section Break or continuity? "Anti-Zionism" and anti-Semitism under socialism and afterwards

Die Kommissarin

  • Aleksandr Askoldov
  • SU
  • 1967
  • 110

1920, in the midst of the Russian Civil War: Klavdia Vavilova, political commissar of the Red Army, fights on the front line. She is tougher than most - and heavily pregnant; during a retreat, she is unceremoniously left behind with a Jewish family. A cult classic featuring a Jewish protagonist – one the Soviet Union kept under lock and key for 20 years.

On its completion in 1967, COMMISSAR was immediately banned as “anti-Soviet”. It wasn't until 1987 that it was first publically screened, at the Moscow Film Festival. The film celebrated its international premiere at the 1988 Berlinale, where it won the Silver Bear (Grand Jury Prize).

Der Spiegel heralded the Berlinale film, long held back by censors, as a “late triumph”, one which ruthlessly revealed the extent of Soviet anti-Semitism and the resulting living conditions for Jews:

“Vavilova is witness to the mortal danger in which the Jewish family finds itself in the face of the murderous anti-Semitism in the Ukraine. Askoldov is able to forgo a naturalistic depiction of atrocities, having as he does far more powerful means at his disposal. In an unforgettable scene, the camera shows Magazannik's children playing pogrom: a victim is chosen, tormented by the siblings with a naive cruelty and insulted as a "filthy Jew." (Source: (link: text: Der Spiegel 44/1988))

The setting and historical context of COMMISSAR is the Russian Civil War from 1917/18 to 1922, which began with the abdication of the Tsar and the fall of the Tsarist Empire, and culminated in the founding of the Soviet Union. The chaotic conflict, which was characterised by its multiplicity of protagonists – inclusive of the red and white armies featured in the film - resulted in a territorial realignment that continues to influence the balance of power in the region today. The historical states depicted in the film (Russia, Ukraine, and so forth) cannot however be equated with the contemporary states of the same name.

Text: Charlotte Kühn
English: Peter Rickerby


original title Die Kommissarin

international title Die Kommissarin

german title Die Kommissarin

JFBB section Break or continuity? "Anti-Zionism" and anti-Semitism under socialism and afterwards

  • director Aleksandr Askoldov

country/countries SU

year 1967

duration 110