Stalin and the Mystery of the Doctor’s Plot

On January 13th, 1953, the front page of the Communist Party’s official newspaper, Pravda, boasted a huge scoop: Russia’s highest-ranking doctors had confessed to planning to murder Kremlin leaders According to the report, the Doctor’s Plot had been going on for years, and already killed some of the most powerful men in the Soviet Union

But just three months later, all the doctors were exonerated, and the Kremlin declared the Doctor’s Plot was never real It is one of history’s enduring mysteries What is the real truth behind the Doctor’s Plot, and what was its purpose? The leaders of the Soviet Union were a powerful collection of Stalin’s chosen few Their many luxurious privileges included the best security, and the most elite doctors Consequently, while assassins could not reach Soviet leaders, their doctors could have the final say on whether they lived or died

According to Pravda, the Doctor’s Plot involved the specialist doctors deliberately maltreating key Soviet officials when they suffered major medical conditions The most significant of these was Andrei Zhdanov, who died of heart failure on 31st August, 1948 He was responsible for official censorship, in charge of all Soviet sciences, and was Stalin’s chosen successor He would have taken over the Soviet Union had he not passed away at the age of 52 Five years later, Stalin found a letter buried in the Kremlin archives

It was sent three days before Zhdanov’s death by a cardiologist called Lydia Timashuk She said Zhdanov’s doctors had prescribed him the wrong treatment, and not monitored his condition In other words, the doctors murdered Zhdanov Most of the physicians arrested were Jewish Under interrogation, they named a long list of assassination targets, all officials in the Kremlin and the military

By implication, the officials who were not named as targets must have intended to seize more power from all these assassinations As a result, dozens if not hundreds of officials were detained, for their part in a vast conspiracy to kill off Stalin’s loyal followers and potentially the Father of all the Peoples himself Lydia Timashuk received the Order of Lenin Yet on March 5th, 1953, before the conspirators were put on trial, Stalin died from a cerebral haemorrhage On April 4th, Pravda newspaper published a statement by Lavrenty Beria, the head of the secret police

He said the Doctor’s Plot was not real, and the doctors were innocent According to Beria, the whole affair had been invented by Stalin Timashuk lost her Order of Lenin The Doctor’s Plot was rooted in anti-Semitism Prejudice against the Jewish people was still widespread in Europe and Russia in spite of the revelatory horrors of the Holocaust

Indeed, Eleanor Roosevelt asked President Eisenhower to intervene on behalf of Russian Jews, to prevent Stalin repeating Hitler’s actions She was more right than she knew In the 1960s, stories emerged that Stalin had secretly built four new concentration camps in Siberia and the far East In 1990, journalist Louis Rapoport confirmed these rumours, and explained the full extent of Stalin’s plan After a show trial, the doctors would be hanged

Then the secret police would arrange attacks on Jews A statement, signed by Jewish leaders, would be published in Pravda, in which they would ask Stalin to protect Russia’s two million Jews from further harm Then, Rapoport says, “A three-stage program of genocide would be followed First, almost all Soviet Jews would be shipped to camps east of the Urals Second, the … [Secret Police] would start killing the elites in the camps

[The] final stage would be to ‘get rid of the rest’” But historians believe the Jews were not the real target Instead, the Plot’s real purpose, including the mass deportation of Jews, was to serve as a pretext to root out all Kremlin officials Stalin decided were his enemies

As a paranoid, power hungry dictator of seventy-four, Stalin trusted none of his scheming lackeys Evidence for Stalin’s motive was uncovered in never-before-seen KGB documents published by Vladimir Naumov in 2003 They reveal that in 1948, Stalin was fully aware of Lydia Timashuk’s letter about the doctors who maltreated Andrei Zhdanov It was Stalin who ordered it be filed away in the archives Documents also reveal that not one of the doctors who treated Zhdanov were Jewish, and it was Stalin who told Zhdanov to seek their help for his heart condition

Stalin orchestrated Zhdanov’s death, simply because he was displeased with him Five years later, Stalin accused Jewish doctors of carrying out his crime He also falsely accused them of being spies for America and Britain Jonathan Brent therefore believes the Doctor’s Plot was part of a much larger strategy aimed at the USA He says that as far as Stalin was concerned, all Jews were Zionists and friends of America

At this point, the Cold War was still in its early stages and many Russians did not see America as a great, evil threat To convince them America was evil, Stalin concocted the Plan of the Internal Blow Documents show that in Spring 1953, he was going to reveal that he had foiled a plot by America to fire tactical nukes from the US embassy in Moscow onto the Kremlin Stalin was then going to link this to the Doctor’s Plot, implicating the newly created nation of Israel and its allies in the West This would create a world crisis in which Stalin would reassert his power over all the bureaucrats who had gradually chipped away his authority

Stalin fully expected his fictional plots to turn the Cold War, Hot All this never came to fruition because Stalin died Officially he died from natural causes, although the medical records cast doubt on the treatment his doctors gave him In the West, Britain and America in particular, the Doctor’s Plot was largely ignored and barely mentioned in the media Over half of Russia’s 2

2 million Jews fled, mostly going to Israel The doctors who had not died from torture were released The Cold War continued for decades more

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