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History of the Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union

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Contents

Early History

Tradition places Jews in southern Russia, Armenia, and Georgia since before the days of the First Temple, and records exist from the fourth century showing that there were Armenian cities possessing Jewish populations ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 along with substantial Jewish settlements in the Crimea. Under the influence of these Jewish comunities Bulan, the "chaghan" of the Khazars, and the ruling classes of Khazaria adopted Judaism in 731 or 740. After the overthrow of the Khazarian kingdom by Sviatoslav I of Kiev (969), Jews in large numbers fled to the Crimea, the Caucasus, and the Russian principality Of Kiev, formerly a part of the Khazar territory. There is even a tradition (unsupported, however, by sufficient documentary evidence) that the city of Kiev was founded by the Khazars. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the Jews occupied in Kiev a separate quarter, called the Jewish town ("Zhidy"), the gates leading to which were known as the Jewish gates ("Zhidovskiye vorota"). At this time Jews are found also in northeastern Russia, in the domains of Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky (1169-1174).

Documentary evidence as to the presence of Jews in Muscovite Russia is first found in the chronicles of 1471. The relatively small population of Jews were generally free of major persecution: although there were laws against them during this period, they do not appear to be strictly enforced. Muscovite treatment of the Jews became harsher in the reign of Ivan IV., The Terrible (1533-84). For example, in his conquest of Polotsk, Ivan IV. ordered that all Jews who should decline to adopt Christianity should be drowned in the DŁna.

Though Russia had few Jews, countries just to its west had rapidly growing Jewish populations, as waves of anti-Jewish pogroms and expulsions from the countries of Western Europe marked the last centuries of the Middle Ages, a sizable portion of the Jewish populations there moved to the more tolerant countries of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the Middle East. Many settled in Poland (later Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) and Hungary (later Austria-Hungary). In turn, Jews from Poland moved in large numbers to the lightly populated areas of Ukraine and Lithuania, which were to become part of the expanding Russian empire.

During this period, in the shtetls populated almost entirely by Jews, or in the middle-sized town where Jews constituted a significant part of population, Jewish communities traditionally ruled themselves according to halakha, and were limited by the privileges granted them by local rulers. (See also Shtadlan). These Jews were not assimilated into the larger eastern European societies, and identified as an ethnic group with a unique set of religious beliefs and practices.

Tsarist Russia (1480s-1917)

For more details, see the articles Pogrom, Cantonist, May Laws.

In the 1480s the principality of Muscovy became the religious equivalent of the Caliphate or Holy Roman Empire. Based on the theory of the Third Rome, it was believed that the Tsar ruled the only rightful, practically independent Orthodox state, surrounded by Muslim and Roman Catholic infidels. According to prophecy, there were to be only three Romes, that is, centers of rightful religious faith. The first two, ancient Rome and Constantinople, have already fallen, leaving the only hope on earth with Moscow.

The religious zeal of such a theory reasoned for the ultimate measures against enemies of the faith, including the Jews. Jews were not tolerated in the area of Muscovy, from 1721 the official doctrine of Imperial Russia was openly anti-Semitic. When the Russian army captured a Polish town, as in happened in 1563 when Polotsk, the big center of trade in Lithuania, was captured all Jews were murdered at once. Even if Jews were tolerated for some modest time, eventually they were expelled, as when the captured part of Ukraine was cleared from Jews in the year 1727. The result was a very small Jewish population of Russia.

Pogroms and the Pale of Settlement

However, the traditional measures of keeping Russia free of Jews failed when the main territory of Poland was annexed during the partitions. During the second (1793) and the third (1795) partitions, large populations of Jews were taken over by Russia, and the Tsar established a Pale of Settlement that included Poland and Crimea. Jews were supposed to remain in the Pale and required special permission to move to Russia proper, while Russian officials pursued alternating policies designed to encourage assimiliation (such as opening public schools to Jews) and destroy independent Jewish life (such as forbidding Jews to live in certain towns).

Rebellions beginning with the Decembrist Revolt of 1825, followed by the struggle of Russia's intelligentsia, and the rise of nihilism, liberalism, socialism, syndicalism, and finally Communism threatened the old tsarist order. Assuming that most Socialists and other radicals were of Jewish extraction, Konstantin Pobedonostsev and other tsarist officials increasingly resorted to popularizing religious and nationalistic fanaticism.

Alexander II, known as the "Tsar liberator" for the 1861 abolition of serfdom in Russia, was also known for his suppression of national minorities. Nevertheless he approved the policy of Polish politician Alexander Wielopolski in the Kingdom of Poland that gave Jews equal rights to other citizens (before the status of Jews was different; it is questionable whether this status was more or less beneficial). Alexander III was a staunch reactionary who strictly adhered to the old maxim "Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Nationalism." His escalation of anti-Semitism sought to popularize "folk anti-Semitism," which portrayed the Jews as "Christ-killers" and the oppressors of the Slavic, Christian victims.

A large-scale wave of anti-Jewish riots, called pogroms swept southern Russia in 1881, after Jews were wrongly blamed for the assassination of Alexander II. In the 1881 outbreak, there were pogroms in 166 Russian towns. In these riots thousands of Jewish homes were destroyed, many families reduced to extremes of poverty; women sexually assaulted, and large numbers of men, women, and children killed or injured. The new czar, Alexander III, blamed the Jews for the riots and issued a series of harsh restrictions on Jewish movements, but large numbers of pogroms continued until 1884, with at least tacit government knowledge.

An even bloodier wave of pogroms broke out from 1903-1906, leaving an estimated 2,000 Jews dead, and many more wounded. At least some of the pogroms are believed to have been organized or supported by the Tsarist Russian secret police, the Okhranka, and it seemed clear that Pogroms were a de-facto state policy of the Tsars from 1881 on. (See also Beilis trial)

Jews and the Revolution (1917-1922)

Jews and Bolshevism

Many members of the Bolshevik party were Jewish, especially in the leadership of the party. The idea of overthrowing the Tsarist regime was attractive to many members of the Jewish intelligentsia because of the oppression of non-Russian nations within the Russian Empire. For much the same reason, many other non-Russians, notably Latvians or Poles, were disproportionately represented in the party leadership. This was abused by the Tsarist secret police, the Okhranka, which used anti-Semitism and xenophobia as a weapon against the party.

The Jewish origins of some of leading Bolsheviks and their support for a policy of promoting international proletarian revolution—most notably in the case of Trotsky—led many enemies of Bolshevism to draw a picture of Communism as a political idea pursued to benefit Jewish interests. In Germany, the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler used this theory to paint a picture of a supposed "Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy". Even today, many anti-Semites continue to promote the idea of a link between Judaism and Communism. However, the concept that an entire ethnic group can be held responsible for the actions of a few is very widely rejected. The Bolsheviks seem to have been personally rather atheistic and internationalistic, more concerned with the plight of the working class in general rather than with any ethnicity or religious group. (See concepts of proletarian internationalism, bourgeois nationalism).

Most of the Jewish "Old Bolsheviks", along with their Gentile counterparts, were purged by Stalin during the 1930s. However, Stalin's ambitions to undertake a more general purge of "rootless cosmopolitans" (a euphemism for Jews), expressed in the preparation of the trial of the Doctors' plot, were never realised due to his death in 1953.

While there were a significant number of Jews in the Bolshevik Party the percentage of Jewish party members among the rival Mensheviks was much higher. The vast majority of Russia's Jews weren't in any political party.

Early Improvement of Conditions Under Lenin

One of Lenin's first state addresses was to mark the "emancipation of Jews" from Tsarism. Lenin delivered a state address "on the pogrom slandering of the Jews" on a gramophone disc following the October Revolution. It was not carried by any Russian newspaper, or widely heard; only a few thousand Russians had gramophones. Lenin formally issued a proclamation granting freedom to worship to the Russian proletariat and officially abolished the Pale of Settlement.

Lenin, reacting against the history of anti-Semitism in the later years of the Russian Empire, sought to explain the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in Marxist terms. According to Lenin, anti-Semitism was an "attempt to divert the hatred of the workers and peasants from the exploiters toward the Jews." Linking anti-Semitism to class struggle, he argued that it was merely a political technique used by the tsar to exploit religious fanaticism, popularize the despotic, unpopular regime, and divert popular anger toward a scapegoat. The Soviet Union also officially maintained this Marxist-Leninist interpretation under Stalin, who expounded Lenin's critique of anti-Semitism, calling it "an extreme form of race chauvinism" and the "most dangerous survival of cannibalism." However, this did not prevent the widely publicized repressions of Jewish intellectuals during 19481953 (see the rootless cosmopolitan article).

Such actions, along with extensive Jewish participation among the Bolsheviks, plagued the Communists during the Russian Civil War against the Whites with a reputation of being "a gang of marauding Jews"; Jews were a plurality ethnicity in the Communist Central Committee, which had a non-Russian majority.

The urbanization and industrialization of the USSR during the Five Year Plans probably contributed to liberalizing social attitudes, likely curbing anti-Semitism. Peasants, once 80% of the population prior to Stalinist-era heavy industrialization, often never knew Jews personally. However, due to forced industrialization and urbanization under Stalin, large segments of the country's Jewish population also moved from small towns or villages to large cities along with non-Jews. With more Soviets having the opportunity to know Jews intimately or become fairly acquainted with Jews, many were perhaps more inclined to see through perceiving Jews as Tsarist-era abstractions, like the parasitic "Christ-killer."

See article Yevsektsiya on some additional aspects of Bolshevik policy with respect to Jews and Jewish organizations.

In 1936 Pravda, the party's newspaper and main propaganda organ, even printed a beneficial explanation of the vile nature of anti-Semitism. It stated that "national and racial chauvinism is a survival of the barbarous practices of the cannibalistic period... it served the exploiters... to protect capitalism from the attack of the working class; anti-Semitism, a phenomenon profoundly hostile to the Soviet Union, is repressed in the USSR."

Under Stalin (1922-1953)

Stalin's official position is indicated in his letter to the Jewish News Agency: "Anti-Semitism: Reply to an Inquiry of the Jewish News Agency in the United States" dated January 12, 1931:

In answer to your inquiry: National and racial chauvinism is a vestige of the misanthropic customs characteristic of the period of cannibalism. Anti-semitism, as an extreme form of racial chauvinism, is the most dangerous vestige of cannibalism.
Anti-semitism is of advantage to the exploiters as a lightning conductor that deflects the blows aimed by the working people at capitalism. Anti-semitism is dangerous for the working people as being a false path that leads them off the right road and lands them in the jungle. Hence Communists, as consistent internationalists, cannot but be irreconcilable, sworn enemies of anti-semitism.
In the U.S.S.R. anti-semitism is punishable with the utmost severity of the law as a phenomenon deeply hostile to the Soviet system. Under U.S.S.R. law active anti-semites are liable to the death penalty. (Source: Works, Vol. 13, July 1930-January 1934, Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1955, p. 30)

Despite its official opposition to anti-Semitism, critics of the USSR condemn it as anti-Semitic regime due to the Non-Aggression Pact with Nazi Germany, high Jewish casualties in the Great Purges, Soviet anti-Zionism, its hostility toward Jewish religious and cultural institutions, Stalin's documented anti-Jewish bias, the refusal to grant Jewish emigration to Israel, and Soviet tendency to lean pro-Arab. Each of these aspects of Soviet rule taint Soviet history in the West.

The Non-Aggression Pact, for instance, creates suspicion regarding the Soviet Union's position toward Jews. The pact, which arguably allowed Hitler to freely enter Poland, the nation with the world's largest Jewish population, was not an acceptance of Nazism, but a realization that the Soviet Union was unable to win a war against its ideological arch enemy in 1939.

The Great Purges are also popularly portrayed as anti-Semitic in the West, thereby ignoring the actual context of Stalin's consolidation of power. A number of the most prominent victims of the Purges—Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev, to name a few—were Jewish. That is, however, an oversimplification, since Stalin was just as brutal when acting against his real or imagined enemies who were not Jewish—e.g., Bukharin, Tukhachevsky, Kirov, and Ordzhonikidze. The number of prominent Jewish Old Bolsheviks killed in the purge reflects the fact that Jews were the largest group in the Central Committee, which had a non-Russian majority, and that Jews had a high participation among the Bolsheviks.

In addition, some Stalinists survived notwithstanding their Jewish heritage. Stalin did not purge Lazar Kaganovich, a loyal supporter who came to Stalin's attention in the 1920s as a successful bureaucrat in Tashkent, who aided Stalin and Molotov against Kirov and who participated in his brutal elimination of rivals in the 1930s. Kaganovich's loyalty endured after Stalin's death, when his opposition to de-Stalinization caused him to be expelled from the party in 1957, along with Molotov.

Statistics and anecdotal evidence, however, do not explain away the special venom that Stalin and his henchmen showed toward the Jewish Bolsheviks they were sending to their death. Stalin reportedly was convulsed with laughter when Paulus, an NKVD operative, reenacted Zinoviev's last moments by rolling on the floor crying "Oh God of Israel hear my cry!" Vyshinsky, the chief prosecutor for all of the major show trials, likewise took pains to humiliate Rosengoltz, one of the defendants who was found with a passage of Hebrew sewn into his overcoat by his wife when he was arrested. While this does not mean that Stalin procured these former comrades' deaths because of anti-Semitism—he had far more concrete and "rational" reasons for wanting them dead—it does show how strong anti-Semitic attitudes remained.

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A caricature from the Soviet magazine "Krokodil", January 1953

The so-called Doctors' plot of 1953, on the other hand, was a deliberately anti-Semitic policy: Stalin targeted "corrupt Jewish bourgeois nationalists," eschewing the usual code words like "cosmopolitans." Stalin died, however, before this next wave of arrests and executions could be launched in earnest. A number of historians claim that the Doctors plot was intended as the opening of a campaign that would have resulted in the mass deportation of Soviet Jews to Birobidzhan had Stalin not died on March 5, 1953. Days after Stalin's death the doctor's plot was declared a hoax by the Soviet government.

Earlier, in January 1948 Solomon Mikhoels, actor-director of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater (AKA GOSET) and chairman of Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee was killed in a suspicious car accident. Mass arrests of prominent Jewish intellectuals and suppression of Jewish culture follow under the banners of campaign against "rootless cosmopolitans" and anti-Zionism. At least thirteen prominent Yiddish writers were executed on August 12 1952, among them Peretz Markish, Leib Kwitko, David Hoffstein, Itzik Feffer, David Bergelson, Der Nister in the event known as "The Night of Murdered Poets" ("Ночь казненных поэтов"). In the 1955 UN Assembly's session a high Soviet official still denied the "rumors" about their disappearance.

These cases may have reflected Stalin's paranoia, rather than state ideology — a distinction that, of course, made no practical difference as long as Stalin was alive, but which became salient on his death.

Beyond longstanding controversies, ranging from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact to anti-Zionism, the Soviet Union did grant (nominal) "equality of all citizens regardless of status, sex, race, religion, and nationality." The years before the Holocaust were an era of rapid change for Soviet Jews, leaving behind the dreadful poverty of the Jewish Pale, the restricted area of Jewish settlement designated by Catherine the Great following the conquest of large portions of Poland (with its high Jewish population). Forty percent of the population in the former Jewish Pale left for large cities within Greater Russia. However, a large number also opted for Poland, as they were entitled by peace treaty in Riga 1921 to choose the country they preferred. Several hundred thousand, despite the prospect of communist paradise and the popular vision of Soviet Russia as ruled by Jews, joined the already numerous Jewish population of Poland.

Assimilation of the Jews and movement from countryside shtetls (small Jewish villages) to newly industrialized cities allowed Jews to enjoy overall advances under Stalin. Soviet Jews became one of the most educated populations in the world as living standards greatly improved.

The Soviet Union and the Holocaust (1941-1945)

Main article: The Holocaust

On the Eve of the Holocaust

Due to Stalinist emphasis on its urban population, interwar migration inadvertently rescued countless Soviet Jews; Nazi Germany penetrated the entire former Jewish Pale—but were kilometers short of Leningrad and Moscow. The great wave of deportations from the areas annexed by Soviet Union according to the Nazi-Soviet pact, often seen by victims as genocide, paradoxically also saved a few hundred thousand Jewish deportees. However horrible their conditions, the fate of Jews in Nazi Germany was much worse. The migration of Jews from the Jewish Pale to Great Russia saved at least forty percent of the Pale's former population.

The Holocaust

Over two million Soviet Jews died during the Holocaust, second only to the number of Polish Jews who fell victim to Hitler. Even before the mass deportations to the death camps in 1942, German death squads, the Einsatzkommandos, shot hundreds of thousands of Jews throughout 1941. Among some of the larger massacres in 1941 were: 33,771 Jews of Kiev shot in ditches at Babi Yar; 100,000 Jews of Vilna killed in the forests of Ponary, 36,000 Jews machine-gunned in Odessa, 25,000 Jews of Riga killed in the woods at Rumbula, and 10,000 Jews slaughtered in Simferopol in the Crimea. Though mass shootings continued through 1942, most notably 16,000 Jews shot at Pinsk, Jews were increasingly shipped to concentration camps in Poland.

Soviet citizens, especially Ukranians, Lithuanians, and Latvians, often played key roles in the Holocaust. Ukranian and Latvian police carried out deportations in the Warsaw Ghetto, and Lithuanian police marched Jews to their death at Ponary. Even as some assisted the Germans, many Soviet citizens also helped Jews escape death, see Righteous Among the Nations.

Soviet Reaction

The official Soviet policy regarding the Holocaust was to present it as atrocites against Soviet citizens, not acknowledging the genocide of the Jews. For example, after the liberation of Kiev from the Nazi occupation in 1943, the Extraordinary State Commission (Чрезвычайная Государственная Комиссия) was set out to investigate Nazi crimes and its first report was ready by December 25, 1943. It contained (a preserved copy exists) the following sentence:

"The Hitlerist bandits committed mass murder of the Jewish population. They announced that on September 29, 1941, all the Jews were required to arrive to the corner of Melnikov and Dokterev streets and bring their documents, money and valuables. The butchers marched them to Babi Yar, took away their belongings, then shot them."

The officially censored version of the text was:

"The Hitlerist bandits brought thousands of civilians to the corner of Melnikov and Dokterev streets. The butchers marched them to Babi Yar, took away their belongings, then shot them."

See also Vasily Grossman, Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, Black Book

After Stalin (1956-1994)

In April 1956, the Warsaw Yiddish-language Jewish newspaper "Folkshtimme" published sensational lists of Soviet Jews who had perished before and after the Holocaust. The world press began demanding answers from Soviet leaders, as well as inquire about current condition of Jewish education system and culture. The same fall, a group of leading Jewish world figures publicly requested the heads of Soviet state to clarify the situation. Since no cohesive answer was received, their concern was only heightened. The fate of Soviet Jews emerged as a major human rights issue in the West.

While Soviet socialism clearly did not destroy the Jewish identity, it nevertheless weakened a degree of cultural cohesiveness. Yiddish, Jewish theaters, Jewish schools, synagogues, and Zionism bounded the Soviet Jewish population together despite the absence of a common locale; but these were the very elements restricted by a Soviet Union promoting secularism among all its citizens. The periodic closings of synagogues, the central institutions binding the Jewish population of a community together, and other important Jewish cultural institutions, such as theaters and schools, were conducted under this ideological context of egalitarianism. While threatening to Judaism and the Jewish culture, the regime enforced the same policies on other religions, leading to the development of a modern, secular state. However, after the end of the Second World War, the restrictions against Christians and Muslims were gradually reduced, while the persecution of Judaism remained in force. The rise of Jewish secularism thus paralleled social trends among Soviet gentiles, but had threatening overtones to Jewish existence. Soviet secularism, the discouragement of Yiddish, and the restriction of other elements that forged an exclusive, Jewish identity, caused assimilation to be a foreboding threat to Jewish existence. Soviet rule can be characterized by a rise in intermarriages and abandonment of Jewish identities seen in Jews who had adopted leftist ideals, such as Leon Trotsky, Maxim Litvinov, Lazar Kaganovich, Karl Marx, and perhaps Yuri Andropov. The children of Stalin's daughter, for instance, were half-Jews not born of a Jewish mother—thus not Jews according to Jewish law.

Post-War Policy towards Jews

The Soviet Union, one of the world's most ethnically diverse nations, with hundreds of distinct nationalities, was also home to a Jewish population of about two million before its disintegration, making Jews the eleventh largest Soviet nationality (the USSR classified Jews as a nationality). Despite such diversity, Jews were a unique minority in the ideological state. Before and after the Bolshevik Revolution many of the Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Baltic Jews embraced secular education and culture, thereby becoming a minority that had adapted the Russian language and culture.

Jews, in that sense, were not "foreigners" within Soviet Russia, like Tatars or indigenous Siberians, but instead a distinct, cohesive group bounded by a common value system, Yiddish, exclusive cultural institutions, synagogues, and Zionist nationalism, despite the absence of a territorial unit or a single locale. This existence is thus alien to Marxism-Leninism as espoused by the Soviet state, which viewed Jewish cohesiveness as resulting from class struggle, binding proletariat Jews to Jews in oppressor classes. Marxist egalitarianism and universality suggested that it would be ideal to see the assimilation of Jews and the renunciation of Judaism, in a sense contradicting the elements that allowed Jews to be distinct members of society. All Soviets, such as Russians, Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Tatars, and Kazakhs, were encouraged to look at class over nationality, but did not face assimilation and cultural annihilation because of their individual locales and common languages. While Jews had been bound together in the past by Yiddish, most by the end of the Stalinist era had already adapted the Russian language and culture, and tended to live alongside Slavic gentiles.

Certain Marxists predicted such a sociological trend, but miscalculated the extent to which this trend would erode the coheisiveness of the Jewish community. Karl Marx and some later Marxists assumed that the Jewish identity would cease to exist after the demise of capitalism since man can only be free when he transcended the confines of individuality and locality and recognized a shared humanity, "a universal existence", free of antagonism and divisiveness, which only exist due to class struggle. Although the Jewish community went from being one of the most isolated in Europe to one of the most assimilated in Europe from the time of the Bolshevik Revolution to the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, the identity has not faded away by any means.

Law throughout Soviet history, however, listed Jews as one of the Union's "basic nations", with their own language (Yiddish), and their own autonomous region — a failed, inhospitable settlement in the Russian Far East that was nonetheless symbolic. The word "Yevrei" or "Jew" was also listed in the nationality section (the infamous "pyataja grafa", or "fifth record") of the obligatory internal passport document, which stated the nationality of all Soviet citizens. Such treatment of Jews as a nationality is somewhat alien to Jewish law, but reminiscent of Zionism. In May 1976, the Soviet journal Party Life even prominently displayed Jews as a distinct "nationality." However many Jews who recall the Holocaust, mistrust being classified as a "nationality."

Soviet Anti-Zionism

Marxist anti-nationalism and anti-clericalism had a mixed effect on Soviet Jews. Jews were the immediate benefactors, but long-term victims, of the Marxist notion that any manifestation of nationalism is "socially retrogressive." On one hand, Jews were liberated from the religious persecution of the Tsarist years of "autocracy, nationalism, and Orthodoxy." On the other, this notion was threatening to Jewish cultural institutions, the Jewish Labor Bund, Jewish autonomy, and Zionism. Bolsheviks created Yevsektsiya to fight Jewish "bourgeois nationalism" and to build Jewish "proletarian culture".

Although Leninism emphasizes "self-determination," this did not make the state more accepting of Zionism. Leninism defines self-determination by territory, not culture, which allowed Soviet minorities to have separate oblasts, autonomous regions, or republics, which were nonetheless symbolic until its later years. Jews, however, did not fit such a theoretical model; Jews in the Diaspora did not even have an agricultural base, as Stalin often asserted when attempting to deny the existence of a Jewish nation, and certainly no territorial unit. Marxian notions even denied a Jewish identity beyond religion and caste; Marx defined Jews as a "chimerical nation."

Aside from these ideological concerns, other factors motivated the suppression of Jewish political activity. While Zionism was the prominent nationalistic Jewish movement repressed under Stalin, who tolerated few, if any, non-governmental or non-party organizations, the Jewish Labor Bund was an earlier movement repressed under Lenin, who sought to consolidate Bolshevik influence over all other leftwing and labor movements. The Jewish Labor Bund, for instance, was to be the sole representative of the Jewish worker, conflicting with Lenin's universal coalition of workers of all nationalities. The outcome, however, was less detrimental than repression of Zionism since most Bund members readily joined the Bolsheviks, and later merged with the Communist Party. However, the movement did split in three; the Bundist identity survived in interwar Poland under Rafael Abramovich, while more westernized Jews joined the Mensheviks. The prohibition of the Bund was the first example of the drawbacks of Communist anti-nationalism, depriving Jews of a powerful, autonomous interest and paramilitary group.

Lenin, claiming to be deeply committed to egalitarian ideals and universality of all humanity, rejected Zionism as a reactionary movement, "bourgeois nationalism", "socially retrogressive", and a backward force that deprecates class divisions among Jews. In fact, until the surprise Soviet recognition of Israel after the Holocaust, anti-Zionism was regarded as a principle of Communism. The Holocaust perhaps created the environment for greater sympathy toward Zionism, despite the notion that all "nationalism is socially retrogressive", and the fact that no definitive theoretical statement has ever existed to explain the Soviet position toward Jewish existence.

Moreover, Zionism entailed contact between Soviet citizens and westerners, which was dangerous in a closed society. Soviet authorities were likewise fearful of any mass-movement independent of the Communist Party, and not tied to the state or Marxism-Leninism.

Nevertheless, the USSR did make overtures to Jewish autonomy before its recognition of Israel. Birobidzhan, the Siberian settlement north of China delegated as an autonomous Jewish state, was technically the second Jewish state since the advent of the Diaspora (the first being Khazaria), and did capture the imaginations of Soviet Jews striving toward a homeland. The Jewish Autonomous Soviet Socialist Oblast, centered in Birobidzhan, foreshadowed the 1947 Soviet embrace of the creation of Israel, and did mark symbolic good will.

Creation of Israel

In 1947 Andrei Gromyko astonished Zionist representatives by his enthusiastic endorsement of Jewish statehood in the UN. During the debate, Gromyko stated, "The Jewish people had been closely linked with Palestine for a considerable period in history.... As a result of war, the Jews as a people have suffered more than any other people. The total number of the Jewish population who perished at the hands of the Nazi executioners is estimated at approximately six million. The Jewish people were therefore striving to create a state of their own, and it would be unjust to deny them that right." Soviet approval in the UN Security Council was critical to the UN partitioning of Palestine, which led to the founding of Israel. The United Kingdom, which had blocked Jewish exiles from fleeing to the British Mandate of Palestine during the Holocaust, abstained. The USSR also was the refuge of 250,000 Jews fleeing from Nazism—more than any other nation, despite its arguably greater internal disarray and inability to take in a refugee population.

The Soviet Union's 1947 stance, however, would shift as Israel closely aligned itself with the USSR's Western adversaries and as the Soviets sought to increase their influence in the Arab world.

In 1948 the USSR warmed up to the mostly ideologically socialist Jewish settlers in Palestine. Hoping that Israel would become another socialist state and give it a geopolitical foothold in the region, the Soviet Union voted for the 1947 UN Partition Plan of Palestine, and in May 1948 it recognized the establishment of the State of Israel. Subsequently the Soviets supported the reborn Jewish state with weapons (via Czechoslovakia, in defiance of the embargo) against the aggression of five Arab armies. Many Soviet Jews felt inspired and sympathetic towards Israel and expressed their enthusiasm with offers to contribute or even volunteer for Israel's defense. Some even volunteered there for a short amount of time.

The Resurgence of Anti-Zionism

But by the end of 1948, it became clear that despite the popularity of the communist doctrines, Israel would not become a socialist state. Disappointed and angered, the Soviets switched sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict and began supporting the Arabs against Israel, first politically and later also militarily; this policy was maintained throughout the Cold War.

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"Anti-Zionist" caricature from newspaper Soviet Moldavia (August 27, 1971). The image of spider (traditionally used by anti-Semites) is Zionism, the web is woven from: deception, lies, provocations, Anti-Sovietism, Jewish question, anti-Communism

As Israel was emerging as a close Western ally, the specter of Zionism raised fears of internal dissent and opposition. During the later parts of the Cold War Soviet Jews were persecuted as possible traitors, Western sympathisers, or a security liability. The Communist leadership closed down various Jewish organizations and declared Zionism an ideological enemy. The only exception were a few token synagogues. These synagogues were then placed under police surveillance, both openly and through the use of informers.

As a result of the persecution, both state-sponsored and unofficial anti-Semitism became deeply ingrained in the society and remained a fact for years: ordinary Soviet Jews often suffered hardships, epitomized by often not being allowed to enlist in universities or hired to work in certain professions. Many were barred from participation in the government, and had to bear being openly humiliated. Soviet media usually avoided using the word "Jew," and many felt compelled to hide their identities by changing their surnames.

"Judaism Without Embellishments" by Trofim Kichko, published by the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR in . "It is in the teachings of Judaism, in the Old Testament, and in the Talmud, that the Israeli militarists find inspiration for their inhuman deeds, racist theories, and expansionist designs..."
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"Judaism Without Embellishments" by Trofim Kichko, published by the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR in 1963. "It is in the teachings of Judaism, in the Old Testament, and in the Talmud, that the Israeli militarists find inspiration for their inhuman deeds, racist theories, and expansionist designs..."

See also Zionology and Anti-Zionist committee of the Soviet public

The collapse of the Soviet Union and emigration to Israel

Anti-Zionism, however, returned after the recognition of Israel, evident in Soviet hostility toward Jewish emigration to Israel. These policies, however, applied to all Soviets. The USSR rationalized that the loss of its Jewish population would have caused the entire nation to lose vital physicians, educators, skilled laborers, plant managers, physicists, chemists, and other scientists vital to the nation's national security. As mentioned, Russian Jews, once Europe's poorest, most isolated, and most "backward" Jewish populations, gradually assimilated into Russian society under Stalin, becoming one of the most well-educated segments of the Soviet population. However, the true reason behind that policy was a hostility towards Israel, ingrained anti-Semitism and the fear (not irrational) that if one national group will be allowed to break away from the socialist fold, others will follow. See also refuseniks.

In 1989 a record 71,000 Soviet Jews were granted exodus from the USSR, of whom only 12,117 immigrated to Israel because of little or no knowledge of the country. Since the dissolution of the USSR, over one million Soviet Jews have emigrated to Israel (See Jackson-Vanik amendment). Meanwhile, democratization in Russia has brought with it a good deal of tragic irony for the country's minorities, especially the Jewish population. The absence of Soviet-era repression exposed the remaining Jews to a resurgence of anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union, led by ultra-nationalist demagogue Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who is himself half-Jewish. However, there has not been a return to mass anti-Semitic incidents, in Russia or anywhere else throughout the former Soviet Union. See also Pamyat.

Jews in Russia Today

Jewish Life

To be added: oligarchs, religious observance, Jewish institutions, Jewish organizations, population changes, etc.

Anti-semitism

Anti-Zionism, arguably related to anti-Semitism among many elements, has flourished in the republics of the former Soviet Union. Anti-Semitic pronouncements, speeches and articles are common, and usually appear in inverse proportion to the state of the economy. The Anti-Defamation League has issued many press releases on the many anti-Semitic neo-Nazi groups in republics of the former Soviet Union.

State Duma Deputy Oleg Mashchenko recently gave an interview promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. He states "The USA is declaring a war that could turn into a Third World War, and it doesn't understand that it is acting according to an alien, unseen order. The main enemy of the peoples of Russia and other states is Zionism....Jews are just as much hostages to Zionism as the Germans are to fascism. After all, you can't say that all residents of Germany are fascists! However, Zionism is a dozen, a hundred, a thousand times worse than fascism." He concludes that Zionism is a "centuries-old trend that aims at world domination." (Source: Krasnodar regional administration official newspaper "Kuban Segodnya, February 8, 2003)

Demographics data

The official census data on Jewish population of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. Source: ISBN 580620068X Implemented Myth (Russian ed. 2003, p. 46) by Dr. A.Yu. Militaryov, rector of Jewish University (Moscow)

Year Jewish population, millions Note
1914 More than 5.25 Russian Empire
1939 3  
Early 1941 5.4 A result of the annexation of Western Ukraine and Belarus, Baltic republics, and inflow of Jewish refugees from Poland
1959 2.26 See the Shoah
1970 2.15  
1979 1.81  
1989 1.45  
End of 1993 Less than 0.4 A result of mass emigration and assimilation. Militaryov calls this number "especially funny". By his estimate, the real number should be 2-3 millions. See also Jewish Virtual Library (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/Judaism/jewpop.html)

See also

References

  • Anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, its Roots and Consequences, proceedings of a seminar held in Jerusalem, April 7-8, 1978, The Hebrew University, Center for Research and Documentation of East European Jewry, 1979.
  • Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred" Robert S. Wistrich. Pantheon Books, 1992
  • Anti-Semitism, article in The Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter Publishing

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