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SOVIET JEWS BEFORE THE WAR

 

The Russian revolutions of 1917 afforded Jews equal opportunities for the first time in Russian history. Advantaged by their literacy, “first generation” Soviet Jews were grateful for opportunities their parents and ancestors never had. The price paid for the new equality, opportunity and mobility was the forced abandonment of religion, Hebrew and Zionism. The Bolsheviks turned synagogues into “workers clubs,” workshops or gymnasiums and closed all religious schools. Zionism was stamped out. Most young Jews were not especially disturbed by the repression of the “old way of life.” They embraced the secular, “scientific” future promised by Communist ideology. Enthusiastically, they set out to industrialize and modernize the Soviet Union, and help build a new society where ethnicity, religion and race would not matter. Multitudes migrated from the shtetls to the cities and factories. Urbanization brought linguistic acculturation, the abandonment of Jewish traditions, and marriage to non-Jews. Most Jews became Russianized. The 1939-1941 Soviet annexation of the western territories increased the Soviet Jewish population by 1.5-2 million to a total of approximately five million on the eve of war. Mostly religious or Zionist, and Yiddish-speaking, the Jews of what had been independent Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Romania raised the Jewish consciousness of the “core” Soviet Jewish population.


VETERAN TESTIMONY

MIRIAM KOGAN

Observing Jewish traditions and feelings of patriotism.