With the storming of the Winter Palace — evoked in this show through a video clip of Sergei Eisenstein’s film “October” — a strange tension arose: Soviet leaders condemned the anti-Semitism of the old czarist regime, but also advocated an assimilation that would wash away Jewishness. “Only the most ignorant and downtrodden people can believe the lies and slander that are spread about the Jews,” Lenin proclaimed in a 1919 address, which plays on an audio loop. In the same gallery, a photomontage depicts a bulldozer dropping a rabbi and a Russian Orthodox priest to the ground. “Through the development of socialism,” the poster reads, “we deal religion a deadly blow.”
In the early days of the Soviet Union, Jews not only held top political positions but also occupied central positions in the artistic avant-garde. The director Dziga Vertov, in films like “Man With a Movie Camera,” set about creating a cinematic language for a new world. El Lissitzky, who earlier printed folksy lithographs of Passover stories, now painted geometric collisions such as “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge” (1920).
It all went sour fast. Halfway through “Comrade. Jew,” we see a portrait by the Jewish painter Isaak Brodsky, a key figure of socialist realism: It’s Stalin, eyes bright, hand resting on a copy of Pravda, bristly mustache nearly covering his mouth. His Great Purge of the mid-1930s was not explicitly anti-Semitic, though Soviet Jews faced more danger than other minorities. (Heaven help those aligned with Trotsky — seen here in a monstrous cartoon, as a dog covered in swastikas.) Yet to Jews in Germany and Austria in the 1930s, communism offered hope as terror closed in. In 1934, the Austrian painter Friedl Dicker-Brandeis depicted a police interrogation of a left-wing agitator, rendered in sickly greens and yellows, scored with a palette knife. A decade later, she would be murdered in Auschwitz.
It was after World War II, and especially after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, that Stalin’s erratic stances toward Jews turned into full-bore anti-Semitism. This section is perhaps too shy about the gulag, evoking the black years through documents of crimes like the Night of the Murdered Poets in 1952, (in which Yiddish writers and others were executed in a Moscow prison), and a tangentially relevant clip from Costa-Gavras’s anti-Stalinist film “The Confession.”
The 1960s and 1970s saw substantial Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union to the United States and to Israel. Several of them became leading figures of Moscow Conceptualism, the most important art movement of the later years of the Soviet Union. Some Jewish artists, such as Ilya Kabakov and the pair of Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid produced parodies of Communist agitprop that is at once satirical and nostalgic. Other remain in the new Russia, including Erik Bulatov — who closes this show with “Sunrise or Sunset” (1989), a bitingly ironic painting from the days of perestroika, in which the state emblem of the Soviet Union sits ambiguously where the sea meets the sky.
Mr. Bulatov’s painting ought to be the enigmatic last word. But downstairs, in the Jewish Museum’s permanent collection display, I saw something I have never before seen in a historical museum: a screenshot of a Facebook post, presented with the same care and regard as centuries’ worth of Judaica. The post features an image of a fat, sweaty banker, with a hooked nose and stars on his cuff links, gorging on delicacies while a starving fellow diner, labeled “the people,” has only a bone to eat. The man who posted it is Heinz-Christian Strache: the leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party and, since December, the country’s vice chancellor. A specter is haunting Europe today, and it is not the one these comrades foresaw.