March 5 this year was the first day of the Jewish month Adar (actually the second of two Adars during this Jewish leap year). We are enjoined by the Talmud to "increase happiness" in Adar, the month of Purim, when we celebrate and express our gratitude to God for delivering the Jews in ancient Persia from their enemies.
On Purim, Jews give alms to the poor and gifts of food to one another. This year, March 5 brought us an early Purim present. It wasn't food, but it was definitely food for thought.
The previous day had been the 50th anniversary of the death of Iosef Vissarionovich Dzugashvili, better known as Joseph Stalin. A new book on the Soviet dictator and mass murderer, "Stalin's Last Crime," is set to be published shortly, and it was on the 5th that The New York Times ran a lengthy article about the book, including its suggestion that Stalin may have been poisoned. The Soviet leader had collapsed after an all-night dinner with four member of his Politburo at Blizhnaya, a north Moscow dacha, and languished for several days before dying. If indeed he was done in, as the book's authors suspect, the likely culprit, they say, was Lavrenti P. Beria, the chief of the Soviet secret police.
The book also recounts the story of the infamous "Doctors' Plot," a fabricated collusion by Kremlin doctors to kill top Communist leaders.
"By the time Stalin disclosed the plot to a stunned Soviet populace in January 1953," the article notes, "he had spun it into a vast conspiracy, led by Jews under the United States' secret direction, to kill him and destroy the Soviet Union itself."
The article goes on to relate something less widely known. "That February," it states, "the Kremlin ordered the construction of four giant prison camps in Kazakhstan, Siberia and the Arctic north, apparently in preparation for a second great terror -- this time directed at the millions of Soviet citizens of Jewish descent."
That terror, however, thankfully never unfolded. Two weeks after the camps were ordered built, Stalin attended the Blizhnaya dinner and, four days later, was dead at the age of 73.
The gift we have been given this Adar is the knowledge of what the killer of millions of his countrymen had apparently planned for the Jews under his control. That he met his fate (however that may have happened) poised to launch a post-Holocaust holocaust of his own, is something we might well add to our thoughts of gratitude at our Purim celebrations this year, a half century later.
And we might note something else as well, especially during this season of meaningful ironies, when God's hand is evident "between the lines" of history to all who are sensitive enough to see it.
Stalin, according to his successor Nikita Khrushchev, who was present at the dinner party, had apparently collapsed after the feast, at which, Khrushchev also recounted, the dictator had gotten thoroughly drunk. The feast ended in the early hours of March 1.
Which, in 1953, corresponded to the 14th day of Adar, otherwise known as Purim.
For further information, check out “Why Didn’t Stalin Murder All the Jews?” (NY 2003) by Dr. Alexder Rashin