Mikhoels, Solomon

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MIKHOELS, SOLOMON (stage and public name of Solomon Vovsi ; 1890–1948), Yiddish actor; head of the Moscow State Jewish Theater; chairman of the Jewish *Anti-Fascist Committee. Born in Dvinsk (today Daugavpils, Latvia), Mikhoels studied law at St. Petersburg. In 1918 he joined Alexander *Granovsky's Jewish drama studio, the next year following Granovsky to Moscow, where the group became the State Jewish Theater (goset). He was Granovsky's chief actor, and succeeded him to the directorship in 1928 when he did not returned from abroad. In 1931 he opened a studio affiliated with the theater, which trained actors for all Jewish theaters in the U.S.S.R. Mikhoels, whose distinction lay in his command of both tragic and tragicomic roles, first attracted attention in 1921 in a performance of *Shalom Aleichem's Agents. He was soon playing such famous Yiddish roles as Shimele Soroker in Two Hundred Thousand, Hotsmakh in Goldfaden's The Witch, Benjamin in The Travels of Benjamin the Third by Mendele Mokher Seforim (S.Y. *Abramovitsh), and Shalom Aleichem's Tevye. One of his most notable performances was King Lear in the production by Sergei Radlov in 1935. From August 1941, Mikhoels, as chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, launched fervent appeals to "our Jewish brethren" in the West to help the Soviet war effort against Nazi Germany. In 1943 he and the poet Itzik *Fefer traveled on behalf of the Anti-Fascist Committee to the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and England, where they were enthusiastically received by the Jewish public. At the end of World War ii, when survivors of the Holocaust and Jews returning from evacuation in Soviet Asia tried to resettle in their old homes, Mikhoels gradually became their spokesman and protector, interceding for them with the Soviet authorities. He apparently was also connected with the "Crimean project" which aimed at the settlement of homeless Jews in the Crimea. On Jan. 13, 1948, while on an official mission in Minsk on behalf of the State Committee for Theater Prizes, Mikhoels was brutally killed, ostensibly in an alleged car accident, but in reality executed by the Soviet secret police, on the order of Stalin. (Svetlana Alliluyeva, Stalin's daughter, testified (in her book Only One Year) that her father was personally involved in covering up Mikhoels' assassination and presenting it as an accident.) On January 16, Mikhoels was eulogized at his state funeral in Moscow in which many thousands of Jews participated. Mikhoels' assassination was the first step in the process of the liquidation of all Jewish cultural institutions and of most outstanding Yiddish writers, artists, and actors which took place during the last years of Stalin's rule. In 1952, four years after his death, Mikhoels was claimed as a Jewish nationalist, a "Joint agent," and a contact man with the U.S. intelligence in the "Doctors' Trials." During the de-Stalinization in the mid-1950s Mikhoels was de facto rehabilitated. In Tel Aviv a square was named in his honor in 1962, on the tenth anniversary of the execution of Jewish writers in the U.S.S.R.


B.Z. Goldberg, The Jewish Problem in the Soviet Union (1961), index; K.L. Rudnitskiy (ed.), Mikhoels' (Rus., 1965); Sutskever, in: Di Goldene Keyt, no. 43 (1962); I. Ionasovich, Mit Yidishe Shrayber in Rusland (1959), passim. add. bibliography: N. Vovsi-Mikhoels, My Father Solomon Mikhoels (Russian, 1984); G. Kostyrchenko, In the Captivity of the Red Pharaon (Russian, 1994).

[Binyamin Eliav and

Joseph Leftwich]