NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2013 - Page 178

176 Stalin had decided that jazz, which had come from America and which had been popular in the Soviet Union since the 1920s, 40 was corrupting the soul of the Russian people. If you were a jazz musician and Jewish, like the trumpet player Eddie Rosner, then you were in deep trouble. His story, now somewhat forgotten, is worth mentioning. Rosner was born to Polish parents in Berlin in 1910. He first fled Nazi Germany and then occupied Poland, seeking refuge in Belorussia where he had set up a small jazz ensemble. By chance the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Belorussia, Panteleimon Ponomarenko, heard the band group and liked their music. After a concert in Minsk, Ponomarenko suggested that Rosner could help set up the State Jazz Orchestra of the Belarus Republic, providing him with instruments, uniforms and a special train so that the orchestra could tour the country and support troop morale. Some of the other members were fellow Jews who had fled Nazism; many of them were classically trained musicians who took this opportunity to turn to jazz. They were officially invited to play a concert in Scotchi, on the Black Sea, in 1941. When the lights went back on after the concert they discovered an empty hall. Stalin had been their sole audience. In June 1945, when they were invited to play in Moscow’s Red Square for a victory celebration, they had a larger audience made up of members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and high ranking Red Army officers along with the head of the Kremlin. But their success was short-lived. Like so many others, Eddie Rosner and his Jewish musicians had become undesirable and were sent to Siberia where they set up an orchestra and played in the camps until they were freed in 1954 after Stalin’s death. 41 BRN-FALL-2013.indb 176 Robeson, the African American singer, and Rosner, the Polish Jewish trumpet player never met. During the war both of them had supported their country’s fight against Nazism. Afterwards, while Robeson was labeled a Communist and banned from leaving the United States, Rosner was accused of being “an enemy of the people” and deported to Siberia. Both had become pariahs. Robeson may perhaps have learnt of Rosner’s fate. Such grim news managed to get through sometimes but was not always passed on. Howard Fast, also a communist, has described how Paul Novick and Chaïm Suller, the leaders of the Jewish section of the American Communist Party, asked to meet him just before he left for the Paris World Congress of Advocates of Peace, in April 1949. The scene, described in the book Being Red, illustrates the dilemmas, contradictions and conflict of loyalty experienced by Jewish communists. Paul Novick explained to Fast that the National Committee of the American Communist Party had decided to condemn the anti-Semitism of the Soviet Communist Party. Fast was astounded and concerned, hoping there was some mistake. Novick and Suller insisted that they had proof and asked Fast, as official representative of the National Committee of the pcusa, to transmit their protest. They also told him that the information was to remain confidential, and must not be leaked to the press. The secret was well kept and there were no leaks after the secret meeting (organized by the French communists Renaud de Jouvenel and Laurent Casanova) between Howard Fast and the head of the Moscow delegation Alexander Fadeev. In fact there was nothing much to tell. It was a vain attempt, Fadeev merely repeating the same formula three times: “There is no anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.” In 1956, after the revelation of Stalin’s crimes at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Fadeev committed suicide by shooting himself. l Paul Robeson playing softball with other members of Othello production, Central Park, New York City. At the time, while some militants became increasingly uneasy or critical, the dirty linen was never washed in public. In the Cold War context, playing into the hands of the other side was out of the question. Robeson’s commitment was more emotional than theoretical and nothing could shake his unconditional support for the Soviet Union. He once told his son that he had been shocked by Alexander Panyushkin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States and a high ranking member of the kgb, who spoke of Jews like a Nazi and looked like Goebbels. But he referred to only one isolated individual and the remarks remained private. 42 The only thing that Robeson did, in what was perhaps a coded sign of loyalty to his persecuted Jewish friends, was to keep singing the Yiddish songs in his repertoire both in the United States and in the Soviet Union. 9/13/13 12:48 AM