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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Communism on Trial: The Slansky Affair and Anti-Semitism in Post-WWII Europe


In 1952, hardly a decade after the Holocaust, Communist Czechoslovakia staged one of the post-WWII era’s most blatant acts of state-sponsored anti-Semitism. The Prague Political Purges put on trial fourteen defendants. Eleven of the fourteen were of Jewish origin. All were found guilty, and eleven of the fourteen were condemned to death. The remaining three were sentenced to life imprisonment. All of the defendants were devoted Communists, having shed any religious, ethnic, or national identity in their pursuit of a socialist utopia. Yet, the trial’s main ideological thrust was anti-Semitism. The Slansky Trial of 1952 came as a sharp blow to Jews across a spectrum of political, religious, and national affiliations. The Purge Trials forced many Jews to reexamine their positions vis-à-vis Zionism, Communism, and the Left as a traditionally popular choice for Jews. The trial held unique significance as Jews sought to redefine what it meant to be Jewish in a post-Holocaust world. Despite the trial’s overt use of anti-Semitic tropes, historians have yet to properly explore how Jews, both within and beyond the Iron Curtain, experienced the trial. The impact of the Slansky affair remains a glaring omission both in the history of post-war Jewry as well as post-war Eastern Europe. I will explore how Jews, in a post-Holocaust era, experienced and reacted to officially sanctioned acts of anti-Semitism.

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