Doctors' plot

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The Doctors' plot (Russian language: дело врачей (doctors' affair), врачи-вредители (doctors-saboteurs) or врачи-убийцы (doctors-killers)) was an alleged conspiracy to eliminate the leadership of the Soviet Union. It was "exposed" in early 1953, shortly before the death of Joseph Stalin.

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January 20, 1953. Soviet Ukase awarding Lidiya Timashuk with the Order of Lenin for "unmasking doctors-killers". It was revoked later that year.


In the course of the Cold War and the State of Israel allying with the West, the Soviet regime eliminated the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in 1948 and launched an anti-Semitic campaign against so-called "rootless cosmopolitans".

In a November 1952 public conference regarding the Prague Trials, the President of Czechoslovakia, Klement Gottwald, announced: "During the investigation, we discovered how treason and espionage infiltrate the ranks of the Communist Party. This channel is Zionism." (Pravda 1952, November 21) One of the charges brought against Rudolf Slnsk was taking active steps towards shortening Gottwald's life with the help of "hand-picked doctors from the enemy camp." On December 3, former Communist leaders of Czechoslovakia (11 out of 13 were Jews) were executed.

In a December 1, 1952, Politburo session, Stalin announced: "Every Jew is a nationalist and potential agent of the American intelligence." (Recorded by Vice-Chair of the Sovmin V.A. Malyshev) One of the agenda items of December 4 meeting of the Presidium of the CPSU was "The situation in MGB and sabotage in the ranks of medical workers". It was brought by Stalin and vice-minister of MGB S.A. Goglidze. "Without me", Stalin claimed, "the country would be destroyed because you are unable to recognize enemies." An outcome of this session was a decision to consolidate all intelligence and counter-intelligence services under the GRU, headed by S.I. Ogoltsov (later accused of organizing the killing of Solomon Mikhoels in 1948).

An article in Pravda

On January 13, 1953, some of the most prestigious and prominent doctors in the USSR were accused of taking part in a vast plot to poison members of the top Soviet political and military leadership. Pravda, the official newspaper of the CPSU, reported the accusations under the headline "Vicious Spies and Killers under the Mask of Academic Physicians":

"The majority of the participants of the terrorist group... were bought by American intelligence. They were recruited by a branch-office of American intelligence — the international Jewish bourgeois-nationalist organization called "Joint". The filthy face of this Zionist spy organization, covering up their vicious actions under the mask of charity, is now completely revealed... Unmasking the gang of poisoner-doctors struck a blow against the international Jewish Zionist organization."

Among other famous names mentioned were Solomon Mikhoels (who had died under suspicious circumstances in 1948 and was called "the well-known Jewish bourgeois nationalist"), Dr. Boris Shimeliovich (former Chief Surgeon of the Red Army and Director of famous Botkin Hospital), Miron Vovsi (Stalin's personal physician and brother of S. Mikhoels), Yakov Etinger (world-famous cardiologist), A. Feldman (otolaryngologist), A. Grinshtein (neuropathologist), Boris Kogan (therapist), Mikhail Kogan, I. Yegorov and V. Vinogradov. Most of the names (but not all) were Jewish.

The list of alleged victims included Andrei Zhdanov, Aleksandr Shcherbakov, Army Marshals Vassilevsky, Govorov and Konev, General Shtemenko, Admiral Levchenko and others.

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A caricature from Soviet magazine "Krokodil", January 1953


Initially, thirty-seven were arrested, but the number quickly grew into hundreds. Scores of Soviet Jews were promptly dismissed from their jobs, arrested, sent to gulags or executed. This was accompanied by show trials and by anti-Semitic propaganda in state-run mass media. Pravda published a letter signed by many Soviet notables (including Jews) containing incitive condemnations of the "plot".

On February 9, 1953, there was an explosion in the territory of the Soviet mission in Israel, and on February 11 the USSR broke off diplomatic relations with the Jewish state (restored in July). The next day Maria Weizmann, a Moscow doctor and a sister of Chaim Weizmann (who died in 1952), was arrested.

The provinces quickly followed up with similar accusations. For example, Ukraine discovered a local "doctors' plot" allegedly headed by famous endocrinologist Victor Kogan-Yasny (the first in the USSR who treated diabetes with insulin and saved thousands). Thirty-six "plotters" were arrested there.

Newly opened KGB archives provide evidence that Stalin forwarded the collected interrogation materials to Georgi Malenkov, Nikita Khrushchev and other "potential victims of doctors' plot" (reported by Izvestia, 1989, p.155; also Istochnik, 1997, p.140–141).

Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill and other world dignitaries sent condemning telegrams to the Soviet ministry of Foreign Affairs and demanded an investigation.

Stalin's death and the consequences

After Stalin's death, the new leadership admitted that the charges had been entirely invented by Stalin and his cohorts.

The case was dismissed on March 31 by the Chief of NKVD and Minister of Internal Affairs Lavrenty Beria, and on April 3 the Presidium of the Central Committee of CPSU officially acquitted the arrested. Chief NKVD investigator M. Ryumin was blamed for making up the plot and was promptly arrested and executed.

Boris Kogan's son Leonid recalls that upon his father's return home, he asked, "What is "Joint"?"

The "Doctors' plot" was another attempt to hinder growing national awareness of Soviet Jews and to break the ties between Soviet and World Jewry under false pretense of anti-Zionism.

The "Second Holocaust" controversy

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Pre-printed version of the first draft of the "Jewish letter" with the signatures of many Jewish celebrities (January 29, 1953)

Some people think that the scenario of the "Doctors' plot" was reminiscent of the previous Stalin purges of the late 1930s, and the plan to deport the whole population based on its ethnicity resembled previous similar deportations. Accordingly, some argue that Stalin was preparing a USSR-wide pogrom, the "Second Holocaust", to finish what Hitler had begun, but this time, the scheme was not completed because of Stalin's death on March 5, 1953.

Proponents of this version cite mainly the memoirs (sometimes only alleged) and late testimonies of contemporaries, including those by Andrei Sakharov, Anastas Mikoyan, Nikolay Bulganin, Yevgeny Tarle, Ilya Ehrenburg, and Veniamin Kaverin.

There are many problems with this evidence, since we don't really have the memoirs of Bulganin. We only have Yakov Etinger's claims (son of one of the doctors, also Yakov Etinger) that he spoke with Bulganin, who told him about the deportation plans. Etinger's credibility was put into question when he claimed to have published a previously unpublished letter to Pravda, signed by many Jewish celebrities and calling for Jewish deportation. The original two versions of the letter have been published in Istochnik and other publications.[1] (,[2] ( Not only did they lack any hint of a plan to deport Jews to Siberia, they in fact called for the creation of a Jewish newspaper! The real text of the famous letter actually serves as an argument against the existence of the deportation plans.

Etinger was asked to publish the notes taken during his alleged meetings with Bulganin, but they are still unpublished.

Similarly, the late account of Veniamin Kaverin cannot be trusted, because he claimed that he had been asked to sign the non-existent letter about the deportation. It is possible that he had really seen the letter and misremembered its contents many years later under the influence of widespread rumors about the deportation.

Ilya Ehrenburg's memoirs contain only a hint about his letter to Stalin, which was published along with the "Jewish Letter," and also doesn't contain any hint about the deportation.

Sakharov, Yakovlev and Tarle do not specify the sources of their claims and don't claim to be eyewitnesses. Anastas Mikoyan's edited and published version of the memoir contains one sentence about the planned deportation of the Jews from Moscow, but it is not known whether the original text contains this sentence.

Sometimes it is claimed that one million copies of a pamphlet titled "Why Jews Must Be Resettled from the Industrial Regions of the Country" were published, but not a single copy has ever been found.

All these and many other facts forced the researcher of Stalin's anti-Semitism, Gennady Kostyrchenko, to conclude in his article "Deportation - mystification" in the Russian-Jewish magazine Lechaim [3] (, that there is no credible evidence for the alleged deportation plans, and there is much evidence against their existence. Some other researchers think that there is not enough credible evidence for the deportation plans, but the question is still open.[4] (

See also

External links

Further reading

he:משפט הרופאים ru:Дело_врачей


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