* Cold War Soviet Jews

Soviet Jewish Movement (1960s)

Figure 1.--American Jews seized upon reports from the Soviet Union that the authorities were supressing Jewish citizens. Jewish groups in the West, especially in America, organized to support the Soviet Jewish movement. Thecpress captio here read, "Protests Against Soviet Persecution: Jewish children carrying banners at Civic Center in arotest against 'the deplorable condition of 3 million Russian Jews who are being subjected to cultural strangulation.' The San Francisco rally was part of aationally co-ordinated day of protest with 16 other cities." The photograph was dated Secember 28, 1967.

The Soviet leadership created a new issue in the Cold War, an asault on Soviet Jewery. Stalin had been preparing a major pogrom at the time he died (1953). The Doctor's Plot was the first step. This was shelved by Khruschev, but by the 1960s the Soviet began a new campaign. It was not a NAZI style racial genocide, but a cultural campaign to eliminate all Jewish culture and cultural identity. We are not sure while idea this was or the thought process involved. And raw anti-Semitism can not be ignored. Another factor here was Soviet foreign policy which by this time had sided with Arab regimes adopting Arab Socialism (Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen). Those countries were intent on destoying Israel and the Soviets provided massive arms shipments to make this possible. This policy which blended it to attacks on Jews. It is likely that the KGB saw Soviet Jews as a potential subversive group in the effort to destoy Israel. The KGB resorted to Stalinist tactics, although not on Stalinist scale. The KGB arrested an executed over one hundred Jews on trumped-up charges of various economic crimes. The Soviets began systematically closing down synagogues and published shockingly anti-Semitic books. Soviet spokesmen charged that Judaism was a Nazi-like religion. This only intensified when the Israelis emerged victorious in the Six Days War (1967). Cartoons appeared in Soviet newspapers of Israeli General Moshe Dayan with a Nazi swastika armband. What the Soviets had not counted own was the reaction, both in the Soviet Union and in the West (especially America). In the Soviet Union, the attention given to the Six Days War seems to have stimulated interest among Soviet Jews in their religion and cultural tradition. This ws just what the Soviets did not want. And why they wanted to destroy Judaism and Jewish identity, they were dead set against large-scale Jewish emigration. Jews wre among the most educated and skilled groups in the Soviet Union. It would mean the loss of many talented citizens. As a Jewish movement began to build, the KGB began aresting leaders. Now Stalin could have prevented the Soviet Jewisg movement. There would have been a bullet in the head or years of slave labor in the Gulag. But the lower level of terror meant that there were Jews willing to challenge authorities And arests only hightened the intenational condemnation of the Soviet Union. In fact, these prisoners of conscience ignited a world-wide Soviet-Jewish protest movement. In the United States, the Jewish community was transformed by the issue as reports of Soviet actions against Jews became known. They became known as Refusniks. The most famous was Natan Sharansky. There had been considerable sympthy within the Americam Jewish community with its liberal leanings for the Soviet Union (1920s0-50s), both because of the role they played in defeating the NAZIs and their socialist policies. Some actually believed the Soviet propaganda line of a worker's paradice. American Jews by the 60s were better informd about the nature of Soviet Communism. And Jewish publications picked up on the reports of Soviet spression of their Jews. Many American Jews had guilty feeling about not being more militant during the NAZI Holocaust. Jewish leadees were determined not to repeat that mistake. A protest movement on behalf of Soviet Jewry rapidly spread throughout the United States and other Jewish communities, but it wss America that had the largest Jewish community outside Israel. And not only were Jew politically active, America was a country with real power. American Jews were not only outraged, but detrmined to act. Young New York Jews organized the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ) (1964). Jacob Birnbaum Glenn Richter were key figures. The SSSJ demanded that Jews who so desired be allowed to openly live as Jews in the Soviet Union or leave the country if they so desired. Jews across Ameica formed other support groups. They colessed into the Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry. Protestors lost no opportunity to raise the issue. Any Soviet delegation wether obscure or the world renowned Bolshoi Ballet, found themselves facing Jewish protestors demanding rights for Soviet Jews. And there was more than protest. Jewish groups encouraged thousands of American and European Jews to make tourist trips to the Soviet Union and to meet with Jewish dissidents. Here the Soviets were torn because if they rejected visa requests they were turning down needed foreign currency earnings. Jewish groups began lobbing in Washington. This issue first appeated at the height of the Cold War -- the early-60s. By the end of the decade, Soviet foreign policy was changing. Soviet diplomats began promoting Détente. There were also important trade issues. The failure of Soviet agriculture meant that they had to import grain. And just as Soviet diplomats began negotiating with America, they found that they had alienated what had been the most sympthetic elment in American politics.


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Created: 9:43 AM 2/19/2016
Last updated: 6:51 AM 12/24/2020