Annenkova, Julia (c. 1898–c. 1938)

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Annenkova, Julia (c. 1898–c. 1938)

Soviet activist and journalist, appointed editor-in-chief of Moscow's Deutsche Zentral-Zeitung. Name variations: Julia Gamarnik. Born Julia Ilyishchna Annenkova in Riga, Latvia, around 1898; killed herselfin a labor camp after her son denounced her, around 1938; married Yan Borisovich Gamarnik.

Julia Annenkova, who was born in Riga, Latvia, joined the Communist Party in her teens, at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, and became a zealous activist. Her husband Yan Borisovich Gamarnik (1894–1937), a leading Communist, played a decisive role in the Bolshevik Revolution as a leader of the Reds' seizure of power in Kiev in November 1917. Gamarnik distinguished himself in the Russian Civil War of 1918–1920, rapidly advancing to the post of deputy people's commissar of defense in June 1930.

Annenkova wrote and edited many articles explaining the Revolution. After several promotions, she was appointed editor-in-chief of Moscow's Deutsche Zentral-Zeitung, the central organ for the Soviet Union's German-speaking minority, in 1934. Hers was an extremely sensitive position, because, while the Stalin regime proclaimed itself anti-Fascist, it was increasingly interested in reaching a rapprochement with Nazi Germany. As editor-in-chief, Annenkova was caught between two forces. The political refugees who had fled the Third Reich for sanctuary in the USSR wanted to use the Deutsche Zentral-Zeitung to warn of the peril German National Socialism presented. Joseph Stalin, on the other hand, did not want to convey this message at this particular time. While hewing faithfully to the Stalinist party line, Annenkova raised the quality of the Deutsche Zentral-Zeitung, transforming it into an attractive, readable newspaper. By Soviet standards, the paper provided its readers with significant amounts of news and intelligent commentary.

Annenkova's work gained respect in Moscow's intellectual circles. She included among her close friends the journalist Mikhail Koltsov and his companion, the German refugee writer Maria Osten (1908-1942). German exile intellectuals visiting Moscow, including Bertolt Brecht, Erwin Piscator, Franz Carl Weiskopf, Ernst Busch and Gustav von Wangenheim, never failed to drop by the editorial offices of the Deutsche Zentral-Zeitung to visit Annenkova. She was respected for her passionate hatred of Fascism, lively intellect, and journalistic achievements.

In 1936, Stalin began massive purges of Soviet Communist leaders. Although he was a hero of the Revolution, Yan Gamarnik was charged with being the leader of a "Fascist conspiracy" to destroy the Red Army. He committed suicide on May 31, 1937. Already seriously ill with a heart condition, Annenkova was summarily removed from her editorial position at the Deutsche Zentral-Zeitung and arrested on a trumped-up charge of anti-Soviet activities. In the infamous Butyrka prison, she told fellow prisoner Evgenia Ginzburg that her arrest was a mistake. Believing it necessary to purge the Soviet Union of traitors and doubters, Annenkova asserted that she and a few other innocent individuals had been falsely accused, a mistake that would be rectified.

Julia Annenkova was sent to the Magadan labor camp. Here, she learned that her ten-yearold son had denounced her publicly as a traitor. With her belief in the justness of the Soviet system shattered, she committed suicide, probably sometime in 1938. Throughout her life, Julia Annenkova had worked for a better society in which resources would be shared by all. She and the dream both perished at Joseph Stalin's hands.


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John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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Annenkova, Julia (c. 1898–c. 1938)

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