On this day: The Doctors’ Plot

January 13 1953: Jewish doctors accused of anti-Soviet plot


In the terrible and tragic history of the Jewish experience in the post-war communist dictatorships of Eastern Europe, one incident in particular stands out. It began with an editorial published in the Pravda newspaper.

The article accused a group of nine high-profile doctors, two-thirds of whom were Jewish, of conspiring to assassinate the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin by poisoning him.

The newspaper, part of the Soviet propaganda machine, made the libellous accusation under the headline: “Vicious Spies and Killers under the Mask of Academic Physicians" and claimed the group had “confessed” to the crime.

Pravda also alleged that the group had the backing of the “Jewish, bourgeois, nationalist organisation” the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The doctors were accused of having killed off two senior members of the Politburo by misdiagnosing their illnesses.

The Soviet statement read: “Some time ago the State Security organs uncovered a terrorist group of physicians who set themselves the task of shortening the life of Soviet leaders by means of injurious treatment.

“As a result of investigations it was established that the members of the terrorist group, utilising their positions as physicians and abusing the trust of their patients, deliberately and villainously undermined [the health of the Politburo members].”

The men, and others, were subsequently arrested and tortured to secure further “confessions” of the plot. The tragedy that could have happened did not because Stalin died in March 1953, just days before the doctors’ trial was set to begin. The case did not progress further and Pravda eventually wrote a follow-up proclaiming the group’s innocence.

What the JC said: “In Stalin’s struggle for power against Kamenev and Zinoviev (both of whom were Jewish and whose forces merged with those of Trotsky), the General secretary had no qualms about cynically exploiting popular antisemitism in factional fights in factories or streets…the ferocious climax of the antisemitic drive was reached in January, 1953…a vast witch-hunt unfolded as Jews everywhere shuddered. Plans were secretly made for the shipment of Jews from Moscow and other cities to hastily erected barracks in Kazakhstan in Central Asia. The noted Soviet scholar, Isaac Deutscher, observed that the Doctors’ Plot would have had “only one sequel: a nationwide pogrom”.

See more from the JC archives here

Last updated: 9:45am, January 13 2011