The Associated Press reported that the Moscow State history Museum has put on display letters written by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin's eldest sister, Anna Ulyanova, revealing that Lenin's maternal grandfather was a Ukrainian Jew named Blank. He converted to Christianity to escape the territorial restrictions imposed on Jews in Tzarist times and gain access to higher education. This information came in a letter that Ulyanova wrote Lenin's successor, Joseph Stalin.
““Vladimir Ilych had always thought of Jews highly,” she wrote. “I am very sorry that the fact of our origin — which I had suspected before — was not known during his lifetime."
She was prompted to write the letter because she was witnessing a recrudescence of anti-Semitism in Russia amongst Communists whose ideology should have immunized them against this prejudice.
The letter's description of the times seems to be accurate. The maternal grandfather lived during the reign of Nicholas the First, a czar who sought to solve the Jewish problem via forced assimilation. On the one hand, there would be inducements for Jews who had abandoned their faith in favor of the Russian Orthodox Church, while those who clung to their faith would live in penury and degradation. Jews were forced to live in a closed area called The Pale of Settlement.
The most notorious policy was the so-called Cantonist policy under which Jewish children were torn from their parents and pressed at an early age into lengthy 25 year service in the Russian army where "military discipline" could be invoked to pressure them into abandoning their faith. Many could not remember where they had lived by the time their service was over, let alone retain their Judaism.
When Lenin came to power in the October Revolution of 1917, residential and vocational restrictions against Jews were abolished. As with other nationalities, Jews were allowed to transmit their culture provided it was "nationalist in form and socialist in content". In other words, Jewish religion was persecuted, as was Hebrew, the language of the Jewish bourgeoisie. However, Yiddish culture was encouraged, provided writers clung to the party line of class struggle and denigration of Judaism.
Under Stalin, this policy was reversed a as the Georgian born dictator attempted to prove that he was the ultimate Russian nationalist. In the post-war period, Stalin adopted a virulently anti-Semitic policy culminating in the infamous Doctors Trials, a campaign mercifully cut short by his demise.
Lenin's Jewish roots were long suspected and when the Soviet Union was breaking down, some Russian nationalists blamed the communist era upon the Jews.