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Gen. Chuikov and the Ingenious Gen. Vainrub: Affirming Jewish Leadership in the 8th Guards Army

Pictured clockwise: Promotional evaluation of Col. Matvey Vainrub to the rank of Major General, 2 March 1944. Marked "SECRET", the document is a recommendation for promotion of Col. Matvey Vainrub to the rank of Major General, Tank Forces. Chuikov's signature is at the bottom in blue pencil. The evaluation is co-signed by Member of the Military Council, Maj. Gen. Doronin, whose signature is to the right of Chuikov's in red pencil; Generals Chuikov and Vainrub during the war; Hero of the Soviet Union Lieutenant General Vainrub, 25 May 1959; General Fedor Chuikov (Marshal Chuikov’s younger brother) with General Vainrub, 1988.

Researching information for composing entries for a blog allows for the exploration of numerous related topics. In the case of Marshal Chuikov, it is interesting to examine his life and work academically through the lens of social science theories, especially with a focus on leadership. There are times when challenging information comes to light, and my desire is to address the controversy, review various sources to provide a researched and balanced response, and confront misinformation directly.

This blog post seeks to address a claim that Marshal Chuikov possessed a level of anti-semitism. The accusation comes from a letter to the editor written by author Judd Teller for The New York Times dated 25 April 1955. In his letter, Teller wrote that Chuikov allegedly made a negative statement about Jewish leadership in the Red Army at a military review in Germany in 1946. According to Teller, Chuikov’s remarks precipitated discrimination against Jewish Red Army officers. The letter to the editor was written in response to news about Vasily Ivanovich’s promotion to Marshal, the highest military rank in the Soviet Union, which took place in March 1955. Teller used the promotion to contrast the treatment of Marshal Chuikov from a prominent Soviet Jew, Georgi Alexandrov, who was a dismissed and disgraced Minister of Culture. Teller’s intent was to draw attention to anti-semitic policy in the Soviet Union.

As a researcher, I have a few thoughts to share… First, Marshal Chuikov deserved his high rank, status, and accolades due to his achievements, outstanding work ethic, his depth of character, and his ability to connect with superiors and subordinates alike. Also, many of Chuikov’s soldiers were in fact Soviet Jews—and he wrote favorably about them in his memoirs. The Red Army was diverse with troops from numerous regions and ethnicities—and Chuikov cared about his soldiers—all of them, regardless of background or gender. One 62nd (8th Guards) Army officer in particular was mentioned by researcher Reuben Ainzstein, author of the journal article titled “The War Record of Soviet Jewry” from Jewish Social Studies, published in January 1966:

“Lieut. Col. Vainrub [also spelled Weinrub], as he then was, played a sufficiently important part in the defense of Stalingrad to be mentioned several times by Marshal Chuikov in his memoirs. […] Chuikov made him commander of the practically non-existent armored forces of his 62nd Army after sacking Vainrub’s superior, Colonel Volkonsky. In that post Vainrub played a unique part in the area of the Central Ferry Terminus, thus allowing Rodimtsev’s [13th Guards] division to reinforce the decimated defenders of the city. […]

But Matvey Vainrub was not only a fine tank commander. According to Chuikov, he proved himself a remarkable organizer who ensured the repair of damaged tanks in the beleaguered Stalingrad Tractor Works and, after their fall, in the ravines and gullies of the Volga bank, and could always be counted upon to have the repaired tanks delivered to the spot where they were most needed. Also according to Chuikov, Vainrub showed himself an ingenious tactician who invented new methods of using tanks in close cooperation with infantry and engineers, thus defeating the battle-ram tactics of German armored fists. And there was no one better than Vainrub in laying ambushes for attacking German tanks and infantry, to quote Chuikov again” (15).

In Stalingrad, Lieutenant-General Chuikov promoted the Jewish Lieutenant-Colonel based on his merits and leadership potential. He certainly did not allow a difference in ethnicity to influence his decision. Vainrub exceeded Chuikov's expectations. Moreover, Vainrub also helped to shield Chuikov when he and his officers were targeted by German mortars toward the end of the war. Ainzstein continued:

“On 29 March 1945, the 8th Guards Assault Army launched its final advance towards the German capital by storming the fortress of Küstrin on the Oder [River]. A day earlier, Chuikov, Vainrub, and their respective adjutants had set out to inspect the advanced positions of their men from which the assault of the fortress was to be launched. […] What happened next we learn from Chuikov’s memoirs, The End of the Third Reich:

‘When I came to,’ Chuikov relates, ‘I found that I was covered by bodies. Vainrub had covered my head with his chest, [Chuikov’s brother] Fyodor was lying on top of Vainrub, and spread out on top of the all of us, as though protecting us all with his body, was a bloody Alyosha. He was dead. Vainrub was wounded: a bomb splinter entered one of his legs above the knee. By some miracle Fyodor and myself were unscathed’” (16).

Next, Colonel-General Chuikov supposedly made his remarks at the military parade which happened in 1946, during a time when he was not in a position to affect wider Red Army policy regarding a purging of the ranks in the Soviet occupation forces in Germany. General of the Army Chuikov was promoted to the position of Commander of the Soviet Ground Forces in Germany in 1949, three years later. The incident was first reported in February 1952 in the Christian Science Monitor, nearly 6 years after the remarks were purportedly made. This begs the question of why there was such a significant time lapse in reporting if he did indeed make such a statement.

A final thought on the situation… A Jewish Vainrub helped save Vasily Ivanovich’s life toward the final days of the Great Patriotic War. To make a negative remark about Jewish leadership in the Red Army a little over a year after this “close call” event at a military review in Germany demonstrates a lack of gratitude and a fading memory. However, Chuikov did not forget about Vainrub’s actions, and shared his appreciation in his memoirs written years after the events occurred. In Marshal Chuikov’s works, he is quick to celebrate his soldiers’ accomplishments and was proud to serve alongside them. And the fact that Vainrub is mentioned numerous times demonstrates his effectiveness from Stalingrad to Germany…


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