- Ankommen in Deutschland: Einwanderungspolitik als biographische Erfahrungen im Migrationsprozeß russischer Juden
With the end of the Soviet Union and the coming down of the wall a new era of mass migration in Europe set in. In the 1990s Germany was confronted with new migrants from Poland and the (former) Soviet Union. A very special part of that new phenomenon was the influx of Soviet Jews into Germany, nearly fifty years after the Holocaust. The GDR interim parliament (Volkskammer) granted permanent residence to Soviet Jewish refugees, who feared nationalism and antisemitism in their home country. With unification the refugee status of Soviet Jews was accepted in the new Federal Republic, and the migrants were classified in a way that did not demand proof of individual persecution (Kontingentflüchtlinge), unlike asylum seekers. The residence permit depended merely on the proof that at least one ancestor had been Jewish. In a state that did not define itself as an immigration country, the Jewish migrants thus were privileged compared to other migrant groups.
In her book Franziska Becker examines what influence the administrative and legal frame has on possible actions and perceptions of this migrant group and on self perception and (ethnic) identity in the migration process. Contrary to other research conducted in the 1990s, she does not focus on the motives of migration,1 the opportunities and constraints of integration, or the construction of ethnic codes and community structures.2 Rather, she looks at migration as a social process from a biographical and action-centered perspective (p. 25). [End Page 166]
The background of this perspective sketched above is a presentation of the legal and administrative regimes, and the medial images of Russian Jewish immigration. This is the frame in which the migrants reflect their actions and interpretations. Immigrating into the country of the Holocaust leads to an intense confrontation with and reflection of their Jewish identity. Becker conducted 45 qualitative biographical interviews with migrants of Russian Jewish background. In most cases, the Jewish background loses significance in the course of migration and is replaced by other forms of social recognition. In other cases, Jewish nationality only serves as the gate of entry. Intentionally, Becker follows only those cases in which the migrants understand themselves as Jewish and look for recognition as Jews in their social environment. Three cases of such migrants are laid out in detail.
As a result, Becker points out that the religiously and ethnically defined gate of migration leads to a specific Jewish problem of recognition and assimilation. A “Jewish shame” (p. 223) evolves not because of the inability to live in Germany as a Jew but because of the denial of Jewish identity in the Soviet Union. Migration therefore is a process of radical transformation of identity in which new and old self-images must be put together and reconciled under massive difficulties (p. 226). The recognition of being a Jew is, therefore, problematic from two perspectives. On one hand the Jew immigrated to Germany, but on the other hand he cannot represent a particularly authentic Jewish identity.
Franziska Becker’s book is a fine and ambitious piece of work, both methodologically and theoretically. And, nevertheless, it is rewarding to read. Still, were it to influence and inspire the debate on identity construction and ethnicity among Russian Jewish migrants, it arrives a little late. In Germany, this debate was carried out in the late 1990s and almost disappeared with the decreasing number of Jewish immigrants. Therefore, I hope the book will be perceived beyond the German context to add to more detailed knowledge on ethnic identity and its contraints.
1. Julius H. Schoeps, Willi Jasper, and Bernhard Vogt, eds., Russische Juden in Deutschland. Integration und Selbstbehauptung in einem fremden Land (Weinheim, 1996).
2. Ingrid Oswald and Victor Voronkov, eds., Post-sowjetische Ethnizitäten. Ethnische Gemeinden in St. Petersburg und Berlin/Potsdam (Berlin, 1997).