Shortly before he died on March 5, 1953, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin accused nine doctors, six of them Jews, of plotting to poison and kill the Soviet leadership. The innocent men were arrested and, at Stalin's personal instruction, tortured in order to obtain confessions. "Beat, beat, and again beat," Stalin commanded the interrogators.
The unfortunate physicians can be described as lucky only in comparison with Stalin's eighteen million other victims. The dictator died days before their trial was to begin. A month later, Pravda announced that the doctors were innocent and had been released from prison. It later became known that after their pro-forma trial and conviction, Stalin intended to organize pogroms around the country, after which prominent members of the Jewish community would publicly beg him to protect the Jews by sending them all to Siberia. Indeed, when Stalin died, the supposedly spontaneous appeal by leading Jews had already been written and signed; the signatories had been coerced into signing.
In accusing the Jewish doctors of being poisoners, Stalin was, of course, reviving a libel that was common among medieval anti-Semites. The most notorious incarnation of the "Jews as poisoners" libel occurred in the fourteenth century when they were accused of having caused the devastating Black Plague by poisoning the wells of Europe. In addition to all the Jews who died from the plague, thousands more were murdered in pogroms prompted by these accusations. In 1610, the University of Vienna's medical faculty certified as its official position that Jewish law required doctors to kill one out of ten of their Christian patients. One wonders what it must have been like to be in a Jewish doctor's office — in back of nine other patients.
While one would think that all Jews would have breathed an enormous sigh of relief upon Stalin's death, there was no shortage of Russian Jews who shared in the country's paroxysm of grief. Even more peculiar, I. F. Stone, a well-known left-wing Jewish journalist in the United States, attacked President Eisenhower for not issuing a more effusive note of condolence on the mass murderer's death.
Sources: Joseph Telushkin. Jewish Literacy. NY: William Morrow and Co., 1991. Reprinted by permission of the author.