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Conclusion By the eve of World War II, Jewish life had been absorbed within the framework of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. It had taken Soviet power only two decades to break down the resistance of the Jewish community to communism. The members of the Bund had been absorbed into the Soviet establishment from where they had successfully dealt with the threat from Zionism. The traditional Jewish education system (hedarim and yeshivot) had given way to the Soviet school where the teaching was in Yiddish. Nothing was allowed to be printed in Hebrew—the language of prayer. Industrialization and collectivization had isolated the shtetl and led to its decline. The traditional way of life that had been followed for centuries underwent an acute crisis. The rabbinate had lost its authority with many rabbis being arrested or banished from the country. By the late 1930s, most synagogues and houses of prayer had been shut down, and the religiously observant were being persecuted. At the same time many features of Jewish national life continued to exist: scientific and cultural institutions, the Yiddish theatre, Yiddish literature, newspapers, and publishing houses. Jews were engaged in party and Soviet work, in the trade unions and public organizations, served in the Red Army and the NKVD security service. All this disappeared during the Soviet–German War. Three years of Nazi occupation of Belarus and their policy of genocide not only annihilated the Jewish population but with it all aspects of Jewish life. Only those Jews who were evacuated from Belarus or who were drafted into or volunteered for the Soviet Army or joined the partisans escaped with their lives. On their return to Belarus in 1944–45 they constituted a mere 1.3 percent of the total population, after having been 10 percent prior to the war. i5.5 Smilovitsky 00 book.indb 257 2014.07.01. 15:09 258 Conclusion The “unplanned” liberalization that occurred during the war had created an atmosphere immediately after the war where more and more religious communities were requesting registration and demanding the reopening of synagogues—a situation, that was aggravated by the fact that returning evacuees and demobilized soldiers had come home after the war to find that they had nowhere at all to pray. When the war was over, all the communities demonstrated their loyalty to the regime. On the one hand, they celebrated the victory and paid tribute to the victor, but on the other, they felt that now, more than ever, they were entitled to receive legal recognition from the state. This was a time of economic reconstruction, and the Soviet Union was seeking to create a democratic image and to win the support of all sectors of the population. The Jews believed that now the state would develop a different attitude to religion and to those of its citizens who followed the dictates of their faiths. Their hopes were not to be realized. The revival of Jewish life was not put on any Soviet agenda. However, some of the Jewish institutions existed in practice and there was at this stage no attempt to close them down, and despite the immense hardships, Jewish life in Belarus did continue. Congregations were formed, rabbis were invited to speak, community leaders were elected, and many, many applications were made to the authorities for synagogues to be opened. However, the scope of the activities was small; it was still forbidden to open a heder, study Torah, to give charity, or to pray outside the confines of a synagogue. According to Stalin, to return to peace would be through a policy of internationalism, not one of encouraging separatism and independent forms of nationalism within the Soviet Union. But in the second half of the 1940s the Soviet Union preferred its own isolation to the international cooperation that might have had very damaging affects on the regime. In order to quell all opposition—real or imaginary—, a series of ideological campaigns were launched, in the course of which all institutions of Jewish life that still existed were officially abolished. Although these campaigns were directed at the general, non-Jewish population, the Jewish intelligentsia was subject to persecution accused of “rootless cosmopolitism ,” “formalism” in literature, art, and cinema, and “worship of the bourgeois west.” The disbanding of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, the closing of Jewish theaters, publishing houses, magazines, and the arrest of Jewish personages were all designed to lead to the complete liquidation of Jewish life—intellectual, spiritual, and cultural. i5...


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