8: Excerpts from the court testimony of Perets Markish and Itsik Fefer, 1952.
Remarkably, there is a complete transcript of the two-month trial against the JAFC. Like so many archival materials in the Soviet Union, it was only made available to researchers in the late 1980s. Joshua Rubenstein writes, “Because the trial was not a public one, there was no need to constrain the defendants from expressing themselves. And as the trial progressed, the judges grew more respectful of them, while the presiding judge, Alexander Cheptsov, soon understood that the entire case was a fabrication and tried to stop the proceedings. Under his direction, stenographers recorded every word of judges and defendants alike, creating a reliable account of the proceedings.” These documents are extremely difficult to read; many of the defendants admit to “partial guilt” and agree that the JAFC was guilty of nationalism; many offer evidence against their codefendants. Moments of resistance are brief or coded. One can only imagine the mental state of the defendants after their years of imprisonment and interrogation, and their fear for their families. In the first excerpt, Markish attempts to represent Solomon Mikhoels as neither a colleague nor a friend and speaks of him only critically. Later in the testimony he had to correct the record as other testimony clearly demonstrated their professional relationship (supported by the memoirs of Markish’s wife Esther in resource 7). He is questioned specifically about his poem on the occasion of Mikhoels’ death (resource 2). In the second excerpt, Fefer is likewise questioned about his poem “I am a Jew” (resource 1).
Suggested Activity: As a pre-reading activity, ask students what their expectations are for reading a court document. Do they expect it to be a reliable source? Have students read the exchange between the Presiding Officer and Markish that begins on the bottom of p. 129 (from “How can this be?” to “Yes, it really is important.”) What do they make of Markish mentioning that the chief defendant, Solomon Lozovskii, is laughing at him? Have students read the exchanges in both excerpts when the Presiding Officer quotes from Markish and Fefer’s poems. Why and how does Fefer defend his poem? Why and how does Markish not defend his poem?
Source: Stalin’s Secret Pogrom: The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, ed. Joshua Rubinstein and Vladimir P. Naumov, trans. Laura Esther Wolfson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 92-94 and 128-131. Reproduced by permission of Yale University Press.