Resource Library

Below please find a compilation of short videos, books, and websites related to the plight of Soviet Jewry. We hope these will help you educate and inspire the next generation. 

Videos

BooksWebsites

Image credit: http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Samizdat

Videos

A Jewish Agency film. With rare archive footage, the film describes the story of the 40 years of struggle for the immigration of Soviet Jewry.

Duration: 5:34 Minutes

In this documentary, film-maker Pinchas Schatz sets out to determine the fate of his grandfather, a Zionist leader in the former Soviet republic of Estonia between the two world wars. Accompanied by his mother, Margalit, (his grandfather’s daughter), they journey back to Estonia where in the summer of 1995, K.G.B. archives and secret files relating to the case were made public. From these and the new testimonies of other witnesses, they are able to piece together a largely unknown chapter in the tragic annals of the Zionist movement in the former Soviet Union, and, more personally, the official verdict against his grandfather for “trying to establish a Bourgeois-Jewish State in Palestine with the assistance of the Capitalist countries. Israel/Estonia 1996 (English Subtitles).

Duration: 1 Hour

Avital Sharansky tells her personal story of growing up in the Soviet Union and fighting for the release of her husband Natan.

English Translation can be found here.

Duration: 50 Minutes

“Big Brother is Watching Them. Our Brothers are Waiting for Us,” was the message of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry in 1984. Today you are welcome to watch and listen to Soviet Jewry activists reminisce about their efforts to breach the Iron Curtain here.

The Soviet Jewry Oral History Project was initiated by Glenn Richter, former National Coordinator of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, in conjunction with Yeshiva University Archives to collect and preserve the memories of various activists in the Soviet Jewry movement.

The oral history video recordings were conducted in the United States and Israel, primarily by Glenn Richter. Funding for the project was provided by Henry Gerber.

 https://blogs.yu.edu/library/2019/01/23/behind-the-curtain-of-soviet-jewry-activism/ 

45 Videos

Cantor Sherwood Goffin performing at the event of the American Jewish Historical Society – Unbroken Spirits: Yosef Mendelevich and Soviet Jewry Activists at the Center for Jewish History on November 20, 2013. http://www.ajhs.org/UnbrokenSpirits.cfm

Duration: 10:54 Minutes

The creation of this video was a joint project of the Center for Jewish History and the American Jewish Historical Society. The materials are from the American Jewish Historical Society’s Archive of the American Soviet Jewry Movement.

Duration: 13:14 Minutes

After more than 70 years of closed borders, the former Soviet Union allowed more than one million Jews to immigrate to America and Israel in the late 1980s. American activism under Operation Exodus had a large part in this change in policy and the Richmond Jewish community in the resettlement of 800 refugees.

Twenty-five years later, Jewish Family Services and the University of Richmond Hillel are creating a permanent collection of the experiences and memories of the families who immigrated and the community volunteers who welcomed them. “Draw Back the Curtain,” a feature-length documentary film, is the culmination of three years of student driven research and interviewing of immigrants and resettlement volunteers. 

Duration: 56:50 Minutes

Two young university students wish to escape the oppressive Soviet Union. But their plans are monitored by the KGB, who try to intimidate them. One of them is taken into custody and tortured, which spurs them to make an escape attempt that could cost them their lives.

Duration: 1:58 Hours

 

This rally was held in Washington D.C. during the summit between President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in support of the Soviet Jews who had experienced significant maltreatment and abuse at the hands of the  Soviet Union. The rally was pushing for a stronger commitment to human rights from the Soviet Union.

Duration: 2:04:00 Hours

Gal Beckerman explains the greater significance of the fight for Soviet Jewry and his impetus for writing his book “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone.”

Duration: 4:22 Minutes

Freedom 25 was established to assure that the critical lessons of the Soviet Jewry movement are learned by future generations, so they can again be applied to expand the reach of freedom.

28 videos

Freedom 25 was established to assure that the critical lessons of the Soviet Jewry movement are learned by future generations, so they can again be applied to expand the reach of freedom.

Duration: 7:19 Minutes

This week on History of Israel Explained, we’re visiting the Soviet Union and recapping the history of Soviet Jewry. The campaign to free the Jews of the USSR grew into a global phenomenon that motivated Jews across the world to fight for their fellow Jews. With incredible results.

Duration: 11:14 Minutes

A brief video highlighting the story of Natan Sharansky.

Duration: 5:00 Minutes

This documentary tells the Refusenik story through the perspective of Natan Sharansky’s biography, the most famous of the Refuseniks. In 1977, Sharansky, a human rights activist, was arrested on bogus charges on spying for the USA, treason, and anti-Soviet activities. The film tells his story and the story of the Jewish community in general, and the Refusenik population in specific, while they fought for rights and freedom.y.

Duration: 84 Minutes

Israeli filmmaker Anat Kuznetsov-Zalmanson on how her parents famous failure to hijack a plane kickstarted the Soviet Jewry movement around the world, and her decision to create a documentary on the seminal episode. “L’Chayim” with Mark S. Golub.

Duration: 55:50 Minutes

The founders of Freedom 25 recount their experiences being involved in the movement to free Soviet Jewry.

Duration: 30:00 Minutes

Yosef Mendelevich, refusenik and prisoner of zion tells his personal story of growing up in the USSR, attempting to hijack a plane to Israel, and his religious journey in this hour and a half long interview.

Duration: 1:26 Hours

Prisoners of Zion and refuseniks – testimonies behind the Iron Curtain (Hebrew).

Duration: 26:03 Minutes

This hour-long documentary chronicles the attempted highjacking of a Russian plane with the intention of escaping to Israel. The story is told from the perspective of the daughter of two of the highjackers. Watch the trailer here.

Duration: 3:10 Minutes

A three part series on the Jewish movement in the USSR

Duration: Each video is 16:00 Minutes

The creation of this video was a joint project of the Center for Jewish History and the American Jewish Historical Society. The materials are from the American Jewish Historical Society’s Archive of the American Soviet Jewry Movement.

Duration: 21:29 Minutes

Genesis Philanthropy Group and Studio Namedni present a documentary trilogy about the phenomenon of Russian Jews – in Russia and beyond. Author and narrator: Leonid Parfenov. Director: Sergey Nurmamed (English subtitles). 

Duration: 05:33 Hours

Stateless captures this untold story from the points of view of the immigrants themselves a well as from the organizations such as HIAS, JOINT, and NYANA that helped these people along the way to finally answer “why were so many people denied?” www.stateless.us/dvd

Duration: 2:36 Minutes

The First 50 Years “is a television documentary series of the first channel that was broadcast in 1998, marking the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and tells about the history of the State of Israel (Hebrew).

Duration: 19:47 Minutes

REFUSENIK is the first retrospective documentary to chronicle the thirty-year movement to free Soviet Jews. It shows how a small grassroots effort bold enough to take on a Cold War superpower blossomed into an international human rights campaign that engaged the disempowered and world leaders alike. Told through the eyes of activists on both sides of the Iron Curtain – many of whom survived punishment in Soviet Gulag labor camps – the film is a tapestry of first-person accounts of heroism, sacrifice, and ultimately, liberation. http://www.refusenikmovie.com/about.php

Duration: 1:46 Minutes

A fundraising film, depicting Russian Jews escaping Communist oppression, Israel’s difficult security situation and the plight of Jewish elderly in Los Angeles.

Duration: 17:21 Minutes

This film highlights the story of three of the 200 mothers of refuseniks who were separated from their children and grandchildren for decades before being allowed to emigrate to Israel.

Duration: 17:28 Minutes

Archival material from Natan Sharansky’s release and after.

Duration: 8:00 Minutes

Narrated by Theodore Bikel, this documentary is an excellent introduction to the history of Soviet Jewry. Scenes and interviews with recent Jewish emigrees, on their way across Europe to Israel, are interspersed with flashbacks of Russian Jewish history related through paintings, still photographs, film footage, and music. Produced by the United Jewish Appeal.

Duration: 22.40 Minutes

On December 6, 1987, some 250,000 American Jews gathered in Washington, D.C. to protest the plight of their Soviet brethren.

Duration: 00:59 Seconds

Gal Beckerman explains the greater significance of the fight for Soviet Jewry and his impetus for writing his book “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone.”

Duration: 3:56 Minutes

The Jewish Federations are partnering with Freedom 25 to raise awareness and continue the legacy of the Soviet Jewry Movement. We invite you to watch our video about the historic march. Visit the new Freedom 25 website to learn more, and join our “virtual march” by sharing your own reflections about the 1987 march and the Soviet Jewry movement.

Duration: 4:32 Minutes

Books

A century ago the Russian Empire contained the largest Jewish community in the world, numbering about five million people. Today, the Jewish population of the former Soviet Union has dwindled to half a million but remains probably the world’s third largest Jewish community. In the intervening century, the Jews of that area have been at the center of some of the most dramatic events of modern history — two world wars, revolutions, pogroms, political liberation, repression, and the collapse of the USSR. They have gone through tumultuous upward and downward economic and social mobility and experienced great enthusiasms and profound disappointments. In startling photographs from the archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and with a lively and lucid narrative, A Century of Ambivalence traces the historical experience of Jews in Russia from a period of creativity and repression in the second half of the 19th century through the paradoxes posed by the post-Soviet era. 

Non-Fiction

Nudel’s 16-year struggle to leave the Soviet Union is a moving personal story. A human rights activist, she publicized conditions in psychiatric hospitals and the plight of political prisoners, coordinated strategy with Andrei Sakharov and organized a protest against Anatoly Sharansky’s arrest. A leader of the Jewish emigration movement, she was exiled to Siberia for four years after she hung a banner from her apartment balcony proclaiming “KGB give me my visa to Israel.” She endured strip-searches, imprisonment in a cell full of rats, temperatures 60 below zero. Transferred to a one-room hut, she raised chickens and grew her own vegetables. Deliverance came in 1986 when Armand Hammer flew her in his private plane to Israel, where she rejoined her family, who had escaped in 1972. Her courage and indomitable spirit shine through in this memoir.

Non-Fiction

Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich was born in the small Baltic state of Latvia after the Second World War, which was under Soviet occupation. Yosef received a Soviet education, far removed from his Jewish faith and culture. His father, Moshe, was arrested by the Soviets when Yosef was 10 years old. His mother, Chaya Yenta, died soon afterwards. Despite his harsh childhood experiences, Yosef found his way to truth and faith and became one of the outstanding leaders of the Jewish revival in the USSR in the 1960’s. He considers the spiritual forces which enabled him to remain proud and unbowed during his 11-year incarceration in KGB cellars and the forced labor camps of the Gulag a miracle from Heaven. A Hero of Jewish Freedom consists of short stories drawn from Rabbi Mendelevich’s life experiences as a young Soviet Jewish freedom fighter imprisoned together with his comrades by the KGB after their failed attempt to hijack a Soviet plane and fly it to Israel. The author’s unique style turns the book into a work of art and makes the reader feel they are with him in his cell. The book celebrates the triumph of the love of life and faith, and shows how the struggle of the few helped to win freedom for millions of people in the Soviet Union. The hero is released and flies to Israel following his historic 56-day hunger strike. These stories of indomitable faith and ingenuity will inspire people of all ages and beliefs. 

Non-Fiction

Since the early 1960s, some 1.3 million Jews from the Soviet Union and its successor states have immigrated to the West, primarily to Israel and the US. Largely due to the imaginative and skillful mobilization efforts of Jews and their friends throughout the world, this great exodus had important ramifications for US relations with the Soviet Union/Russia and Israel. In addition, the success of American Jews in mounting and sustaining this lobbying effort represented a coming of age for the community, which only a few decades before had been unable to extricate millions of Jews from Europe and the Nazis. This book, part history, part celebration, combines essays by scholars with memoirs and first-hand accounts to chronicle this extraordinary rescue mission.

Non-Fiction

The story of a prisoner of Zion in the USSR. The book includes pictures (Hebrew). 

Non-Fiction

This book captures the story of the Taratuta family and their struggle to flee the hardships of the USSR and repatriate to Israel in the late twentieth century. The narrative follows the lives of three family members, Aba, his wife Ida, and their son Misha, as they endure countless struggles throughout their journey to freedom. Tense moments ensue as the refuseniks print copies of forbidden Zionist literature and textbooks, publicly support those detained in prison and the Gulag, organize scientific and legal seminars in their apartment, receive Western visitors, and secretly partake in weekly Hebrew lessons. Well-recognized in the West as central players in the Soviet Jewish movement in Leningrad throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Taratutas underwent constant surveillance by the KGB until they were finally able to repatriate to Israel. In spite of their hardships, the family attempted to live a life of normalcy and to cherish moments of happiness and togetherness.

Non-Fiction

This volume should serve as a guide on how to organize a successful human rights campaign. It makes use of documentary evidence and personal recollections of a grassroots crusade involving large numbers of Canadians, Jews and non-Jews, to free Soviet Jewry.

Non-Fiction

This is a collection of Soviet documents relating to the struggle for Jewish emigration. They reveal those aspects of the problem which most preoccupied the leadership and the factors which had the greatest impact on the decision-making process.

Non-Fiction

Fear No Evil is a book by the Ukrainian-Israeli activist and politician Natan Sharansky about his struggle to immigrate to Israel from the former Soviet Union.

Non-Fiction

From Couscous to Kasha is a memoir by Dr. Seymour Epstein (Epi), who, during his eighteen years of service in the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (Joint), worked with Jewish communities all over the world including: Morocco, Paris and the former Soviet Union as the Iron Curtain began to lift. He eventually ended his career at the Joint as its world director of Jewish education and a country director for the various time zones of Siberia.This humorous and often moving account of Epi’s international adventures deals with the role of community in late-twentiethcentury Jewish life. It explores the disintegration of North Africa’s rich Jewish past alongside the spontaneous development of new Jewish communities in Russia. These stories contain profound lessons that, it is hoped, can be applied to Jewish community life worldwide.

Non-Fiction

A memoir of coming of age and struggling to leave the USSR. Shrayer chronicles the triumphs and humiliations of a Soviet childhood and expresses the dreams and fears of a Jewish family that never gave up its hopes for a better life. Narrated in the tradition of Tolstoy’s confessional trilogy and Nabokov’s autobiography, this is a searing account of the KGB’s persecution of refuseniks, a poet’s rebellion against totalitarian culture, and Soviet fantasies of the West during the Cold War.

Non-Fiction

Hillel Botman’s book details the growth and consolidation of the Zionist Youth Organization in Leningrad from its inception and details the stages of the emergence, expansion and incarnation of the”Operation Wedding” plane hijacking plan. This plan was a terrible Jewish human drama that gave birth to the historic turning point in the struggle (Hebrew).

Non-Fiction

For 50 years, until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Soviet Union ran a campaign of repression, imprisonment, political trials and terror against its 3 million Jews. In Australia, political leaders and the Jewish community contributed significantly to the international protest movement which eventually triumphed over Moscow’s tyranny and led to the modern Exodus of Soviet Jews to Israel and other countries. Lipski and Rutland make this largely unknown Australian story come alive with a combination of passion, personal experience and ground-breaking research. 

Non-Fiction

American Jews’ mobilization on behalf of Soviet Jews is typically portrayed as compensation for the community’s inability to assist European Jews during World War II. Yet, as Pauline Peretz shows, the role Israel played in setting the agenda for a segment of the American Jewish community was central. Her careful examination of relations between the Jewish state and the Jewish diaspora offers insight into Israel’s influence over the American Jewish community and how this influence can be conceptualized.

Non-Fiction

In the flame of the struggle, Prisoners of Zion in the Soviet Union fought with their heart. Published by the Executive Committee of the Prisoners of Zion Organization from the USSR Tel Aviv, this book is accompanied by pictures, data, numbers, memories and more (Hebrew and Russian).

Non-Fiction

A century ago the Russian Empire contained the largest Jewish community in the world, numbering about five million people. Today, the Jewish population of the former Soviet Union has dwindled to half a million but remains probably the world’s third largest Jewish community. In the intervening century, the Jews of that area have been at the center of some of the most dramatic events of modern history — two world wars, revolutions, pogroms, political liberation, repression, and the collapse of the USSR. They have gone through tumultuous upward and downward economic and social mobility and experienced great enthusiasms and profound disappointments. In startling photographs from the archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and with a lively and lucid narrative, A Century of Ambivalence traces the historical experience of Jews in Russia from a period of creativity and repression in the second half of the 19th century through the paradoxes posed by the post-Soviet era. This book includes more than 200 photographs and two substantial new chapters on the fate of Jews and Judaism in the former Soviet Union, is ideal for general readers and classroom use.

Non-Fiction

A fascinating account of the amazing Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins’ many encounters with Refuseniks in the U.S.S.R. Written in 1989 this book offers a glimpse into the life of those brave Soviet Jews and the people who tried to help them.

Non-Fiction

Inspired by the cautionary lesson of the silence of many leaders during the Holocaust and the fearlessness of the Civil Rights movement, from 1964 to 1991 grassroots activists spearheaded a worldwide liberation effort. The demand? That Jews be allowed to leave the Soviet Union. Unlike other accounts of this history, Open Up the Iron Door chronicles the activities of those working outside of, and often in opposition to, the Jewish establishment as seen through the loving, fiery, in-the-trenches perspective of Avraham (Avi) Weiss, a New York rabbi. This memoir interweaves one man’s personal struggles, doubts, and triumphs with the ups and downs of the activist movement itself its challenges and personalities, its passionate protests and dreams, its dizzying successes and failures spanning three decades of strategizing and meetings, sit-ins and hunger strikes, civil disobedience and arrests, and fervent pleas written, spoken, and sung.

Non-Fiction

In 1970 a small band of Soviet Jews, led by Eduard Kuznetsov and emboldened by the heroism of the Israelis in the Six-Day War, conceived a daring plan to escape the Soviet Union by commandeering a small civilian airplane. Beyond seeking their personal freedom, the group wanted their desperate act to ignite the world’s attention to the ongoing plight of Soviet Jews who were denied the right to emigrate.

Prison Diaries, by Eduard Kuznetsov, sheds light on their mission and details the preparations they made before attempting to seize the plane. It also describes from a first-person perspective the group’s ultimate arrest prior to boarding, and its ensuing trial, which resulted in death sentences for Eduard Kuznetsov and the mission’s pilot Mark Dymshits.

Non-Fiction

The distinguished Russian Jewish physicist recounts his life and career, from his childhood in Stalinist Russia, through his rapid rise in the scientific establishment, to his recent years as a dissident activist and outcast. 

Non-Fiction

Samarkand” tells the story of the Chassidic underground that operated in the Soviet Union, upholding Judaism during the rule of communist terror. Gripping narratives sweep the reader to distant lands, and paints a picture of mysterious figures in Samarkand’s alleys, secret Torah study under the constant threat of arrest by the KGB, and the long and hard-fought victory in inspiring Jewish renaissance throughout the Soviet Union. 

Non-Fiction

Rabbi David Hill has been an activist on behalf of Jewish causes for over 60 years. Rabbi Hill helped build the Young Israel movement into the preeminent modern orthodox Jewish synagogue institution in the United States, serving as president of the National Council of Young Israel in the early 1960’s. At about the same time, he became aware of the plight of Jews in the USSR and began meetings with senior American and Israeli leaders which played a significant role in placing the freedom of Jews in the Soviet Union on the world’s agenda. From his position as president of Real Kosher Sausage Company (commonly known as “999”), Rabbi Hill founded “Operation Lifeline” through the National Conference of Soviet Jewry (NCSJ). The mission of Operation Lifeline was to nurture the Jewish bodies and minds throughout the Soviet Union through education, Jewish books of all kinds and kosher food. This important work continues today in communities throughout the republics of the former Soviet Union.

Non-Fiction

Discusses Anatoly Shcharansky’s activities on behalf of human rights in the Soviet Union and describes his arrest, trial, and imprisonment.

Non-Fiction

In September 1984, Lisa Paul, an American college student and nanny living in Moscow, entered Inna Meiman’s house for her first Russian language lesson. And so began a two-year friendship and a fight for Inna’s life. In Swimming in the Daylight, Lisa chronicles her friend’s struggle to shed her refusenik status, obtain a visa to America, and find medical treatment for her malignant cancer.

Non-Fiction

Examines the origins, history, and tactics of the American movement to aid Soviet Jews.

Non-Fiction

From the author of The Chosen comes a work of nonfiction that chronicles the stormy lives of a Jewish father, Solomon Slepak, an infelxible old-guard Bolshevik, and his son, Volodya, who became an internationally renowned “refusenik” hero during the 18 years of his persecution for attempting to leave the Sovviet Union. Potok tells their story with deep understanding and empathy. 

Non-Fiction

Published in early 1984, this book recounts the two-week journey to Moscow, Leningrad, and Minsk that Martin Gilbert made the year before to visit Jews who had been refused exit visas to leave the Soviet Union. This book is the story of a few of those “refuseniks” who bravely persisted in their hopes, and, deprived of their jobs, separated from their families, imprisoned, or exiled in Siberia on false charges, they suffered for those hopes at the hands of the Soviet authorities.

Non-Fiction

In the fall of 1965 the Israeli newspaper Haaretz sent a young journalist named Elie Wiesel to the Soviet Union to report on the lives of Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain. “I would approach Jews who had never been placed in the Soviet show window by Soviet authorities,” wrote Wiesel. “They alone, in their anonymity, could describe the conditions under which they live; they alone could tell whether the reports I had heard were true or false—and whether their children and their grandchildren, despite everything, still wish to remain Jews. From them I would learn what we must do to help . . . or if they want our help at all.”

Non-Fiction

1989 is a turning point in the attitude of the Soviet authorities toward emigration. In this year,  71,000 Jews left the Soviet Union. What brought us to this point? This book series is devoted to this question: Are Jews in danger? This book covers four points of view: (1) the Russian right; (2) Liberal circles; (3) Jewish reactions; (4) Israeli perspective.

Non-Fiction

Yaacov Ro’i and his collaborators provide the first scholarly survey of one of the most successful Soviet dissident movements, one which ultimately affected and reflected the demise of a superpower’s stature.

The Jewish Movement saw hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews leave their native country for Israel. This book grapples with the movement’s origins, its Soviet and international contexts, and its considerable achievements—prior to the mass Jewish emigration of Gorbachev’s last years, about one quarter of a million Jews left the Soviet Union. The contributors, a mix of senior and junior scholars, as well as movement participants, examine the influences of a wide range of contemporary events, including the victory of Israel in the 1967 war, the Soviet dissident and human rights movements, and the general malaise of Soviet society, its self-contradictory attitude toward nationalism, and its underlying anti-Semitism.

The book is based on a combination of secondary research, archival work, and interviews. The epilogue by former secretary of state George P. Shultz discusses support for the Jewish Movement under the Ronald Reagan administration, reactions and views by the United States as Gorbachev came to power, and U.S. satisfaction of his denouement.

Non-Fiction

The Last Exodus is recognized as the finest study yet written of the Jewish dissident movement in the Soviet Union. The author explains how and why a Soviet Jewish underground came into existence, who has led it, what techniques it has used, and how it has grown and spread in a country where only a few years ago such defiance would have been viewed as impossible.

Non-Fiction

In this important new study of Soviet Jewry, Yaacov Ro’i examines their struggle for emigration from the establishment of the State of Israel to the outbreak of the Six-Day War. Using a range of personal interviews, he explores how Jewish self awareness arose both as a result of the founding of the State of Israel and as a product of the Holocaust. Local groups developed and sustained Jewish cultural interests and their Jewish identity in the face of popular anti-Semitism and Soviet policy. The author continues by analyzing the campaign conducted in the West and mobilized by the Israeli government on behalf of Soviet Jewish rights as a whole and emigration in particular. Ro’i convincingly argues that despite the efforts of Soviet Jewish groups to flourish in a steadfastly anti-Semitic system, by 1967 most had accepted that the only way of implementing their Zionist aspirations was to emigrate to Israel. However, without the extensive groundwork carried out in the period 1948-1967, it is doubtful if the mass emigration of the 1970s would have been possible.

Non-Fiction

From the time of its founding, Israel placed the emigration of Soviet Jews at the top of its foreign policy agenda. But Soviet authorities permitted few Jews to depart; and in 1967, Soviet-Israeli diplomatic relations were broken following the Six Day War. From that time until 1990, Jewish emigration, along with other Israeli interests, was handled by the Netherlands embassy in Moscow.

Drawing on his experience as former Netherlands ambassador to the USSR as well as on extensive interviews with emigrants and on recently opened Dutch archives, Petrus Buwalda describes the turbulent events of the period when Jewish emigration from the USSR became an international human rights issue. As Soviet rulers opportunistically opened and closed barriers to emigration, Jewish “refuseniks” risked jail by demonstrating, and private organizations and Western governments alike protested their treatment. Nearly 560,000 Jews did succeed in emigrating from the Soviet Union.

Since his retirement in 1990, Buwalda has discussed emigration with many Jewish emigrants, and examined archives and interviewed officials in his own country, the United States, Israel, and Russia in order to tell the full story — analyzing the motives of would-be emigrants, the erratic Soviet response, and international interventions.

Non-Fiction

At age twenty-two, Yosef Mendelevich participated in an attempt to hijack a plane to the West an act designed to raise awareness about the desperate plight of Soviet Jews. He was arrested before the plane ever left the ground and served twelve years in the Soviet gulag. This is the story of one man s resistance against tyranny, and his daily struggle to retain his Jewishness and his humanity in a system built to extinguish both. Unbroken Spirit is a testament to the strength of the human soul and an inspiration to us all. 

Non-Fiction

When the Iron Curtain closed on Russian Jewry seventy-five years ago, there was little hope in the Western world that this once large and vibrant Jewish community would survive more than one generation under the Communists’ influence. But after some time, when a few Westerners managed to slip through a crack in this imposed barrier of silence, they were amazed to discover that the Torah still lived in the hearts of many of their oppressed brethren. One place where the flame of eternal Judaism still burned brightly was in a tiny basement apartment on Yaroslayskaya Street in Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine. Behind closed shutters, one remarkable family continued to devote themselves to an authentic, Torah-true life, performing numerous acts of chesed on a daily basis. This was the home of the Meisliks, a family that was not afraid to risk life or limb for the sake of a mitzvah. Voices in the Silence is the memoir of Basyah Meislik and her parents, Reb Yehudah Leib and Alteh Beileh, Jews caught in a life-and-death struggle against the forces of darkness. Their incredible self-sacrifice and boundless devotion to Yiddishkeit make this a very special and truly inspiring story.

Non-Fiction

Kosharovsky’s authoritative four-volume history of the Jewish movement in the Soviet Union is now available in a condensed and edited volume that makes this compelling insider’s account of Soviet Jewish activism after Stalin available to a wider audience. Originally published in Russian from 2008 to 2012, “We Are Jews Again” chronicles the struggles of Jews who wanted nothing more than the freedom to learn Hebrew, the ability to provide a Jewish education for their children, and the right to immigrate to Israel. Through dozens of interviews with former refuseniks and famous activists, Kosharovsky provides a vivid and intimate view of the Jewish movement and a detailed account of the persecution many faced from Soviet authorities.

Non-Fiction

This story depicts a true life story of a young boy dreaming against all odds of immigrating to the Land of Israel, a teenager imprisoned for eleven long years in the Soviet prison, years in which he learned to mobilize mental strength he did not know existed and to preserve the flame of love and longing for Zion.

Non-Fiction

One of the first scholars to record and analyze oral testimonies of Soviet Jews, Anna Shternshis unearths their everyday life and the difficult choices that they were forced to make as a repressed minority living in a totalitarian regime. Drawing on nearly 500 interviews with Soviet citizens who were adults by the 1940s, When Sonia Met Boris describes both indirect Soviet control mechanisms and personal strategies to overcome, ignore, or even take advantage of those limitations. The interviews reveal how ethnicity was rapidly transformed into a negative characteristic, almost a disability, for Soviet Jewry in the postwar period. Ultimately, Shternshis shows, after decades living in a repressive, nominally atheistic state, these Jews did manage to retain a complex sense of Jewish identity, but one that fully disassociates Jewishness from Judaism and instead associates it with secular society, prioritizing chess over Talmud, classical music over Hasidic tunes. Gracefully weaving together poignant stories, intimate reflections, and witty anecdotes, When Sonia Met Boris traces the unusual contours of contemporary Russian Jewish identity back to its roots.

Non-Fiction

Journalist Gal Beckerman draws on newly released Soviet government documents as well as hundreds of oral interviews with refuseniks, activists, Zionist “hooligans,” and Congressional staffers. He shows not only how the movement led to a mass exodus in 1989, but also how it shaped the American Jewish community, giving it a renewed sense of spiritual purpose and teaching it to flex its political muscle. Beckerman also makes a convincing case that the effort put human rights at the center of American foreign policy for the very first time, helping to end the Cold War. 

Non-Fiction

Websites

The American Jewish Historical Society has established its Archive of the American Soviet Jewry Movement to help assure that the story of the role played by Americans of all faiths in that Movement will be collected and preserved so that future generations will be familiar with, and inspired by, their achievements.

http://www.ajhs.org/timeline-american-soviet-jewry-movement

The Jewish Women’s Archive’s online exhibit on the Soviet Jewry movement in Boston, MA. “The Soviet Jewry Movement” captures the voices and themes of the movement through nearly 20 interviews with individuals in the Boston area; it features dramatic stories both from former refuseniks and from Americans determined to get them out of a Soviet system that was inhospitable to Jews. While it focuses on individuals in one community, the exhibit reveals larger themes of cross-cultural collaboration, activism, and Jewish identity. It also reveals the vital role women played in the movement.

https://jwa.org/communitystories/sovietjewry

Cleveland’s Jewish community played an active role in helping Soviet Jews emigrate from the Soviet Union and resettle in the United States, and especially in Cleveland, from the 1960s to the 1990s. Approximately 12,000 Soviet Jews came to Cleveland during these years. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the emigration continued, though at a slower pace. This collection, a project of the WRHS Cleveland Jewish Archives Advisory Committee, includes oral histories with Soviet Jews from the Greater Cleveland area and related materials.
The collection consists primarily of abstracts, article drafts, correspondence, descriptions of the project, a dissertation, information sheets, interview protocols, lists, minutes, newspaper clippings, notes, oral history user agreements, procedures, programs, progress reports, reports, a script, a student paper, and transcripts of interviews.

An analog collection of the interviews is available here

http://wrhs.saas.dgicloud.com/islandora/object/wrhs%3AMS5389

A Facebook page that commemorates and shares stories of the Iron Generation- Jews who were trapped behind the Iron Curtain (USSR): prisoners of Zion, Refuseniks and those who struggle for them in the free world.

https://www.facebook.com/sovietjewry

 

Created by the Israel Forever Foundation, the aim of this program is to encourage an understanding of the unique role Israel played in fostering Soviet Jewish identity and in aiding their freedom return to Zion. Each article can be used to initiate discussion and increase awareness of this pivotal moment in Jewish history. The activities are suitable for learners and groups of all ages.

  https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/student-struggle-for-soviet-jewry-sssj 

History, interviews, and pages full of original photographs of Refuseniks and activists fighting for the cause (English and Russian). 

http://kosharovsky.com/home-page/

 

Written by Ephraim (Alexander) Kholmyansky, an Israeli engineer and author, former Soviet Prisoner of Zion, a former activist in the Jewish national revival movement in Russia, and a teacher of Hebrew. Ephraim (Alexander) Kholmyansky talks about his story as a Prisoner of Zion and also mentions his book “The Voice of Silence.” This website contains information on the Jewish National Movement, American public opinion, and the Western Advocacy Movement. 

http://www.jewish-freedom.net/en/

 

From the Jewish Virtual Library, this page describes the history of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ), as the first American national movement created to help free Russian Jews. 

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/student-struggle-for-soviet-jewry-sssj

This Jewish Virtual Library webpage contains a short history of the plight of the Jews in the Soviet Union during the 1960s-1980s.

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/soviet-jewry-movement

A brief history of the Refuseniks by the Jewish Virtual Library.

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/refusniks

American and Soviet activists, dedicated to their responsibility to ensure the rights of Soviet Jews, helped to alter the domestic policy of one of the world’s most powerful empires, and secure emigration rights for Soviet Jews.

http://www.sovietjewrymovement.org

After the Bolsheviks seized the Brody Synagogue in Odessa after Nowakowsky’s death, his music was brought to his grand-daughter: Sofie Seltzmann, an acclaimed concert-pianist in Germany. She and her family took refuge in France in 1939. One-by-one they escaped from occupied France to Switzerland. Her husband Boris was the last to leave occupied France after giving the crates of unpublished manuscripts to the owner of La Ferme Chosal (Chosal’s Farm), a member of the resistance, to keep them hidden from the Nazis. The short 5-minute BRAVO! T.V. film shows the music being hidden on the farm in 1943, and its retrieval by Boris after the war. The accompanying C.B.C radio show includes an interview with Nowakowsky’s great-grandson, who tells us how the music was saved.

http://www.sovietjewrymovement.org

A thesis that covers the plight of the Soviet Jewry and includes historical background, a history of the Refuseniks, the Jewish struggle in the USSR, the advocacy in the West, the departure and impact. 

https://www.norighttoleave.com 

Organization in Russia that has been set up to preserve the history and stories of the Refuseniks. This website holds “documents reflecting the struggle for the right to repatriation and Jewish life in the USSR, Published and unpublished memoirs, diaries, interviews with members of the movement. Materials and documents of Israeli and Western activists and organizations that supported Soviet Jews in their struggle against the regime. Books, newspapers, magazines, studies, publications on the problem of the Jewish national movement in the USSR, as well as other materials on the issue of the Jewish national movement in the USSR” (Russian).

http://www.soviet-jews-exodus.com/English/index_En.shtml

From Yad Vashem, a webpage that explains the legacy of the Prisoners of Zion, Dr. Yeshayahu Tumarkin, and Lazar Lubarsky. This page includes a few original photographs.

http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/communities/balti/prisoners_of_zion.asp

 

Grassroots national student organization, formed by Jacob Birnbaum in 1964, opposed the persecution of Soviet Jews and promoted their right to emigrate freely from the Soviet Union. The collection contains correspondence, questionnaires, and statistical information on refuseniks, administrative and financial records, press releases and publicity material, newsletters, clippings, photographs, publications, reports, reel-to-reel tapes, audiocassettes, videotapes, CDs, and buttons, bumper stickers, posters, uniforms and other ephemera. To view the collection, contact YU archives – archives@yu.edu

Some posters from the collection have been digitized and can be viewed here.

https://archives.yu.edu/xtf/view?docId=ead/SSSJ/SSSJ.xml;query=sssj;brand=default 

From Israel’s Ministry of Immigration and Absorption,  this website is dedicated to honoring the activities of Prisoners of Zion.

http://www.zionprisoners.gov.il/ZionPrisoners/index.aspx

 

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