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Jewish Social Studies 10.3 (2004) 23-86

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Children of the Revolution:

Communism, Zionism, and the Berman Brothers

In the late 1940s, Jakub Berman, one of a triumvirate of Stalinist leaders in postwar Poland, found himself in Russia dancing with Stalin's foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov. They were dancing to Georgian music, because Stalin especially liked Georgian music, although he tended not to dance very much himself. "Surely," asked Jakub's interviewer, "you mean with Mrs. Molotov?" But no, Jakub explained, Mrs. Molotov was not there, she had already been purged and sent to the gulag. It was Mr. Molotov with whom Jakub was dancing, as he recalls most likely a waltz, in any case something very simple because Jakub knew not the slightest thing about dancing. He just moved his feet a bit, making an attempt to do so in rhythm while Molotov led, apparently not at all badly.1 Stalin wound the gramophone, and Jakub supposed that Stalin considered this a kind of civic duty.

Just at the moment when Jakub was dancing with Molotov at Stalin's party, his younger brother Adolf, a Marxist-Zionist leader, was in Warsaw moving only vaguely more gracefully between the communists and the Zionist Left in a sad, desperate bid to preserve their wartime closeness.2 For both Adolf and Jakub Berman, the immediate postwar years were a time of manic energy, unprecedented activity, and euphoric hopes. It was the brief moment following World War II when the Zionist Left and the Jewish communists found a point of unity. The (left-wing) Zionists shared with the communists a common language and a common aesthetic, including an aesthetic dominant among the Zionist Left [End Page 23] that could aptly be called Zionist socialist realism. This was a shared sensibility, one that was not born of opportunism but rather rested in a deeper sense on an acutely teleological sense of time. It was an era when East European Jewry had been annihilated and the State of Israel was on the verge of coming into being, when civilization seemed to be standing at the crossroads of revolution and utopia, when there reigned a Manichean perception that the world was divided into two camps: the old and the young, the Judenrat and the Jewish Combat Organization (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa [ŻOB]), traitors and heroes, reactionary forces and progress. For both the Zionists (as an act of necessity) and the communists (as an act of will), the past had been irrevocably destroyed. For both, the war represented dramatic discontinuity, a moment of profound temporal rupture. The communists, together with the Zionists, desired intensely to begin history anew, to reinvent the world.3

Grzegorz Smolar, Michał Mirski, and Szymon Zachariasz (who himself had been a left Zionist in his youth before joining the Polish Communist Party) were among the Polish-Jewish communists who returned to Warsaw from the east soon after the city was liberated from the Nazi occupation. They joined Bundists and Zionists of various parties gathering to preside over the remnants of Polish Jewry.4 The latter found its postwar institutional incarnation in the Central Committee of Jews in Poland (CKŻP), which came together shortly after the Warsaw Uprising, in November 1944, and organized commemorations of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising each year.5 Even as they struggled to find resources to rebuild a devastated community in a city of ruins, the CKŻP members, under Adolf Berman's leadership, undertook an international fund- raising campaign for the purpose of constructing a monument to the ghetto fighters.6 When Natan Rapaport's enormous granite monument was unveiled in April 1948 on the fifth anniversary of the ghetto uprising, it quite literally represented Jewish socialist realism rising from the ashes.7 This was the era of Adolf's most manic, most prolific journalistic activity. On this occasion he authored a long article for the Marxist- Zionist press in which he emphasized that those who had fought in the ghetto had not been abandoned, that they had enjoyed, rather, the powerful solidarity of...


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