Young Mikhoels Solomon Mikhoels (March 1890 - January 12/13, 1948) was a Soviet Jewish actor and director in Yiddish theater.
Born Shlioma Vovsi in Dvinsk (now Daugavpils), Latvia, Mikhoels studied law in Saint Petersburg, but left school in 1918 to join Alexander Granovsky's Jewish Theater Workshop, which was attempting to create a national Jewish theater in Russia based on the Yiddish language. Two years later, in 1920, the Workshop moved to Moscow, where it established the Moscow State Jewish Theater. This was in keeping with Lenin's policy on nationalities, which encouraged them to pursue and develop their own cultures under the aegis of the Soviet state. Mikhoels, who showed outstanding talent, was the company's leading actor and, as of 1928, its director. He played in several memorable roles, including Tevye in an adaptation of Sholom Aleichem's comic short stories about Tevye the Milkman (which were adapted for an American audience as Fiddler on the Roof) as well as in many original works, such as Bar Kochba, and translations. As King Lear Perhaps his most noted role was as King Lear in a Yiddish translation of the play by William Shakespeare. These plays were ostensibly supportive of the Soviet state, however, closer readings suggest that they actually contained veiled critiques of Stalin's regime. It is noteworthy that Two of the Shakespearean plays put on by the theater company were King Lear and Richard III, both studies in tyranny. By the mid-1930s, Mikhoels' career was threatened because of his association with other leading intelligentsia, who were victims of Stalin's purges, notably author Isaac Babel. Mikhoels actively supported Stalin against Hitler, and in 1942, he was made chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. In this capacity, he travelled around the world, meeting with Jewish communities to encourage them to support the Soviet Union in its war against Nazi Germany. Mikhoels and Einstein in 1943 While this was useful to Stalin during World War II, after the war, Stalin opposed contacts between Soviet Jews and Jewish communities in non-Communist countries, which he deemed as "bourgeoisie." The Jewish State Theater was closed and the members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee were arrested - all except for Two were eventually executed in the purges shortly before Stalin's death. January 1948. One of the last photographs Mikhoels was the most visible of the intellectual Jewish leadership, and a show trial would have cast aspersions on Stalin's rule. Before the purges began, however, he died in a car crash in Minsk in 1948. Though he received a State funeral, his death had been orchestrated by the MVD. His brother Miron Vovsi was Stalin's personal physician and was arrested during the Doctors' plot in 1953, but he survived.