Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue

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Sascha Goluboff focuses on a Moscow synagogue, now comprising individuals from radically different cultures and backgrounds, as a nexus from which to explore issues of identity creation and negotiation. Following the rapid rise of this transnational congregation—headed by a Western rabbi and consisting of Jews from Georgia and the mountains of Azerbaijan and Dagestan, along with Bukharan Jews from Central Asia—she evaluates the process that created this diverse gathering and offers an intimate sense of individual interactions in the context of the synagogue's congregation.

Challenging earlier research claims that Russian and Jewish identities are mutually exclusive, Goluboff illustrates how post-Soviet Jews use Russian and Jewish ethnic labels and racial categories to describe themselves. Jews at the synagogue were constantly engaged in often contradictory but always culturally meaningful processes of identity formation. Ambivalent about emerging class distinctions, Georgian, Russian, Mountain, and Bukharan Jews evaluated one another based on each group's supposed success or failure in the new market economy.

With the growth of national consciousness in revolutionary circles at the close of the 19 th century, a Jewish workers' revolutionary movement was formed. The Bund played an important role in the Russian revolutionary movement in the Pale of Settlement. It regarded itself as part of the all-Russian Social Democratic Party but gradually came to insist upon certain national demands such as: the right to cultural autonomy for the Jewish masses, recognition of Yiddish as the national language of the Jews, the establishment of schools in this language, and the development of the press and literature.

The Bund was particularly successful in Lithuania and Poland, where after a short time it raised the social status of the worker and the apprentice, and implanted in them the courage to stand up to their employers and the authorities. Another response of the Jews to their oppression in Russia found expression in the Zionist movement.

Because of the political regime of Russia, the central institutions of the Zionist Organization were established in Western Europe, even though the mass of its members and influence came from Russian Jewry. Zionism won adherence among all Jewish groups: the Orthodox and maskilim , the middle class and proletariat, the youth and intelligentsia.

It encouraged national thought and culture among the masses. The movement was illegal and the attitude of the government ranged from one of reserve, seeing that the movement could divert the Jewish youth from active participation in the revolutionary movement, to one of hostility. Zionist congresses and meetings were held openly Minsk, and clandestinely. Herzl largely based his case for accepting the Uganda project on the urgent need for a " Nachtasyl " for the suffering Russian Jews, but it was the majority of the Russian Zionists, led by M.

Within a relatively short period, the revolutionary movement and the Zionist movement brought a tremendous change among Jewish youth. The battei-midrash and yeshivot were abandoned, and dynamism of Jewish society now became concentrated within the new political trends. When the new wave of pogroms broke out in Russia in , Jewish youth reacted by a widespread organization of self-defense.

Defense societies of the Bund, the Zionists, and the Zionist-Socialists were formed in every town and townlet. The attackers encountered armed resistance. The authorities, who secretly supported the pogroms, were compelled to appear openly as the protectors of the rioters. The principal motives for the self-defense movement were not only the will to protect life and property but also the desire to assert the honor of the Jewish nation. The nationalist awakening was also expressed by an astonishing development of Jewish literature in Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian.

A continuation of the Haskalah literature, it reached its peak during the generation which preceded the Revolution. There also arose a generation of researchers and historians, the most important of whom was S. Systematic research into Jewish folklore was started upon S. A Jewish encyclopedia in Russian was published Yevreyskaya Entsiklopediya ; — Jewish newspapers circulated in hundreds of thousands of copies.

In St. An important point at issue that developed between the Zionists and their opponents was the character of Jewish culture. The Bund and Autonomist circles considered that the future of the Jews lay as a nation among the other nations of Russia; they sought to liberate it from religious tradition and to develop a secular culture and national schools in the language of the masses — Yiddish.

The Zionists and their supporters stressed the continuity and the unity of the Jewish nation throughout the world and regarded Hebrew as the national language of the Jewish people. Map 1. Main Jewish communities in Russia outside the Pale of Settlement. Population figures according to official census of Yiddish Language Conference in The "language dispute" was fought with bitter animosity and caused a split within the Jewish intelligentsia of Eastern Europe. Russian Jewry, while regarding World War I with some fear, felt that their participation in the defense of Russia would bring about the abolition of their second-class status.

The course of events did not, however, justify this anticipation. The mobilization affected about , Jews of whom approximately 80, served at the front. The battle lines passed through the Pale of Settlement in which millions of Russian Jews lived. In the region of the Russian front and its nearby hinterland, there was a military regime under the control of a group of antisemitic generals Prince Nikolai Nikolayevich; Januszkiewicz. With the first defeats of the Russian army, the supreme command found it expedient to impute responsibility for their reversals to the Jews, who were accused of treason and spying for the Germans.

Espionage trials were held and hostages were taken and sent to the interior of Russia. This was followed by mass expulsions of Jews from towns and townlets near the front line. These reached their height with the general expulsion of the Jews from northern Lithuania and Courland in June In July the use of Hebrew characters in printing and writing was prohibited. The Hebrew and Yiddish press and literature were thus silenced. The attacks on the Jews aroused public opinion in Europe and America against the Russian government whose serious military and financial situation compelled it to take Western opinion into account, as this was hindering Russia from obtaining loans in the Western countries.

In the summer of , most of the restrictions on Jewish residence were abolished de facto, though not de jure, and thousands of Jewish refugees from Poland and Lithuania streamed toward the interior of Russia. In conjunction with the existing Jewish societies, it assisted the refugees by providing shelter, food, and employment for them and by the establishment of schools for their children. Communal workers of every class participated in this activity, which awakened the feeling of national unity within the masses.

The suffering and persecutions led Jews to attempt to evade military service and desert from the hostile army, and in the difficult conditions caused by the mass of refugees and defeat, speculation in food and other commodities became rife among Jews. The non-Jewish population and the army reacted by intensified hatred toward them. In there were 3,, Jews in the region which remained under Russian control; of these, about , lived outside the former Pale of Settlement. These upheavals brought about cultural and social changes.

The conscription of great numbers of Jewish youths into the Russian army and the suppression of the Jewish press and the literature accelerated the process of Russification among the Jews there. In contrast, the Jewish masses of Poland, Lithuania, the eastern Ukraine, and Belorussia, which formed the most deep-rooted element, as well as the great Jewish cultural centers of Warsaw and Vilna, were torn from Russian Jewry. The nine months following the February Revolution of constituted a brief springtime in the history of Russian Jewry.

The Provisional Government abolished all the restrictions affecting the Jews on March 16, , as one of its first measures. Jews were immediately given the chance to hold office in the government administration, to practice at the bar, and rise in the army ranks. All at once opportunity opened up to them for free development in every sphere of life, both as citizens of the state and as a national group. The hatred of the Jews, which had served as a political weapon in the hands of the ancient regime, became incompatible with the Revolution and was forced underground. Naturally the Jews supported the Revolution and participated in the active political life which began to flourish in the country.

There were Jews in all the democratic and socialist parties at all levels, from the leadership to the rank and file. Other leaders included, among the Mensheviks, J. Trotsky, Y. Sverdlov, L. Many Jews led the revolutionaries in the provinces, which were poor in intellectual forces. Despite their numbers in the general revolutionary movement, these revolutionaries were only a minute section of the vast numbers of Russian Jews who remained attached to their national and religious culture and society.

This adhesion was expressed by the tremendous progress made by the Zionist movement in In May the seventh conference of the Zionists of Russia, representing , members, was held in Petrograd. The Zionists also promoted an intensive cultural activity. Training colleges for teachers and kindergarten teachers were founded, as well as elementary and secondary schools. In all the elections which were held during that year by the general and Jewish institutions, the Zionists and related groups headed the Jewish lists, leaving the Bund and other Jewish parties far behind.

Large-scale Zionist demonstrations and meetings were held in Odessa, Kiev, Moscow, and other communities. All the Jewish parties united in joint activity to prepare the All-Russian Jewish Convention, which was to establish a political-cultural autonomous organization and central representation of all the Jews in Russia.

A powerful national awakening was manifested among the hundreds of thousands of Jewish soldiers who served in the Russian army. Thousands of them enrolled in the military colleges and obtained officers' rank. At meetings and conventions of soldiers, debates were held on the establishment of a Union of Jewish Soldiers, one of whose principal objectives would be the organization of self-defense on a military basis, to prevent and suppress pogroms.

Indeed, as the Provisional Government weakened and anarchy became widespread, antisemitism lifted up its head, and here and there pogroms characterized by looting and assaults on Jews were perpetrated by undisciplined soldiers and mobs. The necessity for an organization which could stand in the breach was felt.

Jewish Russians: Upheavals In A Moscow Synagogue

The Jews of the Ukraine, where in about 60 percent of all the Jews living under Russian rule were to be found, faced in the summer of this year the tendency toward separatism that began to manifest itself there. A Central Ukrainian Council Rada was formed which at first demanded autonomy for the Ukraine and later in January complete independence.

The Jewish masses in the Ukraine did not regard Ukrainian separatism with favor. They felt no affinity with Ukrainian culture and retained in mind the tradition of hatred toward the Jews and the massacres of the 17 th century Chmielnicki and the 18 th the Uman massacre by Ukrainians. The Jews there regarded themselves as an integral part of Russian Jewry. The Jewish parties, Zionist and socialist, were, however, inclined to collaborate with the Ukrainians, both because of the doctrinal principle of supporting non-Russian nationalism and out of political considerations.

The Ukrainians on their side were most anxious to acquire the support of the large Jewish minority which lived with them. Extensive internal national autonomy was promised to the Jews. A National Jewish Council was established, and at the end of an undersecretary for Jewish affairs M. He became minister after the proclamation of Ukrainian independence. After the Bolshevik Revolution of October , the whole of Russia was plunged into a civil war which lasted until the beginning of The Jews of the Ukraine were especially affected by this war. Various armies were clashing in the area: the Ukrainian army under the command of S.

These armies were composed mostly of soldiers who had fought on the battlefields of World War I and in general formed a wild mob mainly seeking after loot and bloodshed. As they passed through the towns and settlements, they abused and assaulted defenseless Jews. At times they contented themselves with the imposition of a "contribution" of money, clothes, and food, or with looting and murder on a limited scale.

On other occasions, however, especially when in retreat, these armies and bands perpetrated general pillage and massacre among the Jews. The first acts of bloodshed against the Jews were carried out by units of the Red Army during their retreat before the Germans in the northern Ukraine during the spring of However, the Red Army command had already adopted a clear policy of suppression of antisemitism within the army ranks.

Systematic propaganda against antisemitism was conducted and the rare army units or individual soldiers who attacked the Jews were severely punished. Even though units of the Soviet army also later erupted into violence against the Jews especially at the time of the retreat of the Red Army before the Poles in , the Jews nevertheless came to regard the Soviet regime and the Red Army as their protectors.

On the other hand, manifest antisemitism reigned within the units of the Ukrainian army and the peasant bands affiliated to it. The Jewish autonomous organs in the Ukraine and the Jewish minister in the Ukrainian government could not obtain the punishment of the army commanders responsible for these pogroms.

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This convincingly proved to all the regular and irregular units of the Ukrainian army that lawlessness was licensed in regard to Jews. The policy of grain confiscation from the peasants adopted by the Soviets in those years encouraged anti-Soviet movements among the peasants. The Jews, inhabitants of the towns and townlets, were identified with Soviet rule, and the bands of peasants occasionally perpetrated systematic massacres of Jews when they gained control, often for a very short while, of the localities where Jews were living Trostyanets, Tetiyev, etc. During the summer of , the White Army began to advance from the Don region toward Moscow.

This army, which was composed of battalions of officers and Cossacks, was saturated with antisemitism and one of its slogans was the old slogan of czarist antisemites: "Strike at the Jews and save Russia! Their attacks on the Jews were even more severe at the time of their disorderly retreat southward at the end of It is difficult to assess the losses suffered by Ukrainian Jewry in these pogroms.

Dubnow estimated that communities had been attacked. More than 1, pogroms were perpetrated in these communities. There were more than 60, dead and several times this number of wounded. In the western Ukraine and Belorussia, the suffering of the Jews was caused mainly by the Polish army. Although pogroms did not take place, the Jews were terrorized and hundreds were executed without trial as "suspects" of Communist affiliation Pinsk , etc. During those years, Jewish self-defense units were formed in many places in the Ukraine.

These efforts were, however, local. They were successful in several large towns and in a few townlets only. At the beginning of the civil war, a "Jewish Fighting Battalion" led by a nucleus of demobilized soldiers and officers was formed in Odessa. This battalion obtained many arms and saved the Jews of Odessa from pogroms. The defense units of the small towns managed to protect the Jews from small local bands, but were powerless when confronted by army units or large bands of peasants. During the last two years of the civil war, as Soviet rule strengthened, these self-defense organizations at first received political and military support.

However, since nationalist and Zionist elements prevailed in them, they were disbanded later during the suppression of non-Bolshevik elements in — By the borders of Soviet Russia took shape. A considerable number of Jews who had formerly been included within the borders of the Russian Empire remained in the states which had broken away from it Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Bessarabia, incorporated into Romania. Only about 2,, Jews remained within the limits of Soviet Russia. The fate of the Jews within the borders of Soviet Russia was to a large extent determined by the theory and practice of the Communist Party.

Its outlook was defined and crystallized during the 20 years which preceded the Revolution. Like all the other socialist and liberal parties, the Bolshevik Party repudiated antisemitism, while the civic emancipation of the Jews, as that of the other Russian peoples, formed part of its program. It took some time until the party recognized Jews as a nationality. Under the influence of assimilated Jews, who carried weight in the circles of the socialist leadership of Europe and Russia, the Bolsheviks were inclined to regard integration and assimilation as the only "progressive" solution of the Jewish problem.

This outlook was sharpened during the bitter discussion at the beginning of the century between the Bolsheviks and the Bund. Leaning upon Marx, K. Kautsky, and O. Stalin declared in his pamphlet, Marksizm i natsionalny vopros Marxism and the National Question , , that a nation is a "stable community of men, which came into being by historic process and has developed on a basis of common language, territory, and economic life"; since the Jews lack this common basis they are only a "nation on paper," and the evolution of human society must necessarily lead toward their assimilation within the surrounding nations.

These deviations, however, proved in the long run to be of a temporary character, after which the line — of imposed assimilation of the Jews — was implemented with even more energy and firmness. By its war on antisemitism and pogroms, the new regime gained the sympathy of the Jewish masses whose lives depended on its victory.

Jewish youth enthusiastically joined the Red Army and took part in its organization. Many Jews reached the higher military ranks and played an important role in the formation of the Red Army. In the Soviet air force there was General Y. In , 4. Jews took an important part in the restoration of the country's administration, which had collapsed after a large section of the Russian intelligentsia and former officialdom emigrated from Soviet Russia or refused to serve in it.

However, the new regime brought complete economic ruin to the Jewish masses, most of whom belonged to the "petty bourgeoisie" of the towns and townlets. The abrogation of private commerce, confiscation of property and goods, and liquidation of the status of the townlet as the intermediary between the peasants and the large towns—all these deprived hundreds of thousands of Jewish families of their livelihoods.

The declaration of Lenin on the failure of the economic policy of the period of "war Communism," the introduction of the New Economic Policy NEP , together with the conclusion of the civil war and the restoration of order in the country, brought some relief to the Jews, but their economic situation was broken and hopeless. With economic ruin, the new regime also brought spiritual ruin to the Jews.

When the Bolsheviks seized power, they were compelled to recognize the fact, even if as a temporary phenomenon, of the existence of millions of Jews who were attached to their language and their national tradition. A Jewish commissariat headed by the veteran Bolshevik S. Jewish members of the party who were prepared to work among their fellow Jews were organized in these sections. The function of the Yevsektsiya was to "impose the proletarian dictatorship among the Jewish masses.

These brought with them ideas on the fostering of a secular Jewish culture in Yiddish and envenomed hatred toward the Jewish religion, the Hebrew language, the Bible, and the Zionist movement. The Communist Party put them in control of the Jewish population centers, at the same time stressing that their activity was only a temporary measure for as long as it would be required. The first activity of the Yevsektsiya was the liquidation of the religious and national organizations of the Jews of Russia. In August the Jewish communities were dissolved and their properties confiscated.

A violent campaign against the Jewish religion and its leaders was conducted and heavy taxes were imposed on the rabbis and other religious officials in order to compel them to resign from their positions. The imprisonment and expulsion from the Soviet Union of Rabbi J. War was also proclaimed against Hebrew; its study was prohibited, and the publication of books in Hebrew was suspended though until it was still possible to print religious books and Jewish calendars.

Bialik and S. Tchernichowsky left Russia. Several years later, the Hebrew theater Habimah left the Soviet Union. It had attained a high artistic standard and for several years had been protected from the Yevsektsiya by several of the greatest Russian cultural personalities, led by M. The Zionist movement revealed great vitality.

The Soviets viewed Zionism as a threefold danger. It strengthened the vitality of Jewish nationalism.

Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue

It diverted the Jewish intelligentsia, whose talents the regime required, toward activities beyond the borders of the Soviet Union. It maintained relations with the World Zionist Organization, then an ally of Britain, which ranked among the countries hostile to the Soviet Union. The Zionist movement went underground. Many Zionists were imprisoned, sent to labor camps, or exiled to outlying places in Soviet Asia.

Thus organized Zionism was silenced by the end of the s. Some of their activists succeeded in leaving the Soviet Union S. Individuals remained in the Soviet Union I. In the Yevsektsiya was also disbanded. The first stage in the liquidation of the national life of the Jews in the Soviet Union had been completed. To replace the Jewish culture which had been destroyed, the Jewish Communists attempted to develop a "Jewish proletarian culture," which was to be, according to Stalin's slogan, "national in form and socialist in content.

A Yiddish press was established, with three leading newspapers; Der Emes —38 in Moscow, Shtern —41 in the Ukraine, and Oktiabar —41 in Belorussia. Numerous literary and philological periodicals, youth newspapers, and a trades unions press were published every year. A Yiddish theater network was established.

It was headed by the Jewish State Theater under the direction of A. Peretz, as well as Yiddish translations of Soviet propaganda pieces and plays. They essentially promoted research into the Yiddish language and its literature, Jewish folklore, and Marxist historiography of the history of the Jews in Russia and of the Jewish labor movements. The works of these institutes, as well as the whole of Jewish literature, were subject to the supervision of the Yevsektsiya, headed by M.

Jewish authors and scholars who had left the country during the first years after the Revolution, as well as Jews from other countries, began to arrive in Moscow, Kiev, and Minsk among them the authors: D. Yiddish was also given an official status by the establishment of governmental tribunals in which proceedings were held in Yiddish. The greatest efforts were, however, invested in the development of a network of Yiddish schools. Many such schools were opened in the towns and townlets of the Ukraine and Belorussia.

During the first years, an attempt was even made to compel Jewish parents to send their children to these schools. Secondary schools and training colleges for teachers were also established. At the height of this period, in , , Jewish children over one third of the Jewish children of elementary school age attended these institutions.

From this year, however, a decline set in. Jewish parents refused to send their children to schools whose Jewish character, apart from the language of instruction which was the de-Hebraized Soviet Yiddish , was limited to the study of a few chapters of Yiddish literature, with even these interpreted in a manner that offended the religious and national values of the Jewish people. A further cause for the decline of this network of schools was the small number of Yiddish secondary schools and the lack of Yiddish higher educational institutions.

By the late s, these schools began to disappear until they were liquidated, largely of their own accord, in almost every corner of the Soviet Union. Cultural assimilation gradually gained in momentum among the Jews as they became integrated within the life of the new Soviet society. The majority of the Jewish children attended Russian schools. Jewish youth was attracted to the larger cities where the Yiddish language was nonexistent.


Even the Jewish-Russian press, which served as an obstacle to assimilation, and the Jewish societies and organizations were absent there. Mixed marriages became a frequent occurrence. In over 60, Jews studied at the higher schools over 10 percent of the country's students. An expression of the assimilation of the Jews and their activity in Soviet literature could be seen from their large participation in the first conference of Soviet writers in , at which there were delegates of Jewish nationality about 20 percent of the delegates.

Only 24 of them wrote in Yiddish; the others mainly in Russian. These included some of the most prominent authors of Soviet Russian literature, such as: I. The Jews also played a central role in the development of other spheres of Soviet culture, especially the cinema S. The most decisive factor in the history of the Jews of the Soviet Union was the economic reshuffle which took place in their midst during the s and s.

The brief NEP period —27 aroused vain hopes among the Jews, who occupied a place of considerable importance in the urban economic class of shopkeepers and independent craftsmen "nepmen". However, when the success of the NEP period was at its height, severe supervision was imposed on this class, and the burden of taxation brought its impoverishment and destruction. The situation was especially difficult in Jewish townlets whose former economic basis had been destroyed.

A widespread class of the destitute and unemployed was created; its members were also deprived of civic rights lishentsy in Soviet terminology , such as the right to employment, public medical care, and the right of their children to study in secondary and higher schools. With the liquidation of the NEP and the introduction of the first Five-Year Plan —32 , the situation of these masses deteriorated even further. Notorious in this period was the "Extortion of Dollars" campaign of the Soviet secret police, with the use of coercion and torture against Jews suspected of "hoarding dollars.

The authorities sought to solve this problem in three ways: by agricultural settlement; by migration to the interior regions of Russia, which had been closed to the Jews under the czarist regime; and by concentration in the large towns and industrial regions of the Ukraine and Belorussia, where new classes of government officialdom and industrial enterprises had developed.

During the s, many of the leaders of the Soviet government came to regard agricultural settlement as the high road to the solution of the Jewish problem. A steady movement toward agricultural settlement of Jews had already started near the Jewish townlets during the period of war Communism in the years of the civil war, when occupation in agriculture at least promised a piece of dry bread.

Several Soviet leaders, led by M. Kalinin and Y. Some members of the Yevsektsiya accepted these projects with enthusiasm and devoted themselves to their realization.


These circles aimed to establish Jewish settlement in successive blocs which would form autonomous national areas and would eventually find their place among the national units of which the Soviet Union was composed. As a basis for such a concentration, the regions of prerevolutionary Jewish settlement in southern Russia were chosen, where 40, Jewish farmers already lived, as well as the Crimean peninsula, in the northern parts of which there were still areas available for settlement.

Ozet became the legal focus for Jewish activities, and in its newspaper Tribuna Russian, —37 the problems of the "productivization" of the Jews and their agricultural settlement were discussed. Communists of Russia and abroad considered this activity to be, among others, the Soviet alternative to Zionism. It soon became evident that there was not sufficient space in the Ukraine and Crimea for Jewish settlement on a large scale. In order to encourage settlement in Birobidzhan, a political as well as an international Jewish character was given to this enterprise.

The Spirit of Revolution: World War One and the End of an Era

Jews throughout the world were called upon to lend a hand in the establishment of a Jewish territorial unit within the framework of the Soviet Union. On May 7, , the district of Birobidzhan was proclaimed a Jewish Autonomous Region which was to cover an area of 36, sq.

Settlement in Birobidzhan took place in difficult pioneering conditions. In August , the government announced that "the Jewish Autonomous Region was from now on to become the cultural center of Soviet Jewry for all the working Jewish population.

Sascha L. Goluboff

It appears that misgivings were also felt in government circles toward the outspoken national character which the settlement of Birobidzhan received. In August , a drastic change occurred in the attitude of the government toward Birobidzhan. The leadership of the region, which was in the hands of former members of the Jewish socialist parties, was liquidated. From then, the Jewish aspect of the region began to wane. Officially Birobidzhan retained its name and status of a Jewish autonomous region, and the only newspaper still published in Yiddish in the Soviet Union is the Birobidzhaner Shtern.

At present, however, Birobidzhan has only symbolic importance in the lives of the Jews of Russia. Its number of Jewish inhabitants, which in rose to 18, about 24 percent of the total population of the region , declined to 14, in the census of , forming 8. Less than 40 percent of them declared Yiddish to be their mother tongue.

By the late s, the hopes which many Jews in Russia and abroad had pinned on agricultural settlement evaporated. The collectivization of farming during the early s, which was frequently bound up with a policy of "internationalization" i. The industrialization and development of the towns attracted many members of the settlements to the large towns.

With the German invasion, all the Jewish settlements of the Ukraine and Crimea were destroyed and they did not recover after the war. The Jewish Population of Birobidzhan, — In practice, the problem of Jewish integration within the economic structure of the Soviet Union was solved by many Jews moving to the interior of Russia and their absorption in Soviet officialdom and industry. Migration toward the interior of Russia, which had already begun as a result of the expulsions from the war zones in and with the outbreak of the Revolution of , continued uninterruptedly, as indicated by the general censuses which were held in the Soviet Union in and see Table: Migration toward the Interior of Russia, and Migration toward the Interior of Russia, and Movement of Jews to Moscow and Leningrad.

Hundreds of thousands of Jews took up employment as factory workers or were absorbed in administrative occupations especially as clerks in consumers' cooperatives and in accountancy. The division of the Jews' social status in , according to official sources, appears in Table: Jews According to Social Status, Russia, Jews According to Social Status, Russia, Jews were heavily represented in the Soviet intellectual class. At the close of the s, , Jews of whom , were accountants belonged to this class.

Thus, in Soviet society, the Jews also remained an exceptional element in their social composition. Commerce, which had held the central place in the lives of the Jews before the Revolution, was replaced by administrative occupations and professions in technology and sciences. In Stalin's purges of the late s, which were directed against the members of the old Communist guard, many members of the Yevsektsiya were liquidated and the main Jewish newspaper and the Ozet society were closed down.

Apart from this, however, these purges did not bear an anti-Jewish character and were a part of the general policy of the party. At the end of the s, Jews still played an important role in administration, science, and Soviet art. However, no Jewish national or communal organization existed whatsoever. Assimilation took giant strides. Mixed marriages became commonplace. Yiddish-Communist culture was gradually disappearing, but there was still a class of Jewish activists, authors and teachers who held their ground in this atmosphere of extinction, and proclaimed, in accordance with the optimistic official line in the Soviet Union, the great "success" achieved by Marxist-Leninist policy in the solution of the Jewish problem and the "renovated Jewish people" dos banayte folk which had emerged in the Soviet Union.

On June 22, , the German army invaded Soviet territory.

The 22 months preceding the invasion witnessed a steady decline of the remnants of national Jewish life: Jewish institutions and newspapers which had survived the purge of the late s functioned in an atmosphere of fear and oppression, and Jewish educational institutions closed down, often at their own initiative. Among the younger generation the process of assimilation was accelerated. In June the Jewish commander of the Soviet air force, Lieutenant General Yaacov Shmushkevich, twice a Hero of the Soviet Union, was arrested and eventually executed, but this must be regarded as part of Stalin's general purges rather than an attack upon the Jews.

The most significant event of this period, in Jewish terms, was the addition of over two million Jews, residents of the territories that had been annexed by or incorporated into the Soviet Union see Table: Distribution of Jewish Population in the Soviet-Annexed Territories. As a result of the annexations, the Jewish population of the Soviet Union totaled approximately 5,, There were areas in the new territories which had a dense Jewish population — especially the cities — and Jews accounted for 5—10 percent of the total population. Most of these Jews spoke Yiddish and they were imbued with a high degree of national Jewish consciousness.

The Zionist movement was strong and well entrenched, and a large part of the youth actively prepared itself to settle in Palestine; the socialist Bund also wielded considerable influence. The Jews had their own educational systems — traditional and secular schools, and also the great yeshivot — which taught Hebrew and Yiddish to many thousands of students. A multilingual Jewish press and literature existed whose ranks of Jewish writers and men of letters were augmented by refugees from Warsaw and the towns in western Poland.

Deeply shocked by the swift capitulation of Poland and the fall of its Jews into Nazi hands, most Jews of the newly-annexed territories welcomed the new Soviet regime, regarding it above all as providing assurance of their physical survival. They accepted the new economic and social order in spite of the great hardship that it caused them — confiscation of factories and businesses and the imposition of heavy taxes on shopkeepers and artisans.

Jews were now able to enter government service, and found it possible to function in the Soviet economic system in cooperative and state-run workshops and commercial enterprises. The Jewish communities themselves were disbanded and the status of religion and religious institutions — synagogues, yeshivot and religious schools — underwent a sharp decline. The Hebrew-language schools had to adopt Yiddish as the medium of instruction and introduce the Soviet curriculum, with teachers from the old part of the U.

Jewish youth organizations were either disbanded or went underground and many of the young people joined the Communist youth movement Komsomol. The young Zionists and yeshivah students, for the most part, moved to Vilna, which was a Polish city and then became the capital of Lithuania, but was not occupied by the Soviets until June , and from there many succeeded in reaching either Palestine or the United States.

There was also a minor revival of Yiddish cultural life. The old Soviet Yiddish writers, who had almost given up all hope of saving Yiddish culture from obliteration, now saw a new sphere of activities opening up. They established contact with writers in such Jewish centers as Vilna, Kaunas, Riga, Lvov, Bialystok, and Chernovtsy, founded newspapers and theaters, and began to publish their books.

This development soon met with the disapproval of the Soviet authorities, and by the end of there was no doubt that Jewish institutions in the new territories were also being systematically liquidated. This was especially true of Jewish schools, where teachers and parents were "persuaded" to replace Yiddish by Russian. Many of the refugees from western Poland were arrested in the early months of the Soviet occupation and deported to camps in the Soviet interior.

In the spring of , mass arrests took place among Jews and non-Jews alike, primarily former businessmen, industrialists, and religious functionaries, as well as socialists, Zionists and Bundists. They were sent into exile or labor camps in northern Russia, where many of them died; for others, deportation turned out to be the means of survival, while the families they had left behind soon became the victims of the Nazi slaughter. It was clear that Soviet policy was designed to equate the social and cultural standard of the new areas, as quickly as possible, with that of the rest of the country.

Any remaining contact between Soviet Jewry and the Jewish world beyond the borders was broken off. The Soviet press reported very little of the atrocities committed by its Nazi treaty partner, and made no mention at all of the persecution of the Jews. As a result, the Jews of the Soviet Union knew practically nothing of the fate of their brethren in the countries occupied by the Germans, and when the Soviet Union was invaded, they were mostly unprepared for what was to happen.

In the first few weeks following June 22, , the German invaders occupied most of the areas annexed by the Soviet Union in and , including all of Belorussia and the greater part of the western Ukraine as eastern Galicia had become. From most of the towns, the Jews attempted to flee to the Soviet interior, but were prevented from doing so either by the advancing German troops or by Soviet security forces who did not permit the crossing of the pre borders of the U. The Jews in the areas that were occupied by the Germans at a later date, such as Kiev September 19 and Odessa October 16 , did in large measure succeed in escaping in time, either individually or within the organized evacuation of government employees, of functionaries of institutions, and of workers in factories.

In the more remote areas occupied by the Germans, the majority of the Jewish inhabitants also managed to get away in time. The total Jewish population in the areas occupied by the Germans had been four million spring Of these, about three million were murdered. The rest were saved in a variety of ways including prior deportation and evacuation together with non-Jews; drafting into the Red Army; and flight to the forests and joining the partisan units. Almost none of the Jews who remained in the cities and towns of the German-occupied territory survived the war.

By the time of the German invasion of the U. Here the Nazis felt none of the restraint which they had imposed upon themselves in Western Europe, since they were unconcerned by local reaction. The annihilation of the Jews proceeded at a rapid pace. The ghettos that were established proved to be only temporary collection points for the utilization of Jewish labor prior to destruction. These units were assigned the job of following the German troops as they advanced into the Soviet Union, and ridding the occupied areas of all undesirable elements — political commissars, active Communists, and, above all, the Jews.

Their task was explained to them in special training courses: to destroy the Ostjuden Jews of Eastern Europe who represented the "biological base" of the Jewish people all over the world and constituted the breeding ground of world Communism. Each unit was allotted a certain area of activity, and on completion of its task in one area, it was transferred to another. The units were commanded by high-ranking officers of the Gestapo, many of them well-educated men who had chosen the assignment because of its absence of personal danger and its high reward — a better salary, plus the valuables taken from the victims.

Among these officers, there were some of the "finest" products of Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, they could not have carried out their task without assistance from various sources, foremost among them the German army, which supplied the Einsatzgruppen with personnel, transport and weapons. An order issued by Field Marshal Reichenau on Oct. Hitler described it as an "excellent" ausgezeichnet order and instructed all army commanders on the Soviet front to follow Reichenau's example.

Local antisemitic elements, too, participated in the slaughter of Jews, first by means of pogroms initiated of their own accord, especially in the Baltic states and later as members of special police units made up of Ukrainians, Belorussians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Tatars, who collaborated in the extermination campaign. The Germans had a special interest in gaining the cooperation of the local populations, so that they became accomplices in the crimes being committed.

One means by which they achieved this end was the distribution of Jewish houses and portions of Jewish property among gentile neighbors. The attitude of the local population to the Jews differed from one place to another. In the Baltic states and the Crimea, home of the Tatars, there were local elements who participated in the annihilation of Jews as effectively as the Nazis. In the Ukraine the number of Nazi collaborators, led by Ukrainian nationalists, was particularly large.

On the other hand, the Belorussian and Russian population in the Nazi-occupied areas hated the Germans and were on the whole opposed to the mass murder of Jews. In a very few instances attempts were made to save Jews. One such effort was the work of the Metropolitan Sheptitski, head of the Uniate Church in the western Ukraine, who, with the help of monks belonging to his church, organized a network for saving Jews by hiding them in monasteries.

A similar network of Polish and Lithuanian intellectuals and clerics operated in Vilna. However, prevailing conditions severely limited the scope of these efforts. The method by which the annihilation of the Jews was carried out by the Nazis differed from one place to another.

In many instances the murders took place in the very beginning of the occupation. This was true of many cities and towns in the Baltic states, where local nationalists accused the Jews of having welcomed and supported the Soviet annexation. Often the Nazis used the murder of Jews to set an example for the local population and to intimidate them, or in revenge for operations carried out by the partisans.

In Kiev 33, Jewish men, women, and children were murdered within two days Sept. In Odessa, German and Romanian forces reacted similarly to the destruction of Romanian headquarters in the city, and 26, Jews were put to death during Oct. The killing in Odessa continued until the middle of the winter.

In the Soviet Union, the Nazis tried out new ways of murdering Jews. One such method was the use of closed vans, in which Jews were ostensibly being transported from one place to another, while in fact poison gas was forced into the vans, causing the immediate death of all the passengers. The most common method was to drive the Jews to the outskirts of the city and fire on them by rifles or machine guns in front of previously prepared ditches, pushing the victims into the ditches and covering the ditches with earth.

Sometimes some of the victims were not dead, and were thus buried alive. In many instances, they had to remove their clothes before going to their deaths. Nazi leaders, among them A. Where the slaughter was not completed in the early days of the occupation, the Nazis established ghettos for the survivors, situated, as a rule, in the slum quarters of the town, where the Jews were concentrated in the worst conditions possible. Some of those appointed showed courage and fortitude in carrying out the task that a bitter fate had decreed for them. In the majority of cases, however, working under the Nazis resulted in moral degeneration.

From time to time, the Nazis staged Aktionen designed to weed out the "useless" elements — invalids, old people and children. Those whose turn for death had not yet come were forced to work in German army workshops, road building and fortifications. The largest of these ghettos existed in Vilna, Bialystok, Kaunas, Riga, and Minsk only the last belonging to the pre Soviet territory , and they remained in existence for almost the entire period of German occupation. The enormity of the Nazi crimes was revealed while the war was still going on, as soon as the Soviet army began its westward advance, liberating occupied territories.

Several of the Nazi murderers who fell into Soviet hands, and their collaborators among the local population, were put on trial. While at the start no attempt was made to conceal the Jewish identity of the victims, after a while the Soviet authorities and information media refrained from mentioning the anti-Jewish character of the crimes and described the victims as "Soviet citizens. There was a decided difference between the behavior of the Jews in the pre territory of the Soviet Union and the Jews in the recently incorporated areas. The former had been deprived by the Soviet regime of any form of Jewish organization and lacked any semblance of coherence as a national group.

In their case the process of annihilation was swift and thorough and, with few exceptions Minsk, Kopyls , these ghettos existed only for a few months or even weeks. In the newly annexed areas, such as the Baltic states, former eastern Poland, northern Bukovina, etc. The Jews maintained clandestine institutions for mutual help, and rendered assistance not only to the local Jewish population but also to the deportees who had been brought in from other places.

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In these ghettos, there were underground libraries, choirs, orchestras, and theater companies, as well as schools and synagogues. An underground press informed the ghetto population of developments on the front and events concerning Jews, and served to keep up morale. These activities were organized largely by the youth and by the few surviving intellectuals.

In many of the ghettos, fighting organizations were created which collected arms in preparation for a ghetto revolt or for escape to join the partisans. The underground fighting groups in the large ghettos managed to maintain communications with each other and send messengers to the ghetto resistance movement headquarters in Warsaw.

A major dilemma confronting the fighting ghetto youth was the choice between remaining in the ghetto to carry on the hopeless struggle there, or escaping to the woods to join the partisans. Generally, the policy of the ghetto leadership was to stay in the ghetto and carry on their miserable existence there, in the hope of "surviving them" iberlebn zay ; an open revolt would lead to drastic punishment and the immediate murder of large numbers of ghetto inmates.

However, the resistance movements arrived at the conclusion that the Nazis aimed at the total extermination of all Jews. In their leaflets in Vilna, Bialystok, and elsewhere the resistance called on the Jews not to go "like sheep to the slaughter" but to defend themselves and take up weapons. The only recourse for the underground resistance movement was to stage a revolt of the ghetto as a whole just as it was about to be liquidated. An earlier flight to the woods meant abandoning the ghetto, and the families of the escapees, to their bitter fate.

Usually, however, the problem was resolved by the conditions created by the Nazis. In the summer of , the Germans began the systematic liquidation of the ghettos in the provincial towns. In some of them revolts broke out, the ghetto inmates resisting their deportation, setting the ghetto houses on fire and making mass attempts to escape to the forests. In Minsk the ghetto underground maintained close contact with the partisan units in the vicinity.

Jewish participation in the partisan movement, which encompassed large areas under German occupation, especially in Belorussia, Lithuania and Ukraine, was relatively small. The partisan movement was based in the forests and the villages in the forest area, consisting primarily of local people, such as peasants and shepherds. There was widespread antisemitism among the partisans, with many instances of partisans attacking Jews, robbing them of their goods, and even murdering them.

The time factor was also against wide Jewish participation. The Soviet partisan movement gained its strength after June date of the establishment of the central partisan headquarters , a period when most of Soviet Jews in the German-occupied territories had already been murdered. The non-Jewish partisan, as a rule, was an able-bodied person who had chosen to fight the Germans.

Most of the Jews, however, who had fled to the forests, had no other choice, and brought with them a large number of old people, women, and children who were incapable of joining the fighting and whose security and sustenance were a heavy burden which the non-Jewish partisans were unwilling to bear. In general, Jews were received coolly by the partisans and frequently had to prove their ability and readiness to fight, as well as obtain their own weapons, before they were permitted to join the partisan ranks.

Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue
Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue
Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue
Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue
Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue
Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue
Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue
Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue
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