The post-WW II Jewish migration from the Soviet Union (and also after its dissolution) is one of the largest in modern history. Altogether 2.75 million Soviet Jews left the USSR for Israel, the United States, Germany and elsewhere. The position of the Soviet state with respect to emigration was remarkably ambivalent: in some cases, it was allowed and even encouraged, in others, others; it was controlled and strongly limited. The Jewish emigration movement that arose in the late 1960s and continued throughout the 1970s-1980s became an example of resistance and activism within the authoritarian system, which increasingly alerted international attention. In one way or another, it affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and changed the appearance of many cities and towns within the Soviet Union and outside it.
Early Soviet history was filled with mass deportations, resettlements and refugees.
Already in 1928, the Soviet government undertook an attempt to resettle Soviet Jews in Birobidzhan, a newly created settlement some 150 kilometres from the Soviet-Chinese border, which received the status of the Autonomous Jewish Oblast in 1934. Yet both harsh environmental conditions and ideological hurdles hindered the full implementation of this plan: the immigration in Birobidzhan never took place en masse, and its Jewish population never exceeded 17.5 thousand people. Thus the dream of a Jewish republic within the 
Soviet Union
deu. Sowjetunion, rus. Sovetskiy Soyuz, rus. Советский Союз

The Soviet Union (SU or USSR, Russian: Союз Советских Социалистических Республик (СССР) was a state in Eastern Europe, Central and Northern Asia existing from 1922 to 1991. The USSR was inhabited by about 290 million people and formed the largest territorial state in the world, with about 22.5 million square km. The Soviet Union was a socialist soviet republic with a one-party system.

 did not materialize.
Stalin purges and  WW II took away the lives of more than 30 million Soviet citizens. More than two million Soviet Jews perished in the Holocaust. In the aftermath of the war, hundreds of thousands of people had to flee, some entire nations such as Chechens and Crimean Tatars were forcedly resettled.
Many Soviet Jews who has managed to evacuate on time and survived, never returned to their places of birth and adolescence, which lay for the most part at the territories of Soviet 
ukr. Ukrajina, deu. Ukraine

Ukraine is a country in eastern Europe inhabited by about 42 million people. Kiev is the capital and also the greatest city of Ukraine. The country has been independent since 1991. The Dnieper River is the longest river in Ukraine.

bel. Belarus', rus. Белоруссия, deu. Belarus, deu. Weißrussland, bel. Беларусь

Belarus is a state in eastern Europe inhabited by about 9.5 million people. The capital and most populous city of the country is Minsk. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the state is independent. Belarus borders Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Russia.

. After the war, they resettled in the big cities and, in particular, 
eng. Moscow, deu. Moskau, rus. Москва́

Moscow (Russian Москва́) is the capital of Russia and also the largest city in the country. With about 12.5 million inhabitants, Moscow is the largest city on the European continent.

rus. Leningrad, deu. Sankt Petersburg, eng. Saint Petersburg, rus. Ленингра́д, rus. Петрогра́д, rus. Petrograd

Saint Petersburg is a metropolis in the northeast of Russia. The city is home to 5.3 million people, which makes it the second largest in the country after Moscow. It is located at the mouth of the Neva River into the Baltic Sea in the Northwest Federal District of Russia. Saint Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 and was the capital of Russia from 1712 to 1918. From 1914-1924 the city bore the name Petrograd, from 1924-1991 the name Leningrad.

 (today: Sankt-Petersburg), with their growing industrial, scientific and educational infrastructures.
Consequently, the majority of Soviet Jews became strongly integrated into Soviet society and spoke Russian as a language of everyday communication. And nevertheless, the declaration of the State of Israel in May 1948 as well as the launch of the state anti-Semitic campaign during the following years sparked the idea of emigration among the Soviet Jewry.

We realized back then [1967] that we lived in an alien country, even if our Russian democratically-oriented friends were similarly outraged. The same happened the next year, when Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring. […] And we said to our friends: ‘This is your motherland, you have to fight for democracy; for us, Jews, there is nothing to do here.’ It seemed that we could not breathe the Soviet air anymore.1

Soviet migration policy in 1967–1987
Throughout the post-war period and up until 1987, Soviet emigration policy underwent notable fluctuations. The Departments for Visas and Registration (OVIRs) opened up to accept emigration applications in December 1968, but in different parts of the Soviet Union, the applications were proceeded unfolded differently. Its intensity also varied greatly over the next decades. It is known that in some regions, for instance in Soviet 
rus. Грузия, rus. Grusija, kat. საქართველო, kat. Sakartwelo, deu. Georgien

Georgia is a republic in the South Caucasus. The land is inhabited by 3.7 million people and is located on the border between eastern Europe and western Asia. The capital of Georgia is Tbilisi. The country is located on the eastern end of the Black Sea and borders Russia as well as Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Georgia has been an independent state since the fall of the Soviet Union.

 and the Baltic Republics, exit visas were slightly easier to obtain. However, a question remains as to how the processes of decision-making, application, and protest activities differed in urban centers of the Soviet Union compared to the peripheries.   
Between 1968 and 1973, authorities tolerated the emigration of pro-Zionist and religious groups of Jews. Simultaneously they painted black the life in Israel and warned Soviet citizens from going there. The emigration intensified in 1974–1979, as a consequence of Soviet-American détente. The period of mass departure was followed by a renewal of restrictions in 1983–1984 from the side of the authorities. Simultaneously, the Communist Party (CPSU) made another attempt to consolidate the loyalty of the remaining Soviet Jews. On 29 March 1983, the Central Committee of the CPSU issued a resolution to establish the Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public (Antisionistskii Komitet Sovetskoi Obshchestvennosti). This organization, officially proclaimed to be a voluntary body, united the well-known public figures of Jewish origin. The heroic WWII general David Abramovich Dragunskii (1910–1992) became its leader. The Anti-Zionist Committee was designed to fight against “the ideology and political practice of Zionism” and to facilitate social progress and peace all over the world.2
Emigration as a protest activity
Despite the inconsistencies in the Soviet migration policy, emigration continued and even intensified greatly as the political situation relaxed. Starting with Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, and escalating in 1987/1988, the Jewish exodus from the USSR began on a mass scale.  
The emigration movement not only opened up the opportunity to resettle in Israel, but it simultaneously prompted the consolidation of the Jewish community and the political activity within the USSR. Triggered by Nikita Khrushchev’s (1894–1971) de-Stalinisation attempts and liberalization of the Soviet society, it did not stop also during the Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982) era. Jewish samizdat (uncensored, self-produced literature) began to appear, unofficial Hebrew classes were held, and traditional Jewish holidays and celebrations were revived by the local communities. Importantly, the emigration also re-actualized the memory of the Holocaust, which had been suppressed in the official Soviet ideology and hidden under the general notion of the “suffering of the Soviet people”.
The protest activity gained ground too. The latter was closely related to the unfolding of the dissident and human rights movement across the USSR.
The question of Jewish emigration attracted constant attention both in Soviet democratic circles and outside the Soviet Union. In particular, it was reflected in the most significant Soviet samizdat periodical Chronicle of the Current Event (Khronika tekushchikh sobytii – the KhTS), which regularly reported on the “struggle of Jews to leave for Israel”.
From the 1970s right up until the early 1990s, the restrictions of Jewish emigration from the USSR were much debated among the public and human rights organizations in the West, and were also the subject of close scholarly attention. Outlets such as Soviet Jewish Affairs (1971–1991), the reports of the Soviet Jewry Research Bureau of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, or the research department of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty closely tracked the fluctuations within Soviet internal policies on emigration and the developments of the Jewish movement in the USSR. Most of these studies and reports contained valuable contemporary observations, wide-ranging statistical data and were deeply engaged with the issue. Yet as the Cold War continued, they were often ideologically loaded and lacked objectivity.   
Nevertheless, publicity within the Soviet Union and especially outside its borders was one of the major factors that scaled the Jewish migration up and helped to bring attention to those who were willing but were not allowed to emigrate. 
Throughout this whole period, a consistently high number of applications for exit visas were refused. Applicants were forced to stay in the Soviet Union for several years or even decades. Many of them lost their jobs or had to accept positions for which they were greatly overqualified. Some were forced out of the universities, and the majority faced a lowering of social status and public denunciations. Cases of administrative and criminal prosecution were also quite common.    
Those who were denied exit visas were colloquially referred to as refuseniks (otkaznik in Russian, mesorav in Hebrew). After some time, this term also became established in scholarship. Often, the refusal was explained with formal reasons: the possession of clandestine or strategic information that could be passed on to adversaries of the state; the danger of disclosing state secrets or undermining the interests of the state. Sometimes, the reason to emigrate (most often a family reunion) was not considered convincing enough. Much depended on the prevailing political situation as well as the arbitrary whims of the local administration.  
The story of book illustrator and stage designer Tsfania-Gedalia Kipnis (1905–1982) may serve as an illustration. Kipnis had witnessed the flourishing of Yiddish-speaking Jewish culture in Soviet Belarus in the 1920s and early 1930s. He survived the war, serving as an infantry captain in the Soviet Army. Upon his return to
deu. Minsk, rus. Minsk

Today, Minsk is the capital of the Republic of Belarus. Its history dates back to 1067.
Over the centuries, Minsk belonged to the Principality of Polock, the Grand Duchies of Kiev and Lithuania, the united Poland-Lithuania, the Russian Empire, the Belarusian Democratic Republic (briefly the Lithuanian-Belarusian SSR), the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, which belonged to the Soviet Union, and finally to Belarus. The multicultural city, which at all times was home to other minorities in addition to Jews, Poles, Russians and Belarusians, suffered repeatedly from passing armies and the consequences of war, for example in the Russo-Polish War (1654-1667), the Great Northern War (1700-1721), under Napoleon, and in the First and Second World Wars. Under German occupation, the largest ghetto in the occupied People's Republic was established in Minsk in 1941. The death camp Maly Trostinez was located near the city. At the same time, the surrounding forests were a center of resistance. After World War Two, the city was rebuilt in the socialist style, including housing for a population that was rapidly increasing due to industrialization and urbanization.

in 1949 he became an active Jewish samizdat publisher and underground popularizer of Jewish culture and the Yiddish language. From the very moment the State of Israel was created, Kipnis nurtured the hope that he would one day emigrate. In 1972, he applied for an exit visa and received permission to leave the USSR surprisingly easily.
Yet, on November 29 1972, he was apprehended by the security services on a train to 
eng. Vienna

Vienna is the federal capital and the political, cultural and economic center of Austria. Around 1.9 million people live in the city alone, which is one-fifth of the country's population, and as many as one-third of all Austrians live in the metropolitan area. Historically, Vienna is particularly important as the capital and by far the most important residential city of the former Habsburg monarchy.

  brought back to Minsk and arrested. Kipnis, who was then 67 years old, was accused of, among other things, founding and leading a Zionist anti-Soviet organization, illegal teaching and samizdat production, and dissemination of “Jewish bourgeois nationalism”.
There is no clear evidence for why he was released in May the following year and was finally allowed to emigrate shortly thereafter. One of the most probable answers was the public attention Kipnis’s friends were able to draw to his case in Israel and the USA. This public scrutiny ultimately forced the Soviet authorities to close the criminal case and to drop all the charges.
The official destination of those who finally obtained an exit visa and abandoned their Soviet citizenship was in most cases Israel. Later, the so-called “drop-outs” (Noshrim in Hebrew) appeared. These were people who used Israel only as a transfer point before emigrating to the USA or other countries, or who changed their destination en route. After arriving in Vienna or Rome, which were the transfer station for the majority of Soviet migrants, it was possible to redirect the journey. According to different estimations, between 3.8 and 6.8 per cent “dropped out” during the first years. The number increased over the period as a whole. In the pamphlet "Kak uekhat' v Izrail'" ("How to Emigrate to Israel"), written in the 1970s in Samizdat, the anonymous editor warned those who remained in the USSR to change their destination. He described the advantages of Israeli life, such as an excellent health care system, retirement benefits and a rich cultural life, also in the Russian language. Besides, the decision to change the destination would have complicated the exit process for other potential migrants.
Jewish emigration continued also after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. According to the last all-Union Census, 1.4 million Jews were living within the territory of the USSR in 1989, the majority in the Soviet Republics of 
deu. Russland, rus. Rossija, rus. Россия

The Russian Federation is the largest territorial state in the world and is inhabited by about 145 million people. The capital and largest city is Moscow, with about 11.5 million inhabitants, followed by St. Petersburg with more than 5.3 million inhabitants. The majority of the population lives in the European part of Russia, which is much more densely populated than the Asian part.

Since 1992, the Russian Federation has been the successor state to the Russian Soviet Republic (Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, RSFSR), by far the largest constituent state of the former Soviet Union. It is also the legal successor of the Soviet Union in the sense of international law.

, Ukraine and Belarus. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Jewish population in the territories of the former USSR had decreased to approximately 200,000 people. Many cities and small towns (Shtetls), which were predominantly Jewish before WW II, have now almost completely lost their Jewish appearance.
The migration affected also the countries of arrival and did not necessarily bring the anticipated improvement in living and working conditions for the migrants. In Israel, the Russian speaking population make up about 17.25 per cent. From 1991 on, more than 200,000 former Soviet Jews were able to resettle in Germany as the so-called “quota refugees” (Kontingentflüchtlinge). Many of these migrants still cope with the challenges of integration and encounter limitations in personal life and professional realization. Today, thirty years after the USSR’s dissolution, Jewish migration is not yet a matter of the past. The familiarity with its distinguishing features but also with its effects can enhance our understanding of current global migration processes.
English translation: William Connor

Siehe auch