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Zhemchuzhina, Polina Semenovna

(1897–1970), Soviet public figure and wife of Viacheslav Molotov. Born Perl Karpovskaia, Polina Zhemchuzhina was the daughter of a tailor from Ekaterinoslav province. From 1911 until 1917, she worked in a cigarette factory and as a cashier in a pharmacy in Ekaterinoslav.

Zhemchuzhina became a member of the Communist Party in 1918. She was the head of a department of the Zaporozh’e Provincial Party Committee and performed political work on the southwestern front during the civil war. Later, she operated illegally in Kiev and Kharkov. In 1919, she began working in the latter city as an instructor for women of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, and from January 1921 headed the party’s women’s section in Aleksandrovsk. In the same year, she was sent as a delegate from Ukraine to the International Women’s Congress in Moscow, where she met Secretary of the Central Committee Viacheslav Molotov, whom she soon married.

After the Congress, Zhemchuzhina remained in Moscow to work as an instructor at a district party committee. From 1922 until 1925, she studied at the Worker Faculty (a special institute of higher education for working youth) and followed up with courses on Marxism at the Central Committee Communist Academy. From 1927 to 1929 she was secretary of the party organization at the Novaia Zaria perfume factory, and then became the factory’s director (1930–1932). In 1932, she joined the administration of the national perfume trust, becoming its head in 1936; from 1937 to 1939, she was deputy commissar of the food industry; and in 1939, commissar of the fishing industry. In 1939 and 1940, she was a candidate member of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. From 1939 to 1948, Zhemchuzhina headed the administration of the textile industry. Her meteoric rise came to a halt in 1949 when she was removed from all official posts.

Zhemchuzhina’s demotion in 1949 followed accusations leveled against her for pandering to “wreckers” and spies. Stalin himself seems to have been behind these accusations, having long disliked Zhemchuzhina, who had been a close friend of his late wife, Nadezhda Allilueva. In 1948, as the anti-Jewish campaign mounted (and in order to put pressure on Molotov), Stalin decided on her arrest and demanded that Molotov divorce her, and they duly divorced. At the end of the year, the Politburo heard a report accusing Zhemchuzhina of links with Jewish nationalists, including Solomon Mikhoels, and resolved to expel her from the party. At the October Revolution anniversary celebration in 1948, she had met and entered into friendly conversation in Yiddish with Golda Meir, the first Israeli minister to Moscow, to the dismay of Stalin.

In January 1949, Zhemchuzhina was arrested. At first, investigators considered making her one of the main—if not the prime—accused in the case against the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. All the accused were questioned about her and some were compelled to confront her personally. She, however, denied all charges and her case was eventually separated from that of the committee.

Zhemchuzhina was subsequently deported to Kazakhstan. She was interrogated again in early 1953 in connection with the Doctors’ Plot. Immediately after Stalin’s death, she was exonerated of all crimes, reunited with Molotov, and reinstated as a party member. However, she did not return to any public career. She is buried in the prestigious Novodevich’em cemetery in Moscow.

Suggested Reading

Shimon Redlich, War, Holocaust, and Stalinism: A Documented Study of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in the USSR (Luxembourg, 1995); Joshua Rubenstein and Vladimir Naumov, eds., Stalin’s Secret Pogrom: The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (New Haven, 2001); Larisa Vasileva, Kremlevskie zheny: Fakty, vospominaniia, dokumenty, slukhi, legendy i vzgliad avtora (Moscow, 1993).



Translated from Russian by Chaim Chernikov