Zionists on Trial? The Slánský Affair and the Dynamics of Czechoslovak Stalinism
American Council of Learned Societies Collaborative Research Fellowship of 2018
In 1952 the Czechoslovak Communist regime sentenced eleven men to death and three more to life in prison. All, including General-Secretary Rudolf Slánský, were high-ranking Communist officials. All but three were Jews. This project, which brings together historians Chad Bryant, Kateřina Čapková, and Diana V. Dumitru, challenges predominant interpretations of the so-called Slánský affair as a foreign import imposed by Soviet advisors and an antisemitic Stalin. Building upon the breadth of expertise among team members, the project draws from previously ignored archival documents in Prague, Moscow, Jerusalem, and Washington, DC to focus on local dynamics, while reconsidering the Czechoslovak Communist Party’s relationship with the Soviet Union more generally. In contrast to the totalitarian and neo-totalitarian schools that emphasize the coordinated, efficient, and centralized aspects of communism, Bryant, Čapková, and Dumitru pursue an understanding of nationalism and antisemitism within Eastern European communist regimes after World War II by asking what led comrades and friends to betray each other. Čapková is a scholar of Jewish history based in the Czech Republic. Bryant has published on issues related to Czech nationalism. Dumitru works on nationality policies in the Soviet Union, with a particular interest in Soviet Jews under Stalin. Their coauthored book, to be published in English and Czech, will challenge common notions about communism and communist rule while probing the deep roots of xenophobia found in much of the region today.
Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences