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Solzhenitsyn mourned: was the anti-Stalinist anti-Semitic?

Alexander SolzhenitsynJERUSALEM — Renowned anti-Communist and Nobel laureate author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who passed away on Sunday, August 2, 2008, at 89, is being mourned in Russia and throughout the world as the Soviet Union’s most famous dissident.

But his work’s treatment of Jewish issues has also been the subject of serious debate, even coming under fire for expressing what some critics have charged was the writer’s anti-Semitic tendencies.

Fellow former dissident Natan Scharansky said on Monday, Aug. 4, that such accusations ought not overshadow the fact that Solzhenitsyn had “changed the lives of millions of people.”

Solzhenitsyn was the author of The Gulag Archipelago, the first detailed account of the notorious Gulag labor camp system, which the Soviet government tried to keep secret.

Solzhenitsyn’s life’s work was to expose the Communist system for its human rights abuses, during a time when many intellectuals supported it.

“What’s important is that Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent time in prison like millions of others,” said Scharansky. He made it “impossible” for people in the free world to be fooled into believing that the Soviet system worked.

After Solzhenitsyn published the Gulag trilogy, he was expelled from the Soviet Union for 20 years, but he returned to his homeland when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Countering Scharansky’s sentiments, Rina Lapidus, a Bar Ilan University professor of Russian literature, said Solzhenitsyn “was no saint” and that the treatment of Jews in his works demonstrated it.

Lapidus, whose grandfather was killed in the gulag, noted that it was well known that Jews were disproportionately represented in the gulag prisoner population, but Solzhenitsyn ignored this fact in his work, and his treatment of Jewish issues was a product of the traditional Russian culture which he advocated.

Solzhenitsyn’s view of Jewish issues in his final work, 2001’s Two Hundred Years Together, also spurred controversy.

While rejecting the notion of a “Jewish conspiracy” behind the Russian revolution, it does focus on the prominence of Jews in the early Bolshevik leadership. Some critics claimed the work included anti-Semitic passages; Solzhenitsyn rejected the charge.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

See also the IJN editorial about the Nobel Prize winning author.

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