After the Holocaust, sharp turns in government policy buffeted Soviet Jews. Following a short period of postwar recovery, the government eliminated Yiddish culture and its activists. This escalated into an anti-cosmopolitan campaign affecting all Jews, and the Doctors’ Plot (1953), a possible portent of mass deportation. De-Stalinization brought relief, but no restoration of Jews’ previous positions, nor of Jewish culture. Compared with the seemingly uniform political, cultural, and economic policies and institutions imposed by the Soviet Union on the satellite countries, there was significant variance in governments’ policies toward Jews. I try to explain Soviet policies, and why the USSR tolerated variants of those policies in Eastern Europe. The Six Day War in the Middle East prompted a sharp change in policy, but again, not all socialist countries followed Soviet policy exactly. My talk will explore demographic decline, emigration, restitution, religion and culture, self-governance, and relations with Israel and foreign Jews.
Zvi Gitelman is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Preston Tisch Professor Emeritus of Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. His current research is on World War Two and the Holocaust in the Soviet Union and on the politicization of history. Gitelman has been a fellow at Harvard, Oxford, the University of Pennsylvania, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Yad Vashem Institute, and the Institutes for Advanced Study in Princeton and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author or editor of 17 books about Soviet, East European and Israeli politics, the most recent of which are Jewish Identities in Postcommunist Russia and Ukraine: An Uncertain Ethnicity (2012) and The New Jewish Diaspora: Russian-speaking Immigrants in Israel, the U.S. and Germany (2016). His book A Century of Ambivalence: The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union (2001) was translated into Japanese and Russian.