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Jews in Soviet Cinema: the film Commissar by Aleksandr Askol'dov.


The article analyzes the film Commissar (1967) by screenwriter and director Aleksandr Askol'dov. This is a unique film on a Jewish theme for the Soviet screen, which discusses Russian-Jewish relations during the civil war. Although it shows these relations in a completely benevolent light, and a Jewish family helps a pregnant Russian Commissar Klavdiia Vavilova, the movie was banned for over twenty years. Askol'dov demonstrated his personal courage in producing a Jewish themed movie in the hostile atmosphere of state antisemitism in the Soviet Union. However, we should admit that his knowledge about Jews and Jewish life was rather limited. As a devout Orthodox Christian, Askol'dov used many Christian symbols in showing Jewish life, and he depicted the Jewish characters in the movie using stereotypes from Russian literature and culture. The movie acquired a second life during Perestroika, when films that had been shelved for many years were released for the public. In spite of its limited comprehension of Jewish life, the film received recognition due to its humanistic message, the strong performances of the popular Soviet actors, and the artistic camerawork.


The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.

--Jeremiah 31:29

Screening of the film Commissar (1967) by screenwriter and director Aleksandr Askol'dov was forbidden in the Soviet Union for over twenty years. The main reason for the film's ban was its Jewish theme. Commissar depicts Russian-Jewish relations during the civil war. The film generated great controversy on its first screening. Simultaneously antisemites considered the film Jewish and Jews considered it antisemitic; Russians thought it was anti-Russian; and the Soviet authorities complained that the film misrepresented the Bolsheviks during the civil war. Several scholarly articles have been published about Commissar, but they all focus on its plot and the image of the main character, Commissar Klavdiia Vavilova, giving significantly less attention to the Jewish images in the film. (1) I hope to fill this gap and to describe the history of the film's creation, which is no less interesting and dramatic than the film itself. I will show how Askol'dov succeeded in simultaneously dissatisfying so many different audiences and why they did not accept the film.

The article also shows the efforts of the liberal Soviet intelligentsia of the 1960s (the so-called shestidesiatniki) to rethink the Soviet past, including interethnic relations in the Soviet Union, and to at least somewhat rectify the horrible injustice toward Jews by returning Jewish themes to the arts and literature. The shestidesiatniki believed that overcoming the injustice toward Jews, both state and popular antisemitism, was the way to create a more tolerant and more liberal Soviet society. They shared a romantic and naive belief in the possibility of creating a more humane socialist society. One of them was Askol'dov, whose personal history will help us better understand his film Commissar.


During the anticosmopolitan campaign in the Soviet Union in 1946-1953 all Jewish national life was forbidden, the remaining Jewish national and cultural institutions were closed and many Jewish public figures and intellectuals were arrested and executed. (2) However, the political climate became milder during Khrushchev's Thaw. The most rabid expressions of antisemitism, such as the late Stalinist "Doctors' Plot," were denounced by the government. But state antisemitism persisted in a more covert form until Gorbachev's Perestroika. Jews remained subject to many forms of discrimination and were not accepted into prestigious universities and high-ranking positions. Jewish national life was suppressed: there were no Jewish schools or organizations in the USSR. The attitude toward Jews was as to a fifth column, as covert Zionists and potential traitors of the socialist Motherland. This attitude became more obvious after the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six Day War and with the beginning of limited authorized Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union in the late 1960s to early 1970s. (3)

Soviet censorship did not allow any films with a primarily Jewish theme between the time of the anticosmopolitan campaign and Perestroika. Jewish characters appeared in Soviet films of the 1950s-1970s only episodically; sometimes just their name suggested that they were Jewish. A few Soviet war films depicted scenes of mass execution of Jews by Nazis, but these were not central to the films, and were included to emphasize Nazi brutality in the occupied territories. (4)

Askol'dov was not first among the Thaw generation of Soviet film directors who wished to make a film on a Jewish theme. But all previous attempts by other film directors who had tried to break through Soviet censorship had failed. For example, in 1963 V. Zhaliakiavichus did not receive permission to film God is with Us!, which was to be about a Jewish ghetto. In 1966 director E. Heifets was not allowed to make a film adaptation of Sholom Aleichem's novel Tev'ie the Milkman (which became the basis of the musical and 1971 Hollywood film Fiddler on the Roof). Even ideologically correct procommunist films were banned if their main characters were Jewish. In 1966 Y. Karasik wanted to make a film about the 1903 Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (RSDRP, later renamed in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union). However, among the delegates to the congress were many Jews, including Bund delegates, and the production of the film was forbidden. (5) The list of forbidden film scenarios with Jewish themes is longer. Inspired by Thaw ideas, the liberal intelligentsia made attempts to return Jewish themes to the Soviet screen, but censorship always prevented these attempts at the beginning.

The only exception was the film Commissar, which was, however, banned immediately after its production. It was almost a miracle that Askol'dov received permission to have the film made at one of the most prestigious film studios in the Soviet Union, the Maxim Gor'kii Movie Studio in Moscow. The production involved several Soviet film stars: Nonna Mordiukova, Rollan Bykov, Vasilii Shukshin (the well-known writer) and the rising star Raisa Nedashkovskaia. Askol'dov also received significant funds to make the film.

We need to turn to the biography of Askol'dov to understand why he wanted to make a film on a Jewish theme and how he received permission. Askol'dov's biography was quite unusual for the Soviet Union: his talent, combined with his nonconformist character, brought him to the heights of the Soviet Olympus several times but then threw him down into the cellar of Soviet society. Askol'dov was born in Moscow in 1932, but his parents soon moved to Kiev where his father worked as director of "Bolshevik," one of the largest city plants, and his mother as a medical doctor. The family, according to Aleksandr Askol'dov, was very happy until his father was arrested, and, on the very next day, his mother. (6) When the NKVD (secret police--members of the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs) came to arrest his mother, Askol'dov heard them saying that they would come back for him later. Usually children of "enemies of the people" were sent to special orphanages. But the five-year-old boy did not wait for the return of the NKVD officers. He fled from his apartment and went to his parents' friends, a large Jewish family that lived nearby. They hid Aleksandr for several months and then sent him to his maternal grandmother who lived in

Moscow. Askol'dov later said in an interview that this had saved his life. (7) After World War II Askol'dov tried to find the family, but all of them had been killed by the Nazis in Babi Yar. (8)

Askol'dov did not say anything in his interviews about the nationality of his parents and said very little about their life. (He revealed a bit more about his mother's family than his father's.) However, Askol'dov's national background, and his father's life, may be key to understanding why the film Commissarwas so important for him. His father, Yakov Lazarevich Askol'dov (Kalmanovich, 1893-1937), was a Jew from the Belorussian shtetl Slutsk, where according to the census of 1897 Jews constituted 71 percent of the population. (9) Yakov served as a soldier in the Russian Army during World War I, where he was involved in revolutionary activities. He was a member of the Soldiers' Committee of the Western Front, and he was arrested for participating in riots; he received a death sentence, but was released after the February 1917 Revolution. (10) In May, 1917, he joined the RSDRP(b) (Russian Social Democratic Workers Party of Bolsheviks). From November 1918 to January 1919 Yakov worked as the head of the Cheka (secret police, later renamed the NKVD, and after World War II, as the KGB) in Vitebsk province. Then he served in the Red Army, first as the "Voenkom" (Military Commissar) of the First Lithuanian Snipers Division and then as a member of the "Revvoensovet" (Revolutionary military tribunal) of the Third Army of the Eastern Front. In 1921 Yakov Askol'dov was an assistant of the commander-in-chief of the Khar'kov military district. In 1922-1924 he was the Head of Main Military-Engineering Administration of the Red Army. (11) He was twice awarded the order of the Red Banner, in 1921 and 1922, for his military service. We do not know why Yakov Askol'dov traded his brilliant military career for a civilian one. However in the early 1930s he led construction the "Sibir"' metal plant in Novosibirsk and then served as its director. He was subsequently appointed director of the Kiev machine construction plant "Bolshevik." (12) Yakov Askol'dov was arrested in the midst of Stalin's Great Terror in May 1937 and was executed on the tenth day after his arrest. (13) Perhaps his father's story inspired Aleksandr Askol'dov to make a film about the Russian civil war.

Askol'dov's mother Aleksandra (Shura) was Russian. His maternal grandmother Pelageia Ivanovna (nee Bogoroditskaia) lived in Moscow in a communal apartment near the Novodevichyi Monastery. She raised Aleksandr while his mother was in prison. She was a religious woman, attended church and visited monasteries, and perhaps introduced Aleksandr to Orthodox Christianity. To survive Pelageia Ivanovna cleaned trams at nights. (14) They were very poor, and Askol'dov recalled that the happiest day of their life was when his grandmother found three rubles on the street.

In the late 1930s everybody lived in an atmosphere of fear, especially if some member of their family had been arrested. Pelageia Ivanovna was not an exception to this rule. For a while she kept a Mauser automatic pistol that had belonged to Yakov. But after his arrest, and that of her daughter, she decided to get rid of it. One day in late fall she wrapped it up in a rag and went with her grandson to a pond at night. Pelageia Ivanovna threw the gun into the pond, but the pond was frozen and the pistol stuck in the cracked ice. So she had to wade out into the icy water "to sink the dangerous past." (15) Aleksandr also felt haunted by "the dangerous past" of his parents. From a young age he struggled to comprehend his parents' fate and his own national identity. His thoughts about these things, and about the complexity of Jewish-gentile relations, were all expressed in the film Commissar.

Askol'dov's mother returned from imprisonment to Moscow in 1941 and worked as a nanny in a kindergarten and then as a medical doctor. During the war she was one of the organizers of the blood donors' movement in the Soviet Union. (16) She was again arrested at the end of the war. (17) As a son of an "enemy of the people," Askol'dov was not accepted to university as a student. He became an "extern" at Moscow State University and was only later allowed to enroll there as a regular student. (18)

After the death of Stalin new liberal tendencies in Soviet society broke through the old Stalinist system. The Soviet intelligentsia initiated this liberalization with their publications. However the Stalinists did not want to give up their positions without a struggle. Askol'dov was involved in this struggle during his student years. As a son of an "enemy of people" he well understood that otherwise he had no future in Soviet society, so he tied his hopes to its liberalization.

In 1953 the writer Vladimir Pomerantsev published his article, "About Sincerity in Literature," in the journal Novyi Mir. The Department of Science and Culture of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in a note of 8 February 1954, denounced the article for "subjectivity" and used it as an example of the "unhealthy" tendency among the intelligentsia. (19) Askol'dov published an article in one of the two main Soviet newspapers, Izvestiia, in defense of Pomerantsev. The editor of the newspaper Aleksei Adzhubei was Khrushchev's son-in-law, so Askol'dov's liberal views were officially sanctioned. But the local communist authorities were confused by the interparty struggle between the Stalinists and more liberal communists. So just in case they expelled Askol'dov from the Komsomol (Communist Youth League) for his article and also raised the question of expelling him from the university. (20) But the anti-Stalinist tendencies prevailed and Askol'dov's membership in the Komsomol was restored. The fact that Askol'dov's article in Izvestiia attracted the attention of the authorities may have helped him later in his career.

During the Thaw life seemed to have been favorable for Aleksandr for a while. In 1955 he received a Master of Arts in literature from Moscow State University, and then in 1958 completed his doctoral studies at the Maxim Gor'kii Literary Institute in Moscow. (21) Askol'dov researched the literary heritage of Mikhail Bulgakov. He was invited to work at the Ministry of Culture, which was led in 1960-74 by the all-powerful Ekaterina Furtseva, who had close reladons with Khrushchev. Askol'dov initially worked as an inspector of the Theater Department of the Ministry of Culture, and then in 1963-1964 he served as member of the Scenario-Editorial Board of the Main Administration of Cinematography of State Film of the USSR. (22)

So already in his twenties Askol'dov was a member of the Soviet nomenklatura and worked in the central government in Moscow. About such a career many of his contemporaries could only dream. Askol'dov had presumably listed his nationality as Russian. (Soviet passports listed a person's nationality and the dossiers of all candidates for government positions were carefully screened.) Since the late 1930s-1940s Jews has been removed from all leading administrative positions in the Soviet Union. There were a very few exceptions, but, as a rule, Jews were not allowed to work in the Soviet government after World War II due to state antisemitism.

Askol'dov described the period of his life when he worked in the Ministry of Culture as one of the happiest. Many good films were produced in the Soviet Union during the Thaw period, and as a member of the Scenario- Editorial Board of the Main Administration of Cinematography, Askol'dov had a chance to read many interesting scripts and become acquainted with talented film directors. For example, Askol'dov helped start the career of the director of the film Ivanovo detstvo (Ivan's Childhood, 1962), Andrei Tarkovsky. This film made Tarkovsky a world celebrity. (23) Askol'dov's position also gave him access to the highest Soviet authorities. Askol'dov said in his interview that he personally delivered some questionable films to the dacha of Nikita Khrushchev for approval. (24)

His work in the Main Administration of Cinematography inspired Askol'dov to make his own film. The young and ambitious Askol'dov wanted not only to approve or disapprove scenarios and films, but to produce something significant himself. In 1966 he graduated from "the Higher Courses of Film Directors and Screen-writers, a two-year graduate program in film production, affiliated with Mosfilm Studios." (25) Commissar, Askol'dov's first and only feature film, followed in 1967. (26) He wrote the screenplay and directed the film. Askol'dov was not completely naive; he knew well the negative official attitude toward Jewish themes in the Soviet Union. Askol'dov recalled in his interview that everybody told him, "You are a good man, but why do you need these Jews?" (27) Of course, among his colleagues in the Ministry of Culture there were only gentiles, and they considered Askol'dov a gentile as well.

At the same time, the Thaw years displayed society's complicated attitude toward the Jewish question. While grassroots antisemitism flourished in the Soviet Union, the liberal intelligentsia believed that it was necessary to actively resist antisemitism, and they sometimes broke through Soviet censorship with Jewish themes. In 1961 Yevgeny Yevtushenko published his poem "Babi Yar" in Literatumaia Gazeta. Although the poem was personally denounced by Khrushchev, it made Yevtushenko a celebrity. In 1962 the renowned Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his Thirteenth Symphony, subtitled Babi Yar, with the chorus adapted from Yevtushenko's poem. (28) The Soviet writer Anatoly Kuznetsov (1929, Kiev-1979, London) described the Holocaust of Jews in Kiev in his Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel. The book was originally published in censored form in 1966 in the popular Soviet journal Yunost' (Youth). (29)

After the death of Stalin the intelligentsia reconsidered the country's past. During the Thaw many Soviet intellectuals turned to the themes of Revolution and the civil war, depicting them as an idealistic romantic period--a as opposed to Stalinism with its atmosphere of fear and repression. They tried to purify Communism from Stalinism and naively hoped to create socialism with a human face, as it was later known. A popular Soviet bard, the poet and writer Bulat Okudzhava, expressed this idea of returning to the supposedly pure origins of socialism in his Sentimental March (1957). The song became the unofficial anthem of the shestidesiatniks, who took its refrain to heart:


   But if suddenly sometime
   I fail to protect myself,
   no matter what new battle may shake the globe,
   it makes no difference,

   I will fall in that war,
   that distant civil war,
   and the commissars in dusty helmets
   will bend silently over me. (30)

To satisfy the great interest of society in the historical past, a number of films were made in the 1960s about the civil war, including several with the word commissar in the title such as Ballada o Komissare (Ballad of the Commissar, 196, Komissary (Commissars, 1969), Chrezvychainyi Komissar (Extraordinary Commissar, 1970). Russian film critics called these films poetic and romantic, inspired by revolutionary ideals. (31)

Askol'dov's film Commissar definitely belongs to this film category with one peculiarity: it focuses on Jewish-gentile relations during the civil war. Evgenii Margolit wrote that the myth of Revolution is shown in the film as a myth of creation, and this was the way Askol'dov formulated the main idea of his film: "I made the film about how from blood and filth was born the new revolutionary morality." (32) According to Askol'dov, the film was intended to carry a strong humanistic message and to teach people religious and ethnic tolerance. (33) He tried to present positive examples of interethnic cooperation and tolerance in the film. Askol'dov also claimed that through the film he wanted to express his gratitude to the Jewish family that had saved his life and later perished in Babi Yar. He explained in an interview that although he barely remembered these people, he well recalled their kindness and selflessness. (34)

Searching for the appropriate literary material for his film Askol'dov read a short story "In the City of Berdichev" by Vasilii Grossman (Iosif Solomonovich Grossman, 1905-1964), and decided to base his film Commissar on this story. Askol'dov showed his scenario to the renowned Soviet film director Sergei Gerasimov, who supported the film's production. Askol'dov said that without Gerasimov's patronage the authorities would never have allowed the film to be made. (35) Askol'dov's connections in the Ministry of Culture were probably also helpful for approval of the scenario.


Vasilii Grossman's story "In the City of Berdichev" was first published in 1934 in Literatumaia gazeta. Grossman was a well-known writer in the Soviet Union in the 1930s-1950s; he published several novels and many stories. However, Black Book: The Ruthless Murder of Jews by German-Fascist Invaders Throughout the Temporarily-Occupied Regions of the Soviet Union and in the Death Camps of Poland during the War in 1941-1945, a collection of documentary testimonies by victims and witnesses of the Holocaust, which was assembled and edited by Grossman and Ilia Ehrenburg, could not be published in the Soviet Union until 1991. Grossman's magnum opus, his novel Life and Fate, was confiscated by the KGB in 1961. The chief ideologist of the Communist Party, Mikhail Suslov, told Grossman that his book could not be published in the Soviet Union for two or three hundred years due its anti-Stalinist content. The novel Life and Fate was published abroad in 1980 and then during Perestroika in the Soviet Union. (36) However, Askol'dov did not know about the confiscation of Life and Fate when he decided to base his film on Grossman's story.

As the title indicates, the plot of "In the City of Berdichev" takes place in Grossman's native Berdichev, which is located 27 miles south of Zhitomir. Before the Revolution Berdichev was called the Jewish capital of the Russian Empire, due to the very high concentration of Jews in the city. According to the 1897 census, 41,617 Jews lived in Berdichev, or 80 percent of the population. (37) However, most of the Jews of Berdichev either moved to larger cities before World War II or perished during the Holocaust. In 1970 only 5,700 Jews (8 percent of the city population) lived in Berdichev. (38)

Perhaps the disappearance of Jewish Berdichev after the Holocaust induced Askol'dov to shoot his film in some other place. For the filming he chose the more picturesque city of Podolia Kamenets-Podol'skii, where the old fortress was preserved; there were many churches and Jews also lived there. Most of the film was filmed in Kamenets-Podol'skii, with some scenes shot in the small town of Tsuriupinsk near the city of Kherson.

Grossman's story is about Commissar Klavdiia Vavilova, who became pregnant during the civil war and had to take temporary leave from the Red Army to give birth. She was put up in the home of the Jewish family Magazanik in Berdichev.

The film and the original story focus on the relations between Vavilova and the Jewish family during her pregnancy, the birth of her child and a short time thereafter. When the Red Army withdraws from Berdichev during the Polish offensive, Vavilova's squad marches against them. Her comrades are supposed to slow down the Polish offensive by sacrificing their lives. Vavilova is unwilling to abandon her comrades, so she leaves her newborn son with the Magazanik family and marches off with her squad toward certain death. In the film this is shown in a very effective ending, accompanied by the music of the Internationale. (39)

Askol'dov significantly enlarged Grossman's original short story to include enough material for a 110 minute film. He incorporated parts of Isaac Babel's collection of stories Red Cavalry (Konarmiia) that also describes the fate of Jews during the civil war, including scenes of a pogrom. I will explain below why some of this material does not integrate well with Grossman's story.

Askol'dov renamed the Jewish characters of the story. In the original story, the main Jewish characters are Khaim-Abram Leibovich Magazanik and his wife Beila; Askol'dov gave them the more Russian-sounding names Efim and Maria.

This was not only an attempt to make their names more acceptable for the gentile audience, to whom this film was mainly addressed, but also, as several scholars have suggested, an attempt to create a parallel with the Holy Family. (40) In the film, many Christian symbols and metaphors refer to the New Testament. For example, Efim shows his love for Maria by washing her feet, reminiscent of John 13:1-15, where Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles before the Last Supper. On the day after this expression of deep love for his wife, Efim insults Maria, talking about her as a loose woman, and slaps her in the face, because she revealed Efim's secret to Vavilova: he is only brave in the daytime but at night fears the pogrom-makers. Neither the washing of feet, nor slapping his wife in the face would be typical for a Jewish husband; these scenes, of course, are absent in Grossman's story and were added to the film by Askol'dov.

There are many other Christian symbols in the film. Askol'dov repeatedly shows beautiful statues of the Madonna in the film, representing the woman-Commissar as a new Communist Madonna. Regarding Vavilova and her child, these Christian symbols may be appropriate, but it is looks strange when the life of a Jewish family is depicted through Christian symbols and metaphors. Christian symbols definitely dominate over Jewish ones in the film. For example, the film shows many beautiful churches and only one ruined synagogue, although in the real Berdichev, with its 80 percent Jewish population, there were many more synagogues than churches in 1920.

Askol'dov probably used this allegory to suggest the dominance of Christianity over Judaism, which lies in ruins. Askol'dov and his cameraman Valerii Ginzburg were Orthodox Christians. Furthermore Ginzburg, the youngest brother of the well-known poet, writer and bard Aleksandr Galich (pseudonym of Aleksandr Ginzburg), belonged to the circle of the charismatic Russian Orthodox priest and theologian Aleksandr Men'. (41) Valerii and his more famous brother were born in a Jewish family, but were both baptized as Orthodox Christians as adults. So the depiction of Jewish-gentile relations during the civil war in the film emphasizes Christian values.

Askol'dov's and Ginzburg's spiritual search for their religious identity and justification for their choice of Christianity is represented in the film through a scene in which commissar Vavilova walks through the town with her newborn son. The audience sees the city through Vavilova's eyes. She sees a large and beautiful Orthodox church that greets her and her son with the sound of ringing bells, announcing to the world the great news about the birth of a new man. Vavilova passes the market square, where people are selling, shopping, eating, and dancing. But Vavilova is above this vanity; the birth of the child has made her as holy as Mary. To emphasize this comparison the camera shows us beautiful statues of the Madonna. A Catholic priest who meets Vavilova bows to her and her child, showing respect for her motherhood. Only the rabbi in the ruined synagogue meets Vavilova and her son in silence. First he even turns his back on them. When he eventually turns toward them, his face expresses only emptiness and despair, and Vavilova runs away with her child from this spiritually and physically ruined place. Vavilova receives an even worse reception from her comrades, who laugh at her and her motherhood and even shoot toward her when she tries to escape from them. This shooting is only an attempt to scare her, but escaping from her comrades, Vavilova cries for the first and the last time in the film. She cries because of the lack of understanding from her own comrades who do not respect her motherhood.

There are other stereotypes in the depiction of Jews in the film. Typical images of Jews in prerevolutionary Russian literature were of old, dirty, and ugly men, contrasted to beautiful young Jewish girls or women. (42) The Magazanik family is depicted in the film according to this stereotype: the beautiful, shapely young Jewish woman Maria, who is mother of six children, and the much older ugly and dirty Jewish husband, Efim. Askol'dov described Efim as "short, balding, and very defenseless." (43) The original story does not say anything about the age or appearance of the Jewish characters, so Askol'dov apparently took his stereotypical images of Jews from Russian literature.

Maria is dressed in nice clothes, wears beads, and walks about in a rather suggestive slip when strangers come into the yard of their house. All of this is very atypical behavior for Jewish women of that time and place. Her husband Efim wears the same dirty loose shirt for the entire film. Jewish children in the film sometimes walk naked outside on the street, which would never have happened in a Jewish family in a Jewish city such as Berdichev (and which does not occur in Grossman's story). Even more ridiculous is film's depiction of the Jewish children, who draw big moustaches on their faces (perhaps representing the Ukrainian Cossacks) and play at pogrom-makers.

They choose their own sister as a "Jew" who is to be tortured, beaten, and crucified by hanging. At the last moment she is rescued by her father Efim, who screams at the children: "Pogrom-makers, bandits, killers! Children, and they are my children!" These preposterous scenes are absent in the original story, as Jewish children never would behave this way.

Furthermore, the Jewish characters in the film, except for Efim's mother, seem absolutely indifferent to religion and Jewish traditions. This is would also be quite atypical for Jews in Berdichev at the time. Efim even sarcastically modifies the biblical story of the creation to show that the biblical story is no longer relevant, as the Bolsheviks have created a new world through the Revolution and the civil war. Efim proposes his own version of the biblical story which is quite primitive and which reflects the misery of the world where he lives. Efim's version of the story is this: on first day God created the potato, and on the second day God created the potato, and on the third day God created the potato, and on the fourth day God created the potato, and on the fifth day God created the potato; then Efim asks "Why did God create us on the six day?" This anecdote is most likely a paraphrase of the Yiddish folk song Bulbes (Potato), which represents the reality of the life of poor Jews, especially during the civil war: (44)

   Zuntik bulbes, montik bulbes,
   Dinstik uhn mitvoch bulbes,
   Donershtik uhn fraytik bulbes.
   Ober shabbes in a noveneh a bulbeh kuggele
   Zuntik vayter bulbes
   Sunday potatoes, Monday potatoes,
   Tuesday and Wednesday potato,
   Thursday and Friday potato,
   But on the Sabbath for a change a potato pudding,
   Sunday once again potatoes. (45)

The incorporation of parts of Babel's short story "Gedali" from Red Cavalry into Commissar seems artificial. In the story "Gedali" words about "the International of good people" and the "sweet Revolution" belong to an observant old Jewish man, who has studied the Talmud and who loves "the commentaries of Rashi and the books of Maimonides." (46) Gedali is a provincial Jewish philosopher who sits in his antique store "and listens to invisible voices that come wafting to him." (47) In contrast, Efim Magazanik in the film does not sit calmly even for a minute. He has a wife, an old mother, and six children, and he is the only employed person in the family. So Efim would not have time for philosophical reflections. He has an explosive and rather hysterical temperament. Efim's character is utterly the opposite of the calm, observant, philosophically minded Gedali. Because of this, it seems like a very phony pastiche when Efim, always rushing about, a simple tinkerer, begins to speak in the philosophical language of Gedali.

There is another strange Jewish character in the move, Efim's silent mother. Grossman's story mentions Efim's mother without saying anything about her except that she is old. Perhaps because of this, Magazanik's mother does not have any lines in the film, and is just seen praying in some scenes. In others she is completely silent, strangely staring at the other members of the family or bringing them items at their request. She is an old and ugly woman. In typical Jewish families the eldest members had the most authority and the most things to say, and were often the decision makers; the elder would advise the younger generations about everyday life issues, and children and grandchildren would treat their parents and grandparents with respect. In the film, Efim's nameless and silent mother is reduced to the position of a servant of the family.

The scene of the Holocaust, the so-called "Walk of the Doomed," is also quite problematic. (48) Such a scene is of course absent in Grossman's story, which was written in 1934. In the film, Magazanik's family and all the other Jews of the town walk with yellow stars on their clothes to the place of their execution. The Jewish procession is pulling a coffin with them that is also marked by a yellow Star of David. The scene with the coffin is ridiculous from the point of view of Jewish tradition and as well as the history of the Holocaust. Religious Jews do not bury their dead in coffins and the Nazis did not allow Jews being sent to death to pull coffins along with them. If this is an allegory, it is certainly not a Jewish allegory. Commissar Vavilova silently follows the Jewish procession with her baby. In the film, all of the characters are of the same age during the Holocaust as they were in 1920. Askol'dov perhaps wanted to show symbolically that all of these Jews were doomed, as was the Jewish family in Kiev that saved his life in childhood. However, there were twenty years between the civil war and the Holocaust. In these twenty years, many events might have occurred, not only tragic, but also joyful ones. Certainly "The Walk of the Doomed" is an artistic allegory, but one which creates an image of Jews as permanent passive sufferers. Such a perception of Jews was typical for the liberal Soviet gentile intelligentsia. Vasilii Shukshin, who played the commander of the Red squad Kozyrev in the film, said: "This film is the story of a simple man, played by Bykov [i.e. Efim Magazanik]. He is a wonderful man, an excellent family man. But he cannot defend himself. We, Russian people, are strong; it is our duty to defend him." (49)


Askol'dov said that the Jewish fate in his film is a metaphor of suffering and injustice. (50) He stated that Commissar really is "a film about Russia, not about Jews; Jews are only the construction material of a picture about the fate of Russia." (51) But the "construction material" already began to resist the film during its production. Askol'dov needed Jews for crowd scenes, for example, "The Walk of the Doomed," but the local Jews in Kamenets-Podol'skii flatly refused to participate. Askol'dov explained this by the antisemitic atmosphere in Ukraine in 1966. There had been a number of antisemitic "excesses" in Ukraine, for example, a synagogue was torched in Kamenets-Podol'skii itself. (52) Askol'dov recalled that his crew did not even need to build the set of the ruined synagogue for the film because there was an actual recently burned synagogue in the city. (53) But he could not persuade the local Jews to perform in the film.

Searching for Jews with more ethnic consciousness, Askol'dov went to the town of Khotin, one of the former Jewish shtetls of Bessarabia, which had belonged to Romania until the Soviet occupation in 1940. Jewish national life had been better preserved there, and under Soviet rule the synagogues and melameds continued to function secretly. In Khotin, for ten rubles a local boy directed Askol'dov to the underground synagogue. Askol'dov came to the rabbi and told him that he was shooting a film about the Revolution and asked him to persuade local Jews to perform as extras in the crowd scenes. The rabbi said, "Comrade Askol'dov, this is impossible. People [i.e., Jews] are so insulted that they don't believe in anything, they won't come." (54)

No Jews were willing to participate in the shooting of the film. Askol'dov later claimed that in complete despair he sent the following telegram to a secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine: "Comrade Skaba! We are shooting a film about the Revolution and want to show not only the suffering of the common people, but also how poor Jewish people supported the Russian people in revolt. Help us!" (55) As Askol'dov told the story, the authorities issued an order to organize crowd scenes with Jews. The order said, "For the shooting of the film Commissar provide two Jews from each factory, plant and the leather industrial complex." (56) However, the Jews who were forced to gather still refused to perform in the film. Nonna Mordukova, who played the commissar, appealed to them: "Comrade Jews! You should be ashamed of your behavior. We are making a very good picture and it will be definitely released!" Thereafter the Jews finally agreed to participate in the crowd scenes. (57)

Why were Jews so reluctant to participate in the film? Askol'dov explains this by their fear either of common antisemites or of the authorities, among whom there were also many antisemites. The Jews remembered Stalin's anticosmopolitan campaign in the late 1940s to the beginning of the 1950s. Perhaps there was an additional reason why Jews did not want to participate in Askol'dov's film: they did not trust his ability to make a good film on Jewish-gentile relations. Askol'dov and most of the professional actors in the film were gentiles who knew very little about traditional Jewish life. (58) So perhaps the Jews doubted that the gentile actors would accurately represent Jews on the screen.

Another reason for their reluctance was the moral difficulties that the crowd scenes produced. For "The Walk of the Doomed," Askol'dov chose a place in some ravine, put a crowd of Jews with yellow stars affixed to their clothes at the entrance, and turned on some tragic music. The crowd of Jews was supposed to walk into the ravine towards the camera, but the Jews suddenly began weeping and refused to move. Askol'dov said that he could not understand what was going on. "And suddenly the situation became clear; it was revealed that in [1941]-1943, at exactly this place, the Nazis ... executed the Jews of Kamenets-Podol'skii. We worked for a long time to persuade the people [to carry on with the shoot]. I would not exaggerate if I say that I kneeled in front of them." (59)

Askol'dov had other serious problems with the production. He had plenty of money, but he was assigned a film crew from the Yalta branch of Gor'kii Studio. This branch of the studio was a place of "exile" for misbehaving studio workers, and the crew from Yalta was drunk all the time. Askol'dov recalled that one of the most difficult parts the film was a scene with a herd of horses. When Askol'dov arrived to shoot this scene near Kherson, all of the riders were drunk, and the trainer was on a bender and did not show up at all.

Work was also slowed down by the endless commissions that came to check on the progress of the shooting. (60) The actress Mordiukova recalled that many of these difficulties were caused by the Gor'kii Studio administration. She said, "There were problems with the film: the administration intentionally did not create appropriate conditions for the film's shooting, tortured and mocked him [Askol'dov]. The head of the studio came to halt the shooting ... I felt sorry for the film director and his film." (61) These difficulties were created perhaps by order of higher authorities who did not want Askol'dov to finish his film. Then the bureaucrats from the film industry could claim that the young film director could not cope with the work. However, Askol'dov showed his persistence and overcame all these difficulties.

There also was a problem with the actors. Askol'dov reported that when they had been selected and the shooting began, there was strong pressure on him from the Soviet celebrities Mordukova and Bykov to remove the young actress Nedashkovskaia from the film (she played the role of Maria). Bykov claimed that Nedashkovskaia could not speak or perform properly. He proposed to make her totally silent in the film, like Efim's mother, arguing that "her muteness will be a metaphor for the muteness of the Jewish people." (62) But Askol'dov decided that two dumb Jewish women would be too much for one film and left Nedashkovskaia her lines. Some of these problems during the shooting may have been due to Askol'dov's lack of experience. This was his first film and perhaps it was hard for him establish authority over the crew and actors. He was 34 years old at the time of the shooting and Bykov and Mordukova evidently thought that they should advise him how to do it.

The film was dedicated to the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution in 1967, but it was shown only once after its completion, at the Gor'kii Film Studio, in September 1967. The audience, who all worked at the Studio and at the Artistic Council, were hostile, whistling and making noises during its screening. (63) Askol'dov lamented in an interview that on the day after the film was shown "three quarters of the people who worked at the studio, including absolutely all the Jews, stopped saying hello." (64)

The final decision to ban the film was made at a meeting of the Scenario Editorial Board of the State Cinematography Committee (Goskino) on December 29, 1967. Askol'dov was blamed for breaking Soviet norms of "proletariat internationalism and humanism." (65) The director and artist of animation films Anatolii Sazonov claimed that Commissar was insulting for him. He stated,

   When Bykov [Magazanik] says: "When will the time come when the Pale
   of Settlement is abolished?"--this is a hint at our time, not to
   the time of the Tsarist pogroms....

   This was personally insulting to me, as though I were an
   antisemite. I am not an antisemite, but I was suspected of
   antisemitism. (66)

The head of the State Cinematography Committee, A. V. Romanov, told Askol'dov, "I cannot support this film, because the group of comrade Jews from the Gor'kii Film Studio considers it antisemitic." (67) Romanov said at the meeting it was suggested that in the film

   Actor Bykov attempts to depict a Jewish craftsman as if he came out
   of a joke, without having any clue as to how he would look in real
   life. All his jumps and grimaces are taken from Jewishjokes. I had
   a conversation with Jewish film critics, whom I deeply respect, and
   they said: this is an antisemitic film. (68)

Romanov also accused Askol'dov of reducing the heroic stature of the commissar in the film and of expressing a nihilistic view of the Russian Revolution. (69) Soviet cinema usually showed revolutionaries as idyllic heroes who completely devote themselves to the revolution. The more complicated image of Commissar Vavilova, whose feelings are split between her revolutionary duty and the love of her newborn child, did not fit this scheme and was rejected by Goskino.

Only two people at the meeting, the writer Konstantin Simonov and film director Sergei Gerasimov, tried to defend the film, claiming that there was nothing dangerous or antisemitic in the movie, but their intercession did not save the film from being prohibited. (70)

Why might the Jewish film critics, who had the chance to see Commissar, perceive the film as antisemitic? The image of the Jewish craftsmen Magazanik played by Bykov, as mentioned above, had some flaws and demonstrated a stereotypical view of Jews. The film's depiction of Jews as weak, passive sufferers, who walk to their death without any resistance, may also have irritated Jewish film critics. Many Jews fought in the Soviet Army during World War II, many perished in battles, and others came home from the front decorated with medals for their courage. So the image of a weak and dirty Jewish man, who waits for somebody else to defend him and his family, was unacceptable to many Soviet Jews of the war and postwar generations. The representation of Jewish life in Berdichev through Christian symbols probably also did not add to the film's appeal in Jewish eyes. Askol'dov did not understand why Jews did not accept his film. He said in an interview that "My colleagues, not the authorities, killed my film." (71) He repeated several times in his interviews that his colleagues had betrayed him. (72) Askol'dov was absolutely sure that he had created a positive image of Jews and that the film was meant to teach people religious and ethnic tolerance.

Commissar was banned for the next twenty years. It seems that the authorities used the label "antisemitic" to ban a film on the inconvenient Jewish theme, which could have provoked a sharp discussion about Jewish-gentile relations in Soviet society. Another and more serious reason for the prohibition of the film had to do with the change of the political situation in the Soviet Union after the Six Day War. If before the war literary works with Jewish themes seldom broke through Soviet censorship, after the war Jewish themes were completely banned. To avoid the "dangerous" Jewish theme, at one point Romanov proposed that Askol'dov substitute Tatars for Jews in the film, claiming that they also have many children. Perhaps Romanov got the idea from the nickname of the main Jewish character in Grossman's story Tuter, which means "Tatar" in Yiddish. (73) Needless to say, Askol'dov refused to take this advice.

Askol'dov did not accept Goskino's decision to prohibit his film and continued to defend it and complain to the authorities. In response the authorities decided to punish him as an example. He was accused simultaneously of both Zionism and antisemitism and was fired from the Gor'kii Film Studio as "professionally unfit." (74) He was also put on trial for wasting a large amount of state funds for producing an "unfit" film. Finally Askol'dov was expelled from the Communist Party as "an idler." (75) He was not allowed to work in his profession anymore. However, to be unemployed in the Soviet Union was a crime, and one day Askol'dov received a call from the director of the Sovremennik theater Oleg Efremov, whom Askol'dov had helped open the theater when he worked in the Ministry of Culture. Efremov warned Askol'dov that it would be better if he did not sleep at home because he might be arrested. (76) Askol'dov, who well remembered the tragic fate of his parents, decided to disappear from Moscow. He moved to Tataria, where he worked on the construction of the "KamAZ" (Kama Car Plant) in a carpentry and concrete brigade. There with a friend he made two documentary films in 1974, but they were also banned and "disappeared without a trace." (77)

Akol'dov's friends attempted to help him return to Moscow and rehabilitate his movie. In 1975 two Soviet film celebrities, the director Gerasimov and actor Rostislav Pliat, sent a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in which they requested that the attitude toward the film Commissar and its director be reconsidered. However the new head of Goskino Fillip Ermash informed the Central Committee that Goskino had not changed its opinion. (78) So Commissar remained banned, but with time Askol'dov came back into the good graces of the authorities. Perhaps they decided that they had punished him enough.

In the late 1970s Askol'dov was able to return to Moscow. In 1981-85 he worked as the executive director and producer of the most prestigious concert hall in Moscow, "Rossiia" (Russia). (79) He brought to the stage the popular singers Alla Pugacheva and Valerii Leont'ev, who became major stars of the Soviet estrada. (80) Returning to Moscow and to professional activity meant that Askol'dov had been forgiven by the authorities. Soon he rejoined the Communist Party and his professional career again developed successfully.

When Perestroika began, Askol'dov, who truly believed in the liberalization of Soviet society, made a new attempt to return Commissar to the screen. Askol'dov had always considered Commissar the main work of his life and wanted his film finally to be seen. However, his efforts to have the film pass through the censorship brought Askol'dov his second expulsion from the Communist Party. This time it was "for violation of the Leninist norms of life" on November 20, 1986, and was presided over by Boris Yeltsin, who was then First Secretary of the Moscow Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. (81)


In July, 1987, an International Film Festival was held in Moscow. Celebrity attendees included Robert De Niro (President of the Jury), Vanessa Redgrave, Italian film director Giuseppe De Santis, and Nobel Prize laureate in Literature Gabriel Garcia Marquez. During the press conference in the Union of Soviet Cinematographers, the head of the Union, Elem Klimov, told foreign journalists that all formerly prohibited films had now already been released in the Soviet Union. Askol'dov attended the press conference without an invitation. After Klimov's false claim, he strode to the podium, pulled the microphone away from Vanessa Redgrave, and told the audience that his banned film Commissar, which he had made twenty years before, had still not been released. (82)

On the next day Mikhail Gorbachev met with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who asked him, in the name of all of the film festival jury members, to show them this forbidden film. On the following day, Commissar was shown to the festival jury without translation and in several pieces, since an entire copy of the film had not survived. This event was a major sensation at the festival, and was much written about it throughout the world. (83) The film was restored at the Mosfilm Studio in 1988 and released to the public; the film was also shown on Russian TV.

That year Commissar received the Special Jury Prize, the "Silver Bear," at the Berlin International Film Festival. In 1989 the film received the major Soviet film prize "Nika" for the work of cinematographer Valerii Ginsburg. Denise J. Youngblood wrote, "The Commissar ... became the most celebrated of the many banned films that 'came off the shelf' during glasnost not because of it quality--although it is very good--but because of Askol ' dov's sad fate, and more important, the reasons behind the ban." (84) Another reason for the film's popularity was its representation of Jewish life through Christian symbols. This was especially true for gentile audiences; if the Jewish characters in the film had been more Jewish, perhaps they would not have accepted the film with such great enthusiasm.

Commissar was made to high production standards, with good performances and excellent camera work. However, modern film critics and scholars have not commented on the inadequate representation of Jewish characters in the film. Commissar looks at Jews through Christian eyes, albeit with compassion, but without any real knowledge of Jewish traditions and everyday life in the beginning of the twentieth century in the "Jewish capital" Berdichev. We cannot blame this on Askol'dov, because Jewish education and cultural life had been completely banned in the Soviet Union. He did what he could, and even more, in an atmosphere quite hostile for any Jewish themes.

Askol'dov recalled that when he needed Jewish music for the film, he went to the Sound Archive but found that all Jewish recordings had been destroyed. (85) So he asked the Soviet composer Al'fred Shnitke to write music for the film. It was impossible to obtain any scholarly literature on Jewish matters in the Soviet Union. Thus the problems with the representation of Jews in the film were mainly due to a lack of available knowledge. But, despite the flaws of the film, Askol'dov's courage in trying to shed positive light on Russian-Jewish relations in a rather antisemitic society deserves respect. Commissar is a monument of its epoch with its naive belief in Communist ideals and its limited understanding of Jewish themes. It was a noble effort by Russian liberal intelligentsia (Askol'dov and the actors) to change the attitude toward Jews in Soviet society for the better by inspiring compassion for their tragic fate.

The film Commissar ruined Askol'dov's career as a film director, and in many ways ruined his life. Askol'dov considered the film as his main achievement, but at the same time he thought of all he could have done as a film director had he never made it. Askol'dov said in an interview that "Even now when I recall Commissar, I think: why did I need all of this? Instead of it I could have done ten other films, several of which could have been very good." (86) Now over (80) years old, Askol'dov lives most of the time in Germany, where he was invited to lecture in universities after Commissarwas released. Askol'dov is not fully satisfied with his life. He has complained about his lack of recognition in Russia and said that he feels alien in Germany. He noted in an interview that the West "is a very brutal and very alien world for us [Russian filmmakers]," but that he was grateful to Germany for giving him a job, of which he was deprived in his own beloved country. (87)


(1.) Elena Monastireva-Ansdell, "Commissar: Redressing the Commissar: Thaw Cinema Revises Soviet Structuring Myth," The Modernb Jewish Experience in World Cinema, Ed. Lawrence Baron (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2011), 74-82.

(2.) Benjamin Pinkus, The Jews of the Soviet Union. The History oj a National Minority (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 145-50.

(3.) Ibid., 254.

(4.) Scenes of the Holocaust appeared, for example, in the films Nepokorennye (Unsubjugated, 1945, director M. Donskoi), Shagi v nochi (Steps at Night, 1962, director P. Vabalas), Voskhozhdenie (Ascent, 1977, director L. Shepit'ko). "Kino," Kratkaia evreiskaia entsiklopedia,

(5.) Ibid.

(6.) Interview with Aleksandr Askol'dov./twwA News.

(7.) Ibid.

(8.) Ibid.; Alla Bossart, "Kodeks Askol'dova," Novaia Gazeta, June 21, 2007,

(9.) "Slutsk," Kratkaia evreiskaia entsiklopediia Vol. 8, 49-51.

(10.) Liniia zhizni. Aleksandr Askol'dov, TV program, Feb. 15, 2013,

(11.) Askol'dov (Kalmanovich) Yakov Lazarevich, Spravochnik po istorii Kommunisticheskoi partii i Sovetskogo Soiuza, 1898-1991, AAA/01121.asp.

(12.) Ibid.

(13.) Bossart, "Kodeks Askol'dova."

(14.) Interview with Aleksandr Askol'dov.

(15.) Ibid.; Liniia zhizni. Aleksandr Askol'dov.

(16.) Ibid.

(17.) Bossart, "Kodeks Askol'dova."

(18.) Galina Tsymbal, "Kinorezhisser Aleksandr Askol'dov," Bul'var Gordona 45, no. 133 (2007),

(19.) Note of the Department of Science and Culture of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union about unhealthy tendencies among the artistic intelligentsia, February 8, 1954,

(20.) Bossart, "Kodeks Askol'dova."

(21.) Michael Brashinsky and Andrew Horton, eds., Russian Critics on the Cinema of Glasnost (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 147.

(22.) "Aleksandr Askol'dov," Entsiklopediia otechestvennogo kino, ed. Liubov' Arkus,

(23.) Interview with Aleksandr Askol'dov.

(24.) "Aleksandr Askol'dov. Chto on evreiam? Chto emu evrei?" Nevesharet's Weblog, http://nevesharet.wordpress.eom/archive/0/n-11425/.

(25.) Brashinsky and Horton, Russian Critics, 147.

(26.) Ibid.; "Aleksandr Askol'dov." Entsiklopediia otechestvennogo kino.

(27.) Anatoliy Zelikman. Askol'dov (Kalmanovich). news/2010/03/06/11775/.

(28.) Yevgeny Yevtushenko, la prishel k tebe Babi Iar. Istoria samoi znamenitoi simfonii XX veka (Moscow: Tekst. Knizhniki, 2012), 48-53.

(29.) Anatoly Kuznetsov, Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel (Kiev: Radians'kyi pysmennyk, 1991), 5-13.

(30.) Bulat Okudzhava, 65 Songs, ed. Vladimir Framkin; trans. Eve Shapiro (Ann Arbor: Adris, 1980), 29.

(31.) Evgenii Margolit, Khudozhestvennyifilm Comissar, http://www.russkoekino. ru/books/ruskino/rus kino-0076.shtml.

(32.) Ibid.

(33.) Interview with Aleksandr Askol'dov.

(34.) Ibid.

(35.) Ella Mitina, Proezdom's kinorezhisserom Askol'dovym, kotoryi bylodinprotiv vsekh,

(36.) Alice Stone Nakhimovsky, Russian-Jewish Literature and Identity: Jabotinsky, Babel, Grossman, Galich, Roziner, Markish (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1992), 109-20; John Garrard and Carol Garrard, The Bones of Berdichev. The Life and Fate of Vasiliy Grossman (New York: The Free Press, 1996), xviii, 352.

(37.) "Berdichev," Electronnaia evreiskaia entsiklopediia,

(38.) Ibid.

(39.) Every Soviet citizen knew the refrain: "So comrades, come rally / And the last fight let us face / The Internationale unites the human race."

(40.) Joe Andrew, "Birth equals rebirth? Space, Narrative, and Gender in the Commissar," Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema 1, no. 1 (2007): 33; Graham H. Roberts, "The Sound of Silence: From Grossman's Berdichev to Askol'dov's Commissar. Russian and Soviet Film Adaptations of Literature, 1900-2001, " Screening the World, ed. Stephen Hutchings and Anat Vernitski (London: Routledge Curzon, 2005), 96.

(41.) It is unknown when exactly Valerii Ginzburg converted to the Russian Orthodox faith, but on his grave at Vvedenskoe cemetry a large cross was erected that does not leave any doubt that he was Christian. http://wedenskoe-grave.narod. ru/uch/23/ginzburg-grave.htm; Ginzburg filmed Aleksander Men' (1935-1990) in the documentary Izgnanie (Exile, 1989) about his brother Aleksander Galich. Men' converted to the Russian Orthodox religion between 1960 and 1980; by his own calculation, about 8,000 people, most of them were Jews. The KGB observed Men's activities and gave him the code name "Missionary." V. Danilov, Moi put'k BoguiKatolicheskoiTserkvi. (Grodno, 2003), 15;Sergei Bychkov, Khronika neraskrytogo ubiistva. (Moscow, Russian Advertisement Publishing house, 1996),

(42.) "Russkaia literature," Electronnaia evreiskaia entsiklopediia, http://www.; Mikhail Weisskopf, The Veil of Moses--Jewish Themes in Russian Literature of the Romantic Era (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 198-99.

(43.) Galina Tsymbal, "Kinorezhisser Aleksandr Askol'dov," Bul'var Gordona 45, no. 133 (2007),

(44.) My grandfather's sister Esfir' wrote by my request a memoir of a few pages about her life during the civil war in Zhitomir, Ukraine. She wrote about pogroms and the absence of any other food except potatoes.

(45.) "Bulbes," Yiddish Potato Folk Songs, html.

(46.) Natalie Babel, ed., The Complete Works of Isaac Babel (New York: Norton, 2002), 229.

(47.) Ibid., 227-28.

(48.) Mitina, Proezdom's kinorezhisserom.

(49.) "Aleksandr Askol'dov. Chto on evreiam? Chto emu evrei?"

(50.) Liniia zhizni. Aleksandr Askol'dov.

(51.) "Aleksandr Askol'dov. Chto on evreiam? Chto emu evrei?"

(52.) Mitina. Proezdom's kinorezhisserom.

(53.) Ibid.

(54.) "Aleksandr Askol'dov. Chto on evreiam? Chto emu evrei?"

(55.) Interview with Aleksandr Askol'dov.

(56.) Ibid.

(57.) Ibid.

(58.) Only one actor in the film, Rolan Bykov, who played Efim Magazanik, was half Jewish. Bykov's mother was Jewish, but he knew as little about Jewish life and tradition as the director and the other actors. Interview with Rolan Bykov, http://

(59.) "Aleksandr Askol'dov. Chto on evreiam? Chto emu evrei?"

(60.) Tsymbal, "Kinorezhisser Aleksandr Askol'dov."

(61.) Fedor Razzakov, Bogini sovetskogo kino (Moscow: Eksmo, 2013), 111.

(62.) Mitina, Proezdom s kinorezhisserom.

(63.) Ibid.

(64.) Ibid.

(65.) Razzakov, Bogini sovetskogo kino, 106.

(66.) Ibid., 106-07.

(67.) Mitina, Proezdom s kinorezhisserom.

(68.) Razzakov, Bogini sovetskogo kino, 108.

(69.) Ibid., 107.

(70.) Ibid.

(71.) Interview with Aleksandr Askol'dov.

(72.) Tsymbal, "Kinorezhisser Aleksandr Askol'dov"; "Aleksandr Askol'dov. Chto on evreiam? Chto emu evrei?"

(73.) Vassilii Grossman, Vgorode Berdicheve. Selected Works (Ekaterinburg: U-Factoriia, 2005), 8.

(74.) Brashinsky and Horton, Russian Critics, 147; "Aleksandr Askol'dov. Chto on evreiam? Chto emu evrei?"

(75.) "Aleksandr Askol'dov. Chto on evreiam? Chto emu evrei?"

(76.) Tsymbal, "Kinorezhisser Aleksandr Askol'dov."

(77.) Ibid.

(78.) Dmitrii Savel'ev and Anna Murzina, Noveishaia istoriia otechestvennogo kino, 1986-2000, Kino i kontekst, Vol. 4 (St. Petersburg: Seans, 2002),

(79.) Brashinsky and Horton, Russian Critics, 147-48.

(80.) "Aleksandr Askol'dov. Chto on evreiam? Chto emu evrei?"

(81.) Ibid.

(82.) Tsymbal, "Kinorezhisser Aleksandr Askol'dov."

(83.) Ibid.; Olga Carlisle, "Commissar' Makes a Delayed Debut," The New York Times, June 12, 1988. debut.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm.

(84.) Denise J. Youngblood, Russian War Films. On the Cinema Front, 1914-2005 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007), 156.

(85.) Mitina, Proezdom s kinorezhisserom. It is likely that some recordings of Jewish music survived, but they were hidden in special secret storage before Perestroika.

(86.) Tsymbal, "Kinorezhisser Aleksandr Askol'dov."

(87.) Ibid.
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