Foreword
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xiii Foreword During the late 1960s, when Leonid Brezhnev was the preeminent leader of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin repudiated the more relaxed policies of Nikita Khrushchev, who had been deposed in October 1964. Brezhnev tightened censorship over cultural expression and historical inquiry, and moved away from criticism of Joseph Stalin and his murderous regime. And when Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968, the crushing of the Prague Spring ended any hope that Communist Party officials were open to reforming the system from within. Disheartened by the regime’s harsher policies, several grassroots movements arose among disparate groups of Soviet citizens who were determined to press for their rights. Crimean Tatars wanted to return to their traditional homelands from where Stalin had forcibly removed them in 1944. Ukrainian nationalists tried to defend their cultural legacy and national rights against a system of enforced Russification. Liberal-minded activists challenged the regime’s monopoly of information control, exposing both the abusive kangaroo courts that failed to follow the country’s constitution and criminal codes and the difficult conditions in the labor camps for convicted political prisoners. At the same time a network of Jewish activists began to demand the right to emigrate to Israel, eventually becoming the best organized and most successful movement among the various streams of dissent. By the time Leonid Brezhnev died in November 1982, the regime, in spite of its repressive instincts, had permitted more than a quarter million Jews to leave. And when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Soviet Jewish emigration movement had already triumphed: nearly eight hundred thousand Jews had emigrated, an astonishing and altogether unforeseen result of their struggle. xiv  |  Foreword Soviet Jews lived a paradoxical life. A half century after the revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power in 1917, a significant majority of Soviet Jews had cultivated a profound devotion to the Russian language . Cut off from access to books on Jewish history or religion, they made Russian culture the source of their cultural and moral education. In her essay “Do I Feel I Belong to the Russian People?” the human rights activist Larisa Bogoraz, who had been born and raised by Jewish parents, expressed a common dilemma among Soviet Jews: Who am I now? Who do I feel myself to be? Unfortunately, I do not feel like a Jew. I understand that I have an unquestionable genetic tie with Jewry. I also assume that this is reflected in my mentality, in my mode of thinking, and in my behavior. But this common quality is as little help to me in feeling my Jewish identity as similarity of external features—evidently a more profound, or more general, common bond is lacking, such as community of language, culture, history, tradition; perhaps , even, of impressions, unconsciously absorbed by the senses: what the eye sees, the ear hears, the skin feels. By all these characteristics, I am Russian. I am accustomed to the color, smell, rustle of the Russian landscape, as I am to the Russian language, the rhythm of Russian poetry. I react to everything else as alien.1 But even as the country’s Jews assimilated into Russian culture, history and the regime itself never allowed them to forget their origins. The Holocaust, during which the Nazis killed as many as two and a half million Jews throughout German-occupied Soviet territory, destroyed almost half of the country’s Jewish population, leaving a traumatic burden that the survivors were barely permitted to publicly mourn once victory was achieved. Educated to accept assimilation yet not permitted to forget their origins, they could not mourn the Nazis’ Jewish victims as Jews. And during the postwar years, “the Black Years of Soviet Jewry,” Stalin targeted the leading voices of Yiddish culture, executing writers, poets, and journalists or shipping them off to labor camps. Soviet Jews came to believe that they had no future as Jews in Soviet society. While they could work, Foreword  |  xv often in prestigious positions within the country’s cultural, scientific, and industrial institutions, they had to live with the discomfort related to the effects of an identity they could not shed, however much they appeared to assimilate. As for leaving the country and making a life elsewhere, the very idea seemed unimaginable. Several events in the late 1960s, however, prompted a shift in their attitudes. The Six-Day War of 1967 generated a broad and deeply felt identification with Israel’s fate. And when Israel defeated Arab armies that...