Soviet Jewry Struggle for Freedom

Protesting for Soviet Jewry, 1969.  Seattle Action for Soviet Jewry records I-507 ; American Soviet Jewry Movement Photographs I-495

Glossary – Soviet Jewry Struggle for Freedom

Created by Morey Schapira and David Wakberg

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Description Notes
Refusenik An unofficial term Soviet Jews, who were denied permission to emigrate, primarily to Israel, by the authorities of the Soviet Union. The term refusenik is derived from the “refusal” handed down to a prospective emigrant from the Soviet authorities  (OVIR). “Refusenik” literally meant someone who received a refusal from OVIR.  But it eventually obtained a 2nd meaning as well – one who “refused” to go along with the oppressive and anti-Semitic Soviet system.
Prisoner Of Zion



Prisoner of Conscience 


Prisoner for Zion

A Soviet Jew who was imprisoned or deported for Zionist activity in a country where such activity was prohibited. Activities that resulted in imprisonment were Teaching Hebrew, requesting a visa to emigrate to Israel, etc. The phrase is taken from the words of Rabbi Judah Halevi: “Oh Zion, will you not ask after the welfare of your prisoners.”

The broader term, Prisoner of Conscience, refers to an individual imprisoned for the non-violent expression of their beliefs.

OVIR A Federal Migration Service.

Visa and Registration Department in the former Soviet Union

The Soviet government department to which one would apply for permission to emigrate and would respond with permission or refusal.
Soviet Union / USSR Officially known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)
FSU Former Soviet Union, which collapsed in late 1991.
Aliyah The immigration of Jews from the diaspora to the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel in Hebrew). Also defined as “the act of going up”—that is, towards Jerusalem—”making Aliyah” by moving to the Land of Israel is one of the basic tenets of Zionism. 
Gulag The Gulag was an acronym a system of slave labor camps maintained in the Soviet Union from 1930 to 1955 in which millions of people died.

The Gulag continued until at least 1987, when Gorbachev began closing PERM and other camps.

GULAG is an acronym for Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei or Main Camp Administration. The term was popularized internationally by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose 1973 book, The Gulag Archipelago, documented and exposed the vastness of the Soviet penal system.
Iron Curtain One of the nicknames given to the former Soviet Union indicating that no one could get in or out with the permission of the Soviet authorities
Evrei The Russian word for Jew, which was stamped on the internal passport of all former citizens of the FSU. The FSU recognized nationalities (Georgian, Uzbeki, Ukrainian) and labeled Jews as Jews, no matter which republic they lived in. All Soviet citizens carried an internal passport, and the 5th line of the passport showed “nationality.”


Having “Evrei” on the 5th line usually led to discrimination and exclusion from elite schools and jobs.

The Evil Empire “Yes, let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness—pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the State, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world …. So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride—the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.”

A famous description of the USSR made by then President Ronald Reagan in March 8, 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida, is his first recorded use of the phrase “evil empire”. The speech has become known as the Evil Empire Speech. 
Politburo The Politburo (Russian: Политбюро, IPA: [pəlʲɪtbʲʊˈro], full: Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, abbreviated Политбюро ЦК КПСС, Politbyuro TsK KPSS) was the highest policy-making authority within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
KGB The feared Soviet Secret Police Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti or Committee of State Security.  
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or The Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion is a fabricated anti-Semitic text purporting to describe a Jewish plan for global domination. This vicious hoax was published in Russia in the early 1900’s, during times of the terrible pogroms that were directed against Jews in Russia.
Pravda The name of a government controlled Soviet newspaper.  The word means ‘truth’ in Russian. There was little truth in the papers, especially when it came to issues about Jews and Israel.
Izvestia The name of a government controlled Soviet newspaper. The word means ‘news’ in Russian. Soviet Jews would often comment “There is no Pravda (truth) in Izvestia (news) as well as no Izvestia in Pravda.


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