Closing the File on Erlich and Alter

Closing the File on Erlich and Alter

Fifty years ago this winter, the Soviet government announced that a crime had been committed. The circumstances of the crime were misstated. The date of the crime was misreported. The victims of the crime were described as if they were the criminals. It’s now possible, and long past time, to set the record straight.

In February 1943, the Soviet government announced the execution of Henryk Erlich and Victor Alter. Before the war the two men had been internationally respected leaders of the General Jewish Workers Union, better known as “the Bund,” the socialist labor movement based i Poland. That did not save them, when they fell into Soviet hands, from ludicrous charges of being agents of, variously, the Polish secret police, the “international bourgeoisie,” and (after the collapse of the Hitler-Stalin Pact), the Nazis. In 1991 the Russian chief prosecutor declared Erlich and Alter were, in reality, innocent of all the charges brought against them. Around the same time the KGB released five volumes of files on the Erlich-Alter case. Since then Erlich’s niece, Viktorya Dubnova (granddaughter of the distinguished Russian-Jewish historian Simon Dubnow), has spent many months copying the files in a room set aside for that purpose in the KGB building in Moscow near Kuznetsky Bridge #22. No xeroxing is available, so every file has had to be copied by hand. Henryk’s son Victor, who made his way be a circuitous route to the United States in 1942, and who is today Professor Emeritus of Russian literature at Yale University, has been translating Dubnova’s transcriptions. The files provide a final, moving testament to the courageous dignity of two veteran revolutionaries in the last months of their lives.

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