Another good reason not to romanticize war.

JE comments:  Wikipedia gets the anti-Semitic claim from De Gaulle himself, or specifically from Jonathan Fenby's book The General: Charles De Gaulle and the France He Saved (2012).  Fenby is a prolific historian, and I presume a reputable one.  Has anyone read his biography on De Gaulle?

Natalia Sats died in recent times, 1993, at the age of 90.  She was a witness to the entirety of Soviet history, and saw much of it up close.  Her father, composer Ilya Sats, was a protege and friend of Tolstoy, and after Tukhachevsky was purged in 1937, she spent five years in a labor camp.  I'd like to know more about this intriguing person.

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  • Was Tukhachevsky Anti-Semitic? (Leo Goldberger, USA 06/28/14 4:50 AM)
    Re: Cameron Sawyer's post of 27 June. According to the sources quoted below, Tukhachevsky was indeed a virulent anti-Semite:


    JE comments: The above was published on the Espresso Stalinist (espressostalinist.com). I had no idea such a website existed; wouldn't Uncle Joe have preferred tea?  Nevertheless, the Tukhachevsky quotes come from legitimate published sources.  Besides the aforementioned Jonathan Fenby biography, there is a quote from French journalist Rémy Roure, who attributes the following statement to Tukhachevsky, apparently revealed to De Gaulle in the historic prison cell:  "The Jews brought us Christianity.  That's reason enough to hate them."

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    • Tukhachevsky and Anti-Semitism (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/28/14 9:10 AM)

      These sources for alleged anti-Semitism of Tukhchevsky are all the same, going back to alleged second-hand or third-hand statements of De Gaulle. I would bet dollars to doughnuts that the Fenby quotes also come from the same French journalist. (See Leo Goldberger's post of 28 June.)

      It is not really relevant, but other pages on Tukhchevsky in the "Espresso Stalinist" attempt to show that the trumped-up charges upon which he was murdered by Stalin were true--that he was a German agent, that he was plotting to overthrow Soviet power, etc. Like JE, I was surprised that such things exist, but perhaps it is a joke.

      I am not saying whether Tukhachevsky was or was not an anti-Semite; I don't think we know. I have not found any convincing sources one way or the other. I don't think the words of one French journalist are very convincing. I think it is somewhat unlikely that a person who was in love with a Jew all his life, and didn't conceal it, was a "virulent anti-Semite," but I don't think it's impossible.

      That Tukhachevsky was a convinced Bol'shevik and Communist is well established, contrary to the charges lodged at Tukhachevsky's show trial, and contrary to what is written in the "Espresso Stalinist."  Ironically, it is this which gives many Russians today some misgivings about Tukhachevsky as a hero of the nation.

      JE comments:  I've had the Espresso Stalinist website on my mind all morning, together with thoughts of Gavrilo Princip, who 100 years ago today changed the world forever with a tiny .32 Browning pistol. 

      An interesting historical tidbit:  Princip nearly survived the war, dying in a Habsburg jail of tuberculosis in April 1918.

      It's been a strange morning.

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      • Jonathan Fenby's De Gaulle Biography (Nigel Jones, UK 06/29/14 4:06 AM)
        John E asks whether anyone has read Jonathan Fenby's biography of De Gaulle, The General: Charles De Gaulle and the France He Saved. I have--and several other lives of the General too. Fenby (who I know) is indeed a reputable journalist turned historian. Briefly editor of the liberal UK Sunday newspaper The Observer, he then edited the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post. As a result, he has two strings to his historical bow: books about France and books about China.

        With regards to Tukhachevasky, most biogs of De Gaulle confirm that the two men first met when prisoners of war in WWI. (De Gaulle was taken prisoner at Douaumont during the bloody battle of Verdun). Presumably it was then that they discussed their common interest in the burgeoning art of armoured warfare.

        As Cameron Sawyer remarks, Tukhachevsky was himself no shrinking violet when it came to inflicting brutal violence. He used such methods against both the Whites in the Civil War and the Red sailors during the repression of the Kronstadt uprising.

        The detail that sticks in my mind regarding the purge of Tukhachevsky by Stalin is that the historians Donald Rayfield in Stalin's Hangmen and Simon Sebag Montefiore in Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar report that Tukhachevsky was badly tortured after his arrest in May 1937 and forced into confessing to being a German spy as part of the purge of the Red Army's High Command, and that, in Montefiore's words, "Tukhachevsky's confession, which survives in the archives, is dappled with a brown spray that was found to be blood spattered by a body in motion." Ironically, given Tukhachevsky's reputed anti-Semitism, the two NKVD torturers who worked on him, Izrail Leplevsky and Zinoviev Ushakov, were both Jewish. Ushakov himself was later purged and shot.

        I'd like to hear Cameron's views on whether the Red Army purge was just another instance of Stalin's paranoia, or whether it was orchestrated from afar by Reinhard Heydrich's Nazi secret service, the SD. Or both.

        JE comments: I'd like to know more about the "Nazis behind Stalin's Red Army purge" thesis. It sounds far-fetched to me, although I'm just an amateur on WWII. As Nigel Jones suggests, Stalin's paranoia never needed outside encouragement.

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        • Did Nazi Intelligence Provoke Stalin's Purge of the Red Army? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 07/15/18 4:10 AM)
          Nigel Jones wrote on June 29th, 2014: "I'd like to hear Cameron's views on whether the Red Army purge was just another instance of Stalin's paranoia, or whether it was orchestrated from afar by Reinhard Heydrich's Nazi secret service, the SD. Or both."

          Sorry for the late (4 years!) reply to this.

          There is some evidence that the Germans fabricated evidence that Tukhachevsky (and seven other Red Army generals) was disloyal, in the hopes of stimulating Stalin to purge him, in order to weaken the Red Army leadership. If this actually happened and actually influenced Stalin, then this German operation must be judged a brilliant success, as the Red Army was virtually decapitated in 1937, which had profound effects on the early stages of Barbarossa.

          Here is an excellent article in English on the very subject: http://www.tracesofevil.com/1999/06/to-what-extent-was-german-involvement.html

          Although the article is based only on secondary sources and only on English language sources, what is written here is an excellent synthesis of everything plausible which I have read in the Russian and German sources. The short version is that Stalin, like many dictators, indeed like many bullies, suffered from deep insecurity, and was terrified to the point of paranoia of anyone who might be considered a rival. Tukhachevsky (like Trotsky) was talented, popular and arrogant (a "potential Napoleon", as one writer called him) and ran into conflict with Stalin from an early stage, already during the Civil War if not earlier. I think that it is pretty clear that Stalin had been looking for an excuse to get rid of Tukhachevsky for a long time. I don't think we can know for sure whether he seriously believed the documents of the "Benesh Dossier" (as Russian historians call it), but it probably doesn't really matter. No such documents were used in Tukhachevsky's trial; the blood-spattered confession referred to by Nigel was all that was judged necessary, and that itself was a mere formality.

          The "Benesh Dossier" was a set of documents supposedly handed over to the Soviets by the then-president of Czechoslovakia in 1937 incriminating Tukhachevsky and others.

          My own opinion is that all this had little to do with the Red Army purges, which were an entirely logical and integral part of Stalin's orgy of slaughter which had its peak in 1937, which started with real enemies, progressed to imagined enemies, and finally dealt with random victims. Stalin used to say "net cheloveka, net problem"--hard to translate the tone of that exactly, but it means something like--"no guy, no problem", or "if there simply isn't that person, then there also isn't the problem." Tukhachevsky could not have survived 1937 in any case; he must have been at the top of the very first lists for liquidation.

          In Russia, these events are referred to simply as "1937."

          JE comments:  Here's the link to Nigel's 2014 WAIS post, which appeared in the context of a lengthy discussion on Tukhachevsky.  Wikipedia reports that De Gaulle and Tukhachevsky were cellmates as POWs during WWI, but the sources for this are not definitive.


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      • Tukhachevsky Again; Remy Roure (Leo Goldberger, USA 06/30/14 6:55 AM)
        While I quite agree that the issue of anti-Semitism in the context of this thread is quite peripheral (see Cameron Sawyer, 28 June), I find it difficult to see why the distinguished French journalist Rémy Roure's testimony of De Gaulle's conversation with his fellow prisoner Tukhachevsky is simply dismissed.

        It was found reliable enough to be quoted in Jonathan Fenby's book on De Gaulle. The quote originally derives from Roure's own book, Le Chef de L'Armée Rouge, Paris: 1928.

        What is it about Rémy Roure that makes him a questionable source? Just curious...

        JE comments:  Good points.  A parallel question would be to ask why Roure would fabricate these anecdotes about Tukhachevsky's anti-Semitism.  Especially, because in the 1920s Bolshevism was often viewed by the Right as a "Jewish" ideology.

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        • Tukhachevsky and Roure (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 07/01/14 3:27 AM)
          In response to Leo Goldberger (30 June), I do not "dismiss" the accusations by one journalist of second or third-hand anti-Semitic statements by Tukhachevsky, which started out in this conversation as one journalist quoting another journalist's book. I simply classify them for what they are:  second- or third-hand statements by one journalist, not supported by any other single source which I have been able to find. As I said, Tukhachevsky may or may not have been an anti-Semite, but I find the evidence presented so far to be exceedingly thin. Maybe there are some other sources, but I haven't uncovered any.

          JE asks why any of these would "fabricate" quotes--well, when a quote has been through so many hands as in this case, no one needs to fabricate anything. Maybe De Gaulle misunderstood or misremembered what he heard. Maybe De Gaulle was really talking about someone else, and the first person to quote him got it mixed up. Maybe it was really De Gaulle making such statements. My legal training taught me to regard hearsay, especially double- or triple hearsay, with a lot of caution. And besides that, as a lover of history, I regard single isolated sources with caution. So here the caution should be squared or cubed.

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          • Tukhachevsky and Sats (Leo Goldberger, USA 07/02/14 6:00 AM)
            I stand corrected, Cameron Sawyer (1 July): I should not have used the term "dismissed," and I much appreciate your care in researching the history surrounding Tukhachevsky. Accepting hearsay evidence or reliance on a single source without further fact-checking is clearly an unacceptable practice, whether in law or in good academic scholarship.

            A case in point, vi-à-vis our recent focus on Natalia Sats, is the surprising assertion by the prominent historian Robert Conquest that she had been married to Tukhachevsky (see The Great Terror: A Reassessment, p. 306), without so much as a source reference. Several others mention her as having been his long-time love and mistress. My own research led me to the claim she was married to USSR People's Commissar of Internal Trade, A. Ya. Veytser (they were both arrested in 1937; he was executed and she sent to Rybinsk Prison camp for some 5 years). I also learned that Tukhachevsky was a notorious womanizer, had many mistresses and only met Natalia Sats shortly before his arrest and that he had wished to divorce his third wife, Nina Grinevich. But this did not come to pass.

            While these are inconsequential details in the larger scheme of things--such as the motivation behind Stalin's brutal purge in 1937 and Tukhachevsky's subsequent "rehabilitation" by Khrushchev and his contemporary elevated stature, but one is still bothered by the inconsistency in rendering even facts that ought to be above the level of speculation.

            Perhaps reading Sats's two-volume memoirs (Sketches From My Life) which I intend to do, might be revealing. Based on several accounts I have come across on the Internet, she was a most remarkable woman, remembered for her strong character and refusal to buckle under Soviet repression--not to mention her multi-faceted role in the musical world and especially in the creation of musical theater for children everywhere.

            JE comments: Has a definitive biography of Tukhachevsky ever appeared? (I should say "definitive" in quotation marks, since no such biography has ever appeared for anybody.)

            As I've pointed out before, Robert Conquest is historically a WAISer (http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=64582&objectTypeId=58832&topicId=123 ), although he hasn't been on our mailing list during my tenure as editor.  He is now 96 years old.  In March in the Hoover Archives, I came across a videotaped Ronald Hilton interview with Prof. Conquest, but unfortunately I didn't have the chance to watch it.

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