Ilya Ehrenburg, the leading Soviet propagandist of the Second World War, was a contradictory figure. A recent article in the weekly Canadian Jewish News sheds new light on the life of this “man of a thousand masks.”
Ehrenburg was born in 1891 in Kiev to a non-religious Jewish family. In 1908 he fled Tsarist Russia because of his revolutionary activities. Although he returned to visit after the Bolshevik revolution, he continued to live abroad, including many years in Paris, and did not settle in the Soviet Union until 1941. A prolific writer, Ehrenburg was the author of almost 30 books. As a Jew and a dedicated Communist, Ehrenburg was a relentless enemy of German National Socialism. During the Second World War, he was a leading member of the Soviet-sponsored Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. (At fund-raising rallies in the United States for the Soviet war effort, two leading members of the Committee displayed bars of soap allegedly manufactured by the Germans from the corpses of murdered Jews.)
Ehrenburg is perhaps most infamous for his viciously anti-German wartime propaganda. In the words of the Canadian Jewish News: “As the leading Soviet journalist during World War II, Ehrenburg’s writings against the German invaders were circulated among millions of Soviet soldiers.” His articles appeared regularly in Pravda, Izvestia, the Soviet military daily Krasnaya Zvezda (“Red Star”), and in numerous leaflets distributed to troops at the front.
In one leaflet headlined “Kill,” Ehrenburg incited Soviet soldiers to treat Germans as sub-human.
Ehrenburg’s incendiary writings certainly contributed in no small measure to the orgy of murder and rape by Soviet soldiers against German civilians.
Until his death in 1967, “his support for the Soviet state, and for Stalin, never wavered,” the Canadian Jewish Newsnotes. His loyalty and service were acknowledged in 1952 when he received the Stalin Prize. In keeping with official Soviet policy, he publicly criticized Israel and Zionism.